• November 16, 2012

    What makes a second book successful?


    An author wrote and said, “I’ve been told that you’ll never sell your second book in New York if you don’t do well on your first. Just how well do you have to do? How many copies is considered a success?”

    I don’t really think this is a hard-and-fast rule. Many authors have started small, done a good job, sold a modest number of their first book, then gone on to build an audience. Sure, it’s harder to do another book if your first book completely tanks, but sometimes that’s more a reflection on the sales expectations than the quality of the product. And while there’s not a magic number to hit that makes you automatically “successful” in the eyes of publishers, for years we’ve known that a novelist who can routinely sell in the 12,000 to 20,000 range can expect to publish for a long time. Now, however, that number seems to be rising. Expectations are greater, and I think most larger publishers of trade fiction really want to see a basement sales number of about 14,000 for an established novelist (that number is much higher for a major author, for a book that had a big advance, or for a mass market or subscription house, of course). And that’s a bottom number — the expectation may well be in the 20’s, depending on the size of the house (keep in mind economies of scale — a small regional publisher will have a very different definition of “success” than HarperCollins, for example). Still, if you can create a couple books a year, and sell in the mid-to-high teens, you can expect to have very steady work for a long time.

    I have an author who wrote a good first novel, then spent months promoting the book. The author did everything the publisher asked, and sales numbers for the first year were about 8500 copies sold. Not great — but

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  • November 15, 2012

    Thursdays with Amanda: Social Media Critiques, Part 7


    Amanda Luedeke Literary AgentAmanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent.

    A few weeks ago, I offered free social media critiques to those who replied before the 14th. You see, social media is a specialty of mine. Before becoming an agent, I worked for some years as a social media marketer at a marketing agency outside of Chicago. I worked with clients such as Vera Bradley, Peg Perego, Benjamin Moore and more. A somewhat longer description of what I did can be found in the first critique post.

    1. dabneyland is a blog by Dabney Hedegard

    • Super cute design!
    • I feel as though the goal of this blog is to help people navigate sickness/loved ones that are sick/etc? If so, I think a stronger, more obvious tagline would help set the right expectations
    • Your “About dabneyland” and “About the Blogger” page are very much focused on you, which is fine, but there isn’t anywhere I can go to get a clear picture of what you want this blog to do for ME as a reader. I suggest tweaking the “about the blogger” copy to make it more about reader takeaway value
    • Great blog posts titles; very searchable

    RECOMMENDATIONS: You’re doing so much right, that my suggestions are pretty nit-picky. I’d write a new tagline that is makes it clear that dabneyland is a place people can come when they’re in the midst of an illness. I’d also reiterate that in either your “About” or “About the Blogger” sections.

    2. The Word Butcher is a blog by Jerry Eckert

    I’m just going to give you a list of things I think you could do to make this site fit with your book:

    • First, I must note that
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  • November 14, 2012

    Why is your second novel so important?


    An author wrote with this question: “What would you say are the common areas of neglect you see in most second novels? Weak plot? Poor characterization? Underdeveloped themes?”

    Love this question, since I tell the authors I represent that “your SECOND novel will be your most important.” You’ve doubtless spent years getting your first novel completed, then worked to edit it, got all sorts of advice, and went through the process of shopping it with an agent. It’s polished and ready to go after three or five years of working on it. Then you get a deal, and suddenly the publisher asks you to write another one in five months. Ack! You race through it, and it comes out disappointing. That can be a career killer, since you want your second novel to build off the sales of your first.

    The biggest pitfalls in a second novel? A small idea (your first book was big; your second was hurried and not thought through as well.) Small characters (your first book contained characters you knew intimately; your second has people you don’t know as well). Less sense of place (your first novel is in a place you’ve spent considerable time exploring; your second is just a place). Less passion (your first novel grew out of a story you felt compelled to tell; your second is simply another book). You see the problem?

    You see, your first novel sets a baseline in the marketplace. Retailers will be looking at your second book to decide if your audience is growing (and sales are up) or your audience is shrinking (your sales are down). They’ll take that as a sign of your future potential in the industry. Like it or not, that’s the tendency in today’s market. So you can’t scrimp on your second novel — it’s got to be as good as your first.

    Someone else asked, “Should a novelist be thinking ‘sequel’

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  • November 13, 2012

    How do I balance marketing and writing?


    Someone asked, “What is a realistic schedule for writing that second book while promoting the first book?”

    This will be unique to each author, since each person writes at his or her own pace. But if a novelist takes seven or eight months to create a novel, that means she will need to block out time in her schedule to market the releasing book as she creates the next one. It can be tough — do you spend all your time marketing the first book? Do you spend it writing the second book? Where’s the balance? This is why I encourage every writer to create a writing calendar, where you can map out which projects you’re working on for the next year or two — whether it’s writing, editing, marketing, or just taking time away to reflect on the next book.

    Generally speaking, most authors find they simply must help market their releasing book right around the time of release — so build that into your calendar. I realize you didn’t get into this business to be a full-time marketer, but you don’t want to let the book release and do nothing. So build in some marketing time, if not in your regular week, at least some focused time during the release season.

    By the way, here’s one piece of advice I’m famous for sharing: Good is always better than fast. Your publisher will want books fast, since he is in the business of selling as many books as possible. So he might push you to write a new book every four months — and will almost certainly encourage you to create a new book every six months, so you have one releasing each selling season. But if you require eight months to craft a good novel, then agreeing to the six-month plan is career suicide. You’ll either miss all your deadlines (and sour the relationship with your publisher) or

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  • November 12, 2012

    What is an agent looking for?


    Someone wrote to ask, “What do you look for when you are considering representing a new novelist?”

    I suppose every agent is looking for the same basic components in reviewing a proposal: a great idea, expressed through great writing, supported by an author with a great platform. Those are the general issues an agent considers when reviewing any proposal, in my view.

    But more specifically, I’m always looking for a strong voice in the writing. Is it fresh? Does it stand out? Is it something that makes we want to continue reading? Is there personality that shines through? If I can find a manuscript with a strong voice, I’m always much more apt to continue reading. And I guess I’d also have to admit I’m looking at the writer, not just the writing. I don’t represent any high-maintenance people, so I often insist on meeting an author before I agree to represent him or her. I want to make sure we’re comfortable with each other (I’m not a fit for everyone). Occasionally I’ll have an email exchange with an author and we’ll seem to be a match, but then we meet and the vibe isn’t right. So I value being eye-to-eye with an author, and having a chance to visit if at all possible.

    On a related note, someone wrote to say, “I’ve been told by a well-known author that publishers look more for a novelist’s ability to sell books (i.e., the author is an established speaker, or someone in the media) than they do for the ability to write books. True?”

    I would say that’s an overstatement. Certainly publishers are looking at writers more and more with an eye toward “platform,” and there are some qualities the publisher will appreciate. (Is the author an expert? Can she get major media attention? Does he have connections with a source for selling large quantities of books?) But with fiction, I find

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  • November 9, 2012

    How can I get noticed?


    We’re sticking with answering a bunch of shorter questions for a few days…

    One author wrote and noted, “As I research book publishing, I’m intrigued by the ‘platform’ thing. And as I think about how to build my platform, I’m having a hard time discerning whether publishers would consider my platform attractive or small potatoes. I edit a professional magazines (10,000 readers), help manage an advertising agroup (500 advertisers), am busy with the local Chamber of Commerce (another 500 members), contribute to a popular blog site, have access to a handful of other groups, and have been invited to submit articles to some very popular websites. Is that enough to get an editor’s attention?”

    That certainly sounds like the start of a good platform. Of course, some of the “platform” issue will depend on what you’re writing and who you’re writing to. If all of your professional contacts are finance related, and you’ve written a romance novel, publishers may tend to discount the value of all those contacts. But if you’re writing a book that speaks directly to your contacts, I imagine publishers would find your data base of people interesting. There’s not really a magic number that you’re trying to hit — other than to say “the bigger it is, the better they’ll like you.” However, you’re really beginning to think like a publisher when you approach your platform this way. How many people do you already reach? How often? In how many ways? How can you approach them about your book? Those are questions to talk about with a prospective publisher or agent.

    Another wanted to know, “If my book is published with a small house, what are the chances it will get into Target or Wal-Mart? Do those companies only buy books from big publishers?”

    Wal-Mart and Target use book buyers to select the books they sell. The larger companies have full-time sales staff dedicated just to

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  • November 8, 2012

    Thursdays with Amanda: Marketing in Your Home Town


    Amanda Luedeke Literary AgentAmanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent.

    Alright. Confession time. Before I could write this post I had to go watch “Jenny From the Block” music video by Jennifer Lopez. Because whenever I think about marketing locally, that song starts playing over and over in my head.

    But I’ll spare you from having to watch it, unless you really want to (WORTH IT), as I try to collect my thoughts and be eloquent and practical without busting into rhyme.

    J-Lo’s song is about keeping it real. Not letting fame and fortune change the fact that she came from humble beginnings. Being the same person now (despite the rocks that she got) that she was then.

    But I think in a backwards way, that theme could also be applied to book marketing. The Internet, though flashy and trendy and popular, shouldn’t give us license to live a double life. In other words, it’s so easy to go online and be a strong marketer, and then turn it all completely off the moment we step away from Facebook. It’s like we go from “Famous Author” to “Car Pool Driver” or “PTA Member” or “The Person Who Always Brings Cookies to Work” or other lackluster personas that follow us in our day-to-day lives. When in fact, being an author pursuing the dream is actually quite extraordinary.

    So let’s pretend that I’m an author with a book.

    I live in a city of 250,000. While I’m online, trying frantically to find people who enjoy reading, there are about a dozen library branches in my city. Not only that, but there are at least a dozen bookstores. Furthermore, my contact with the city goes beyond those typical venues.

    • I
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  • November 6, 2012

    On staying current, book clubs, and drinking juice naked


    I’ve had people sending me dozens of questions recently, so I thought I’d try to catch up by changing things a bit and offering several short questions and answers. So the next few days of the blog will sort of head in a new direction…

    Someone wrote and noted, “I have a busy life, and I seem to spend much of it in front of my computer. How can I keep up with the industry? What do you fell is worth sacrificing my writing time to follow?”

    My choices may be different from your own, of course, but I subscribe to Publisher’s Weekly (the bible of our industry), and I get Publishers’ Lunch and PW Daily on my screen every day. They offer a summary of news, with links I can go to when I want to find details. (For example, today the Authors Guild asked the government to look into the proposed Penguin/Random House merger, since it turns out there just MAY be a bit of market-cornering going on.) These keep me in touch with the industry. There are a number of blogs I like, but I’ll admit that I tend to look at the blogs of the authors I represent, and I can’t quite keep up with all the good blogs that have been created. Novel Rocket is good because it keeps you on top of a lot of titles. I still read GalleyCat. Most of the publishers have their own company blogs. I like Mike Hyatt’s excellent blog, Salon.com, bookbusinessmag.com, Digital Book World, and I belong to a couple discussion groups to talk about the business and marketing side of publishing. I’ll invite readers to suggest other good industry blogs in the “comments” section…

    Someone wrote and asked, “What can you tell me about audio books? My publisher isn’t interested in producing my books in audio, though they sell well in print. Is there a way to

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  • November 1, 2012

    Thursdays with Amanda: Social Media Critiques, Part 6


    Amanda Luedeke is a zombie literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform and eating brains. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her life as both an agent and a zombie.

    A few weeks ago, I offered free social media critiques to those who replied before the 14th. You see, social media is a specialty of mine. Before becoming an agent, I worked for some years as a social media marketer at a marketing agency outside of Chicago. I worked with clients such as Vera Bradley, Peg Perego, Benjamin Moore and more. A somewhat longer description of what I did can be found in the first critique post.

    1) Memoir of a Mermaid is a site by Adrianna Stepiano

    • Very visually appealing. I’m wondering, though, about how it appears you have two banners/mastheads. I’d get rid of the stuff at the top and just add “A Young Adult Fiction Series by…” to the main one.
    • It doesn’t seem your blog content is connecting with readers. This may be because it’s focused on your writing journey rather than reader interests. Brainstorm ways that you could provide content that interests readers but also keeps the focus on the YA genre, storytelling, myths, folklore, etc.
    • I don’t see a picture of you anywhere or anything that ties this to a real person. If you want that strong connection with readers, you’re going to have to put yourself out there a bit more.

    RECOMMENDATIONS: You do a lot of things right, but I think the main thing lacking is a clear goal. This doesn’t strike me as strictly a sales-oriented site, and yet at the same time, there’s not much of a reason for readers to come  back once they’ve purchased the book. Answer these questions: Why did I build this site? What do I

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  • October 30, 2012

    Does the publisher have the last word on my book title?


    Someone wrote to ask about titles: “I understand publishers have the last word on titles — how often do they change an author’s proposed title? And if they’re going to change it anyway, how important is the title we suggest?”

    Sure, the publisher probably has the final say on your title — in fact, if you read your contract carefully, you’ll probably find a note about that very fact in the section marked “editing.”

    That said, the proposed title coming from the author is always given weight by a publishing or titling committee. They want to use a title the author likes. In fact, the publisher will sometimes bend over backwards to be polite to an author offering up a lousy title. (My pick for one of the all-time bad titles: Heism Vs Meism, a book by Michael Yousseff with Harvest House. Michael is great. Harvest House is wonderful. The book probably isn’t bad at all. But that title sucks. When I saw it, I didn’t even know how to pronounce it. High-ism versus My-ism? My guess is the stores didn’t sell many copies because staff didn’t know what the title of the book was.)

    Of course, I’ve seen both sides come up with clunkers. Sometimes an author will get stuck on a totally unsalable title and be completely unreasonable about it — so let’s face it, if you don’t have a background in marketing, you may want to give up on that title everyone is telling you is awful. (A retired missionary, who had clearly been in the African bush too long, once went to a friend of mine with a book claiming God would send a wind her way, whenever she prayed for something to cool her off. Her proposed title? Heavenly Blow Jobs.) 

    At other times, the publisher will push for a title that doesn’t fit a book — they’ll claim to be basing it on market

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