Monday, June 29, 2015

Agency Lessons: foreign rights agents

Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made.
I was recently asked some questions about foreign rights agents and realized this is probably a question a lot of writers might have. This is a really basic primer, so like anything else in the publishing industry, make sure to do your research, ask trusted friends and do your due diligence before signing any contracts.

Now, let's talk foreign rights.

Just like there are different types of publishers, there are different types of agents. 

I work at a small boutique agency. Each agent in our office handles their own clients, and that includes foreign rights. Of course, we pull our resources, share information, provide introductions and the such to help each other in the process. That's the beauty of having co-agents. But at the end of the day, we each handle the rights for our clients.

Some agencies are a little bigger and have agents on staff that handle foreign rights. Some of these agents also take on their own clients and some of them strictly deal with the foreign rights. The advantage here is having an agent who can dedicate more of their time to keeping up with foreign editors.

Other agencies don't have the resources or desire to have an in-house specialist and decide to outsource this. They work with independent agents who specialize in foreign rights. These agents work with agencies to represent all or part of their list of authors. Some of them also take on individual authors who only need an agent for foreign rights, such as indie authors.

Then you can add publishing scouts to the mix. These are individuals who work directly with various foreign publishers and scout out potential projects for them. At Corvisiero we have relationships with some of these scouts to help place our client's work.

If you are a traditional author, you'll want to ask your agent before signing with them to see how they handle foreign rights in their office.

If you are a self-published or indie author, you have a couple of options. You can try to sell these rights on your own, though this can be a time consuming process and you'll be on your own when it comes to contract negotiation. You can reach out to a foreign rights agent. This is a great option, but be advised that you'll need to be able to show significant sales numbers. You can also contact a regular agent to see if they would handle these rights. Again, you'll need to show significant sales.

When it comes to your foreign rights, the important part is knowing what your rights are, understanding what you have and don't have and knowing upfront what your agent can help you with. Don't be afraid to ask questions. This is your career, so take charge of it. 

Foreign rights, the agents who handle them and the publishers who buy them is a complicated behemoth that can't be handled in a single blog post. If you have more specific questions about this topic, feel free to leave them in the comments and I can include them in another blog post.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The importance of book launches in the digital age

Authors, editors and other book-minded people talk a lot about the importance of book launches. There is a lot of pressure on authors to launch your book strong right out of the gate with lots of coverage, favorable reviews and word-of-mouth momentum.

But we don't really talk about why book launches are important. And the truth is, they aren't as important as they once were. Before eBooks came on the scene, books were sold almost exclusively on the shelves of book stores. And there are way more books than shelf space. So if you wanted your book to claim space for longer than a few years, you needed a strong launch to keep sales coming in and your book face out on the shelf.

Today eBooks make up a large part of the market and that share grows daily. So it would be easy to assume that launches aren't important. Afterall, virtual bookshelf space is unlimited. Your novel will never get pulled because the newest batch of releases are about to hit. With eBooks, some of the pressure of the big launch has been lifted.

Some, not all.

Because book launches are still hugely important and here's why:

Algorithms rule the world
Regardless of your opinion of Amazon, they are the biggest mover of books in the US. They have a recommendation system that hasn't been duplicated and can't pick out the next best seller like a blood hound on the the trail. And that means your Amazon rank matters. A book with lots of reviews right away does better in the ranking. A book with sustained sales that build over time is going to fair better than one that spikes suddenly and then falls off just as sharply.

While no one completely understands the algorithms (because Amazon doesn't share them), we have deduced a few things. We know that it takes fewer books sales to maintain a rank than it does to gain a rank. This means that even though my sales may dip down on occasion, it takes several days of reduced sales to show up in my rankings. This is because I was able to build up my sales and then keep them steady for the most part. Amazon rewards my sales stability with a stable ranking and that makes it easier for them to include me in their recommendation engine.

Everyone's a braggart on launch day
There is a limit to how much you can talk about your own book on social media. Except the week of your launch. Everyone is pretty much given a pass to be borderline obnoxious in talking about their book in the week it comes out.

But that's it. You've got one week to squawk all you want before people start tuning you out, or worse, un-following you. While your marketing plan is going to last much longer than a week, those first seven days will be your best opportunity to share your work with the most people. There is no redo on that one. If you don't use it appropriately, you don't get a redo after a few months. So don't waste those precious release week passes.

Hard core marketing isn't sustainable
I love marketing. It gets my heart pumping and my creative juices flowing. But even I get burn-out. Launching a book is exhausting. There are so many moving pieces of getting a book out on the market and then you add marketing on top of that. It's a lot of work, and not something you can keep doing forever. Eventually you have to level out, get back to writing and get ready to launch the next book. Ideally, we'll all have long happy careers with lots of books out there for people to read. But that means more books to market and more readers to find and interact with. We can't keep marketing the same books over and over.

You can always run promotions, create ads or other marketing strategies, but time won't allow you to market all your books all the time. You'll need a strong launch to build momentum that will carry your novel through times when it isn't getting much of your marketing attention.

A huge launch doesn't guarantee your book's success and you aren't doomed if your launch was less than thrilling (more on this later). But a successful launch has rewards that still make it worth your time and effort.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Content marketing puppies to sell your novel

This video has been splash all over social media lately. Have you seen it yet? If not, take a minute to watch, because this right here is content marketing at its best.

So let's digest this video for just a minute. On the surface, this is a super cute little video about a guy adopting an adorable puppy. In case you were unaware, puppies and kittens rule the internet. So videos about them are generally a hit.

What turns this from just another video into brilliant content marketing is the subtle product placement. I say subtle, though if you know what to look for, it doesn't really look subtle. New dog owner looks up what to feed a puppy and is surprised to learn that there is dog food just for puppies. And then there's a bag in full display mode.

So what makes this different than a commercial? For one, the video is about the puppy. It isn't a little vignette with a message about the importance of finding the right food or a helpful voice over. The focus is the puppy, not the food. Also, the food makes sense in the context of the video. The video is about a guy discovering how to take care of his dog. Feeding a dog is a big part of that. Most dog food commercials show an active dog playing outside and then cut to them eating a healthy bowl of whatever. The connection is loose. 

The key difference between this and a typical commercial is that the visible goal is entertainment. When we watch this, it is really easy to ignore the product placement completely and just enjoy the story being told. It's funny and probably hits home for a lot of new dog owners. 

Of course, that's just the visible goal. The one intended to draw you in, hook you into watching the whole thing and get you to share it with others through social media. The layered goal is to introduce you to a product. There is no hard sell here. This is about exposure and it's working. This video was posted on May 29th. In less than two weeks it's been viewed almost 4 million times.

That's a lot of impressions. And with a neutral follow-up URL of puppyhood.com, I'm guessing they've probably managed to draw in a good portion of those viewers into additional  impressions on the website. 

So, what can we take away from this as authors? First, keep in mind that while content marketing can be amazing, you don't have to convert all of your marketing efforts into content marketing. Even the thought of that makes me exhausted. 

For the time when you would like to try this, your first step is to think of what your customers (your readers) are looking for. People who buy puppy food love puppies and will probably enjoy a video featuring puppies. That's not a hard stretch. What do your readers enjoy? What passion do you share that you can give them more of?

Videos are great for this method. My book trailer for Rite of Rejection is a content marketing video. But you don't have to do a video. A great content marketing option is a free prequel novella for your book series. If that seems like a lot of work for marketing, it is. Another option would be creating a shareable "what to read next" infographic. Start with some big sellers and suggest some lesser known novels readers would also enjoy. Of course, your book would be a choice for one of the next reads. Then be sure to share it with the authors of the other books you recommend and you have the start of a nice content marketing campaign. 

These are only a few examples, but the options are limitless. Just be sure your visible goal is entertainment or education. Then add in the layered goal of creating impressions for your novel. Last, tag your content with a link back to your home page and you're set. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Should you go exclusive with your retailer?

I asked what you guys wanted to know about and you answered. Thank you for all your questions. I'm working up posts for all of them now, but it's not too late. If you have a question, feel free to email me or leave it in the comments.

One of you wanted to know my thoughts on going exclusive with services such as Amazon KDP select. If you are unfamiliar with this program, the author grants Amazon exclusive rights to sell the eBook version of their book for a period of 90 days. The advantage to this is that Amazon allows you to participate in borrows and makes your book part of the Kindle Unlimited program and gives you 5 days to list your book for free. The disadvantage is that your book is only available on Amazon to Kindle users.
Should you put all your eggs in one basket?

Here's the deal. We can talk all day about the pros and cons of these services. And I could never answer the question of which option is best. Every book is different and so everyone is going to have a different option.

But I do want to talk about short term versus long term gain.

I chose not to use Select for Rite of Rejection. I used an eBook distributor so my novel is available on a ton of retailer sites. In the interest of full disclosure, I have not sold very many eBooks outside of Amazon. I've received one quarterly payment from those sales so far and the amount was so small I haven't bothered to transfer it out of my PayPal account yet.

And yet, I'm not really tempted to switch to Select.

Because I'm concentrating on the long game.

You see, while I only have one book on the market so far (yes, I know, I'm working as fast as I can on the sequel), Rite of Rejection is only the first of what I hope to be many novels by yours truly to hit the market in the next few years. And yes, I'm pleased with my success so far, but I certainly have my sights set on bigger and better.

I could probably make more money right now if I were in Select. I'm guessing I would recoup at least the $10/month I'm making elsewhere through random borrows. But right now, my goal is not to make as much money as possible. As a new author, I'm just trying to get out there to as many readers as I can. The more people who hear about this book, the more people who will already be familiar with me when the next book comes out.

For me, right now, it just doesn't make sense.

But that doesn't mean it's a bad program. If you have a large back list of  books, I think it would be smart to occasionally cycle one of them through the program. See which of your books tends to get borrows. Find out if you can make free days sell your books on other platforms. Experiment and figure out what works for you. This might also work for you if you have a book written for a small niche genre or one that is time sensitive, because no one generates reader recommendations quite like Amazon and they do a decent job of promoting the books that are a part of the Select program.

Is an exclusive deal right for you? I can't say. But before you decide, figure out what your goals are and then put your book in the best possible position to help you reach those goals.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Agency Lessons: 5 tips for talking to agents

Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made. 
In just over a week I'll be making my way to UtopYAcon for several days of non-stop literary fun. As am extreme extrovert and industry insider, conferences are the ultimate charging station for my brain. But I get that's not the case for everyone. For example, the introverted writer still in the query stage. For you, I imagine conferences to be this big ball of black hole possibilities. It could be amazing, but you're going to have to talk to so many people, including DUM DUM DAAAAAHHHH, agents. Because, I've been told, we are ferocious, manuscript destroying, dream eating beasts.

Obviously, I see things a bit differently. So I'd like to offer my advice on how to talk to agents at your next conference.

1. We are real people
I get that it can feel like we are some kind of mythical force with magic swirling at our fingertips. But we aren't. We are real people who do normal real people things just like you. Yes, my role in the literary world is different than yours, but it's certainly no more important. Remembering that we are not any different than you can help ease those nerves a bit.

2. We like things
Expanding on that whole real people concept, just like you, we have varied interests. So feel to strike up a conversation about my Dr. Who themed nails or Vote for Pedro t-shirt. I will happily ask you who your favorite companion is and how you feel about the newest doctor. I am also interested in your conversation about the 20 degree temperature difference in the main ballroom and what's on the menu for lunch. Because I like things, and I eat, and am concerned about your lack of jacket. It's fine (and welcomed) to talk to us about non-book stuff.

3. We came here for you
I go to conference for lots of reasons. To learn about new trends, meet and rub elbows with editors and spend a few days kid free. But my main reason for attending conferences is you, the author. I come to meet you, to learn about what you like and what you're working on and what you're hearing from readers and so much more. I come to be around authors because you are cool people.

4. We are pitch magnets
It always seems to happen that at least one or two authors don't get the memo that they shouldn't pitch every agent they happen to breathe the same air as. This is always awkward, for both of us. So please don't introduce yourself and launch into your pitch. Just don't. However, if I ask you what you're working on, please tell me. And if there is an agent there that you are just dying to pitch and you can't get them aside for a formal pitch session, may I recommend this polite option. After saying hello (like normal people) it is perfectly okay to ask if I am currently open to queries or actively looking for new clients. This is a great chance to dig in deeper into what I'm looking for and if the conversation is going well, I might ask what you're working on.

5. We love books
If all else fails and you find yourself completely tongue tied and ready to bail, remember that we share a mutual love for books. Ask what I'm reading or if I have anything I've loved recently. I could talk about books until I'm blue in the face and I bet that you feel the same way.

We aren't so different, you and me. At the end of the day we both want the same thing. More amazing books that keep us up at night and make us see the world a little clearer.

So if you see me at a conference, come on over and say hello. I'll be the perfectly normal person waiting to have a great conversation with you.


Friday, June 5, 2015

Once, Twice, Six months an author

I'm breaking out the cupcake cannon today. It's officially been six months since the release of Rite of Rejection. And since I set myself goals that lasted six months, now is the time to take a look back and then plan for the future.

Goals are a tricky mother trucker. Going into this without any idea how my book would be received, I have to say I was clueless on my goals. The good news is that I reached them all, and that's worth celebrating. That said, if I could do it again, I might change things up a bit.

For example, I had no idea just how difficult it would be to get 50 reviews in the first month. This goal was based purely on my own perception of books I perused on Amazon. I tended to lend more credibility to books that had at least 50 reviews. In my head, it would be nearly impossible to cajole 50 family members and close friends to leave glowing reviews. Therefore, a book with that many reviews had to have a good number of legit readers.

I stand by this assessment. However, I didn't take the time to research how many reviews other debuts received in their first month. If I had, I probably would have cut my goal in half.

But, Sarah, you say scratching your head, you did get 50 reviews.

I did, but honestly, I don't think that's a realistic, duplicatable goal. Seriously, I had to work my tail end off to get that many reviews. I spent months working behind the scenes lining up reviewers and sending emails. I didn't write any new words for over a month because all of my extra time was wrapped up in finding readers and reviewers. It was exhausting.

That said, I thing having that many reviews out of the gate played a huge role in how the book was received and how it continues to do. While that goal nearly killed me, it was worth it in the end.

Other goals I missed in the opposite direction. Like selling 1,000 books in the first six months. I don't want to go into too many specifics, but let's say this goal was set way too low and because of that it stopped being a goal. It was no longer something to work toward and that made it easier for me to slack off on promotion.

The point here is that there's no way to tell with goals. I could set these exact same goals for the next book and miss all of them. Because there's no sure thing in publishing.

Moving forward, it's almost time to set the goals for book two, Rite of Revelation. I'm done with my first read through, which was painful...so, so painful.

Now, I'm digging in and rewriting. I'm also building in my subplots and layers and working my secondary characters back into the story. Then it's on to line edits. Because, you know, writing the book is the easy part.

I'm also thinking about how my marketing strategy will be different for book two. With a sequel, you're promoting more to your existing readers rather than the bigger world of readers and that means more targeted efforts. And while it's great that I have a fan base now that will buy the book regardless of how I market it, I'm also limited in that pool. So at the same time I market book two, I'll need to throw some love toward book one. It's sure to be interested and just like last time, I plan to document the process with all of you here.

And I'd love to hear from you. How have your goals changed over the course of your career?

Monday, June 1, 2015

Agency Lessons: turn-key ready manuscript

Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made. 

I was talking to an editor last week and something he said really stuck with me.
"Editors aren't looking for a fixer-upper."

Of course, I knew this already. But the imagery of a fixer-upper really got inside my head. If you've ever been house hunting then you know exactly what to expect when a listing says "needs a little TLC". It means you should plan to dedicate all your weekends for the next year to stripping old wall paper, fixing loose wiring and hanging gutters. It means that the house could be great, but right now, it's not. It's a fixer-upper.

Unfortunately, I hear too many authors say "With the right editor I know this book could be amazing." They are hoping to find an editor who can take their so-so manuscript and magic wand that baby until it shines like a new pair of glass slippers. But that's not how this works.

Because editors have lots of projects going all at once in various stages. They are coordinating with cover designers on this manuscript and hashing out the layout on the next. They may be working on first round edits with one project at the same time they are holding a debut author's hand at their launch. 

Editors have a lot of roles. And it's true that they play a big role in making sure a book is just right. But they start with books that are amazing and then make them a-MAZE-ing. 

So what can you do to make sure your book isn't listed as needing TLC? 

Everyone has their own process, so I thought I'd share mine so you can see what I do BEFORE my book goes to my editor.

1. Write a craptastic first draft
2. Let it sit so you can forget what you wrote and separate yourself from it
3. Read the first draft, cringe, and make notes of big picture areas that need work
4. Flesh out any issues that impact the whole manuscript such as time lines, disappearing characters, etc.
5. Make edits based on first notes and the big impact issues
6. Work through The Breakout Novel workbook*
*This book is genius and I love it, but it might not be your style. This step is basically forcing you to think about all the nuances of your story. Do you have a full character arc for everyone? Does every character have a unique voice? Are all your characters/scenes crucial? How is the pacing? Is your climax deserved? 
7. Another round of edits to fix all the issues discovered in step 6.
8. Read through again, this time looking at the smaller issues such unclear sentences, overstuffed paragraphs, bad writing in general
9. Fix everything found in step 8
10. First round of Beta readers (I like to start with other authors for my Betas)
11. Fix issues found by first round Beta readers
12. Second round Beta readers (I like to use readers for this round)
13. Fix issues found by second round Beta readers
14. Final read through to look for anything else that might have been missed.

Then, and only then, do I send my work to my editors. If it looks like a lot of work, it's because it is. Your book should be the absolute best your are possibly capable of before an editor ever sees it. And this is true regardless of if you are going the traditional route or going indie. 

An editor is there to spit-polish and shine your manuscript, not resole it. 

By all means, set your eyes on the editor who you think would be the best match for your manuscript, but know that you should never send them anything but your very best.

What other tips do you have for getting a manuscript ready for editing? Any favorite books that help you see your book in a new light? Let's help each other write amazing books.