Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Book Contracts

So you've finished editing and polishing your book manuscript. Now you're ready to submit to a publisher (or an agent). What can you anticipate in terms of contracts?

A traditional book contract offered by a publisher includes, among other pertinent things, a date of completion, word count, rights (copyright, publishing and selling rights, editing, subsidiary etc.), royalties, advance, author copies, publicity, and noncompete rules (varies with publishing houses, but basically they want to have your undivided attention on their book, and not spreading yourself out too thin writing and marketing other books).

This type of publishing agreement offers royalties, or a percentage of payment on each book sold, e.g. a 10% royalty would net the author $1.00 on each $10.00 book sold. A hike in royalty may be offered after a certain amount of copies are sold, for example: "up to and including 15,000 copies sold=12% of net sales; over 15,000 copies sold=15% of net sales."

An advance is like an advance on your allowance as a kid. It's not free money; it's advancing your earned royalties ahead of time so you can eat during the 1-2 years average time from signing the contract until your book comes out. Average advances for first time books are $3,000 - $10,000. The sum offered is based on the amount of book sales the publisher anticipates within the first crucial 4 months after the book's release. If the advance is not earned out, the author is often required to repay the advance payment, which is why many authors choose to accept low advances.

To give you an example of how this works, my newest release, Mom Needs Chocolate, has sold almost 7,000 copies since its release four months ago and I have yet to earn out my advance. It will be a red letter day for me when I cross that invisible "success" line and begin receiving royalties.

The other type of book contract is "work for hire." This is the type of contract you will be offered for manuscripts used as part of a compilation (like a devotional by different authors), and sometimes for a complete book of your own work that is included in a collective series (books of a series written by different authors). A lump sum is paid up front and no royalties or advances are offered.

The benefits of work for hire books are that you, as an author, don't have to sweat blood over book sales - you've already received your payment and are not dependent on royalties. Also, you have your name on a quality book out there that will help build your reputation and promote your future books.

The downside is that you have no say whatsoever in work for hire book covers, content, style, or marketing, and the copyright doesn't belong to you. Plus the stigma within the industry is that work for hire books, like self-published books, are not as prestigious as traditional press contracts.

I've found that accepting work for hire book contracts occasionally is beneficial, as long as I don't use up my creativity and energies solely on books ultimately belonging to someone else.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Trends in Christian Fiction

There's a very interesting article in the
Denver Post
about the direction of Christian fiction and the health of the industry. Worth a read!

One direction, which I happen to know Amish fiction.

The other direction, which I happen to know nothing vampires.

Click here to read it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Where are we going and can we get there from here?

Well, the ICRS has just concluded in Denver. If you're not acquainted with the International Christian Retailers Show and you're an aspiring writer, it's time to broaden your knowledge base.

The ICRS (formerally known simply as the CBA, Christian Booksellers Association) is the annual convention for the inspirational publishing industry, held in a different city every year. (Last year it was in Orlando, so I was able to attend as the guest of Regal Books, my publisher for Mom Needs Chocoalte.) This is the event that reflects the heartbeat of the industry.

According to the impressions of my publicist, Rebeca Seitz of Glassroad PR, and Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent with WordServe Literary Agency (by the way, check out Rachelle's very informative free writer's blog at, these were some trends evident at this year's convention:

- A bustling showroom floor with lots of excitement and activity (a good thing!).
- Booksellers seemed happy with the volume of business that transpired.
- Publishers appeared split in their reaction: some highly value the ICRS as an avenue for networking and communication with booksellers, agents, distributors and aspiring authors, others not so much.
- Regarding new projects, editors are looking for strong female protagonists in fiction; no longer the helpless damsel in distress, especially in historical romance. Wimpy women are out!
- Characters in interesting locations with unique occupations are in.
- Despite downward trends in sales during the past year (with the recession, publishing has had to tighten its belt just like everyone else), the atmosphere seemed positive and many publishers are looking for new projects (that means new authors).
- The door is opening for more memoirs (reflecting the general market).
- In non-fiction, platform is still of utmost importance, but many publishers are willing to consider new authors who have exlemporary writing skills and fresh new ideas.

All in all, it seems that gloom and doom were on hiatus and optimism shone brightly for the future. Can you say, "Hooray!!"

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Here's the Cover!

Drumroll, please. long the cover for my novel due out on January 1st, The Choice. I love the cover--the photography is beautiful, as is the setting, and the look on the model's face really captures the book.

My 24-year-old son says he wants to meet the model!

This is the publisher's description of the book:

With a vibrant, fresh style Suzanne Woods Fisher brings readers into the world of a young Amish woman torn between following the man she loves--or joining the community of faith that sustains her, even as she questions some of the decisions of her elders. Her choice begins a torrent of change for her and her family, including a marriage of convenience to silent Daniel Miller. Both bring broken hearts into their arrangement--and secrets that have been held too long.

Filled with gentle romance, The Choice opens the world of the Amish--their strong communities, their simple life, and their willingness to put each other first. Combined with Fisher's exceptional gift for character development, this novel, the first in a series, is a welcome reminder that it is never too late to find your way back to God.

So all in one day (yesterday)...the cover is ready to show to you. It is up on Amazon here, and on the Baker (Revell) website here.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Publishing Nuts and Bolts

Ever wonder who is behind the publisher's desk? The answer may surprise you.

According to the July/Aug 09 issue of Writer's Digest (if you don't already subscribe to a trade journal, do it today!), six major companies dominate the American publishing industry. Five of the six are foreign-owned.

1. Random House (German): imprints include Crown, Doubleday, Knopf, Pantheon and Random House; also includes The Literary Guild book club.

2. Penguin Group (London); includes Berkley, G.P. Putnam's Sons and Viking.

3. Simon & Schuster (a U. S.-based CBS Corporation): includes Pocket Books, Scribner and Simon & Schuster.

4. HarperCollins (Australian): includes HarperCollins, William Morrow, Zondervan and Hyperion.

5. Hachette Book Group, formerly Time Warner Book Group (French): includes Grand Central Publishing, Little, Brown & Company, Microsoft Learning books and Time Inc. Home Entertainment.

6. Georg von Holtzbrinck Publishing Group (German): includes Macmillan, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Henry Holt and Company and St. Martin's Press.

Thankfully for beginning inspirational writers who aren't quite ready to compete for the limited slots in these mega-companies, there are lots of not-s0-worldwide-major publishers out there (Baker/Revell, Tyndale, Regal, Broadman & Holman, Cook, Navpress, Waterbrook, etc), and small presses as well. Just consult the "Book Publishers" section of your Christian Writers' Market Guide or Writer's Market for submission details.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Writing Buddies

Excerpt from "Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers"
(This is the story of how I met Suzanne Fisher, my co-author of Grit.)

My mentor eventually had to set aside her writing to focus on pressing domestic issues, and I prayed for God to provide another writing partner. About that time, I attended a writers' conference completely across the country, and because I found no publisher for my novel, I considered it a miserable waste of time and money.

"Why did you send me all the way out here for nothing, Lord?" I railed. But He had a plan. Little did I realize that my roommate at the conference would become my cherished friend and kindred spirit. Suzanne and I clicked, and our correspondence has glutted the cyber highway between California and Florida ever since.

She cracked open her publisher's door for me to slide in my foot (and my novel), and I edited her new book and synopses. We soon began collaboration on a joint venture (which became Grit for the Oyster).

One very important thing God has taught me about seeking and nurturing kindred spirits - if we approach the relationship thinking only, "What can I get out of it?" or "What can she do for me? - the match is doomed for failure. One-sided, you-give-and-I'll-take relationships inevitably crash and burn, dishonoring our Heavenly father in the debris of wounded feelings.

God wants us to emulate His gracious nature: "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each ofyou regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others" (Phil. 2:3-4 NAS).

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Words, Words, Words

Do you have a "stormy petrel" in your life?

stormy petrel \STOR-mee-PET-ruhl\, noun:

1. Any of various small sea birds of the family Hydrobatidae, having dark plumage with paler underparts; also called storm petrel.
2. One who brings discord or strife, or appears at the onset of trouble.

This is what I think is fascinating about this word: stormy petrel probably got its name as a reference to St. Peter's walking on the sea.

The bird flies close to the water in order to feed on surface-swimming organisms and ship's refuse. It is called stormy because in a storm the birds surround a ship to catch small organisms which rise to the surface of the rough seas. When the storm ceases they are no longer seen.

Isn't the origin of words just...fascinating?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

What makes a perfect ending?

We--my husband, my oldest son, my daughter and I--were watching a movie last night. About thirty minutes into it, my husband Steve said, "This is a little slow moving. Can we fast-forward?"

"No!" The rest of us exclaimed.

So he went to bed.

Thirty minutes later Cara was asleep on the couch. A few minutes after that Matt fell asleep on the floor. Leaving me to watch--intently--the semi-intriguing story. Unfortunately, the ending was so lame I was left wishing we had fast-forwarded or that I had fallen asleep on the couch, also.

Endings can take a good story and ruin it or take a mediocre story and turn it into a home run.

This ending was lame because it left me feeling, "So what? Why did anyone even bother to write this story?"

A good ending makes sense and satisfies.

I love surprise endings, too. Like in Jodi Picoults' novel "My Sister's Keeper." My daughter saw the movie last week. She said they changed the ending, removing the surprise. Why would they do that?

Another fabulous surprise ending is in Flannery O'Connors' "A Good Man Is Hard to Find." That ending reached out and grabbed me and has never let me go. Of course, I can't tell you what it is or it might lessen the punch for you when you read the story.

What's your favorite story ending?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Writer's Journey Continued

Isn't it motivating to hear the stories of successful writers like Suzanne's below? She's not only my friend but one of my literary heroes. And here's why:

Suzanne is humble about her talents and accomplishments, never tooting her own horn, although she should have her own symphony.

She is always gracious, even in the face of rejection and adversity.

Whenever a friend needs advice or emergency editing, she's there, dropping whatever manuscript she's working on, ignoring deadlines, giving you her undivided attention.

She's a role model for putting people ahead of productivity (something I struggle with daily). That's not to imply her kitchen is a pigsty or cobwebs wreath her closets.

She is quite knowledgeable about writing nuts and bolts and the industry itself and is willing to share that knowledge with other writers to help them succeed as well.

I thank God for leading me to my relationship with Suzanne, as well as Faith and Joanna, my other co-writers for Grit for the Oyster. We were an odd quartet, but God knew how compatible we would be, fitting us together like pieces to an unseen puzzle. You don't know what it's going to look like until suddenly, voila, it's finished and the result is a beautiful work of art!