Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mike Hyatt: Before You Hire a Literary Agent

One of the toughest decisions facing authors today, is what they will do about professional, positive, representation. Agents are like plumbers. For some things you can't just can't go it alone but for many others, it isn't absolutely necessary.

There are a list of "to do's" that come before hiring an agent and the list gets longer all the time.

In this age of electronic, on demand publishing, what can you do ahead of a representative to establish yourself, build a brand, lay out a solid, long term platform and find your reader base?

How can you create your finished product in publishable form, ready to be handed over to the wolves, ahead of hiring a representative?

What steps can you take to be an unpublished author of substance, who's work is ready for professional, positive, representation?

How do you know when you are nearing and / or crossing that fine line between being ready for representation and in need of representation?

Mike Hyatt has been there and done that. His suggestions are quite clear and on topic. He sits at the head of the largest publisher of Christ honoring literature in the world and knows something about this topic.

Before You Hire a Literary Agent

A while back, I received an email from one of our authors, notifying us that he had hired a new literary agent. My first thought was, You’ve got to be kidding! Of all the agents out there, why would you pick THAT one!

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against agents. Not only was I a literary agent for six years, I have been represented by an agent on all of the books I have personally published. And, of course, as a publisher, I deal with agents on a daily basis.

A few of these agents are close, personal friends. Many of them add real value to the publishing process. However, some of them do irreparable harm to the author’s reputation. Like most professions, it is a mixed bag. You owe it to yourself to do your homework.

As an author, the most important thing you need to understand about agents is that they represent YOU. If an agent has a good reputation (i.e., a brand), that reputation will accrue to your benefit:

* If the agent is knowledgeable and well-read, publishers will assume that you are a person of literary merit—someone to be taken seriously.
* If the agent is prompt and responsive, publishers will assume that you are cooperative and low-maintenance—someone they want to work with.
* If the agent is reasonable in the terms they request, publishers will assume that you are committed to a win-win paradigm—someone they want to invest in.

However, if an agent has a bad reputation, that reputation will also accrue to your detriment:

* If the agent isn’t well-read and isn’t conversant with your topic or proposal, publishers will assume that you don’t know what you are talking about either.
* If your agent is disorganized and unresponsive, publishers will assume that you are uncooperative and high-maintenance.
* If the agent is unreasonable and greedy, publishers will assume that you are committed to a win-lose paradigm and just in it for the money.

Frankly, I am amazed that so many authors hire agents without checking references. To be blunt, this is just stupid. You wouldn’t do this with an employee; why would you do it with an agent?

In hiring new employees, I have found that checking references is the single most important thing I can do. Prospective employees will tell you all kinds of things in an interview. They will spin their story to their advantage. But, as Ronald Reagan used to say, “trust but verify.” You never know for sure until you check the references. The same is true in hiring a literary agent.

Before you hire a literary agent, I would encourage you to:

1. Contact at least three authors whom the agent currently represents. Ask the agent for a list, including telephone numbers. Obviously, these will be clients the agent thinks will speak well of him. Regardless, you will still learn a great deal by talking to these clients. If possible, talk with them on the phone. People will tell you things on a phone call that they will not put in writing.
2. Contact at least three publishers with whom the agent has recently done business. Again, ask the agent to provide a list. Ask the publisher, four questions:
* “Did the agent present a compelling proposal?”
* “Did the agent provide you what you needed to make a good decision?”
* “Did the agent respond to your calls and emails in a timely manner?”
* “Was the agent fair and reasonable in the negotiating process?”

If you already have an agent, it is important that you monitor how you are being represented. Check in with your publisher from time to time and make sure that you are being well-represented. Keep in mind that the publisher will be reluctant to be candid unless he can count on your confidentiality.

By the way, I maintain a “List of Literary Agents who Represent Christian Authors”

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Why Video Trailers Help Sell Your Book

Why a Video Will Help Sell Your Book

A shopper who watches a video about a product is more likely to buy it.

We are all concerned with the steps necessary to market our work. We wonder about how to spend very limited marketing dollars. Our thoughts are contradictory, at times and frustrating. At times it seems like we are taking a stab in the dark, with funds that need to be spent with the utmost care.

Alan Rinzler has a bit about one emerging marketing trend that seems promising, through a well produced video trailer. It's worth the read.

by Alan Rinzler
That’s why publishers and video producers are rushing to collaborate on low-cost video book trailers. Publicists and marketing professionals believe these videos are the best new way to create the kind of buzz that attracts readers and sales.
In the past few months, publishers like Simon & Schuster, Harlequin, Scholastic, Wiley and others, have commissioned and produced hundreds of these short videos. They’re posting them on their own company websites, on Amazon, YouTube, author sites and blogs, and an expanding universe of multimedia and social networking sites.
Some of these book videos look like movie trailers, with high production values, location shots and paid actors. Some are just about the author, with talking heads and an interview at home about the book and how it was written.
Here’s one I love
This is a book trailer for New Confections of a Closet Master Baker by Gesine Bullock-Prado (Broadway Books/Random House Sept. 09). It’s about the author and her quest for meaning and purpose in her life, which she discovers by becoming a master baker and opening her own shop in Vermont where she creates pastry and cakes to die for. They’re so well photographed you’ll want to rush out and buy them, and the book.
A sudden trend
This new approach is part of the sea change in the industry’s turbulent and volatile efforts to sell books. Most of us generally agree that the old ways of marketing books has become prohibitively expensive and obsolete, especially in the current economy and declining retail sales in all sectors.
That full-page ad in the New York Times Book Review or the 30-second national TV spot on a show like Today or Front Line can cost tens of thousands of dollars with few tangible results. At the same time the DIY free-access culture of the internet has shown how powerful a three-minute YouTube video can be, careening around cyberspace in a few minutes if viewers pass it on to interested friends in their social network.
Book publishers are struggling to figure out how to survive and flourish in this brave new world of digital marketing. Many are now willing try something new.
At John Wiley & Sons, for example, we’ve already commissioned many such videos. The Dummies division at Wiley in particular, is using video trailers to market its books. Simon & Schuster’s CEO Carolyn Reidy, told me at Book Expo this year that she’s a big supporter of this recent initiative and has ordered dozens of videos for her various imprints. Jeff Gomez at Penguin is another strong advocate of this marketing tool.
We’ve also found that these book trailers are perfect as audition tapes for national broadcast and print media, and to generate author publicity and support the author’s direct-to-reader marketing efforts to drive sales and engage customers.
Growing book trailer industry
Video production companies targeting authors are emerging to produce book trailers. For example, Andrew Kaplan, Business Development Manager of the internet video company TurnHere, says they’ve produced about 500 book videos and is releasing three or four new ones every week.
Another producer, Scott Robinson of RFI films in NYC has been creating book videos directly with the author, most notably our own favorite discovery, Lenore Skenazy.
A quick search online turned up other players, including Living Jacket, Circle of Seven Productions, and Expanded Books. I don’t have any personal experience with these companies, so please do your own due diligence if you consider using their services.
If you’re a writer under contract, be clear about who’s paying for producing the video. If you don’t yet have a book publisher, consider doing something within your budget, either on your own or with professional help. The cost for such an effort can range from a few hundred to $5,000.
How can you make the best use of this new resource?
Watch as many book videos as you can and become familiar with the rapidly changing state of the art. To get started, check out BookScreening, a hub for book trailers submitted by publishers and authors featuring great examples of this new medium. Another big player in this arena is the book trailer channel at Barnes & Noble Studio. Search YouTube for book trailers, and you’ll find more than 50,000. And there’s Vimeo, with a roster of more than 200 book videos. Also take a look at The Book Trailer Blog, with interesting background and commentary about making and re-purposing book videos.
Book trailers tend to fall into two major categories: Some are like Hollywood movie previews, with professional actors playing out elements of the stories in actual locations, with good music, slick editing, and high production values.
Others are entirely author focused, with a writer explaining why and how they wrote the book, often speaking from home. The author might be sitting behind a keyboard, walking through a location associated with the book, or conducting an interview with an on or off-camera journalist or friend.
Readers want a relationship with the author
“Our experience and field surveys show that what potential readers want most is contact with the author,” Kaplan of TurnHere says.
“Book tours don’t often bring authors to neighborhood events anymore, but people still crave that personal touch, that sense of a real person they can get to know, that relationship between author and reader.”
What would work best for your book? Would you prefer to dramatize the story in an enticing manner, or talk about your work and how you did it?
Consider roughing out a preview trailer on your own. Do you have any video equipment at home? Do you know someone who would be willing to experiment and have some fun working on this with you?
“I’ve seen good book trailers that started as an amateur Flip camera version made by the author and then later redone with professional production values,” says Robinson of RFI films.
“Lenore Skenazy and her husband Joe, for example, did a first-draft video for her book Free Range Kids with consumer equipment and software. They wrote their own script. It had humor – which is important for many book trailers — and a lot of smart ideas for inserts and locations. So we re-shot the whole thing with better audio and editing. Humor, good sound and good editing can all make a huge difference.” See the final version on Amazon.
Is Amazon charging for placement?
Book trailer producers have told me also that one of the biggest challenges they face now in video marketing campaigns is placement. It used to be easier to get a video trailer posted on Amazon, for example. Now I hear they’re beginning to charge for posting a video on the first page of a book listing.
Kaplan at TurnHere says that Amazon is beginning to charge some of his clients a $1500 fee for posting on the first page of a book listing. A spokesperson for Amazon, who prefers to remain anonymous, told me that such a fee would depend on how much business the publisher does with them, and the status of an individual author.
I’m told that we’re not paying that kind of money at Wiley for posting on Amazon, but we may be getting credit for the volume of cooperative advertising dollars that a publisher makes available to major retailers.
If anyone out there has had direct experience with Amazon regarding placement of a book trailer, we’d love to hear from you.
The bottom line
Here’s the bottom line: Smart buyers do research online before making any retail purchase. Book readers are no different. If they’ve heard about a book, or read something by a writer they like, they’ll search for it. When they find an actual video, the research shows that people have an attention span of about 3 minutes.
Three minutes doesn’t sound like much. But that little book video could make a big impact in your ultimate sales.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Idea Starters for Stuck Bloggers - Part II

Idea-Starters for Stuck Bloggers – Part Two

By Mike Hyatt

The dreaded “writer’s block” afflicts us all from time to time. I struggle with it almost weekly. Occasionally, I have an easy run of several days, when the ideas seem to flow effortlessly. But that is rare. Most weeks, I get stuck at least once or twice.

So what do I do? What can you do? Here are some more idea-starters. I offer these up as possibilities for lighting a fire when your brain is damp:

Provide a step-by-step explanation for how to do something. When you provide five steps to this, or four strategies for that, people gobble it up. I think all of us have a need for down-to-earth, practical help with the items that interest us. Example: “How to Update Your Facebook Status With Twitter.”

Provide a list of resources. This is a huge way to give back to your industry or community. It is easy to take for granted what you know. You are probably sitting on priceless information that others would die to have access to. Resource lists are a great way to build traffic. Example: “Literary Agents Who Represent Christian Authors.”

Answer your readers’ questions. My readers ask some of the best questions. Sometimes they email them. Sometimes they put them in the comments of an older posts. Often they just Twitter them to me. I assume that if one person has the question, so do others. By answering these you demonstrate that you are listening. Example: “How Much Times Does Twittering Really Take?”

Make a seemingly overwhelming task simple. There is a huge audience for anyone who can make complex things simple. Provide a conceptual model, an outline, or an introduction to something you take for granted. Example: “Advice to First-Time Authors” and especially “Writing a Winning Book Proposal.”

Explain the rationale behind a decision. Intelligent people want to know why you do what you do. That is what makes everyone so interesting. You can explain the rational behind almost any decision you have made, and it will be instructive for others. Example: “Why Every Author Needs a Powerful Online Presence.”

Write a guide to something popular. This is especially good for technology topics—anything where people feel overwhelmed. I have written introductions to social networking, how to stay on top of email, and how to create a life plan. They key is not to assume the reader knows anything about the topic. Example: “The Beginner’s Guide to Twitter.”

Next time you get stuck, you might want to pull this list out and review it. Sometimes, all it takes is a spark to re-ignite the fire.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Honest Scrap Award

You see the badge. It's an honor and a burden. I "won" the Honest Scrap award by doing nothing.

I think Tommie Lynn, on the occasion of her 65th birthday, dropped the (non) coveted award on my unsuspecting head, as a way of jabbing at the world on her special day. So jabbed as I am, the rules of Honest Scrap are that I must share eight things about myself and nominate a bushel of other people to the lofty heights of Scrap.

1) I am absolutely no one. It's true. Nobody is here and you're reading his words.

2) I have an aversion to "going along" with things. My life has been a never ending series of events wherein I refuse to take the road most often traveled. The people that are closest, often refuse to wander the well trod paths, also.

3) I love Baseball. It's a beautiful game that gives me much pleasure. From the last day of the World Series, to the 15th of February, I patiently await the return of my game. All is well in the world once the baseball-ers are back at work.

4) For several years I sang opera and loved it. In the background is a recording of Gilbert and Sullivan. Figaro in The Marriage of Figaro, Escamillo in Carmen, Pooh-Bah in The Mikado and others. Once in a great while, I sing out a line or two of a part I once sang.

5) Politics has been a fascination since high school. Over the years, I worked with some relatively important people. Though I remember them, I am sure they do not have such keen memories of me.

6) I drive a Toyota Prius. Yes. I'm a hybrid kind of guy. I love the gas mileage and its zippy.

7) Once upon a time I was a policeman back in NY.

8) I'm married to the smartest, long suffering, woman that ever lived.

In the interest of harmony, I will name a very short list of new recipients.

Lynn Mosher Heading Home

Tasha Reed Endless Writings

Ginger Takamiya Christian Romance Magazine

Linda Yezak 777 Peppermint Place

Build Your Speaking Platform

One often overlooked facet of direct author sales is how well you build your platform and how effectively you use speaking to get your message to people who might buy your books.

Virtually every organization wants / needs speakers who don't cost a lot and have something of value to say. Good speakers do many of the same things, that result in a growing base of organizations that invite them to speak, promote their message and their books.

Develop a Network of Contacts that automatically refer them to their friends who also need a speaker

Stay in Touch. Met those folks know what is new and what has changed. Give them a heads up on your career and the topics you bring to their events.

Do Your Homework. Be energetic, excited, prepared and worthy of the invitation.

Carla Williams from Wine Press of Words has more on the topic.

Sell More Books: Build a Speaking Platform
Carla Williams

Publicity & Editorial Director for The WinePress Group.

Building a speaking ministry is the single best way to sell books.
One grandparenting expert built her speaking circuit to the point of being dubbed the “grandparenting guru of the Midwest.” She spoke at civic groups, churches, corporations, women’s retreats, and PTA meetings.

She built her reputation as an expert in her field and used much of the input she received from her speaking engagements to write her book on grandparenting. She did not want to wait for a traditional royalty publisher to offer her a contract; she chose to self-publish.

She started out with 2,000 copies and sold them all within six months. She had built a substantial mailing list from her many speaking engagements and had an automatic channel of distribution for her book.

These days, it really doesn’t even matter if your book has anything to do with the topic you are speaking on; the truth is, whatever you have on your book table will sell after your audience has heard you speak. In fact, your book might not even be of interest to your audience personally, but they may very well know someone else who might benefit from the book, and buy it as a gift, complete with your signature inside!

How to Prepare

Often, having a book in print will open more doors for you to speak, or will help accelerate an already established speaking ministry, so be prepared for the inevitable. To get prepared, attend some speaker training, if possible from a Christian perspective.

Two good choices are Speak Up Speaker Services and CLASSeminars. Both of these sessions train you on the basics of effective speaking.

Many communities also offer Toastmasters groups. They typically meet monthly, and sometimes more often, and give you a good chance to practice speaking in front of a group of people.
Collateral Material

Develop collateral material to promote your speaking ministry to include a brochure or “sell sheet” that includes your picture, bio, information on your book, and different topics you speak on. A few endorsements from groups you have spoken for in the past would also be helpful. This enables you to present yourself in a professional manner to a speakers’ committee or planning board.

Another important piece of your speaking ministry materials would be a good quality audio tape or CD of you speaking to a group. Often, if someone on the planning board hasn’t already heard you speak, they will require a sample to review before inviting you.

If you don’t have a good copy of your presentation, then set up a time with a group of friends where you can present your topic and get good group feedback during the session. Make sure the taping quality is good and there is no background noise.
Spread the Word

Once you’ve learned the fundamentals of effective communication and compiled a professional set of materials to promote your speaking ministry, you should begin to let people know that you are available.

However God helps you orchestrate it, develop a system for your speaking ministry to stay organized and begin to build a platform that can be measured and leveraged in the future.

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