• June 30, 2012

    The good and the bad…


    The good news: I just saw my first copy of Rob Eager’s SELL YOUR BOOK LIKE WILDFIRE. It’s great. Rob runs Wildfire Marketing, and he’s got very helpful things to say to writers trying to build a brand and increase book sales. We’ve had him guest blog for us in the past, and it’s exciting to see him create something an author can actually pick up and use. Check it out at: http://tinyurl.com/7cn7bao

    The bad news: After just blogging about the worst query I ever received, I got a doozy this week. First, there was a letter that said, “Paying scant attention to your ironclad rules regarding submissions those are the reasons why I’m sending you the completed book with the pretty cover.” So, in addition to that sentence barely making sense, he basically wants to say, “I don’t know you, but thought you’d be impressed if I blew off your guidelines.” As you can imagine, I’m impressed already.

    But wait, it gets better. The letter ends with the words, “Uncle Neal is quite angry with me — wants to ship me out of the country. A friend has promised to forward any messages directly to you in the event this should happen.” Um… what? I had no idea what he was saying. But not to worry, the next day I received an envelope from him, with a barely legible note in felt pen that said, “Help, I’m ina Korean rererehabilitation camp you tube. See youself.” (Trust me — that’s what it said.) It was written on a paper airplane. None of it made a lick of sense, particularly when nothing in his query said anything about Korea (though it did promise “a NAKED gypsy girl”). I eventually figured out the author was trying to be cute. He just ended up looking amateurish. Or crazy. Or both.

    THEN the book came. “Amateurish” doesn’t even begin to cover this one. Any

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  • June 29, 2012

    What’s the worst query you ever received?


    Denise wrote to ask me, “What’s the worst query you ever received?”

    This one is easy. Every agent has had bad queries — I’ve seen them written in crayon, printed in block letters on the back of an old envelope, and created by people who barely spoke English. I’ve had queries arrive that rhymed, that threatened, and that were wrapped in women’s underwear. (All true stories.) And all of us have pet peeves — I happen to hate it when an author uses a query letter to sing his or her own praises: “This life-changing book will make you laugh, make you cry, make you quit your job and move to Toledo so you worship at my feet.” Fer crine out loud — let somebody else sing your praises.

    The same holds true for competitive analyses in which the author basically bashes everybody else’s book on the topic. Nothing will make you look more like a self-absorbed jerk than to suggest “John Grisham got it wrong but I’m doing it right.” I once had a guy send me a proposal for his fantasy novel, and his two comparable titles were the works of C.S. Lewis and JRR Tolkein. When I suggested to him that he may want to dial back those references a bit, he wrote back to say, “Actually, my work is better than either of them, but they were the only authors who came close.” I think I pulled a muscle with the eye roll after reading that one. 

    However, the worst query letter I ever received was from some prophecy nutjob in the Midwest. He claimed (and I swear I’m not making this up) that he and his son were “the two prophets foretold in the Book of Revelation.” He called himself “the tool of the Almighty,” and informed me that I needed to send him “a contract and a sizable check.” The best part: he warned

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  • June 28, 2012

    Thursdays with Amanda: Why Unpublished Authors Need Websites


    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.

    This week (and next week, too), we’re going to talk about websites. We received this great question that got the ball rolling: “I would love to hear why you think an author should have a web site. What can the web tell you that the back of the book hasn’t already said?” 

    It’s pretty obvious why published authors need websites…in an age when celebrities are more accessible than ever through Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, authors need to follow suit. I mean if I can Tweet my favorite actor or band and get a response, I should be able to interact with my favorite mid-list author, right?

    But what about the unpublished author? What value does having a website provide if it can’t showcase a published work? Let’s look at the business-related effects of having a website as well as the platform-related ones.

    Why having a website as a published author makes sense from a business perspective:

    1. It tells potential agents and editors that you’re serious about your career. Believe it or not, some authors aren’t looking to make a career out of writing. Sure, they may be very serious about getting the one book they’ve written published, but after that, they’re done. They don’t have any more stories in them. Having a website tells industry professionals that you’re in this for the long haul, and you’re willing to invest some money to make it happen.
    2. It tells potential agents and editors that you aren’t afraid of using the web to promote yourself. Most authors don’t know how to navigate social media. Having a website dispels those fears for agents and editors when considering your project. Even though
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  • June 26, 2012

    What is the agent looking for?


    Mary wrote to ask, “What are you looking for in a query?”

    Every time I open a query letter, I’m hoping to see something I fall in love with. I want to see a great idea, supported by great writing, from an author with a great platform. I want to read an idea that makes me go, “Fabulous! Why didn’t I think of that?!” An author platform that shrieks, “I can help support this book!” Writing that hooks me from the first line. It’s rare, but it happens.

    The one thing that makes sit up and take notice is great voice. If an author sounds unique and has personality on the page, I tend to pay close attention. I’m a sucker for great voice, and it’s the one thing we rarely see. Much of what we see isn’t bad, so much as it’s the same as everything else. It sounds the same, it reads the same, and it could have been written by anybody. Great voice in writing always grabs me.

    On the flip side, the thing that makes me immediately plop the query into my “reject” pile is seeing the same old thing — something that’s trying to ride the coattails of a project that’s already been done in a big way. (Examples include, “I was thinking we could turn the Book of Revelation into a novel” and “What about a book on making your life more purpose driven?” I’ve seen them both. Recently.)


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  • June 26, 2012

    Should you make your novel available for free?


    Martin wrote a note and asked, “How much of your novel should you post on the internet before you have an agent or publisher? I posted three chapters, and it has proven to be so popular that I now have readers writing to me and begging me to post more of the story. My fear is that I don’t want to give it away, but by the time I wait for a traditional publisher, my readers will be gone.”

    Interesting scenario, Martin, and you’re asking questions about something that has changed considerably in the past year or two. I used to rarely encourage an author to post his or her chapters on a website outside of a promotional campaign for a book’s release, since it seemed like there was no way for the author to win. I mean, you might garner some attention from an agent, but it would seem like you’d be more apt to get some of the know-nothing, fly-by-night types to contact you. And as for readership, you’ve hit the problem dead on — you might gain readers, but will they stick around long enough to buy the book? That used to be doubtful — from the time you turn in a completed manuscript, you’re looking at a year’s wait before there are ink-and-paper copies on store shelves.

    BUT over the past couple of years that has changed. We now have seen numerous authors post a few chapters to get readers hooked, then later sell them for the entire book. Sometimes that plan has worked; sometimes it hasn’t. The alternative has been to post the entire book on line, sell it, and use it to build a readership. Then you try to steer faithful readers to purchase your other releases (so you capture the names and emails of readers, you get in touch with them, etc).

    Of course, over the past few years we’ve seen a bunch

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  • June 23, 2012

    Should a writer wait for better times?


    Lisa wrote to ask this: “With today’s publishing economy taking a downturn, would you recommend writers, especially new writers, wait for better times to approach you with a proposal?”

    I am SO tempted to say, “No, I recommend they call another agent.” But I won’t because people keep accusing me of being snarky.

    Um… Lisa, for all the talk of the national debt and the mortgage crisis and government bailouts ruining our economy over the past few years, people still seem to be buying books. In fact, for all the gloom expressed about publishing, there were more new books offered the last couple of years than ever before. And there are more readers in the world than ever before. So sure, I think some publishers are a bit scared (everybody has been retrenching and rethinking the business), and most are reviewing their practices to see how to reshape things in the light of ebooks and free content on the web. But I can guarantee you every publisher is looking for a GREAT idea, expressed through GREAT writing, by an author with a GREAT platform.

    Sop if you have all of those pieces in place, don’t wait. If you don’t have all those pieces… well, you probably aren’t ready anyway. But if you have a solid manuscript, and you’ve worked to make it as strong as possible, and you can demonstrate a way to help promote your book to your potential readers, then you should start approaching editors and agents. Don’t wait for the economy to get better. That may or may not happen (does anyone think Obama understands sound fiscal policy? does anyone think Romney has the answer?). But here’s what WILL happen: publishers will acquire, edit, produce, market, and sell a boatload of new books.

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  • June 21, 2012

    Thursdays with Amanda: Author Book Trailers (a continuation)


    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.

    After the last blog post on using video as an author, I received some questions from a reader. Figured it would be more helpful to answer them on the blog than through email. (If you have a question on any of the platform topics we’ve discussed, feel free to email me.)

    In your opinion, are book trailers effective? Like any online marketing tool, book trailers are as effective as you want them to be. Left to their own devices, they won’t receive many views (unless they become viral hits). But paired with an aggressive promotional plan, they can reach new readers in ways that blog posts, Tweets, and message board threads cannot.

    I’ve encouraged a few of my authors to not think of their book trailer as a sales tool…but instead as a method of generating buzz and discussion around their book.

    Book trailers can be expensive, with rates starting at around $500. Should we plan on that as a necessary expense? No, they aren’t necessary. No one is going to make you have a trailer (unless you promised in your proposal that you’d have one). If a publishing house really wants one, they may even put it together for you. A good rule of thumb is to think of your readership. If you write fiction for young adults, then yes, a book trailer may be a worthwhile investment. If you write historical romance, then not so much. Think about your audience before taking the book trailer plunge.

    I’ve never looked at one to see if I want to buy a book.  Are they put in your website, on Amazon page for your book?  Or are they

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  • June 21, 2012

    An interview with novelist Les Edgerton, plus…


    Crime writer Les Edgerton, author of Just Like That and The Bitch, offers some good writing… have a look:

    Read it and hear what he has to say. You will not agree with everything Les offers (and you may get offended at some of it), but the man can write, and is a student of words. Good stuff here for writers.

    And if you’d like to learn more from the man, he’s teaching online workshops next week — find out about it here: http://stonehouseink.net/creating-great-novel-beginnings-3-classes-with-les-edgerton/

    Oh… and if you type in the secret code SHUfriends (yes, it’s case sensitive), you’ll get 50% off each class. The benefits of reading my blog!

    By the way, I keep getting questions about HarperCollins’ new “360” publishing program (which aims to release two new ebooks EVERY WEEK — yow). You can read the details here: http://lunch.publishersmarketplace.com/2012/06/harpercollins-launches-360-a-global-publishing-program-for-authors/

    In a stunningly bad move, the Department of Justice has decided monopolies are now good (at least when it comes to publishing): http://lunch.publishersmarketplace.com/2012/05/apple-denies-justices-pricing-conspiracy-charges-says-the-government-sides-with-monopoly/

    If you’re interested, here’s what the Association of Author Representatives had to say to the DOJ: http://lunch.publishersmarketplace.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/2735_001.pdf

    And Cory Doctorow had some good insights into the role of publishers in his latest Publishers Weekly column, which you’ll find here: http://craphound.com/?p=4028

    Now don’t you feel up to date?

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  • June 19, 2012

    Lisa McKay talks about her memoir…


    In a memoir that reviewers have called a “modern-day fairytale”, a single thirty-something receives an email from a distant stranger proposing they date. As they get to know one another entirely via email they must confront troubling questions about purpose, passion, and what it really means to commit to a person or a place.

    Love At The Speed Of Email is the story of an old-fashioned courtship made possible by modern technology:

    Lisa looks as if she has it made. She has turned her nomadic childhood and forensic psychology training into a successful career as a stress management trainer for humanitarian aid workers. She lives in Los Angeles, travels the world, and her first novel has just been published to some acclaim. But as she turns 31, Lisa realizes that she is still single, constantly on airplanes, and increasingly wondering where home is and what it really means to commit to a person, place, or career. When an intriguing stranger living on the other side of the world emails her out of the blue, she must decide whether she will risk trying to answer those questions. Her decision will change her life.

    I sat down with the author, Lisa McKay, to chat recently.

    Chip: Your first book, my hands came away redwas a novel. Why did you choose to write a memoir this time around?

    Lisa: I didn’t intend for this second book to be a memoir. In fact, I was working on a novel on human trafficking when my husband, Mike, and I became engaged. But as we began to plan our wedding I found it increasingly difficult to flip in and out of such vastly different worlds – the happiness of the one I was living in and the harshness of the one I was trying to write about.

    After months of trying to force myself to persevere with the trafficking novel, one day I stopped

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  • June 18, 2012

    How long should my novel be?


    Ben wants to know, “What is the minimum length for a novel to be considered a complete manuscript?”

    That depends on the genre you’re writing for, Ben. If you are creating a contemporary romance, the publishers will expect it to be somewhere in the 55,000-to-60,000 word range. If you’re writing a historical romance, most of the publishers will ask for 75,000 words. For contemporary stand-alone novels, publishers are basically looking for 90,000-to-100,000 words, so that the reader feels there is adequate cost-to-value. And some genres (epics, some speculative fiction, and all Harry Potter rip-offs) are going to be in the 110,000-to-120,000 range.

    Literary fiction (defined here as novels that are usually contemporary, relationship-driven stories exploring the bigger issues of life) can range from as short as 60,000 to as long as 100,000 words. Of course, publishers are always willing to bend the word-count a bit if they fall in love with a manuscript, but this will give you some ballpark numbers to guide your planning. And recently, with the industry in a state of flux, we’ve seen publishing houses move two directions. Some believe the advent of e-books is creating a need for shorter works, so they are focusing on shortening the standard novel to about 80,000 words. Others believe in a bad economy readers want value, so they are lengthening their standard novels to 110,000 words. So… tell your story, get it into the right ballpark, talk with your agent, and think about shaping it for a particular house. 

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