• May 31, 2012

    Thursdays with Amanda: How do I use Pinterest as an author?


    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.

    Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+ … these are a few of the social media sites that I don’t feel a great need to push on authors. Their usage is minimal, their markets are niche and their options are limited. But while we’re at this whole platform thing, I figured I should spend some time at least touching on these sites.

    Social media sites come and go, and Pinterest is the most recent site to see a major usage spike. Consequently, businesses and brands and marketing teams are just now beginning to infiltrate the site and use it for their evil purposes of getting you to buy, want, need things or experiences that you normally could care less about. So naturally, there’s buzz in the industry about how to use Pinterest to promote books.

    But let’s be clear about what Pinterest is…Pinterest is a site that allows users to “pin” images found on the web onto their virtual pinboards. There’s minimal text involved because it’s a visual site. It’s all about virtual scrapbooking. To give an even better idea of what/how Pinterest is used, I’d say right now it’s probably the biggest fad among brides-to-be. They can have their wedding pinboards where they gather all of the pretty photos they see online…photos they’ll then use as wedding inspiration.

    So why are authors feeling the pressure? I honestly can’t say, and if you’re reading this, baffled by corporate America’s desire to turn Pinterest into a marketing trap, then you and I can have a drink sometime and shake our heads at marketing teams who feel they have to have all of these online presences just because “everyone’s doing it.” Personally, I wouldn’t waste

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  • May 30, 2012

    How do I use Comparative Titles in my Proposal?


    Someone wrote to ask, “Why are you calling it a ‘competitive titles’ works section, when we used to call it a ‘comparative works’ section?” My answer: Either works. The goal is simply that the author is trying to help the publisher see that MY book is like HIS book, or that MY book appeals to the same audience as HER book. So you’re comparing titles, in order to give your proposal some context in the mind of the acquisitions editor.

     With that in mind, let me suggest some traps to avoid:

    Don’t pick a book that has sold more than 250,000 copies. Ifyou’ve writing a juvie book and compare it to Harry Potter, you’re going to look stupid (“Rowling sold a bazillion copies, so I can too!”). Anything that has sold that many copies isn’t a competitor, it’s a conqueror. Ignore it and use something else.

    Don’t pick a book that has sold twelve copies. That suggests to the editor that “nobody cares about this topic.” Hey, Solomon once told us the writing of books is endless. So if there has never been a successful book on the United States Parrot Importation Act, there’s probably a reason.

    Don’t ignore the obvious successes. If you’re doing a military historical novel on the Battle of Gettysburg, it would be pretty dumb to leave off Michael Shaara’s Killer Angels. That sends the message to the editor that you don’t really know your field.

    Don’t make snarky comments about other books. I often see that, and it’s annoying to have some unpublished wannabe send me something that says, “THIS book was successful, but it’s not nearly as good as mine,” or “THIS book sold 100,000 copies, but the author does a poor job with dialogue.” A comparative analysis section isn’t a review of everything on the market — it’s simply a vehicle for helping the editor know how to position your particular title. 


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  • May 29, 2012

    How do I create a “competitive works” section in my proposal?


    Karen wrote and said, “The hardest part of a proposal for me is the ‘competitive analysis’ section. Any advice or tips?”

    Sure — think about the purpose of that section. Publishers bascially sell in lines — that is, if they are currently selling a lot of fitness and health titles, they’re going to want to publish more fitness and health titles in the future, since they know how to market and sell those. (One of the things that drives publishers crazy is seeing a proposal that screams, “You’ve never seen anything like this!” Or an agent that says, “You’re not currently doing any books in this genre, so I thought I’d send this to you.” Huh? If a publisher isn’t doing any books in one area, they’re probably not going to know what to do with that project. An easy rejection.) So the “competivie analysis” section of your proposal serves as an advance organizer. It tells the publishing team, “THIS book is similar to THAT book. If you could get excited about THAT title, you’re sure to like THIS title.” Make sense?

    What most authors do is to head over to Amazon.com and spend a little time doing research. Search by title. Look at key words. If you find an author who has done a book similar to yours, check out his or her other titles (since authors have a tendency to maintain an interest in a topic, just like publishers). What you want to do is to find a handful of titles (normally about three to seven) that are similar to your proposed book.

    In your proposal, you want to list the title, author, publisher, and release date. You need to give some indication of what the sales were, if you can find them (that will take a bit of research). Then you want to explain very briefly how that book is similar to your own. And, in many

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  • May 25, 2012

    How do I estimate my book’s size?


    Today’s question is from Sheila, who says, “An agent just requested my novel proposal, and asked about the word count. I told him it’s roughly 150,000 words, but that I’ll be cutting it to perhaps 120,000 by the time I’m done. He asked me how many pages it is… But is there an appropriate way to estimate a book’s size?”

    Sure there is, Sheila… the rule of thumb with most publishers is to average about 300 words per page. So a 100,000-word novel will run about 300 pages. (That’s not exactly true, but it’s a good general guideline.)

    That said, let me speak to a couple other things you mentioned…

    First, while it could generally be said that most books run between 240 and 300 pages, most NOVELS tend to run toward the longer side. Frankly, nobody is buying 30,000-word novels. The shortest that routinely gets contracted is the category romance, which runs about 55,000 words. Historical romances at Harlequin will run to 75,000 words, but everywhere else they’re longer. Most stand-alone novels run between 80,000 and 95,000 words. And now we’re seeing some publishers produce book that run from 100,000 to 120,000 words.

    I frequently get authors sending me 150,000 word novels (they always seem to be scifi & fantasy writers, who must all be longwinded), and once received a 180,000-word tome. Could it get published? Maybe. Occasionally somebody puts out a huge novel on a chunk of dead trees, but it’s rare. My thought? Unless you’re writing for a category publisher, shoot for the 90,000 word mark. People in a bad economy want value for their money — which means a big, thick book for their cash.

    Second, while most books from new authors tend to be shorter, that’s not a hard and fast rule. When I was an associate publisher with Time-Warner, we released Elizabeth Kostova’s THE HISTORIAN, which was a huge book… AND it

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  • May 24, 2012

    Thursdays with Amanda: How to Use Facebook as a Published Author


    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, we discussed how to use Facebook when you’re an unpublished author looking to grow your platform. So this week, we’re going to turn the tables and focused on published authors (this applies if you’re e-published, self-published or traditionally published).

    Most of last week’s rules still apply. 1) Keep your personal and professional pages separate, and 2) It’s not about quantity of followers, it’s about quality. But while the previous post focused more on creating a Facebook fanbase out of nothing, this one is going to focus on how to 1) improve the one you have and 2) ensure it’s a positive reflection of who you are as an author.

    5 Tips for a Thriving Facebook Author Community

    1. Pay attention to design and usability. Authors who are in this for the long haul will take a portion of their earnings and put it toward marketing. Despite its built-it-yourself usability, Facebook shouldn’t be overlooked as a space that needs some TLC. Take the effort needed to have a really great cover/banner/masthead(whatever they’re calling it) designed for your Author Facebook Group. Then, spend the time needed to navigate your page and make sure information is available. If you have a bunch of speaking events, add them to your events board. If you do really great video blogs (vlogs), add them. If you like to blog in your Notes section, then highlight that. You can even customize what info is highlighted on your page’s top navigation. Take Ted Dekker for example. He’s included email updates and event listings in his Facebook page’s top navigation. Charlaine Harris is another great example (though her banner is a bit lackluster)…she’s promoting

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  • May 23, 2012

    What’s the purpose of a market analysis in your book proposal?


    Staying on the topic of proposals, Dania wants to know, “What is the purpose of a market analysis in a proposal? What kind of information are you looking for? And how much info do you want? It seems like the agent is the one who knows the market, so I’m not sure why an author is asked to do this.”

    A market analysis serves as an advance organizer to a publisher. It helps reveal that there is a market is for the new book, helps describe the potential audience, and helps the publisher think through how they could market and sell the new title. A market analysis is a way of saying, “You once published this title, and my proposed book is similar.”

    The author does the legwork to put this together because it’s the author’s job to create the best proposal possible. A good agent will work with you to tweak this section, perhaps recommending other titles or revising the descriptions to best fit each publishing house.

    Often writers will come to me with a pitch that says, “Nobody has ever done anything like this before!” That fails to recognize the real world of publishing. Companies discover how to produce and sell certain types of books — for example, Love Inspired knows how to sell historical romance, and the folks at Broadway know how to sell books to professional types and business leaders. Imagine walking up to a nonfiction publisher and saying, “You’ve never done western novels before, so the market is wide open!” It’s stupid — that’s not how publishers think. If you bring them a new project, you need to explain the market for the book, and help them to see how they are going to succeed with it.

    Generally a market analysis lists three to eight published books that have had some success, explains each book briefly, and may subtly define how the new, proposed book

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  • May 22, 2012

    How do I get a good endorsement?


    So how do I go about getting good endorsements?

    Don’t ask everybody you know. One great endorsement is better than five tepid ones.

    Target the best candidates. Think about who the best people would be to endorse your work, and ask them.

    Ask people personally. The odds of you getting a good endorsement are much better if you do your own asking, rather than waiting for some publicist or agent to get around to it. (This is why it pays to network.) 

    Use your six degrees of separation. You’ll be surprised who you can connect with through your friends, your writing acquaintances, your agent, and your editor. 

    Start with a query. Include a short, two-paragraph letter that acknowledges the individual’s busyness, but requests they take a few moments to look over your manuscript and see if they’d be comfortable offering a few words of encouragement to readers.

    Politeness counts. If you haven’t figured that out yet, you need to go talk with your mom.

    The clearer the instructions, the better the endorsement. If you really want someone to say “the writing is brilliant,” you might gently suggest words to that effect in your letter. If you want them to say you’re the second coming of Mark Twain, include a photo of yourself wearing a white suit and smoking a cigar. The point is, you want to make it easy for the person to help you. Like most writers, a suggestion can speed the process more than a blank sheet of paper. Give the potential endorser some direction. 

    The bigger the name, the longer it takes. A good endorsement takes time. You can’t call Bill Clinton and expect him to get you something tomorrow — believe it or not, he’s got other things on his schedule. Get your manuscript done early, get it onto the desk of the person you’re asking, and be patient.

    Don’t clutter your proposal with too many

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  • May 21, 2012

    Does it help to have endorsements?


    I’ve had a number of questions about book proposals sent to me, so I’d like to take several days to explore creating a great book proposal. Stan wrote to me and asked, “Does it really help a book to have endorsements on it? Would it help my proposal?”

    One thing publishing history has taught us is that readers are not stupid. They may get fooled occasionally by great marketing, but they catch on quickly — so yesterday’s collection of neato stories is today’s boring, unsold project. And book buyers have caught on to the fact that a ton of endorsements by people who haven’t actually read your book, in the words of Bogie-as-Rick, “doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” The days of listing 37 endorsement that all say “loved the book” are over. Done. Dead and gone. Departed this life. Assumed room temperature. Today, there are only two types of endorsements that matter.

    1. The Celebrity Endorsement. This is where you get Tom Clancy or John Grisham or Brad Pitt or some other notable, attention-getting person to say, “This book moved me deeply” or some such thing. It also includes getting a real doctor to say that your cookbook will help fight cancer, or getting an investment banker to say that your money management book offers a great plan to help readers get out of debt. Locally, it’s the equivalent of having your well-known professional basketball player go on camera and explain that he always buys his cars at Farnsworth Chevrolet. There’s value in getting a recognizable name to endorse your product. I don’t know that it always works with books, but it’s a heck of a lot better than getting your mom or your pastor or your neighbor to say it (“I’ve loved little Chippy’s writing since he was in diapers!”). The problem is that you often find the same people saying

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  • May 16, 2012

    What do you need to know about writing contests?


    Danielle wrote to say, “I know there are contests going on at this summer’s conferences. What contest advice can you give us?”

    I’ve made my living in publishing for about thirty years now, which means that sometimes I get asked to be a contest judge for a writers’ conference or contest. I don’t generally enjoy it — not because I don’t like participating, but because far too many newer writers have a bit too much confidence in their own work. While I love teaching younger writers to help them improve, I hate having to explain why I ranked one author a “ten” and another author a “two.” In my view, it should be obvious.

    Things like voice and theme and clarity and focus stand out in some writers’ works. Their use of words and clarity in point-of-view are crisp and interesting. The characterization is strong, the story holds my interest, and the overall style makes the piece something I want to read. But that’s what a contest judge does — make evaluations of writing, in order to determine which pieces are strong and which are not. I’d encourage you to view a contest as a learning opportunity, rather than simply a competition that is won or lost.

    So, in case you’re one of those people who may get discouraged over not winning every trophy in sight, let me offer some thoughts…

    1. If you only want to hear good things said about you, buy a round of drinks.

    2. If you only want to hear good things said about your writing, show it to your mom.

    3. If hearing something critical about your work will crush you, consider a career change. (Okay…maybe that sounds too harsh. But to be a writer is to be a learner — all of us are seeking to improve, and that means all of us have to hear another criticize our work. There’s no getting

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  • May 14, 2012

    And the winner is…


    We’ve been working diligently (translation: “occasionally looking up from my glass of Guinness and my P.G. Wodehouse novel”)  to study the entrants in this year’s Bad Poetry Contest. As usual, it’s tough to pick a winner because, in the immortal words of Mark Twain, “badness is a state of mind.” (Okay, that wasn’t really Mark Twain. I think it was a British rapper who goes by the genuinely stupid moniker “Badness.” But it sounds better if I quote someone literary.)

    Anyway, we read through all that badness. We got things like “The Arab Sprummer” and someone named Longbottom talking about holding hands with Shakespeare while the daffodils became “a candy shop for bumblebees.” We even got a rapper offering us this gentle bit o’ badness:

    i finna shoot somebody
    i finna pull the trigga
    and snigga
    and turn to my homies and say
    hey how you doin
    is it gonna rain 

    That’s right — there’s no bad rhyme like a rappin’ bad rhyme! But not a winner. Coming in second place (which, as I’m sure you know from watching beauty pageants, is important because if our champion is unable to uphold the Official Standards of Badness, the second place guy has to buy drinks for everyone) is Ben, who offered this total stinker:

    A Fruit Soliloquy

    by Ben Erlichman

    Alas, the moose, she has taken my bananas
    And I can hear the sound of the wailing wind no longer.
    Whatever shall I do? How can I reclaim
    What has been taken from me?
    It is as if my very soul cries out
    In hopes for some relief, some comfort, 
    Some fresh produce to make me regular once again.

    I beseech you; a mere kiwi would suffice to fill my needs!
    Even a raisin would do more good than harm!
    And yet, If I had but one raisin, 
    I would surely turn to madness
    Because I would have but one raisin––no

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