• February 18, 2012

    The Elevator Pitch (a poem for all you going to conferences)


    The Elevator Pitch
    by Mark Glenchur

    The elevator doors clanged shut.
    I did not say a word
    To the other fellow in the car
    But suddenly I heard:

    Are you that famous editor?
    Say, I’m a writer, too!
    You see, I wrote this manuscript—”
    I thought, How nice for you.

    Alas, he did not hear my thought
    And babbled like a brook:
    In fact, I have it with me now.
    You want to take a look?”

    Of course I did. Why else was I
    Alive, except for that?
    I checked the panel: second floor,
    Three dozen from my flat.

    Then, from his knapsack he withdrew
    A folder one inch thick.
    At least it wasn’t two. And yet
    I started feeling sick.

    He proudly plunked it in my hands.
    My feverish pulse raced.
    Four hundred-twenty pages. Times
    New Roman, single-spaced.

    I had a minor heart attack.
    No matter, chapter one:
    It was a dark and stormy night.”
    My kingdom for a gun…

    A plastic smile upon my face,
    I tried to read some more.
    I sneaked a glance; the panel said
    We’d reached the thirteenth floor.

    Thus, five-and-twenty floors remained.
    I did not think I’d last.
    Page two: already, he had killed
    Off half his starting cast.

    I fought the urge to rip the sheet
    In twain before his eyes.
    I kept on reading, but resolved:
    The next such “author” dies.

    I have to say, I’ve never seen
    A rough draft so…unique.
    I almost thought, at first, the man
    Had written it in Greek.

    But, fortunately, I know Greek;
    I learned it as a lad.
    Yet this man’s Greek, if Greek it were,
    Was bound to drive me mad.

    His grammar seemed a Frankenstein
    Of Martian, French, and Dutch.
    (Yes, I know Martian, though I do
    Not really speak it much.)

    His use of punctuation looked
    Like dominoes, or Braille,
    Or Morse code, or a gambler’s dice,
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  • February 17, 2012

    Does the publisher lose money if my book doesn't earn out?


    Brynn asked, "Does a publisher lose money if a book doesn't earn out?"

    I get this question a lot, and to answer it I need to beg your forebearance… Let me answer this with hard numbers, so that I can make my case. It will take a couple minutes to run the numbers.

    Remember, every business can lose money. Retail shops, service business, even publishers. I mean, if you own a shoe store, you order in shoes that don't sell, and you have to drastically reduce prices, you can lose money on each pair of shoes sold. Publishing is no different. The publishing house pays out advances, they pay an editor, hire a cover designer, buy ink and paper, then pay a printer, and cover overhead such as the light bill and the editor's long distance phone calls. A lot of expenses are involved in every book. I like and respect publishers, and as a longtime agent, I WANT them to make money and stay in business. So I'm just answering a question, not writing a polemic. 

    That said, the argument put forth that an unearned advance equals a loss for a publisher just isn't true. (Or at least not the whole truth.) All you have to do is look at some math…

    Let's take some big book the publisher is doing with a celebrity. She's created a $25 hardcover book, and the publisher has paid her a $100,000 advance. The average discount a bookstore gets when ordering a book is roughly 50% — so they're paying the publisher $12.50 for that book. (In reality, it could be less, and there are a thousand factors determining that amount, but let's use a conservative 50% for the sake of clarity). From that amount, you have to subtract the author royalty on the first 5000 copies (the author will be paid $2.50 per book), the next 5000 copies ($3.125 per book), and

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  • February 16, 2012

    Thursdays with Amanda: Blogging as a Fiction Author


    Amanda 2 CropAmanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent.

    The thing that’s going to make every fiction writer reading “Thursdays with Amanda” let out a big sigh of relief is this: publishing houses don’t expect new fiction writers to have huge platforms. In fact, for the most part they don’t expect you to have any sort of platform.

    But before you shut down your blog and Tweet your good-byes to social media, know this…while they don’t expect you to have anything impressive, they do expect you to have a social media presence. And to that, I say if you’re going to do it, you may as well do it right. Because you never know when the thing that tips a house toward publishing your great American novel is the fact that you have a devoted following. Even if the following is a mere 1000 (In his book TRIBES, Seth Godin talks about how 1000 devoted followers are all you need).

    For the past two weeks, we’ve talked about blogging. First, we went over some of the rules of a great blog and a great blog posts. Then, we discussed what makes your blog searchable and how to get readers to find it. So this week, we’ll wrap up the blogging portion of this author platform series by discussing how to blog as a fiction writer.

    Blogging as a fiction writer is difficult. So difficult, that if I were in your shoes, I’d probably choose something else to build my platform. Maybe Facebook or Twitter. Something easier. Because unlike nonfiction authors, fiction authors aren’t really experts at things. They don’t have people coming to them, looking for answers or solutions or world peace. They don’t have that clear topic to drive their blog. They just have themselves

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  • February 15, 2012

    How do I get an agent?


    Elizabeth wrote to ask, "Can you tell me the basics of how to get an agent, when to get an agent, and how the agent relationship works?"

    I have responded to this basic question in the past, so let me repeat some of my old ideas…

    First, remember I’m a literary agent, so I'm either "experienced" or "biased," depending on your position. I’ve been in the publishing business for more than 20 years, full time as an agent for the last 14 or so. I made my living as an author and, later, as an editor before I fell away from the Lord and became an agent. I was with one of the top literary agencies in the business for many years, and now I’m out on my own – so I admittedly have my own perspective. Second, I’m pretty successful at what I do, in a business where some people call themselves “agents” but don’t seem to know what they’re doing (and, consequently, don’t last very long), I’m fairly well known in the industry and, by and large, have developed a pretty good reputation (more evidence for the existence of God). Feel free to ask around and see what others say. Third, most people who know me will tell you that I’m not an agent evangelist. I happen to know there are some very good things a literary agent can do for you (no matter what Jon Konrath says), but I’ll be the first one to tell you that not everybody needs an agent. And I’m fairly safe in talking about this because I’ve been saying the same stuff for years.  So I’m going to give you my opinion…

    When NOT to get an agent:

    -When you're not a proven writer. Generally, publishers are looking for great ideas, expressed through great writing, and offered by a person with a great platform. Sometimes they get all three, usually they settle

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  • February 14, 2012

    Are writing contests a good idea? (and other interesting stuff)


    Tiffany wrote to ask, "What do you think of writing contests? Are they a good idea for beginning novelists?"

    Sure. Contests are a good way for beginning writers to get into the swing of writing. It means you have to write and polish, you've got to meet a deadline, and you are going to allow somebody else to evaluate your work. All of those are good steps. And there are a ton of contests that are good — the Genesis contest, the Writer's Digest Writing Competition, the James Jones First Novel contest. Many universities, magazines, and conferences have their own contests as well — check the most recent edition of Writer's Market or one of the various Writer's Market Guides for up-to-date information. Contests are a great way to gain some needed experience.

    Keep in mind that a contest isn't generally a judge of actual talent — it's a competition between the writers who have chosen to participate. So if a bunch of weak writers all send in their manuscripts, then the winner might not be all that spectacular. But it doesn't hurt to tell a prospective agent or editor that you won a "New Writers Award" or the "Short Prose Competition." Publishers love seeing their authors win awards.

    Holly wrote to say, "I have a non-fiction book contract and an agent who only represents non-fiction. Since I also want to write fiction, do I need another agent? Is there a way to leverage my current situation to increase my odds of getting a good publisher for my novel?"

    Some agents only represent non-fiction projects (and some only fiction projects, or children's projects, or whatever). So yes, the possibility exists that you may need a different agent for your novel. If you're happy with your NF agent and getting good service from him or her, then I'd simply approach the agent and say, "I'm planning to write a

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  • February 13, 2012

    How do I approach a literary agent?


    Diane wrote to ask, "When is the best time to approach an agent? What do I need to have ready in order to talk with him or her?"

    The best time is probably 11 in the morning. The hangover is gone, but the agent has yet to move toward that three-martini lunch. And what to have ready? Well, you ought to have a book proposal that is completely ready. That means you've got a good description of your book: an overview, the features, the details about word count and genre, and your overall focus. You also need to include information about the market: the audience, the need, and comparable titles. And you'll need to have a complete bio, not just something you dashed off in five minutes. You want to reveal who you are and what you bring to the table — your past publishing credits, sales history, media exposure, online traffic, and speaking schedule (where, to whom, on what topics, when, and how often). Hopefully your proposal will tell me something about marketing: what you plan to do in order to support the work, who is endorsing it, what you've done in the past that has worked. There will be a Table of Contents that explains to me the scope and sequence of your book (what you cover, and in what order), and above all there will be some sample chapters that are DONE — written, edited, and polished. If you're authoring a novel, you'll send me a great synopsis that reads like a well-done short story, and you'll tell me that your novel is complete, so I can read the whole thing, should I desire to do so. If you've got a great book package to present, you're probably ready to talk with an agent.

    Be aware that most people I talk to at writing conferences aren't there yet. They might have a good book idea, but it's

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  • February 10, 2012

    Come One, Come All (a marketing guest blog)


    Janice Thompson is the author of numerous novels — most in the "romantic comedy" genre. When she read some of the discussion we've been having about book marketing, she sent this in…

     When one is known for her comedic writing, she thinks twice about taking on a story about the sinking of the Titanic. Imagine my surprise when the team at Summerside/Guideposts Publishing fell head-over (pun intended) for my story idea involving the great ship. Queen of the Waves is a twisted tale, loaded with all the elements—romance, intrigue, and a cast of characters with more luggage than the kind one can carry aboard. Writing is done, and the story is set to release later this year.

    So how does one go about promoting a story like this when one is known for comedy? My answer came from a Facebook friend who suggested I take an anniversary cruise. On the morning of April 10, exactly 100 years to the day after the Titanic set sail from Southampton, the Balmoral will set sail carrying 1309 passengers. She will follow the path of the Titanic, pausing in the spot where the great ship struck the now-infamous iceberg on April 15th. 

    My response to my friend’s suggestion? No thanks! However, the wheels started turning in my brain as I thought the idea through. I might not be interested in boarding a real ship, but what about a “Virtual Titanic” cruise to commemorate the 100-year anniversary? Now, that sounded like fun. I put my feelers out, and within minutes had a response from several readers: “Yes! We want to board your cruise!” With their enthusiasm building, I quickly created a “Queen of the Waves” group on Facebook and put out the following invitation to all interested parties:

    Please join me for a "Virtual Titanic" cruise of the Atlantic, leaving April 1st and ending on April 15th. Meet with me in my "Queen
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  • February 9, 2012

    Thursdays with Amanda: 7 Ways to Grow Your Blog Readership


    Amanda 2 CropAmanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent.

    Thanks for tuning in to my ongoing discussion on author platform! We’re on post two of a three-post miniseries on building your platform through blogging. (If you missed it, last week we talked about the components of a great blog post). This week, we’re going to look at some things you can do to improve traffic and blog searchability. (Is that a word? you ask. Thanks to Google, yes).

    Seven Ways to Build a Platform Through Blogging:

    1.      Title it right – Google is structured so that the title of your blog post helps determine its position within searches. The more searchable terms/keywords that a title has, the more likely it is to be pulled up in a search result. Confused?

    Think of it like this…When people do a Google search, Google, in its infinite wisdom, pulls out what it deems to be the keywords of that search. You can throw an entire sentence at it, and it will pull out the proper nouns, nouns, and possibly verbs. It then moves across the Internet to find a match for those terms, and relies heavily on page titles to do so. This is why it’s key to avoid vague blog post titles, such as “Introducing my new book!” and “Happy to be home!”. These will get you nowhere because the words within them are overused. They aren’t specific enough. Still confused? Stay with me here…

    Let’s say you do a blog post on your next book, which is about a cowboy winning the heart of a school teacher. You want to name the post “My next book!” but realize that would be Google suicide because the odds of your post coming up when someone searches for “book”

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  • February 8, 2012

    All the news that's fit to print…


    There's always a ton of publishing news going on, and I realize it's tough for most writers to stay on top of it all. The fact is, you DON'T NEED to stay on top of it all. But occasionally it's nice to know what's going on, so you can impress your friends or get girls to notice you at parties. So may I share a handful of things I think you should be aware of?

    1. Barnes & Noble has decided not to carry any books published by Amazon. Books-a-Million made the same decision. That may not be a huge shocker (The Gap doesn't sell clothes from Abercrombie & Fitch), but fascinating none the less, as it sets up a battle between the nation's biggest retailers (and every writer's best supporters). The various sides are turning this into a blood feud. You can read about it here:

    2. And that leads to an interesting discussion on the influence Amazon has in publishing these days. A fascinating story here, on "how Amazon is burning down publishing"…

    3. And our friends at Digital Book World have explored how Barnes & Noble has certain advantages in the book wars:

    4. Meanwhile, over in the UK, there's interesting thinking on the ebook wars:

    5. And back here in the Colonies, somebody noticed that HarperCollins is using the Expresso Machine to make their backlist available:

    6. I found this fascinating — a look at how important covers and complete information are to those who e-publish:

    7. And this gives me hope and makes all the noise of the ebook wars fade away — World Book Night is coming April 25th. If you don't know about it, read this:

    8. This also made me happy — a story about an editor deciding to become an agent:

    9. One of the most intelligent reviews of the current e-book
    Continue Reading "All the news that's fit to print…"
  • February 7, 2012

    What do you need to know about literary agents?


    Donna wrote to say, "I heard an agent speak at our writing group. He sounded interesting, so I went to his website, which is interesting but I wasn't sure I could trust it. You have to contract with them for a year and pay an up-front fee of $195, though it's not clear if that is per project for for all your works. Is that the usual course?"

    Yikes. Several thoughts come to mind… First, don't go to any agent that asks for an up-front fee. That screams rip-off. I don't know of any credible literary agent who asks you to send him or her a check right off the bat. You can't be a member of AAR by charging fees, and you'll get listed in "Predators and Editors" if you do. Stay away from fee-based agents. (And if you're interested in this topic, I highly recommend the book Ten Percent of Nothing, which offers a fine expose' of scam agents.) Second, you don't want to sign up with an agent you know nothing about. Websites are marketing tools, and some of them over-promise when in reality the agent will under-deliver. I can claim anything I want on my website (that I'm the best agent in history, that I'll make you a million dollars, that I look exactly like Brad Pitt), but if we don't know each other, and if we've never met, HOW IN THE WORLD DO YOU KNOW WHAT TO BELIEVE? Be cautious over sites that over-promise. (For the record, I look exactly like Brad Pitt. Especially if you stand far away. And squint. And are blind.) Third, be wary of agents trolling for business by sending you advertisements. It's one thing to meet someone at a conference, or to begin a dialogue over a submission you've sent in — most of the authors we represent we met somewhere and had a discussion with, or they were introduced to us by

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