Wednesday, January 27, 2010

When is the Right Time to get an Agent

Currently, there is the mantra, "get an agent, you need an agent to sell a book" for unpublished authors. This logic is everywhere until I stumbled upon the web site of published writer Dean Wesley Smith. His website is here. Dean has written more than 90 novels and numerous short stories. He knows a great deal about publishing and he disputes this statement wholeheartedly. He doesn't bash agents at all, just the misconceptions that are out there. If you want to learn more, go to his website and read his posts about his experiences with agents, editors and publishers.

Dean contradicts one of the biggest myths out there that "you need a agent to sell a book." You can read the entire post here, but here's an excerpt:

Agents are hired to do certain chores a writer needs done, to help in negotiating contracts, to be a pit bull with late payments, to have connections with Hollywood and maybe overseas, although that job is falling away as well. They are the business contact between the publisher and the writer on business items, leaving the editor and writer to work on the craft side.

So suddenly, because of the situation, the publishers are demanding that a writer hire an employee before they will look at their product.

Excuse me?

Let me look at why this system is about to fail and fail big.

First off, it forces agents by the nature of the requirement to be the gatekeeper for all the bad stuff publishers don’t want. That’s not their job. When I hire an agent, I don’t hire a slush reader doing someone else’s work, I hire someone who negotiates contracts for me and has good contacts. I don’t want MY employee reading slush.

It allows young agents to think they are the boss at times over writers. Of course, no longterm writers think this, and no respected, longer term agent thinks it either, but beginning writers and early professionals fall into this trap, and even go so far as to rewrite a book on demand of their agent.

Excuse me?? If the agent could write, they would be, instead of taking 15% of what a writer makes for writing. Yet beginning writers and young professionals who don’t understand how the business really works fall into this ugly rewriting trap all the time. Agents are your employee, they don’t tell you what to do, you tell them. Duh.

This guideline also helps young agents believe they have a lot more power than they really do, and it makes new writers buy into that belief. I have heard new writer after new writer get excited about “getting an agent” and the agent is 26 years old, a former editor who got laid off, and has hung out a shingle. The new agent wouldn’t know how to negotiate a contract if their life depended on it, let alone have any contacts except for maybe a few people in the place they were fired. But as a former editor, they think they know what makes a book better, so they think their job is to have new writers rewrite. And thus years are wasted and no one makes any money.

Point right here: Anyone can be an agent. There are no rules, no regulations, no training. The old joke is “What does it take to become a book agent? Stationery.”

Another reason this system is showing major cracks and about to fail is that editors are not getting the new and innovative books they are looking for. They are not seeing the new talent, the new dangerous voices, because the agents and the system itself are blocking these voices. Often these new voices fall into the rewriting trap shoved on them by a new agent in the business and if the editors see anything, they see the watered-down manuscript that fits into the next vampire/Da Vinci Code want-to-be.

Writer after writer after writer I have met are getting discouraged and when I ask how many editors have rejected their book they say “None. But I sent it to 30 or 40 agents before giving up on it.”

No editor had a chance to buy the book.

Makes me want to cry for all the good books lost in this last decade.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Chapter 33 is posted

Chapter 33 is up over at our author pages,

The pieces are all starting to fit together, but is that necessarily a good thing? Lives will be changed and not always for the better. And what connection does Lilly, a gypsy pirate, have to do with young Duke Tyrian?

There are less than 10 chapters left in our story. Will the twins and Eclair find the missing crystal and make it back to Otharia in time to stop Avikar from seizing the Telkur throne? Will Ty be able to protect Trinity from the evil clutches of Nils? And what's with the gypsies? Are they the good guys or what?

Friday, January 22, 2010

10 Words to stop Misspelling

Found this cool post over at The Oatmeal which has a series of cartoons depicting the top 10 misspelled words. It is quite comical. My favorite: Every time you use this spelling of the word "wierd," a dolphin gets run over by a jet ski. Come on people, dolphins are great - stop the great dolphin slaughter and spell WEIRD the right way!

You can see all the cartoons here.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Distributors vs. Wholesalers: Getting Your Book on the Shelf

The Writers Beware blog has an excellent post from multi-published author Cathy Clamp about the difference between distributing your book and getting the physical edition of book on book store shelves. You can read the entire post here. Here's the first section of the post:

The distinction between a wholesaler and a distributor is an important one, especially for writers who want to get their books onto physical bookstore shelves. Too often, however, writers and startup publishers aren't aware of the difference, and don't realize that a wholesaler like Ingram is only half the distribution picture.

Let's start with major NY publishers. They have a sales force. The sales department is charged with doing nothing but selling books for the publisher. Sales reps meet regularly with the buyers for the major chains and secondary markets. You might have one salesperson who handles Borders and B&N, another who meets with Target and WalMart, a third who handles Booksamillion and Costco, etc. They take the books of the publisher directly to the buyers who handle them.

Every book needs a salesperson to get it into the store. Yes, book buyers are looking for new books--but there is only so much space in each bookstore. So they have to be selective.

But even if every book needs, and deserves, a salesperson--let's face it, a small press or self-publisher often can't afford to have a full time salesperson, much less a sales "force," to go out to meet with every book buyer for every chain. Too, it's unlikely (if not impossible) that the buyer would be willing to meet with every single small press out there. There are just too many of them.

So, a lot of small publishers hire "Distributors." A distributor takes the place of a sales force by doing the exact same thing a dedicated, salaried salesperson would do. And for the same reason. They'resalaried.

Distributors cost money. A lot of money. Plan on about a third of your retail price to pay the distributor. It's a monthly/quarterly contract for the privilege of putting your books in front of the market, selling them to the buyers at the stores and increasing orders for the books. Is it worth the money? Hard to say. If you're an indie press with thirty niche books that might struggle to interest a bookstore without a marketing pitch, then sure. Absolutely. But for a single, stand-alone novel? Doubtful. In fact, it's doubtful a distributor would have a self-pubbed author or small press. It has to be worth the distributor's while, too. Generally speaking, if a press has fewer than ten titles, a distributor won't accept it as a client.

Now, if a publisher (again, whether small press or self-pub) chooses not to spend the money for a distributor, they go with the wholesalers. To make the difference simple, look at it like this:

- A distributor is the equivalent of a pack-n-ship store.
- A wholesaler is the equivalent of your local postal office.

The rest of the post is here and be sure to read the comments. Lots of good information in those as well.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Getting a book published is not the end of the journey for an author. Besides all the marketing publishers are asking authors to be involved with, one of the biggest hurdles to overcome is the practice of publishers letting book sellers return unsold books. Book sellers do not have to bear the financial burden if a book is not selling well within their allotted time slot. There is no incentive on the part of the bookstores to promote poorly selling novels. This is especially hard on the author because the publisher will base any future book runs on the current sell-through percentage.

Agent Jessica Faust of Bookends Literary Agency explains the situation of sell-through in greater detail. You can read the entire post here. Here's some of the highlights:

"So a publisher will print books based on orders from stores. If stores order 20,000 copies, most publishers will print something around 22,000 to 25,000 copies of your book. They’ll ship 20,000 copies, which is your initial ship number. Within the next six months or so they’ll start to see returns. If 10,000 copies are returned, your sell-through is 50%. If 5,000 copies are returned, your sell-through is 75%, and if 15,000 copies are returned, your sell-through is 25%."

"One of the reasons sell-through is so important is that it affects the numbers for your next book. Let’s go back to our 20,000 copy order and pretend your sell-through was 50%. That means that your next book is likely to only get orders of 10,000 copies. If things are going well you’ll likely sell all 10,000 copies, have gone back to press on the first book and eventually go back to press on the second. Each time you go back to press the orders on your next book, as well as the sell-through, should increase. However, if your second book also has a sell-through of only 50%, that means the orders on your third book are going to be around 5,000 copies. If you haven’t noticed, you’re going in the wrong direction in that case."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Focus on Your Book

Agent Rachel Gardner has some good advice about trying to capture an agent's attention. It's really all about your book. You can read more of Rachel's blog posts at:

Here's her post from Jan. 7, 2010:
I’ve been thinking about all the information for writers available now on the internet. It’s great for writers because although getting published has never been more challenging, there has never been so much information available about how to do it. But there are so many people giving advice that it must get overwhelming sometimes.

Getting published today involves more than writing your book (as you know), so blogging and Twittering agents are constantly giving tips about queries and proposals and marketing your book. But here’s the thing: All that stuff is irrelevant without a good book.

It's your book that matters most.

Not your query or your proposal or your marketing plan. Your book. It has to
work on every level. It has to appeal to a lot of people, and it has to be saleable.

Agents talk a lot about queries, and we give plenty of tips to help you get it right. But the query boils down to making a clear and concise presentation of your book. Just tell us enough that we get a feel for it and want to read it. Be polite and professional and try to avoid coming across like a crackpot. It’s worth putting some effort into, but 99.9% of your effort should be in your book.

So if it’s all about the book, then why are we constantly giving you advice on so many other things, especially queries? Well, we have some really good reasons for doing that. And by “we” I mean all of the agents who blog and Twitter.

Here’s why we do it:

1. We’re trying to set you up for success. Honestly. We want to give you the tools to get it right.

2. If your book is really good, we want to be able to recognize it. If your query doesn’t shine, we might miss it. We really want your query to give us a glimpse of your book.

3. We harp on submission guidelines because we’re trying to avoid wasted effort—yours and ours. Let’s face it, we are all overloaded with too much to do. We need to streamline our processes. When you write your query properly and send it only to appropriate agents, it makes the best use of your time and ours.

4. We want you to know what it looks like from our end of the desk. The world of publishing and literary agents used to be shrouded in mystery, but we don’t want it that way. We’re trying to help demystify the business.

Don’t stress out too much about all the advice you find online. Learn what you can from it and enjoy being part of the writing community (because that’s what all this blogging and Twittering is about anyway). But focus mostly on your book.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Digital Readers

Digital Readers seem to be the new "it" gadget to have. Here's an article about digital readers by Calvin Reid -- Publishers Weekly, 1/6/2010 7:58:00 AM

The Consumer Electronics Show opens tomorrow in Las Vegas and we can expect to see a veritable explosion of e-reading devices in every shape and format. Indeed, the CES Web site lists an eBook TechZone that features about 23 different manufacturers and it looks as though every major e-reader device producer –from IREX, Sony and Plastic Logic to Bookeen and Ditto—and many we’ve never heard of, will be on hand to show off a range of previously unveiled, new or upgraded devices. Baker & Taylor will use CES to provide more details on Blio.

While 2009 may have been the year of the Kindle, 2010 may very well be the year of the Apple Tablet, the much ballyhooed multi-media computing device, which actually will not be exhibited at
CES but at a separate Apple press conference later this month. But Microsoft is expected to fill the visionary tablet void at CES by offering its own version of a tablet computer/e-reader device. Called the Courier, it’s a very interesting two-screen multimedia device that looks as innovative as the constant rumors circulating about the Apple Tablet—at least it seems so on the video of the device at the Gizmodosite.

Indeed the two-screen e-reader device—a kind of futuristic book-machine with facing screens—looks like it will be a tech theme at this year’s CES. The eDGe reader from
Entourage is a great example. The device combines an e-ink screen unit with what is essentially a netbook and allows straight text reading on one screen and full color, fully functional computing (from e-mail to webbrowsing) on the other with full integration between the two screens. The thing can be reconfigured to use it like a book or folded down to function like a tablet; it has lots of internal memory, expandable SD card, 9.7” screens, 3G and Wi-fi and will cost $490. In addition, rumors abound of plans by electronics companies like Asus and MSI to also offer dual screen e-reading/computing devices.

Of course there will be straight e-ink screen devices of all kind.
IREX will show off its DRS800SG, the stylus-touchscreen with Wi-fi/3G wireless the Dutch manufacturer unveiled in September. Interead, manufacturer of the colorful Cool-ER series of e-readers, is said to be offering an upgraded wireless/3G enabled model to come that will have some form of touchscreen functionality and also offer newspaper content. IRiver is showing off its Story Reader, a kindle look-alike with 6” E-Ink Screen,2 GB internal memory, SD Card, and Wi-fi (eventually, apparently). Price has not been announced. Plastic Logic will also show off its much anticipated B&N endorsed device, now named Que. Other e-ink devices slated for CES include the eSlick Reader from Foxit and of course the Alex Reader, a hybrid dual screen device with e-ink screen above a smaller LCD screen with full web browsing capability, that just announced a content deal with Google to offer a million public domain titles through the device

Baker & Taylor will be at CES and the distributor has teamed with visionary technologist Ray Kurzweil and his company
K-NFB Reading Technology, to launch Blio, new e-reading software with an impressive range of functionality. The software will be offered for free download starting in the spring and in an interview with PW last year, Kurzweill said the software will run on everything from laptop and desktop computers to netbooks and smartphones. Blio is said to support ePub and offers full color graphics (including 3D), animation and enhanced Text2Speech functions (where rights have been enabled) with multiple voices, video, notetaking and more. A B&T spokesperson said Blio will have about 200,000 titles available at launch—from cookbooks and kids book to comics—and content deals with Penguin, Hachette, Random House, Simon & Schuster, Elsevier, HarperCollins,Wiley and others.

Skiff, a newspaper/magazine content-driven online platform, will present a prototype of its own device. Called the
Skiff Reader, its an 11.5” touchscreen b&w reader formatted for newspaper style layouts and offers 3G/Wi-fi connectivity and 4GB of internal memory. It’s a flex touchscreen and can bend back and forth like a plastic sheet although the need for that kind of flexibility remains to be explained.

And this just scratches the surface of digital reading presentations at CES. There are many more companies and devices on display. It looks like we’re in for a very interesting and competitive year in digital reading technology.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Writing in 2010

Now that the holidays are over, Dave and I can concentrate on our next book. We are throwing around a couple of different ideas, a new fantasy story, a new scifi story or finishing book 3 of the "Rule of Otharia" trilogy. We plan to make the decision soon.

In the meantime, Chapter 30-The Con, is posted over at our author pages Munroe is a master con artist, but has he met his match with our trio? How many "tests" will he throw at them before he relaxes a bit and trusts them? The twins have their own con going. They need to find that ancient crystal if they have any hope of ever returning to Otharia, but can they accomplish that without revealing who they really are? Who will win in the battle of the con?