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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Why Do I Need an Agent?

Deb excited about her book in the window of Cracker Barrel
I received a question this week that I thought might interest my writer-buds. My answer is included below. 

Q: A friend of mine has just self-published a book and is having a debut with lots of people and publicity. I remember you talking about your agent. My friend does not have one. He does not know how an agent works or how it may help him. Would you be able to share your agent's number so he can get advice from him/her?

A: If your friend has already self-published his book (or is in the process of doing so), it's too late for an agent. The job of a literary agent is to represent a literary work in seeking a traditional publisher, much like a realty agent (realtor) does in selling a house. Once a book is out (as in self-published), it's considered "sold," and is unlikely to interest a traditional publisher - or agent - in wanting to publish it for their company.

The exception is when a self-published book sells well within the first 2-3 months of its release (we're talking 10-20k copies here). Those numbers will turn an agent's head (and publisher's). Otherwise, the time to query an agent about representing your work is after the manuscript is completed, professionally edited and ready to be shopped around to traditional publishers. 

If you intend to self-publish, you don't need an agent. 

Most traditional presses will only deal with agents - not the authors themselves - so the only way to get a better (bigger and more lucrative) book deal is by having an agent. But sadly, they're VERY hard to get these days. You don't audition them, they audition you, and are generally very picky about whom they sign on - they only make $ when a publisher wants your book and offers to pay for it (agents make 15% of your advance and royalties). If they can't sell your book, they make zero.

I strongly believe agents are worth their weight in gold. 

My first three books (with the best marketing I could do myself) all together sold about 10k copies. In contrast, I've had three different books published (through my agent) by a traditional publisher that have sold over 30k each. The difference is largely because of distribution. They had a system in place to market on a national level. I didn't. 

And 3-4 of my other books have sold between 5k-10k each. One is nearing 60k. The difference is the wider distribution you get with traditional publishers (my books are in WalMart, B & N, Cracker Barrel, Sam's, airports, grocery stores, convenience stores (just saw one of my titles at a nondescript “Food Mart” in rural Georgia when we stopped for gas on a trip recently) and Christian bookstores everywhere, besides being sold online as e-books and print books).

It's very difficult to get widespread distribution like that when you self-publish or publish through small presses (small presses pay for everything but the marketing is pretty much up to you; self-publishing means you pay for everything and do the marketing yourself).

I had three books out with a small press before I was able to interest an agent in representing my 4th book. His name is Greg Johnson of WordServe Literary Agency - your friend can Google Greg and the agency if he likes, but I don't feel comfortable giving a recommendation to Greg unless I've read part/all of the book myself and know that it's ready (meaning it's thoroughly edited and polished and of the highest quality).

Finding an agent is not something to be taken lightly. It's actually a lot of work - your manuscript must edited, re-edited, and edited some more so that it absolutely shines. You need to have your book proposal (about 10 pages long) ready too. Then you send prospective agents a query letter (which must be of excellent quality - there are books out there on writing a query alone) just like you would to a publisher. If the agent thinks it's good enough, he/she then offers to represent that work (JUST that one manuscript), you sign a contract, and you're off to the races. 

When your agent shops the manuscript around and finds a prospective buyer, you talk turkey and hammer out the details of the deal (date the final m/s is due, royalty percentage, advance - if there is one - who owns which rights, number of author copies provided, etc.). Then you sign the contract and the real work begins: Preparing to sell your book. 


Agents nowadays specialize in particular genres, so when your friend completes his next book, he needs to do a little research on literary agencies that specialize in his genre and start sending out queries right away. It's a huge bonus if you can meet your agent-match-made-in-heaven at a writing conference face-to-face. (Many conferences offer personal meetings with agents as well as publishing house editors - take advantage of this!)

I hope this answers your question sufficiently. I can be reached through my website www.DeboraCoty.com if you or your friend have further questions. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

How Does Your Book Get National Attention?

Look what Shellie found in Cracker Barrel! 
Earlier this week, my friend and writing bud, best-selling author Shellie Rushing Tomlinson ("Belle of All Things Southern"), sent me this phone photo of her own coy eyes peeking over the top of a pretty pink and teal book in Louisiana.

Boy was I surprised!

It was my own Too Blessed to be Stressed Journal. Now this was fun in itself, to see someone of Shellie's celebrity holding my humble book (she's hugely well known in secular as well as Christian publishing for her hilarious southern-genre books like Sue Ellen's Girl Ain't Fat, She Just Weighs Heavy), but the thing was ...

The surprise wasn't just WHAT the book was, but WHERE it was.

Gift bundles, anyone? 
Yup. My very first book to hit Cracker Barrel. Woohoo! The big time! And Shellie's local Cracker Barrel was apparently one of the first to grace their shelves with my baby blessing. 

Later in the week my daughter-in-law sent me another photo of my book in the central Florida Cracker Barrel she just happened to stop in for lunch. Not only were copies of Too Blessed to be Stressed Journal in the window, they'd wrapped some in this nifty gift wrap packaged with some cool bookmarks and other Cracker Barrel-y stuff for your shopping convenience.

Then other messages and photos of my book in Cracker Barrels across the country began popping up from my faithful reader friends. (THANK YOU if you're one of them!)

A glorious event for any author. But how did it happen? How does a book make it into a highly trafficked, nationwide consumer outlet like Cracker Barrel? My writer friends are clamoring to know.

Well I must tell you in all honesty that it was none of my own doing. The sales force employed by my super duper publisher, Barbour Books, is responsible. When Barbour decided to print a hard cover version of Too Blessed to be Stressed, they wisely made it upscale and beautiful and turned it into a journal (meaning inside it's basically the same as the original  paperback Too Blessed but with additional lined pages to answer the reflection questions at the end of each chapter and for the reader to journal her thoughts.)

And journals are IN these days. As are gift books. And gifts, of course, are what Cracker Barrel is all about.

Barbour knew this, of course (because it's their business to know what's hot and where it's selling), and when their sales team pitched a list of possible purchases to the Cracker Barrel home office marketing people (as they routinely do to Walmart, Sams, Target, LifeWay, B & N ... you name the retailer), even though the Too Blessed to be Stressed Journal was a few dollars more than the original paperback, they bit.

Why? Because it fit their before-Christmas-gift book criteria and seemed to be a good fit for their store.

I only wish it was easier for self-published and small press books to be considered for distribution by these national chains, and perhaps it will be one day with the ever-changing face of the publication industry, but for now, it's one of the benefits of going to all the trouble of getting your manuscript professionally edited to a glaring shine and enduring the angst of trying to interest a literary agent to represent your work.

That's the path to hooking a traditional publisher and the traditional presses seem to be the ones in the queue.

But that doesn't mean you shouldn't keep spit-shining your manuscript with detailed editing or consider self-publishing. The two should go hand-in-hand. That's the way the glass ceiling will shatter ... good quality books by good quality authors will be chosen by good quality retailers. Regardless of their birth.

And I truly hope it's your book that leads the way!
   








Friday, October 24, 2014

Switch-hitting: Is it Really Taboo in Writing?

Some of my books; I feel very blessed!
I'm a nonfiction writer. Or at least my agent insists that I am. That's why he says I can't go back and delve into the fiction world where I began my writing journey (my first - and only - two novels are on the bottom right of this collage: The Distant Shore and Billowing Sails).

"You're a known entity in nonfiction now," he says.
"Women's inspirational nonfiction is your brand."
"You'd have to write under a pseudonym so not to confuse your readers."
"No publisher would take the chance."


Yet rarely a week goes by that I don't get an e-mail from a reader asking when the third book in the Emma-Lee trilogy will come out.

Sigh. Is switch-hitting really so very taboo?

More often than not, when I'm asked to lead a workshop at a writing conference, the topic requested is related to fiction. And I love it. Although I'm not actively writing fiction at the moment (just signed a new contract for another nonfiction book), I'm constantly studying the craft and skill-growing so that on that fateful day in the future when I return to my roots, I'll be ready.

So what I want to cover today is something aspiring authors often ask me about. It's a very good question and somewhat controversial. It's about switch-hitting too, but in a different way. It generally applies more to fiction, but can also apply to creative nonfiction (my forte) as well. Are you ready? Here's the question: Can you switch from first person to second person or third person and back again all in one body of work?

I've heard esteemed and ultra-learned writing teachers answer unequivocally NO to that question, and I've seen others equally pedigreed grin and shrug their shoulders.

So what are your thoughts on the matter, friend?

I've tended to fall more into the first category in theory but the second in practice. It's true that traditional English teachers preach hellfire and brimstone against the practice, but it's also true that many published writers do it and do it quite effectively. The thing is, it has to be skillfully accomplished or it becomes what I call an eyeball wall - it stymies flow and makes the reader stumble or even stop altogether to figure out what just happened ... the death knell for keeping the reader turning pages. And certainly the pox for getting an editor interested in publishing your book.

Then last night as I was reading my Bible, I came across the perfect example in this well known passage that switches perspective beautifully and seamlessly. So much so that you and I have never noticed:

Psalm 23 (NASB)
"The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want."  (starting out in first person) Now look what happens:

"He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake." (third person) Then we bounce back again:

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil;" (back to first person) But whoa, what's this?

"For Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me. Thou dost preprare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.; Thou has anointed my head with oil;" Hey, did we just hop to second person in the middle of a first person sentence? But we're not finished switch-hitting yet ...

"My cup overflows. Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." Ta-Da! Will you look at that - a triumphant first person ending! Beautifully written and beloved by countless millions after David, the psalmist who was inspired by THE Author of all authors, hopped around personhood perspectives like his feet were afire.

So that's the answer I'll go with. Switch-hitting is okay if and only if you're the reigning king of Israel and have slain a giant with a slingshot.

Nah.

Switch-hitting is good. It's rich. It's powerful. As long as you're clever and skilled enough to use it subtly and effectively.

Now I just have to convince my agent.   


 
 





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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Who Doesn't Like a 75% Off Sale?

Deb's brand new book
On SUPER SALE for a limited time (sale ends 10/13/14): The Kindle edition of my brand new release is only $2.99!

I hope you'll hop on this one like a tick on a hound dog.

Here's the link: http://www.amazon.com/Too-Loved-Lost-Unconditional-Without-Limits-ebook/dp/B00MYME094/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1412019434&sr=1-1&keywords=too+loved+to+be+lost

Now don't tarry or you'll miss out!

And as an added bonus, my publisher is putting the Momma book of my 6 Baby Blessings on sale during the month of October. Yep - Too Blessed to be Stressed is only $1.99! 


If you've already got Too Blessed to be Stressed, please send this golden opportunity to a friend. As always, I'm VERY grateful for your support! 


Thursday, October 9, 2014

What To Do When Your Book Releases (Part 2b)

A wonderful place to do interviews in Lake Mary, FL
This isn't going to be long enough to be Part 3 so I'm calling it an addendum to the previous two posts on this topic (please scroll back to catch up).

In going through some files today, I ran across a Tampa Tribune article from 7/08 I'd clipped that had everything to do with the topic we've been covering this week - book promotion.

The article should have been called, "How NOT to do a Television Interview."

Author Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth appeared on "The Wendy Williams Show" to promote her upcoming book. The interview started out amiably but somehow nosedived into the host and guest trading insults about bad nose jobs, Botox gone wrong and pathetic wigs.

During one horrible interlude, the two snatched Omarosa's book back and forth amid audience hoots and catcalls until some director wisely decided to break for commercials.

I've done a few interesting interviews during my author days but I think the most memorable was when a guest appearing just before me brought along a friend and I got up close and personal in the green room before shooting (film, not wild game). By the way, Barbara Beck, the lovely host of TV-45's "The Good Life," is in the background.
Nobody told me interviews would include reptiles

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

What To Do When Your Book Releases (part 2)

My most recent Baby Blessing
This is the continuance of a previous post so please do us both a favor and scroll back to read Part 1 so we're both on the same page. Gracias. Donka. Gratzi. (My apologies for phonetic foreign language spelling to you linguists out there.)

Okay, once you've got your reviews flowing in and have reposted, retweeted, and regurgitated everywhere you can think of, you need to divvy your happy hunting grounds into two expeditions: near and far.

Near: Consider how to reach local readers. Ask friends to help you by posting your blurbs and sending their own fantastic reviews to their contact lists. A personal recommendation goes a long, long way in the book biz.

Think about having a book launch party at a local bookstore, home, restaurant, or business (any business will do but one remotely related to the topic of your book is best - for instance when my book, Mom NEEDS Chocolate came out, I had a launch party in a chocolate shop).

Offer to speak and sponsor contests with book giveaways to church groups, civic organizations, libraries, Bible studies (assuming your book is inspirational; I wouldn't do this if you write paranormal erotica). Plan on giving at least 30 books away one way or another for promotion - some will need to go to media folks you query for articles/interviews/radio mentions. Face it, they have to have your book to know what they're talking about, and most then donate the book to someone who is a candidate to become your biggest fan.

So don't think of it as a gigantic hole in your pocket. Think of it as an investment in your future.
My newest release

Back room book sales at speaking events are an excellent source of side income while you're waiting on your royalties to kick in. Most publishers offer significant discounts to authors (mine allows me to purchase my books at 1/3 their market value), so if you buy a book for $3.50 and sell it for $10 and multiply that by the 20 people lined up at your book table, you've got a nice little gig going.

Far: Internet is, of course, one of the fastest and most efficient ways to get word of your new book out to the far reaches of the galaxy.

Having no cyber-savvy of my own, I hire a publicist to handle this oh-so-critical aspect of promo for me. The fine ladies at Litfuse Publicity Agency have helped launch my past 4 books by organizing and implementing press releases, Facebook launch parties (where people from all over the world meet in a chat room at the same time on the same day for an hour of getting to know each other via laughter, a few tears, and best of all, discussing my book!), TV and radio interviews, a blog tour of 80+ sites, and a huge contest/Kindle and book giveaway that attracts hundreds of entries, which are then added to my contact list to receive my free e-newsletter.

Clever, huh? Publishers consider those 3,350 people currently on my list to be my fans and are thereby persuaded to consider me a good candidate for writing another book. Voila. Killed two raptors with one spear.

Here's the link to my upcoming 11/6/14 Facebook launch party for Too Loved to be Lost   https://www.facebook.com/events/827825463906082/. Click on the link and join now to be in the drawing for the Kindle and other cool prizes, then I'd love to have you join us BFF's (Blessed Friends Forever) at 8 pm EST on Nov 6. You can see how it works in planning for your own and have fun in the process!

So what promotional tactics work best for you?

 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

What To Do When Your Book Releases (part 1)

It's that magical, mystical, maniacal time of the writing journey again - the release of a new book.

The wonder and excitement of holding that brand spanking new creation in your hands is lovely but momentary. Then reality sinks in. How will anybody know about this marvelous miracle?

AACK! I'm going to have to tell them!

Promotion panic sets in.

Hopefully you've had a little foresight and by this point have been plotting and planning your promo campaign for a couple months. The trouble is, most book reviewers (who your trust will gleefully plaster their 5-star reviews all over the internet, especially Amazon) require a book in their hands in order to read it so they can review it.

They're pretty picky about that.

So until you or your publisher have managed to place a book in their hands, you have to depend on your pre-publication endorsers to do the talking for you. You should have rounded up 3-4 (more if possible) endorsements - we call blurbs - from well known names in your field (meaning the topic of the book), names your potential readers will recognize and trust. These you should post everywhere you can - website, Twitter, Facebook, car bumpers, Times Square billboards, airplane banners ... you get the picture.

Because a book release is a big deal. Really. The bigger bang you can create during the first month post-release, the better your chances are to get those sales numbers up during the crucial first three months. These are the stats that convince publishers to offer you another book contract or not. And whether your book will stay on store bookshelves longer than the average author's quarter of a year. So do NOT underestimate the power of a great send-off.

More tomorrow on how to make your send-off the most memorable ever!