Agency

Attract Attention…(Part Three)

 cords

BP number one was “Be Professional.” Number two was “Be Passionate.” The third BP is one I like a lot: Be Plugged In. You need to be the expert on not just your book, but on the readers, the competition, and the craft. Doing that will enable you to equip your team! So…

  1. Know your audience

It’s rare to find a book–or an author–that will be read by everyone. You book should have an “ideal” reader, and the more you keep that person in mind, the stronger your book will be. Get to know your reader. Develop a description of him or her. Find out the following about your reader:

  • Age:
  • Gender:
  • Education:
  • Politics:
  • Denomination:
  • Culture (traditions, language, world view, view of opposite sex, etc):
  • Occupation:
  • Finances/Social Status:
  • Region:
  • Relational status:
  • Favorite books & music:
  • Family History:
  • Family Dynamics:
  • Social issues/concerns:
  • Emotional Issues/concerns:
  • Faith Issues/concerns:

I know authors who write with a description and even a photo of their “reader” next to their computers. All of the factors listed above influence our readers’ buying decisions. Know your reader well, so you can not only write to that person or group of people, but so you can help your team know them.

  1. Know your competition.

An author who knows the competition is a great asset for agents, editors, and marketers. Can you identify the top 3-5 books in your category and provide an analysis on them? If so, great! If not, you’ve got some work to do. Read books and authors similar to your book and your voice. Read those different so you can know what they do and don’t address, places where your message can fill the holes. Read books in the Christian market, but don’t forget to read and be informed on books in the general market. You need to be able to identify similarities between your book and each of your comp titles (to show there’s a market out there for what you’re doing), and then go on to say what your book does or will provide that each of these books doesn’t. For example:

“This book will appeal to those who love the quality of Oprah Club books, but are looking for hope rather than despair.”

or

{title} is similar to my book in that it speaks to the heart of women who long to be cherished. Where {title} and my book differ is that where the core message of {title} focuses on self-help, my book focuses on finding help, hope, and encouragement based on Scripture and an enduring faith in God. {title} tells the reader it’s up to you. My book tells the reader you’re not alone in this; God has your back.

These kinds of analyses are great ammo for your agent, and equally great information for publisher’s marketing and sales forces.

Next week we’ll discuss the final BP. Until then, have a great week!

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Attract Attention (Part Two)

Wasn’t it fun to read Steve’s observations about ICRS? There is so much going on this time of year in our industry, and so many opportunities to spend time with other writers, with editors, and with agents. I love networking with these wonderful folks. But even more than that, I love seeing writers have meaningful and positive interactions with editors and agents.

With that in mind, here’s the second set of BPs for Happy Editor and Agents:

#2: Be Passionate!

About your message: Let your passion for your message show—and let it make you the go-to person for your audience. When folks out there think of your topic, your face should come to mind. Learn what you need to learn, and use social media to share that knowledge with others. Become known for expertise in whatever area you’re writing about. Build your tribe, but do it by meeting people’s needs.
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Attract Attention…in a GOOD Way!

I travel to writers’ conferences all over the country. I love being surrounded by others who love words and want to serve God through their writing. But over the years I’ve seen a number of interactions between agents/editors and conferees that were…well, less than positive.  It was clear the conferee was passionate about his/her work, and that the writer was looking on this encounter as THE chance to make his/her dreams come true. Unfortunately, it was equally evident that the agent/editor wanted nothing more than to escape.

One of the workshops I taught at the Write! Canada conference a week ago was focused on attracting agents’ and editors’ attention. I asked editors and agents to share tips, based on what they’d actually encountered, to equip writers for positive interactions with them. I was delighted at the number of responses I received. So, what with ICRS just around the corner, and writers’ conference season in full swing, I thought I’d share some of those tips with you. They fall into four categories, which I’m calling them the BPs of Happy Editors and Agents.

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Really, You Don’t Have to Ask

Over the years I’ve seen lists of questions you’re supposed to ask an agent before signing a contract. Some of the questions are excellent. But I believe if you ask others, at least at the stage when the agent is discussing the possibility of representation, you may have not done the right research ahead of time. I culled these questions from a number of lists on the Internet. Most of these questions appeared on more than one list.

Can you give me a list of authors from whom I may ask for references? A quick trip to most agents’ web sites will tell you about the authors they represent. The Steve Laube Agency site lists all our authors. I’m always glad when authors talk to one another, and I often find new writers based on the recommendations of current clients. But in my view, asking for a list of references is off-putting unless you want to talk to another client before making your decision. If you are unsure of that agency, don’t send them your proposal until you know you’d be thrilled to work with them.

Who do you represent? See Question One. There are exceptions. Some agencies prefer not to make their client lists public and when speaking to them, this question makes sense. But if their client list is already on their web site, your question might give the wrong impression.

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A is for Advance

by Steve Laube

Whenever I lecture about money the room becomes unusually quiet. Instead of a common restlessness from listeners there is a thrumming impatience to reveal the punch line. The punch line that declares every writer will be rich.

Now that I have our attention let’s turn to the topic of the day. The Advance. This is defined as the money a publisher pays to the author in “advance” of the publication of the finished book. We read about the seven-figure advances in the news because they are unusual and quite substantial. The amount given to everyone else can be rather different. (Read the article where Rachelle Gardner answers the question “What is the Typical Advance.”)

Payout Schedule

The money is not given all at once. There is usually an amount given for signing the book contract and the balance comes at various stages of the writing process. Some pay half on signing, half on acceptance of an acceptable manuscript. Some pay one-third on signing, one-third on acceptance, and one-third on publication. There can be other triggers to create payments like an acceptable proposal for subsequent books in a multi-book deal. We even had one highly unusual situation where the total amount of the advance was divided up over the course of 15 months and the publisher paid the author monthly.

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A is for Agent

by Steve Laube

I thought it might be fun to write a series that addresses some of the basic terms that define our industry. The perfect place to start, of course, is the letter “A.” And even better to start with the word “Agent.”

If you are a writer, you’ve got it easy. When you say you are a writer your audience lights up because they know what that means. (Their perception is that you sit around all day thinking profound thoughts. And that you are rich.)

If you are an editor, you got it sort of easy. Your audience knows you work with words and all you do is sit around and read all day. In my editorial days I was often told, “I’d love to have your job.”

But tell someone you are an agent and there is a blink and a pause. If they don’t know the publishing industry they think “insurance agent” or “real estate agent” or “secret agent.” Or if they follow sports or entertainment they think “sleazy liar who makes deals and talks on the phone all day.” I resent people thinking that I talk on the phone all day. (Hah!)

Even at a writers conference I always have someone ask, “What is it that you do?”

Deal Maker

An agent works on commission. Fifteen percent of the money earned in a contract they have sold to a publisher on behalf of a writer. I will be bold to say that any prospective agent who asks you for money up front is someone you should stay away from.

This is the category that most people focus on when defining the role of the agent. But it is only one small facet of what we do. Two months ago I published a list of the activities our agency had recently done as a way to help dispel the myth that we are only deal makers. It is how we earn our living but only a small part of our work.

Don’t get me wrong. This is a crucial part of what we do. Our contract negotiations are critical to the long-term health of the publishing/author relationship. Last Fall I taught a course at a conference called “Landmines in Your Book Contract.” Each time I read one from an “offending” contract there were gasps in the room. There is a good reason to have a professional review any book contract you are ready to sign.

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When Your Proposal Doesn’t Sell

by Steve Laube

It happens. Despite all efforts and good intentions not every proposal we shop will end up being contracted by a major publisher. Of course our agency tries our best to keep that from happening. We carefully choose which projects and authors we represent. And our success rate is extremely high.

But that success rate is not 100%.

Here are a few examples of projects that I represented in past years that did not sell to a major publisher.

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Serious Talk with your Potential Agent

What are some of the things you should ask when an agent has called to offer you representation? Here goes, in no particular order:

1) Would you go over your contract terms with me? Even though you will be reading the agency contract before signing, this is your chance to learn the main points you can expect to see.  Ask questions now. After you review the contract, don’t be afraid to ask for clarifications in writing.

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Reactions to Your Career

Often, strangers ask me what a literary agent does. Once I tell them, they’ll want to share with me that they are writing a children’s picture book. Or an aunt, cousin, or friend, is writing one. I think a lot of parents write read-aloud books because they are part of the bedtime ritual with their own children and perceive that the volume of books published means the market is vast. Unfortunately, it is not, as I discovered when I wrote three of my own, never-to-be-published children’s picture books. But I digress.

When I said that I present books to editors, an auto mechanic asked, “So you are teaching the editors how to read?”

Most people understand what I mean when I say I’ve written Bible trivia books, but conversations can get more lively when I tell them I’m the author of Christian romance novels. One recent reaction was laughter. And more laughter. I think he may have even pointed at me.

Another response: “Like, in the ads where you see ‘Meet Christian Singles’?”

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Agents and Proposals: What to Expect

Last week I left you with a question: How do editors/agents get through all the proposals they receive. For me, as an editor and now as an agent, the answer was to hire someone to be my first-pass reader. In my case, this person is someone I’ve worked with now for over fifteen years. She knows me and my tastes well, and, as an avid reader and a skilled writer herself, she knows quality writing. She reviews my proposals and, based on a list of criteria I’ve given her, determines if said proposals are at a level that I should review them.

Here’s a hard truth about proposals: roughly 95% of the proposals my first-pass reader reviews, she rejects. And that percentage is fairly common for many editors and agents. When my reader determines the manuscript isn’t ready for me to review, she sends the writers something very similar to the noncommittal response most writers dislike. Honestly, I’m not that crazy about it when I receive it from editors! But I understand and accept it, because I know it isn’t the editors’ jobs to to critique the proposals I—or others, be they agents or writers–send them. Just as it isn’t my reader’s job to do so. What she’s supposed to do is determine whether or not the proposals meet my clear criteria.

So what, you ask, are my criteria?

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