Literary Agents, publishing, Satire

The Future Is Here

Lisa

You receive too many unsolicited manuscripts and cannot review them all? You still do not want to miss the next bestseller? Then LiSA is the right solution for you.

LiSA, if you’re wondering, is German and stands for Literatur Screening & Analytik. For publishers, LiSA is a boon – in 30 seconds flat it will tell them if the manuscript they’ve just received has any chance of success. “Based on Artificial Intelligence (AI), our software establishes a connection between the insights gained from existing works and their sales and bestseller ranking. This relationship is applied to new manuscripts and a probability of success is determined.”

And authors can sign up now for a beta version, soon to be released, which will let them know if they’ve written a dud or a blockbuster. Wunderbar!

Details can be found at the Qualifiction website: https://www.qualifiction.info/ (It’s in German, but Google will obligingly translate).

It won’t be long, of course, before LiSA is analysing texts not from authors but from another AI programme. In fact the only reason she isn’t already doing that is because the release of the programme in question, OpenAI, has been delayed due its being too good: Fake text generator too dangerous to be released.

But take heart, writers! There are still a few literary agents who are humans just like us, and are even so kind as to reveal some great tips on how to get your manuscript accepted. One such is my good friend Sydney Lushpile, who a few years back gave me some precious insights into how it’s done the old-fashioned way. Before LiSA.

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book promotion, book sales, Literary Agents

Collective Marketing

A while ago, I made the following post on the Facebook SciFi Roundtable group:  

I’ve seen the question raised: how much do you hate marketing your books? I’ll put it this way: If you believe you can effectively market my books, I will split the royalties with you. Fifty-fifty. Not a me-pay-you-and-maybe-you-can-sell-my-books deal. A simple fifty-fifty split, after the sale.

Let me know.  

It got a few responses, ranging from the “Yep, me too” variety to the “There’s no money in marketing books” type.

For the record, I wasn’t expecting anyone to take me up on my offer.  And no one did.

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We’ll teach you how to market your book!

Join our service and realize more sales!

We’ll show you the secret tricks to make Amazon’s algorithms work for you!

Do you get these sorts of ads? I do, and fairly often. I’ve even tried a few of those services — did my best to follow their instructions, kept an open mind — and never once made even my minimal investment back. But, hey, maybe that’s my fault.

Maybe my books suck.

Maybe I did it wrong. 

But here’s the thing: In the old days, authors had agents who sold books for them (to publishers) and earned a percentage (usually 10 to 20%) of the royalties. That model seems to be nearly gone now (or, at least, very hard to access. I tried for over a year to get an agent for my first book, querying almost fifty agencies. But that’s another story.). So, instead, we do it ourselves these days. Self-publish, self-market, self-medicate. Amazon is making plenty of money; editorial services and book cover services are probably doing okay (at least on a job-by-job basis). But authors? Mostly not so great. There is a whole industry designed not to sell books, but to sell services to authors who want to sell books.

Here’s looking at you, Bookbub

And that brings us to Bookbub. They have, for some time now, been the most successful of the email book marketing services. The gold standard. Readers sign up (for free) and get weekly emails promoting a list of books selling at a discount. The list changes constantly, and you can set some preferences in terms of genre and price points.

Authors apply for spots on these lists, and they pay Bookbub for the privilege. (There’s the key difference: in this model, authors pay the agents to market their books.)

For instance:  if you want to have your science fiction novel listed at the free price point ($0.00), you will pay $519 for that listing. This, according to Bookbub’s website, will result in an average of 29,900 downloads. If you list it for $0.99, the price of the listing goes up to $754. Different genres and different price points result in different fees. Listing your book for $3.00 or more could cost you over $2500, depending on genre.

So the service is not cheap, but they claim to get results — and most of what I’ve read agrees that they are effective. Bookbub doesn’t break down stats for the various price points, but they do report an average sold figure — excluding the results for free listings. For that Sci Fi book of yours, the average number of sales generated is 2,040 copies.

So let’s crunch the  numbers. Assume a $0.99 price point. If you are running a promotion through Kindle Direct, then you can earn a full 70% royalty on all sales made during that promotion (minus their delivery fee, which is a few pennies per download), so say you earn 67 cents per sale. If you achieve the average number of sales (2,040) you will earn $1,366 in royalties. Not bad. Subtract what you’re paying BookBub, $754, and you’ll make $612. 

So, still not bad, at least when compared to the negligible returns most of us see. And you might do better. That’s only an average. (Or you could do worse, ’cause that’s how averages work, natch.) In addition, your book gets some notice, and that aint bad either. But remember, you’re out the $754 whether you knock it out of the park or hit a weak dribbler to third. Bookbub takes their cut before the promotion even begins.

So, Is it worthwhile? Most of the time, absolutely. We’re still talking about pretty small numbers. I would be delighted, frankly, to be making $612 per month on book royalties, but it wouldn’t represent a radical change in my finances.

What’s more to the point, did you notice that word “monthly?” I know of people who work in exactly this manner — crank out a book a month, run Bookbub ads, build up a following, get noticed by the Amazon algorithms and then fame, fortune, and endorsement deals. Personally, I can’t imagine producing more than a book or two a year at the very most, so this wouldn’t for me. 

Besides, there’s another problem:  Bookbub advertising spots are very much in demand, and Bookbub is highly selective. I’ve submitted Spark three times — once for a 99 cent promotion, twice for free promotions — and been rejected each time. The problem? My book doesn’t have very many reviews on Amazon, they said — I should wait until I get more, they said — and maybe consider pricing the book at a lower price point, they said (and yes, this was the advice that Bookbub gave me, even when I wanted to price the book for free, because it was obviously a form-rejection letter). The internet rumor mill estimates that Bookbub accepts fewer than ten percent of applicants, and they prefer people who are already famous and have hundreds of Amazon reviews. In short, the more you need them, the less likely they are to accommodate you.

So, where does that leave us? Certainly, there are other book marketers out there in the BookBub mode. I’ve used them (and written about it here  and here .) None of these services are as big as BookBub. They don’t charge hundreds of dollars up front, but they also don’t suggest that they will generate thousands of dollars worth of sales. Some are even free, but, well, they tend to generate commensurate numbers, if you get my drift.

Which brings me back to my original subject: marketers. I’m still waiting for some marketer to respond to my offer: a 50/50 partnership. I write. You market. Half the royalties on actual sales go to you, half to me.

I expect I’ll be waiting for a long time.  

Meanwhile, here’s a serious question:  would it be possible for us, as a collective, to replicate, even in some small measure, the Bookbub model? Instead of paying Bookbub for access to their list, generate a list of our own? Send out our own newsletter? Even if it was significantly less effective than theirs, we’d still be saving a lot of money by not having to fork out $700 (and up, up, up) to Bookbub every time we advertised.  I have no expertise, no knowledge about what might be involved or how long it might take to build up a list. No doubt others have tried this, but since there are (at least) dozens of us, each with our own varied contacts and resources, might we have some leverage they do not?

Is this a pipe dream? Probably. But until you ask, you never know. 

So I’m asking.

Any ideas?

 

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book promotion, Literary Agents, publishing

The Heart of the Matter.

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A piece on Scribophile asks an important question:

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Yesterday, I went to my first ever writer’s conference. It gave me my first exposure to meeting an agent face-to-face in a “speed date” of 10 minutes. I delivered my pitch. She cut me down to a stump with one question:

“Okay, so I get that you have _____, and you have _____, but, like, what’s your one thing that’s going to make me want to read this book?”

I stared at her stupefied for a moment. I wasn’t able to give the agent an answer that made her go, “Oh, wow. Yes! Please send me that book. I have to find out about that.”

She asked a simple, direct question that cut to the quick: this is a woman with not enough time for anyone, and yet she’s contemplating — maybe — adding a person to her client list, if she thinks the burden is worth it. She already puts in intensive hours working for her existing clients and poring over hundreds of other submissions. What makes me the needle in the haystack? Why am I so goddamn special?

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This is the question I have for the hoards of books touted on Facebook. There are a thousand paranormal romances out there. There are a thousand of everything. And I already have stacks – hell, mountains – of books waiting to be read. Why should I devote my time to yours?

The answer, as far as my own thing is concerned, would be: for super-imaginative fun delivered with merry wise-ass style.

Were I to encapsulate the many joys of the renowned series of naval adventures by Patrick O’Brian (that currently enthrall me), I would say, A beguiling interplay of complex characterization, adventure with a touch of mystery, and a mind-blowing knowledge of the sea. I am mesmerized!

What about you? What would be your Heart-of-the-Matter response?

 

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Uncategorized, writing technique

Raise Your Voice… uh, Voices!

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I am not a sarcastic person. Sarcasm strikes me as mean — snarky condemnations passive-aggressively issued by arrogant people desperate to feel superior to those they ridicule. Those who are not the target may think it’s witty, but maybe they’re just relieved and smugly enjoying the fact it wasn’t aimed at them. After all, does anyone really deserve such ridicule? I’m inclined to give all* people the benefit of the doubt, and accept their occasionally foolish, irritating, mind-raspingly stupid behavior as an entitlement every human may claim. Even I could claim it if I were ever foolish, irritating, or stupid. None of which, of course, I ever am.

That’s the reason Romero Russo was such a revelation. More than two years ago, Romero started writing a book called Sarcasm Font. My first public view of him was on Inkshares during a marketing contest. After completing the first five chapters of his ambiguously fictional story, he started blogging. People found his writing funny and thoughtful:

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Here’s the thing. I am him.

 

That’s right. Following an unexpected series of events leading to my brain slurring two words into a word you won’t find in the OED, a fit of whimsy took over. I began writing Sarcasm Font in a voice so unfamiliar to me that I couldn’t even claim author credit. Romero Russo was born. He had a life of his own. He didn’t speak to me; he spoke through me. No doubt other authors have had the same out-of-voice experience. I suspect they would agree: it’s freeing.

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The elusive Romero Russo (Photo credit: S.T. Ranscht)

 

Like many authors, I’ve written characters who say sarcastic things. Readers have commented that each of my characters has an individual, identifiable voice. But writing and living from inside a character whose voice differs drastically from your own is more like acting. If you allow that person to tell the whole story, the writing experience is more like watching the story than creating it.

When Romero went public on Inkshares, the circle who knew about the two of us was small: two of my sisters and my son. They were kind enough not to share Romero’s secret, but they weren’t shy about letting me know they thought it was kind of creepy that I talked about him as if he were real. He and I shared a Venn diagram overlap of followers, and we followed each other. Why wouldn’t we? We were marketing separate works by separate authors.

But when we started blogging, we were sharing our “selves” with strangers. That’s when it became a hoax. No one questioned it. Why would they? He said things I would never say. It was just so darn much fun to be Romero Russo.

After the 2016 A to Z Blogging Challenge, Romero went silent on WordPress. I was still working on Sarcasm Font, and planned to promote it under his name. I began to question the practicality of that when I wrote the short story behind one of his… um, life events, and entered it in a contest. Entry required a bio and a photo. I had those, no problem. But on the chance — however remote — that it won a cash prize, or was short-listed to be published in the anthology, wouldn’t I want the cash and/or credit to be mine? Yes. Yes I would. I submitted it under my name, and while it didn’t win any cash, it was published in the contest anthology. I got all the credit.

I also gave myself up. Someone — I leave the choice to acknowledge this to him — who follows both Romero and me procured a copy of the anthology and read my story, which I, appropriately though perhaps indiscreetly, called “Sarcasm Font”. He allowed that I might merely have appropriated Romero’s premise, but he also suspected that we might be one and the same, despite the difference in voices. When he asked me directly, I couldn’t bring myself to resort to “alternative facts”. I confessed.

My hope is that others may take some inspiration from this tale. If you haven’t yet written an out-of-voice story, I highly recommend it. It will open your mind to discover voices you didn’t know you had. Ideas that have never occurred to you before will flow. You might find your very own Romero Russo.

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*(Except for one person to whom I gave a chance, but whose consistently reprehensible behavior has depleted my ability to tolerate. I might need Romero to speak for me for the next four years.)

fullsizeoutput_174 S.T. Ranscht lives in San Diego, California. She and Robert P. Beus co-authored ENHANCED, the first book in the young adult Second Earth Trilogy. She is currently submitting their baby to literary agents, determined to find the one who is their perfect match. Her short story, “Cat Artist Catharsis”, earned Honorable Mention in Curtis Bausse’s 2016 Book a Break Short Story Contest, and is available in its anthology, Cat Tales. “Sarcasm Font” appears in the 2016 To Hull and Back Short Story Anthology. Find her online: on WordPress at Space, Time, and Raspberries, Facebook, Twitter @STRanscht and Instagram @stranscht. You can follow ENHANCED on Facebook, Twitter @EnhancedYASyFy, and Instagram @secondearthtrilogy.

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book sales, reading, Stories

Writing – A Team Sport?

anthology

As a writer, my quest to become an overnight success began nine years ago. Since that time, I have written numerous short stories, flash fictions, blog serials, novellas, novels, and a tome rivaling in word count the Icelandic Sagas. My undeniably clever, witty, yet strangely unsuccessful query letters are probably well known to vexed agents and publishers alike. Soon, however, I may achieve a modicum of success, depending on how you define the term. The overnight part? Let’s move on.

How am I doing this?

One word: Anthologies. You know, anthologies: those collections of stories, poems, vignettes, and what have you from one author or many, and often self-published. These collective works traditionally receive an instant rejection from most literary agents, the high and mighty gate-keepers to the hallowed halls of literary fame and fortune. However, I have found a path to success through anthologies and without the help of an agent. But before you label me an industry neophyte, order another pumpkin spiced espresso martini and let me ‘splain.

Gone are the days of waking up at 907 Whitehead Street, dropping a Spanish onion into a glass of chilled gin with the requisite splash of vermouth, putting paper into the typewriter and cranking out an iconic piece of literature as a seven-toed cat wanders between your legs. Not anymore. Today’s writer must do it all: write something worth reading, sell it to an agent or publisher, create a business model and social media platform, market your work and you, sell again, this time to the consumer, and then deal with insurance and taxes.

Now you know why publishing houses have so many employees. Faced with such a daunting task, how can you alone break into the business and rise above the din without having written the next Harry Potter?

Yes, you got it. Anthologies.

When I researched agents, none represented anthologies. Too difficult to manage the legal and financial issues of multiple authors on one project. Didn’t fit the paradigm. Publishers were of the same mold. If the anthology contained only your works? No different. We don’t accept poetry, picture books, screenplays, or anthologies. I’ve seen that statement on many websites.

That was then. This is now. We are in a different world today. I pay three bucks for a fifty-cent cup of coffee. My phone has more computing power than Apollo 11 had in their command module. Agents still shy away from anthologies, but...and this is my point: publishers are now embracing them.

What kind of sorcery is this?

I’m not saying literary agents no longer have value. Far from it. Get one. Everyone else has one. All the cool kids have one. Agents bring a lot to the table. But an agent isn’t an absolute necessity for you to get a start as a professional writer.

Anthologies can give you that first bit of street cred. My first short story, The Crucible, was accepted for the premier volume of The World Unknown Review (WUR), edited by L.S. Engler. Was the story good? I thought so; still do. Was the anthology a runaway bestseller? No, for a variety of reasons. But friends bought it. I think it is still on Amazon if you are curious. Did my story gain me anything? No Pushcart nomination, perhaps, but this solidified in my family and friends’ minds that I was a writer and not a retired guy with a hobby. And L.S. paid me with a $20 Starbucks card.

WUR used a vetting process – some works were accepted, others not. Mine made the cut. Success. And what about L.S.? She created and sold the anthology into a series which is now collecting stories for a third volume. Her effort created enough credibility that, when coupled with her excellent writing, she has become a contributor to The Saturday Evening Post. And to think I knew her when. To push my point home some more: L.S.s first book was an anthology of her own stories. Check out Bowl Full of Bunnies. It’s actually a very good read.

My story being in the first volume of WUR provided a nice bit of filler for my query letters. You are always asked to mention your previous success as a writer. Sure, it was just an anthology, but it proved I was serious about my writing. Effort goes a long way, even for writers.

My second (and current) anthology project has me intertwined with a cohort of 17 other writers. Many of these writers were in a local mystery writers club that had produced four anthologies earlier. The most recent book sold over 10,000 units, which for a regional book is amazing. I asked one of them how they went about creating the project, and seeing my interest, they asked me to submit a story for their fifth book.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

My story, Wyld Women and Wine, will be in their next anthology, titled 50 Shades of Cabernet. The regional publisher, Koehler Books, is taking on the project based on the success of the club’s previous efforts. They also admit the anthology having 18 sales agents, I mean writers, helps boost sales. As I said, today’s writer must do it all – including sell. This should not be a secret to anyone by now.

Before I committed to the anthology, I did my usual stalking, make that due diligence, and checked out the Koehler website. Turned out they had just put a notice up saying they were accepting unagented manuscripts. What the heck – what did I have to lose?

I sent in my manuscript, then received an email reply a few days later. I was to meet with Koehler’s chief editor, who called my writing quick paced, interesting, and very clean – meaning the text was in better shape than what he had seen from most first time novelists. After another phone call, this time from Mr. Koehler, I received an offer for publication next year. This deal comes with a content editor, copy editor, cover artist and book designer, and bonus: a marketing team. Haven’t signed yet, but we have the details pretty much carved in wood.

All this happened because of an anthology.

Will this happen to you? Maybe. Maybe not. Providence played a part in my success, I am sure. But like they say in the lottery business, you can’t win if you don’t play.  So go find yourself an anthology, get that street cred, get those personal connections, learn more of the business of writing, and maybe, just maybe, your short story will lead to something else.

Where to find anthologies? I Googled Anthology Accepting Submissions and found 420,000 entries. Mystery writers can check out MWA – they have started a yearly anthology. Sci-fi writers have one, too. Even Carina Press has a call out for romantic/erotic stories for their new anthology. I found these with less than a minute on the Internet. If all else fails, start your own. L.S. Engler did and her career is taking off. In fact, if you have something now, her World Unknown Review is still accepting stories for volume three.

Anthologies. Give ‘em a try. You can’t win if you don’t play.

Safety tips when considering participating in an anthology:

Check out the other authors – and the editor. You can have a great story, but if the rest of the book is amateurish, you lose. Guilt by association as the old saying goes.

Get the money figured out. And written into a contract. Are you paid a flat fee for the use of the story? Are you going to receive royalties? Was there an advance on royalties? Who received it? How does it impact your royalties?

Know your rights. How restrictive is the agreement when it comes to control of your story? Never sign away the copyright (I don’t think any editor or publisher would even ask this.) Does the anthology have an exclusive on your story for a certain amount of time? What about other rights? Can you concurrently shop your story to Hollywood or Bollywood? My goodness, what about licensing action figures?

My experience: L.S. paid outright for the use of my story for one year while I maintained copyright ownership and all other rights. 50 Shades of Cabernet? My story is exclusive to the anthology for two years. I retain all other rights. Royalties are 50-50 between the cohort and the publisher. I get 1/18th of that 50%. That works out to about 50 cents per book sold. Doesn’t sound like a ton of money, but remember – their last anthology sold over 10,000 units. Five grand buys me and my wife a nice trip to the Bahamas. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

And finally, be prepared to make a few decisions by consensus. Be ready to have some decisions handed down to you by the editor. And expect to make other decisions on your own. In the business world this is called managing uncertainty.

Maybe that’s why the writing business is best described as a business.

Good luck. And keep writing!

http://www.douglaslutz.com/

 

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book promotion, book sales, Literary Agents

Secret Agent Plan

OR

Five Four Three Two One Unique Ways to Get an Agent

Oh these sad and weary tales of woe.

Nope. Not this time. We’ve all been there and done that. Personally, I’ve read so many articles over the years about how to write the ideal query letter and get the perfect literary agent that I ought to be an authority by now. Unfortunately, like the typical ‘rules for writing’ article, most of them are little more than a list of things you shouldn’t do:

DON’T do mass, impersonal, “Dear Agent” queries;

DON’T query agents for genres they don’t represent;

DON’T make hyperbolic promises about your book being a guaranteed bestseller;

DON’T lie about all the literary awards you obviously haven’t won;

DON’T spell their names wrong.

There are lots more, but they all break down to the same basic piece of advice: be professional. A query letter is a business letter. Agents are in business to make money, so don’t waste their time with a lot of nonsense. Pitch the book, give your credentials, keep it brief. And edit for typos.

I think I’ve crafted some pretty good query letters in my day, but most great query letters end up in the same place as all the poor query letters: the reject pile. I don’t want to belabor a point that has been made too many times in too many places, so let’s just take it as a given that writing is hard, getting published is hard, making money is hard, yada yada yada. You can do everything right and still end up in the slush pile. In fact, most of us do.

Of course, most of us also keep dreaming. So when an article called “5 Unique Ways to Land An Agent” appeared in my email feed this morning, I had to look. Given that I am too cynical and hardboiled to believe that there are any magic beans in the publishing world, I wasn’t expecting much.

Guess what? There wasn’t much. Nothing against Meredith Blevins, who is a reasonably successful author and, I’m sure, a fine teacher, but I had to laugh at her list of five. I’ll summarize:

1) Get a writing degree. If you do (or hopefully did), you’ll meet people who can give you references and personal introductions and stuff like that.

2) Go to a writer’s conference, for the same basic reason.

3) Really. Go to a writer’s conference!

4) In fact, here’s one writer’s conference in particular that worked for one author she knows.

5) Go to New York and talk to agents in person. (The first time I typed this, I wrote “talk to agents in prison.” Sometimes the fingers just know what you’re really thinking.)

Maybe I’ve miscounted, but that’s really only three unique ways to land an agent. Unfortunately, two of them are nearly useless. Not a lot of us have the wherewithal to fly to New York or to attend graduate school (or even writer’s conferences, for that matter.) Her bottom line advice can be summarized thus: personal contact is always better than a letter. I have no doubt she is right. But also? Wow. Obvious.

So do these things work? Does a writing degree or attending writer’s conferences at least increase your chances of landing an agent? Maybe. I’m sure they can’t hurt. But I’ve known writers who have gone to plenty of conferences and never gotten representation, because it’s still an uphill battle against very long odds.han-solo-odds

I’ve had some big name agents request full manuscripts of mine, even had one offer rewrite suggestions—which I followed to the best of my ability and conscience—only to meet with eventual rejection. Not because she thought the book was bad, but because she didn’t see the potential for the kind of commercial success that would’ve made it worth her time and effort

The bottom line really is the bottom line.

But put all that gloom and doom aside. I’d love to get your take. Have you succeeded in landing an agent? What did it take? Did it help? Are agents even the way to go in this era?

Discuss, please.

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