• July 13, 2012

    What’s a fair advance?


    Kathy wrote and asked, “I’m in negotiations on my book contract. What’s a fair advance?”

    Um…that question is impossible to answer, Kathy. “Fairness” depends on your mood today, the publisher’s perspective, your expectations, and a hundred other variables. But the advance will largely come down to “how many copies can the publisher can sell?”

    Agents will sometimes create a formula to try and establish a book’s worth based on past sales, your history of advances, size of audience, and the proposed marketing for the book. They may take into account what you think the book is worth to you, based on your time and energy. It’s funny, but authors often approach a negotiation as an emotional thing — i.e., “I feel this advance isn’t big enough.” But that’s a trap. Your feelings may not be correct. And you can’t always compare your contract to someone else’s contract and be sure you’re comparing apples to apples. (You’ve seen this before — “They offered Nick Sparks a million bucks, but all they could give me was ten thousand?!”)

    Try not to think of the advance as the only important part of a contract. Some of the romance publishers pay fairly small advances — but they sell a lot of copies, and the authors don’t complain when those big royalty checks come in. Instead, think of your book as a project that has a lot of opportunity to earn money for you, over the long haul. We’re all moving away from an advanced-based way of earning a living, so here’s your chance to get ahead of the curve. Think long term — advance, royalties, ebooks, foreign income, etc.

    If you need a formula for determining the immediate value of your book, you might find it helpful to think like a work-for-hire writer. If he needs to make $1000 per week in order to meet his budget, he’ll try to determine how long a

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  • July 12, 2012

    Thursdays with Amanda: Creating a Website as an Unpublished Author – Linking to Social Media


    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.

    As we’ve been discussing growing your platform, one of my rules has been Don’t start too big. Start small. Give Facebook a try and when you feel you have that under control, then move on to Twitter. You’ll shoot yourself in the foot if you launch author versions of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube all at once. Trust me, you’ll want to die. So focus on one thing. But along with that one thing, you should also have a website.

    Last week, we discussed what type of content unpublished authors should include in their websites, and the week before we discussed why an unpublished author needs a website in the first place. If you haven’t read those, take the time to catch up. I really believe it’s valuable content not only for unpublished authors, but new authors.

    As a quick recap, an unpublished author’s website should have two goals: The first goal would be to provide editors, agents and the publishing world with a better picture of who you are and what you’re about. The second goal would be to utilize your website as a central hub for all of your social media ventures.

    Since last week we discussed Goal #1, this week, we’re looking at Goal #2.

    When you’re just starting out, it can be so great when a stranger or acquaintance takes a serious interest in your writing. Maybe they overheard you say that you’re writing a book, or maybe they saw you typing away at Starbucks and had to say something. Maybe they met you on a message board that focuses on your genre or maybe you buddied up at a writer’s conference. When

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  • July 11, 2012

    Do I need book discussion questions?


    Timothy wrote to say, “Some book clubs have asked me for discussion questions for my book. I took a stab at it, but came away sounding like my high school English teacher. What do book clubs like to discuss? Do your clients develop book club study guides, or is this rare enough it can be handled on a case-by-case basis?”

    Book clubs are looking for 7 to 12 open-ended questions (i.e., questions that can’t be answered “yes” or “no”) that explore the themes of the book and allow them to either debate the choices made by the characters, or discuss how to apply the situations to their own lives. So for a novel, coming up with questions that foster debate is probably more important than coming up with questions that examine the accuracy of the story. For a nonfiction title, coming up with questions that take your principles and ask people to apply them to their own lives is imperative. Get people telling their own stories and interacting with the text, and you’ve got a great book club.

    I’ve had several authors create book club questions. Again, they usually sit down and get about ten questions that all inspire discussion. Some publishers will put these on a page in the back of the book. If yours doesn’t want to do that, here’s an idea to try: Post book club questions on your web site. It will offer readers genuine value, while increasing traffic to your site and allowing you to cross-sell your other books.


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  • July 9, 2012

    Marketing Made Simple — A Guest Blog


    For many authors, the term “marketing” seems as complex and confusing as learning to speak a foreign language. Fortunately, the process of promoting a book doesn’t have to be complicated. You can use this proven approach to sell more books based on answering one simple question.

    The problem for many authors is that they view marketing as explaining what their book is about, who they are, or why they write. However, this perspective contains a counterproductive thread – the marketing is all about you. The reality is that nobody cares about you or your book. Instead, readers care about what you can do for them. And, they won’t give you their money until you answer their internal question, “What’s in it for me?”

    For example, a non-fiction author is asked to explain why he wrote his book. So, he describes what his book is about or the content inside. A novelist is asked to explain why she wrote her story. So, she explains her writing style, plot line, or characters. These are legitimate pieces of information, but none of it tells readers what they really want to know.

    To make matters worse, authors put these self-focused explanations all over their important marketing materials, such as websites, book cover copy, social media pages, newsletters, etc. Thousands of dollars are spent on marketing. Yet, the most important question in the public’s mind never gets answered: “What’s in it for me?”

    Book readers don’t care about your topic, genre, or background. Their primary concern is how you can make their life better. Therefore, they want to know the results that you can create for them. To avoid confusion, I define a “result” as any positive outcome, life change, or tangible improvement that you create for someone who reads your book. In addition, the description of a result must be specific enough to generate emotional interest. Logic makes people think, but emotion makes them

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  • July 7, 2012

    Cheryl Jarvis does some Reviewing of Reviews


    A GREAT bit of writing from author Cheryl Jarvis, looking at the various reviews her book received. Jarvis wrote a nonfiction book, The Marriage Sabbatical: The Journey that Brings You Home, that told the stories of women who took time away from domestic life to pursue their passion. She then stayed away from all reviews of the book for six months. At that point, she printed up every review she could find, to see what people had to say.

    If you’re an author, by all means read her article in Publisher’s Weekly:


    It will offer you perspective, the next time some bonehead who hasn’t read your book says something completely stupid on Amazon, or the reviewer in PW notes that “this is good if you like this sort of thing.” (I particularly like the conservative talk show host who scorched the book, then admitted he’d never even seen a copy.) What’s clear is that “journalistic integrity” has little to do with the world of reviewers. Worth reading!

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  • July 6, 2012

    Do you have a problem with ghostwriting?


    Dave wrote to ask, “Do you have any ethical problems with ghostwriting?”

    First, I would insist you define the term. To some, “ghostwriting” means doing any sort of writing for someone else without getting credit. I would disagree with that definition — sometimes an author has good ideas that are well-formed, but needs a wordsmith to help move them toward a polished manuscript. I see nothing wrong with that sort of writing. It’s a paid job to shape up somebody else’s work, and I don’t find anything unethical about that. In fact (since I know a lot of CBA people read this blog), you should know that Saint Paul used a ghostwriter (called an amanuensis) to smooth out his words. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the end of his letter to the Galatians. In 6:11, he says, “See what large letters I use as I write with my own hand” — which means he wasn’t writing the earlier portion of the letter. He was dictating it, and the amanuensis was editing and smoothing it out. Then he added his own handwriting at the end to prove it really came from Paul. The early church actually had a tradition that Paul had very bad eyesight, which might have been one reason he had a an editor taking down his words.

    My point is just that it’s a lousy argument to somehow suggest it’s wrong for a speaker to use a writer to help shape or polish the written message. It’s not — that’s what a writer does. Presidents use writers to craft their speeches, and nobody says, “That’s not really the president talking!” Judges use clerks to write their decisions (and often to research and create their decisions), and nobody says, “That’s not really the judge’s words!” Corporate leaders use PR firms to create their company communication pieces, and nobody says, “That’s not really Steve Jobs saying that —

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  • July 5, 2012

    Thursdays with Amanda: Creating a Website as an Unpublished Author – What Content Do I Include?


    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.

    Last week we talked about why unpublished writers need author websites. The post built a case for the usefulness of maintaining an author site–not only to gather fans, but to entertain agents like myself who may wander over there after reading your query. (Yes, this happens.)

    But we didn’t talk much about what sort of content to include. I mean, what is there to say when you don’t have a book? Well, there’s a lot to say…but we’ll get to that later.

    When building a website as an unpublished author, you’ll probably have two goals. The first goal would be to provide editors, agents and the publishing world with a better picture of who you are and what you’re about. The second goal would be to utilize your website as a central hub for all of your social media ventures. That way, when you meet someone who is excited about your writing, you don’t have to give them your Twitter handle, Facebook link, blog URL and so on. You just give them your website url, and they’ll be able to navigate your social media channels however they prefer.

    This week, let’s focus on Goal #1…

    What you should include on your author website…

    1. An awesome masthead. The masthead, or banner, is the chunk of pretty design that sits at the top of most websites. If you note Susan Sleeman’s masthead, she not only has her author name front and center, but she has a tagline and really awesome buttons that link to her social media. This is the type of masthead you want! One that pulls people in.

    I realize most authors get hung

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  • July 4, 2012

    Celebrating All Our Imperfections


    To celebrate the Fourth of July, my daughter Molly and I are going to go watch a small-town parade, complete with vintage cars, city fire truck, the local high school marching band, some county sheriff on horseback, and a VFW color guard. There will be a few friends riding in it and waving, people tossing out candy, and the occasional pooper-scooper, in case the marching band follows the sheriff. The local church will be there, handing out lemonade and cookies. I happen to know there will be a couple African-American soldiers marching, some Hispanic neighbors, and at least one bagpiper, most likely playing “Scotland the Brave.”

    All of that is a celebration of our history. It reminds people that America, though it hasn’t worked out all the racial and religious and cultural differences, is still a melting pot of individuals from all over the world. I plan to be standing with my friend Max, who was born in Morocco, and his wife Julie, who is Asian. My grandparents emigrated from Scotland and Ireland (in this part of the country, there are a lot of us with Celtic roots), my wife’s grandparents from Iceland. And I’ll be there with my daughter Molly, who is studying for her PhD in food sustainability in Sweden, so that she can go to Africa and help feed starving people in third-world countries. We’ll all stand when the American flag goes by — not because we think everything in this country is perfect, or because we all want to be cheering “USA! USA!,” but because we get to take one day each year and celebrate some great history.

    My first dad served in the US Navy for 12 years, and was in World War II. My second dad served in the old Army Air Corps (now the US Air Force), and fought in the Battle of the Philippines. I’ve got a lot of respect for the

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  • July 3, 2012

    What if I’m interested in collaborative writing?


    Johann wrote to say he’s been approached to do some collaborative writing, and has several questions: “What should I charge? Should I get my name on the book? How long do you think it will take me? And what would the main points of our agreement be?”

    That’s a lot of questions, Johann. You should definitely have a written agreement that details:

    WHAT you’ll do (for example, “write a 50,000 word book that tells the author’s life story”), 

    WHEN you’ll do it (for example, “it will be completed by October 1”), 

    WHAT the author’s responsibilities will be (something such as, “the author will meet with me four times, for a full day each time”), and 

    HOW MUCH you’ll be paid (the short version: you will probably want to charge somewhere in the $70 per hour range, plus get a percentage if the book is to be shopped to publishers). 

    All of that will be put into a legal document — and you can find “work for hire” document examples online or in some “freelance writing” books. You just want everything spelled out, so there aren’t a bunch of surprises later (as in, “But I thought YOU would take care of all that!”). Of course, there will be much more said about the payments. You might ask for a flat fee to do a book proposal, and a larger fee to do the book once it gets contracted. You’ll probably start by charging and hourly amount, but you’ll quickly move to charging a flat fee to complete the manuscript, since it will pay you more. I’ve seen writers charge by the word, by the page, by the hour, by the chapter, and by the project — there’s not really a right way to do it. However, let me offer a tip to determine what to charge… 

    Figure out how much you want to make each month through your writing. Let’s say,

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  • July 2, 2012

    A question about getting started…


    Tanya took a look at our corporate web site (www.MacGregorLiterary.com), noticed that I tend to prefer “established authors,” and asked two questions… “How do you define an established author? And is it better for a ‘non-established’ author to work with a small publishing house, or to keep pounding on doors to find an agent?”

    The answer to your first question is fairly fluid — an established author is someone who has done some writing and publishing. How much will qualify them as “established” is left to the eye of the beholder, I guess. But so you know, most of the authors I represent are people I met face-to-face, liked personally, and came away impressed with their writing — OR they were referrals from current clients. It’s just the way I’ve built my business.

    As to your second question, I’d suggest there’s not really a right answer. Many authors (including me) got started by publishing with magazines, newsletters, and smaller publishing houses. Eventually some of us got noticed and moved to a bigger stage. But other authors kept working until they found an agent who could help them land a book deal. Either choice is equally hard and will result in you being frustrated and wanting to quit this stupid business… until you have some success and people start telling you what a wonderful writer you are, and fawning over you as though you were some sort of genius. [Note: When that happens, accept it, but laugh. You’re not really a genius…but if somebody else wants to think of you that way, so what?] There’s no one plan that will work for everyone, and since I don’t know you, I can’t recommend one path or the other, Tanya. Both can work. 

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