Thursday, June 30, 2011

Author Marketing: Do It Yourself

A social media/online presence is pretty much required these days, no matter what product you're hawking. But it can feel very, very overwhelming and often useless. No one wants to invest ALL THAT effort only to feel like it was wasted.

I had a meeting yesterday with an author who was reluctant to start the "Online Stuff" because it felt to him like a time drain (although by any standard he was very open to the stuff, just had questions). We talked through some tools, like Hootsuite, that can make your social media life fit right into your life-life.

By spending 30 minutes once a week pre-scheduling tweets using Hootsuite and Facebook posts, you guarantee that those channels will be active even if you get busy. It also frees you up to scan your accounts a couple of times a day to find someone to talk to or retweet organically. So you get the best of both worlds: content without having to devote time each day with real-time content as you've got a second.

Try out some of the tools out there. You'll find they make social media accessible on any time budget. MediaBistro's daily email has great news when a new one comes out.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Patience is a virtue.

I've corresponded recently with several authors who had good projects. They weren't ready to go out, but they were getting there. After requesting fulls, these authors came back and told me they had already signed a contract of some sort with small presses, but that they were querying A) another project or B) the subrights or C) a continuation of the series under contract with the small press.

My reaction can be seen here:

Once a book has been published, whether by an indie press or online (both valid options!!) your road to a traditional publishing deal, should you later choose to see one, gets either a lot easier or a lot harder. Easier if you sell 10K+ copies of e- or p-book. Harder if you don't. Those sales numbers will follow you, and no, agents can't just leave out that it was previously published because that will violate the Warranties and Indemnities section of the contract you might sign with a publisher.

Further, the contracts that these authors signed would never have passed an agent's muster--one never defined which rights the publisher held, meaning that at any time they could veto anything else the book might become. It means royalty splits weren't defined. It means that you're at the pub's mercy. I couldn't take on a project tied up like that, even if it was a slam dunk.

The worst part, in one case, was that the author had been querying no time at all. Like 3 weeks or something. But she got the offer and just went ahead without an agent and, unfortunately, that impatience may have prevented her from getting a better deal.

If you don't want an agent, that's fine. But the truth is that most authors seem to say they don't want an agent, because that's in vogue, and act on that by signing with a publisher or self-pubbing. Then many decide they do want an agent. But if you've chosen to come to an agent in the middle, rather than at the beginning of your career, you're probably bringing baggage to the table.

My suspicion is that authors get that offer, and IT'S A REAL (if small!) PUBLISHER! and they just sign. Or they throw up their hands and THEY'RE GOING TO BE THE NEXT AMANDA HOCKING. And the decision may be a little rash. But by then, it's too late for an agent to get in the game.

If you get interest from a publisher, give the agents you've queried a chance to jump on you!! Tell them. Especially if it's only been a month. Because once you're published, you're published--even if it's poorly.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Contest Winners!

Thanks to everyone that entered!!! This was a fun one to judge; some of you really got building the story around the last line. It's hard to start with one piece of a story and make something cohesive happen, without anything feeling tacked on or convenient. Since most of us get our ideas for books in pieces--A BRILLIANT FIRST LINE--I thought it'd be a good exercise. Hope you liked it!!

So, the results:

First VERY honorable mention was Rachel Levine at 4:59. I was rolling on the floor. SO funny. The last line wasn't quite organically integrated, though. Verrry close; great job!!

Second HM is Gabriela at 7:32. The writing was tight and the back-and-forth was really nice. The last line felt natural...but I thought it more a snippet of a (very well written) scene than a full story.

And, the winners. Yes, yes, there are 2!! In no order:

Tofu2 at 5:29 with a sweet, poignant short that was perhaps the most complete story of the bunch. Well done!!


Rachel Levine at 4:59 with a hysterical nod at those most clammorous demanders of their pound of flesh. Great references, and I loved that you captured the Crackberry aid in just a couple of lines.

Tofu and Rachel, email me at proseblog[@]gmail[dot]com with your addresses; I'll send you your books! (Or, if you want a query or first 10 pages critiqued, we can do that).

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

If you queried me at FinePrint Literary Management (for Janet)

I haven't responded to everyone who was in touch with me at FPLM. I know, you're wondering where the heck I've gotten to and whether I even remember you because we were like this!! True! and I really liked your book! I am getting to it.

If, in the meantime, you've done any of the following:
  • Gotten an agent.
  • Signed with a publisher.
  • Requeried Janet and gotten a request from her.
Please let me know. If you've got a success story and want to share it publicly here, please do!! I'd love to hear. If you want to email me directly about SOMETHING YOU SUBMITTED WHILE I WAS AT FPLM, do so at the blog email: proseblog[@]theGoogleemail[dot]com. If you email to ask anything regarding an open submission here at Lowenstein, please do so at the assistant[@]bookhaven[dot]com email--re-forward your original Lowenstein query so that the whole thing is together, please.

Just as a note, if you have any of those bullet points happen at any point in any query process, you should tell all agents it affects. Just FYI.

Thanks for your patience, everyone!

Thanks to everyone who entered!

Results will be posted here on Friday.


Monday, June 20, 2011

Well, that was heavy.

In light of our sort of heavy discussion re: ebook ethics the last couple of days, I thought we'd have a writing contest to cleanse ze palette! Enter in the comment section.

The rules:
  1. Entries don't open until 6pm tonight, Monday June 20th.
  2. Entries close tomorrow, Tuesday June 21, at 6pm.
  3. 100 words or fewer.
  4. This sentence must be the final sentence in your story:
  5. I felt sorry, after that, but still I couldn't bring myself to cross the room.
  6. It must be a story.
The Prize (1):

Based on your story's tone and content, I'll select a book from my personal library (ARCs and real books included) and send it to you! If you would really rather have a query critique or the first 10 pages workshopped or something, I'll do that...but you do know that the only way to really improve your writing in general is to read, right?


Down and Dirty Wrap Up

Sort of. I mean it's not like we'll never talk about this stuff again.

A colleague sent me this article:, which I think dovetails nicely with what we talked about Thursday and Friday of last week.

Note particularly the president of AAA's last statement:
"There are certain activities that our code of conduct explicitly prohibits and the practice of agencies offering their authors a way to market their books directly to the reader is not one of them..."

Well, certainlyt. In fact, we'd encourage the marketing of these books directly to readers. Now, how about the question at hand: publishing the book...?

A disappointing side-step of the issue, if you ask me.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Down and Dirty Ethics of Digital Publishing

OK, full disclosure: yesterday's post wasn't *just* a general knowledge "Hey, you should know this, just because!!" post.

Reading that post and understanding what's outlined there is vital for understanding *this* post. So...I'll wait. :)

Now that we're all on the same page:

I'm sure you've heard of the new companies popping up as independent digital publishers. Some are actually integrated into agencies.

Independent ePublishers typically have 50-50 royalty splits and handle new covers, conversions, etc. Most (now at least) do this front-end work for no money down, without an advance. I think this is pretty fair, although there is certainly room for improvement (but that's another post).

Today I discuss the latter--agencies getting into the ebook business. Many people have an immediate negative reaction:
agencies shouldn't be publishers. It's an inherent conflict of interest (how can someone negotiate against herself in your best interest?). But if agencies aren't allowed to epublish on their authors' behalf, then how can they, for instance, put an out-of-print backlist online, which is in their client's best interest?

Are they forced to go with one of the indie ePublishers, even if, for whatever reason, they don't think it's best?

The issue is more complicated than just "Agencies should never publish." And to get to the bottom of that, you have to get at the financials: who's getting paid for what.

In a traditional publishing deal, the author pays both sides: the publisher takes a revenue split on sales (your royalty rate is the other portion of this split) and the agent takes a standard 15% commission on the gross (total amount before taxes) of all monies received.

The publisher gets paid for publishing the book, the agent gets paid for working on the book, getting it sold, and monitoring the publication and sales forever.

So let's say the backlist is small, and it's better to leave out the ePublisher, do the conversion through a freelancer, and get a 70% royalty for the author (in their best interest!) by publishing directly with Amazon, etc. The agency handles everything. Of course, they should still get their 15% commission. They got the book sold in the first place, and they're facilitating the ebook.

But I've heard of agencies, here and abroad, taking a 50% instead of 15% cut in the name of all the "extra work" they're doing on the ebook. To someone who doesn't know the steps (unlike you who does know the steps), that probably sounds reasonable. Who the heck knows how HTML works, anyway?! It's probably some sort of voodoo.

Those agencies seem to be saying "pay us 35% for publishing this ebook, and, of course, we're still entitled to our 15% for working on and getting the book sold in the first place." So a cut for a "Publisher" function and one for an "Agency" function. This is where we cross the ethical line, in my opinion.

There's no publisher involved.

"But," you might say, "don't they deserve some more dough for the extra work they're doing that a publisher normally would?"

Well, back to yesterday's post: There are 6 steps (roughly) to getting an ebook online. 3 of those are probably going to be done by a freelancer (the conversion). Your agency, unless they've made some big personnel changes recently, is probably going to contract this work out. After all, they've had a full-time gig being agents for some time now; more than likely they don't have time to integrate ebook coding themselves.

So, you should be paying the freelancer, not the agency, for the conversion. A simple referral to a freelancer doesn't justify a 35% cut of sales (forever).

Step 4, the upload, takes vigilance and attention to detail, but it's a one-time deal. And it takes about 30 minutes. I've heard of and support agencies charging a (small) flat fee to perform this service, but a 200%+ higher commission rate?...not so much.

Step 5 is a step that agencies already do for all of your books. Monitor sales and royalties. So that definitely doesn't justify 35% more money--or any more money.

The final step, marketing, is and always will be a split labor. I do foresee agencies charging to do marketing for their authors. We are, after all, really good sales people. But marketing services should not affect commission rates, which are tied to sale of books only. (Marketing helps sales of books, but it is not sales of books)

So 50% of the process is done by someone else, 16.67% is one-time "extra work" for the agency, 16.67% is what they've always done, and 16.67% may not be done at all by the agency, and isn't related to sales, which are what we typically commission. I'll leave you to make the final decision, but that doesn't sound like it adds up to a 50% cut for the agency.

Agencies stand to make money on the sales of books. There are opportunities for agencies to provide new services to their clients in the marketing arena: setting up and managing a social media presence, for instance. And for those, they should certainly be paid.

But the publication of clients' books online should not be considered a new revenue stream for agencies. Royalties, sales, are an agency's revenue stream. It's not that agencies shouldn't facilitate the publication of clients' books online, it's that they shouldn't be paid as publishers.

A client's book going into ebook format is the same, for an agency, as having the book come out in mass market (as far as commission). Someone gets it into the new format and the agent monitors the publication and sales, and continues to take 15% for services rendered.

And, dash it all, we still have to figure out the marketing.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Down and Dirty Anatomy of Digital Publishing


Did your eyes glazed over? I don't blame you; there is pretty tangled system of information out there on the topic, and more options pop up daily for how to make your cool million publishing online.

But it's important to realize that you are not without allies in this (in fact, that's the whole point of having an agent, but that's another post). It's also important to realize that you have to learn. At least a little. "Print Only" publishing does NOT exist anymore--unless you're doing it yourself. I've summed up the process here in this novella-length post as a launchpad for your own research.

The problem with ebook illiteracy is circular and (at least) twofold:
  1. If you don't know what the steps of the process are, it's incredibly easy to get taken advantage of.

  2. BUT

  3. There's a "shut-off" reaction to a lot of things Information Technology. The thought is "There's no way I will understand this." So then you never do.

Over a year ago, I literally didn't know what an HTML tag was (and if you're like "What the heck is that?" that's OK--you don't have to know; that's not the point of this post). It took me 60 hours to code my first ebook (now it takes me...significantly less). Somehow (Youtube and I figured it out, and if that's the case then you certainly could too. If nothing else, you will definitely understand what I'm about to tell you. And it's in your best interest to know.

Here follows a very bare bones step-by-step of what it takes to put a book online:

  1. Is the book available in a .doc format? If not, it needs to be. If yes, go to #2.

  2. This is primarily of concern with backlist books which were never digitized--they're only in printed form. If this is the case, the book has to be scanned and converted through OCR (Optical Character Recognition) into a Word document (or a PDF, which will be converted to a Word doc).

  3. Convert the Word doc into an HTML file and, in an HTML editor (not Word), do your formatting.

  4. Here, in the HTML file, is where you'll do your formatting and yes, unfortunately, you have to do it in plain, hand-coded HTML. There are programs out there, such as inDesign, which can facilitate this process as long as you're coding a plain novel. But if you're dealing with any hyperlinking or index or anything remotely complicated, I'm afraid you're looking at hand-coding. inDesign allows you to export as an ePub file.

    Don't forget that you need a unique ISBN (separate from any print edition of the book published by someone else--like a publisher) and a copyright page (a list here of what MUST appear on the copyright page).

  5. Convert the coded HTML file into a .mobi file and a .epub file.

  6. These are the only two file types you need in order to put your book on every platform you can think of (and some you can’t). .Mobi is for Amazon/Kindle, .ePub is for everything else.This process is automated via MobiPocket (.mobi) and programs like Calibre (.epub).

  7. Upload!

  8. There are a couple of ways to do this, and it will take relatively little time. I've used in my freelancing to some success (Smashwords also allows you to publish across pretty much every major platform--Apple, Amazon, Borders, etc.--from one place). You can get a free ISBN from Smashwords as a part of the publication process or you can pay for a "premium ISBN," which I'm not sure would do you any good.

  9. Monitor your sales and royalties.

  10. You can set up payment via Paypal or, at least with Amazon, you can be paid with paper checks. Paypal does charge fees, so Smashwords (for instance) will pass that on to you. For Smashwords, it's a $10 fee. Also, most places will report, but not pay, if earnings are less than a certain amount ($75 in a lot of cases).

  11. Market (we don't have to get in to that here, but for godssakes don't forget it needs to be done!.

So that's it. It's not impossible, but it is labor intensive, time consuming (especially the conversion process), and, My GOD is it frustrating at times. You may suddenly realize that publishers do a lot more than just mess up somehow when they're publishing a book. A lot more.

More than likely, if you're looking to put titles online you're going to use a freelance coder for your conversion. Or you're begging to spend 60 hours coding your first ebook. Things to consider:
  • Ask to see some books they've done to get a sense of their skill level.
  • Be sure to sign something (both of you) that states what formats they will convert to (they should do both .mobi and .epub for you) and set a deadline.
  • Make sure they're going to deliver you the files without claiming ownership of any "design" (there shouldn't be any if we're talking straight conversion) or content. This must be explicitly stated in the agreement!
  • Don't be afraid to lobby for a payment schedule so you're not paying it all up front and to keep the freelancer on deadline. 1/2 on signing, 1/2 on delivery would be a standard way to divide it.

Be careful, authors. Do research, and take your time. There is so much more to the process--more nuances and anomalies that I could write coherently here.

In the comments section, please let loose on questions, or share your pitfalls/anomalies with others. It's so important that authors understand the process of ebook publication, even if they don't understand the mechanics (which is OK!). It's particularly important on this blog, because I'll be posting about the ethics of ebook agreements, especially as related to agencies now acting as publishers, tomorrow.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Grand Opening!

So, you know those stores that have been open for months and then put up a banner that says GRAND OPENING and you sort of cock your head to the side...because it's been open, right? but then you walk inside anyway to see if there are any good sales?

This is sort of like that.

I'm officially opening to queries here at Lowenstein Associates. Here's what I'm looking for:

Meredith is interested in a wide range of engaging fiction for all ages, including literary fiction, women’s fiction, thrillers and crime. She is open to science fiction and fantasy that has something new to offer the genres. ENDER’S GAME is her favorite book, so we’ll leave it at that. She does not represent early readers or children’s picture books. Nor does she like children, particularly.

For both nonfiction and fiction, Meredith considers more than just the print possibilities. Projects that lend themselves to apps, enhanced ebooks, and other fresh ways to tell stories are especially appealing.

You can find info on how and where to query on the "Query" tab. Because I'm big on that logic stuff.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I don't agree, Mr. Swift.

Today, this was in my blog reader feed. It's a quote from Graham Swift (Wish You Were Here) about the writing process and what novels can and cannot mean for their readers:

"There's no such thing as the contemporary novel. Before I seem the complete reactionary, let me add that I've happily joined in many discussions about 'the contemporary novel' where what that usually, unproblematically means is novels that have appeared recently or may appear soon. But the novel that's contemporary in the sense of being wholly 'of now' is an impossibility, if only because novels may take years to write, so the 'now' with which they begin will be defunct by the time they're finished. Nonetheless, the idea of the novel that's wholly of now persists. There's an undeniable thrill in seeing what's most current in our lives offered back to us in fictional guise, but it soon dates and it's never enough."

I don't know about this. Yes, many novels take years--even decades--to write. But some don't some are written in a matter of weeks, days. Some, as illustrated by the (painfully bad) cell-phone novels that came out of Japan a while back, are written in hours, with dozens of authors.

It seems to me like Mr. Swift is talking about a very narrowly defined definition of a novel. I think he's missing the fact that stories are literally being told in real time today, if no other place than on Twitter or through our Facebook status updates. As he's defining it, sure, I don't think you can call a novel contemporary (again, as he's defining the word). But contemporary writing is happening all the time!

Writers out there, have you felt the kind of frustration Mr. Swift talks about?