Agency Lessons: A bit of this and that

I've got a hodge-podge of a lesson today, but stick with me and I promise to make it worth your while.

Blogging from A to Z
A reminder that tomorrow starts the Blogging from A to Z challenge. I'll have new posts up every day this month (except for Sunday) with tips on Marketing from the Edge. This means there won't be any Agency Lesson posts in April, but they'll be back in May.

Reader Question
I got a great question the other day and I wanted to share my response here in case any of you are wondering the same thing.

Annonymous author writes:What are your thoughts on series/sequels? The plan is for me to tell my story in four MG/YA (I think it falls in between the two) books. I just wanted to know if you took on series before I sent you my idea.

My response:
First, you have to distinguish between MG & YA. They live on two completely different book shelves, cater to different readers, and have different requirements. Your series might start out as MG and move into YA (hey there, Harry Potter), but each book has to be one or the other.

Second, this first book MUST be able to stand on it's own. This is especially important for a debut author. Publishers are not keen to pick up a book knowing that they are almost obligated to buy the next books. It's okay to have a few loose threads, but your first book must have it's own stand alone plot line that is followed all the way through to completion. Using HP as an example, we are left not knowing what happened to Voldemort, but since that wasn't the focus of the book it doesn't matter. Harry needed to save the Sorcerer's Stone and he does. The traitor teacher is found and dealt with, end of story. So make sure any loose threads are unrelated to the core plot of the first book.

An invitation
Do you have a question you'd like me to answer? I love hearing from you guys, both in the comments and the private notes that you send me. If you have a question about marketing, publishing or just books in general, please feel free to ask in the comments or send me an email at SarahNegovetich (at) Chances are, you aren't the only one with the same question.

On that same subject, I've heard from so many of you about how much you enjoyed the DIY Blog Tour series this past November. This tickles me to no end. I'm always glad to hear that readers find helpful information here. So I'm working on a secret project as a follow up to the DIY Blog Tour. That's all the details I can share right now, but I'm really excited about it and can't wait to tell you more.

Also, I'm planning another series for this summer focusing on social media and platform. Right now I'm looking at July, barring anything crazy going down between now and then.

One last completely unrelated note. This May I'll be attending the DFW Writer's Conference. I am beyond excited to work with this awesome group. Rumor has it this is quickly becoming a must attend conference. If my own attendance isn't enough to draw you there, Donald Maass will be there. Is it kosher for an agent to fangirl over another agent? Who cares, I love Donald Maass.

Tomorrow is the last day to get regular registration costs. After April first, registration goes up from $345 to $390. Still a reasonable price for such a great event, but go ahead and register now to save $45.

And that's all. I feel like I just committed the world's worst info dump, but I hope there's enough fun info in there that you'll forgive my writing sin. See you all tomorrow for the A to Z kick-off!

Google Authorship

I hate SEO.

There I said it. I have a hard enough time writing three blog posts each week between my actual work load. Forget worrying about keywords, post rank and meta data. Gah. I'm lucky if I remember to post the link to Google+ or Twitter.

But just because I hate it doesn't mean I can ignore it. And when it comes to SEO, there's no denying Google is the chief dog. Kinda like Amazon. Sure folks buy books on Barnes and Noble and do an occasional search using Bing. But let's not forget that Google is now an accepted verb. 

Google is the leader because they work hard to make sure that people find exactly what they're looking for online. In fact, they pride themselves on helping searchers find what they didn't even know they were looking for. They do that by continually updating the algorithms they use to decide which links are the best.

And that leads to Google Authorship. Basically, Authorship is a way for Google to determine who is putting content on the internet and how worthy that information is. I could go into details, but did I mention how much I hate SEO. Luckily, the folks over at Boost Blog Traffic have put together a handy guide that lays out exactly what Authorship is, why it's being put into place and what you need to know as a content creator.

Go check it out. Updating your information to maximize your Authorship on Google is actually fairly painless and easy. A quick change is worth making it easier for readers to find you.

Marketing: you're doing it wrong

To many authors, marketing is a four-letter word. And among those who hate it, plenty have thrown in the towel all together. The most common complaint I hear is that nothing works.
"I tried marketing techniques X, Y, & Z and still couldn't get anyone to buy my book."
And therein lies the problem. You shouldn't be trying to get just anyone to buy your book. That would be a complete and total waste of time. And while we're at it, you really shouldn't be trying to get people to buy your book.

Now you might be asking, "Um, Sarah, isn't that what marketing is?" Well, yes, but mostly no. Let me explain.
Tweet This

Hopefully, when you wrote your book, you had a reader in mind. You may have thought that fans of another book would really enjoy yours. Or maybe readers looking for a new book in a genre with a twist, or a certain character as the lead. You could even have several different kinds of readers who should be excited for your work. 

These are the people you want to market to. And once you find them, the hard work is over. If you've done your homework, these readers won't need to be convinced to buy your book. They won't need a clever contest or snappy interview to seal the deal.

These are your readers and your book is exactly what they've been waiting for. 

Once these readers become fans, that's when they spread the word to others who need more convincing. That won't happen because of a creative guest post from you. That comes from readers talking to other readers.

So stop beating your head against the wall trying to convince readers to give you a try. Instead, focus your efforts on finding the readers who are desperately looking for you.

Agency Lessons: The agent of tomorrow

What do you think being an agent will look like in 2020?

I was filling out some forms recently for inclusion in a listing of literary agents and this was one of the questions. After the initial shock that 2020 is only six years away, this question really stumped me.

A crystal ball would be a wonderful birthday present for me, in case you're wondering. It would be great to take a quick glance to know what genres will be hot tomorrow and how the industry will change over the next several years.

I thought about it some more and I have a better answer than I sent the poor guy stuck collecting a bunch of agents' quirky answers.

In the year 2020 agents will still do most of the same things they do today. They'll still sift through an endless flood of queries from hopeful writers. We'll still handpick our favorites, gush over them and convince editors that they desperately want to publish them. In 2020 agents will still negotiate contracts to get their clients the best deal possible and play middle-man when disagreements arise. All of that will probably stay the same.

But some things will change. They're already moving in that direction. I think agents will morph from our current role as "agent" into literary "managers".

What the heck is a literary manager?

A manager still handles all the duties of an agent, plus more. For example, agents will probably become more involved in helping clients keep track of their books, where they are and how they are going to be published. This will become more important and more authors dip their toes into the hybrid-author waters.

Another area agents will probably play a bigger role in is marketing. Right now most agents stay pretty clear of the marketing efforts outside of the occasional tweet or Facebook post. I'd guess that's going to change, and sooner rather than later. An agents clients can all market on their own, doing their best to promote their work without becoming spammers all while pumping out their next novel. Or they can all work together in a coop type system with their agent as the ringleader.

I see this happening already and definitely encourage my clients to help each other out with promotion, as well as sharing and brainstorming ideas. I also work hard to keep up on marketing trends and work with my clients to make sure they are covered, no matter how much support comes from the publisher.

Nothing can stay the same and the profession of literary agent is no exception. We can either adapt with the constant changes in publishing or dig our feet in and become obsolete. The agents of 2020 will be the ones willing to bend with the wind in order to make sure we are continuing the tradition of being an advocate and partner to our clients.

Blogging from A to Z: Theme Reveal

Every April, hundreds of bloggers sign up to participate in the Blogging From A to Z challenge. The idea is to blog every day of the month (except Sunday) using a letter of the alphabet. As the name suggests, you start with A on the 1st and end with Z on the 30th.

 I've never participated in the April A to Z blog challenge, so this year I decided to give it a go. To make things more interesting, some participating blogs use a theme to tie their posts together. This blog carries a pretty steady theme of marketing information all year, and I've already done several month long themes of sorts. Honestly, I was drawing a bit of a blank at first, but I think I came up with a good theme for the challenge. Are you ready?

Marketing from the Edge
During the month of April I'll be posting 26 unusual marketing ideas for every letter of the alphabet. Some of the ideas are zany and out there. Some aren't crazy at all, just an idea I haven't seen implemented before. You probably won't be able to do all of them, but hopefully you can find one gem in the mix of crazy to try as part of your own marketing efforts.

So be sure to show up here on April 1st to check out the first entry in Marketing from the Edge. And don't forget to check out all the other participants to see what theme ideas they come up with.

Two reasons your blog tour failed

I'm a big fan of blog tours. If done correctly, they can introduce a whole new audience of readers to your work and highlight exactly why they should read your book. Unfortunately, I hear all too often from those who've either run or purchased a blog tour that it didn't work. Despite all the effort they put into creating a tour banner, crafting unique guest posts, and promoting the stops, the tour failed to increase their sales numbers.
After talking to several of these authors, I've determined that there is usually one of two reasons why the blog tour didn't work. To save you the misery of putting in the effort without the payoff, here are the two reason a blog tour fails and what you can do to avoid these pitfalls.

Reason #1: You fished in your own pond.
Hopefully you have a community of authors you consider friends and it was so nice of them to offer to help you out and feature you on their blog during your tour. They loaded up your guest posts, tweeted the feature links, and talked you up on Facebook. The online writing community really is made of awesome.

Unfortunately, all of your writer/blogger friends are all part of the same network. So instead of reaching the thousands of new readers you were hoping for, you shared your news with the same 50 people who already knew about your book. While it can be fun to have everyone you know talking about your book at once, it isn't productive if you aren't reaching new people. Even if everyone in your network buys your book (and honestly, they aren't going to) that's not enough sales to build any kind of momentum. 

In order for your tour to work for you, you need to make sure that each stop is reaching a new audience that you couldn't reach on your own. That means stepping outside of your happy place comfort zone and asking bloggers that aren't a part of your circle to participate.

Reason #2: You threw out a net.
In an effort to combat issue number one you decided to open the tour to anyone and everyone. With a free book up for grabs, bloggers signed up by the truck load, each one promising a review and a feature on their blog. You have 75 tour stops and not a clue who any of the readers are.

Problem here is, you don't know anything about these bloggers. You don't know what kind of site they run, how professional it is, who their followers are, or if they even post reviews on a regular basis. You got the Bertie Botts Every Flavor Bean of blog tours. Sure, you probably ended up with some tutti-fruti and cotton candy flavored tour stops. But you also got troll boogies, vomit and earwax. Not only do those tour stops do nothing for your book promotion, they were a waste of your time and could potentially hurt you.

In order for the tour to hit the target audience you are shopping for, you need to know the audience of your tour. That means doing the leg work of soliciting the bloggers you want to work with and not just anyone.

The Solution
So how do you combat these. You've got to find a happy medium. Go ahead and ask your friends to help you, and while they are being generous ask them if they know of bloggers outside your circle who might be interested in being a part of the tour. If you decide to open things up to anyone, ask bloggers to submit a simple form with their site information on it first. This lets you check them out to make sure this is someone you want representing you and your work before offering them a spot on the tour.

And the best idea is to go out and ask individual bloggers to participate. I don't mean put up a call for reviews on Twitter or Facebook. I mean write an email to Sally Blogger telling her how much you love her blog and ask if she'd be willing to participate in your tour. 

Yes, this takes time and effort. I get it, I really do. But if you are going to go through all the effort of having a blog tour, you might as well do it right. 

Agency Lessons: your agent doesn't have all the answers

I have a confession.

            I don't know everything.
The pressure is on
In this industry there seems to be a belief that professionals on the inside know everything. I find myself feeling the pressure to always have an answer. But the truth is, I don't know the half of it.

Luckily for me, I have some amazing co-agents who, while not knowing everything themselves, can help me fill in my gaps. For example, one of our awesome Sr. Agents, Saritza Hernandez hosted a digital workshop for us earlier this month. To be honest, I didn't know much about contracts, terms, products or any of the details when it came to digital publishers. My eyes have been opened to a whole new world. I know so much more now, but I still don't know everything. And I bet even Saritza wouldn't claim to know it all.

Not all answers are created equal
I'm bringing this up because I want you all to be cautious when seeking advice. The writing community is full of good eggs. Honestly, I can list on one hand the number of non-helpful people I've run into that are involved in publishing. Being good eggs and all, these wonderful people want to help when some asks them a question.

And that's great. Social networks have made it easier than ever for writers to reach out to publishers, agents and published authors. But just because someone lives down in the trenches doesn't mean they know the composition of the mud they're covered in. Is that a bad analogy? Probably. What I'm trying to say is, just because someone is a professional in publishing doesn't mean they have the answer to your question. Or they may have an answer, but it might not be the only answer, or even the best one. 

Beware the know it all
There is so much to know in this industry and with changes happening daily, it's impossible to keep up with it. But that doesn't keep us from trying. And sometimes the pressure to try to know it all can lead to a sense of obligation to always have the answer. Even if we don't really have it.

So be cautious of the industry professional who always has an answer. It's a good thing when your agent/editor/publisher sometimes says "I don't know". Because if they don't say this from time to time, you can be reasonably certain that on occasion the answer you get has been made up or at least flubbed a bit. 

Find the right answer for you
Take the time to ask multiple people for their advice. The first answer you get might be right, but not right for you. And remember, in this business there are very few hard and fast rules. Sometimes that can make it difficult to know what to do, but it can also lead to some beautiful books.

Preach to your choir

The best marketing plan cast a wide net while staying in the zone of your target readers. Obviously, you want to get your book in front of as many readers as possible.

But all that focus on reaching out and spreading the word can make us blind to the pot of gold right under our nose. I'm talking about your super fans. Because you can't forget to preach to the choir.

The choir is right up next to the pulpit, nodding along with everything you say (and gobbling up every book you publish). These are the people who will stand behind you and help to spread the word. They are 100% dedicated and you can count on them to promote everything you publish without even asking.

Because of this, it can become easy to forget how important the choir is. We forget to thank them or occaisionally ask what hymns they'd like to sing. Then the next thing you know, no one answers back when you say "Can I get an Amen?".

Your efforts can't always be focused on reaching new markets and earning new readers. Every author needs to take some time to recognize the choir. Here are a few ways to preach to your choir:

  • Say "Thank You". A personalized message on FB, Twitter, or even email can go a long way towards showing your fans just how much your appreciate not only their readership, but all they do to let others know about you as well.
  • First in Line. When it comes time for announcements, reveals and special content, let your super fans go first. Dishing the goods to your choir, even a few days before the general publish, is an easy way to let your fans know how important they are to you.
  • Exclusivity. What about a contest just for your choir. It doesn't have to be something huge. A prize as small as a $10 gift card can mean a lot. By letter your super fans know only they are eligible to win, they get to feel like an A-lister. 

Don't forget to preach to your choir.  A true fan that feels the author love is worth their weight in gold when it comes to marketing your work.

How do you recognize the readers who show their support time and time again? I'd love to hear your thoughts on ways to show the love.

Don't hide the brownies

Wednesdays are my crazy day. I try to cram a bunch of work in to the early morning because I leave at 9:45 to take the kiddos to gymnastics. Afterward, I have to hurry home for lunch before the witching hour for children starts. This usually means I don't get to eat until dinner on Wednesdays.
So set the scene last Wednesday, a beautiful day here in West Texas. I'm making my way home with the kiddos and, as usual, I'm starving and possibly a little cranky. Up ahead I see three adults with signs standing on the side of the road outside a local private school. I'm intrigued enough to slow down, but I can't see their signs.

Instead of holding them up angled toward the oncoming traffic, they are holding them up toward the road in front of them. So I can't read them until I'm right in front of them. And the signs say...


Pure genius! An opportunity to get a brownie without getting out of my car was exactly what I needed. But I couldn't read the sign until the last second when I would have had to switch lanes and make an on a dime left hand turn. So I kept going. Not because I didn't want a brownie, but because getting one would now be an inconvenience. It would mean driving another block and turning around. Just to be clear, this would have taken all of two minutes. I live in a small town where traffic is at a minimum. But that should say something. Even an inconvenience as small as two minutes was too much.

If that sign had been turned 45 degrees to face the oncoming traffic, I would have enjoyed the rest of my drive home munching down on a brownie.

So what's the take-away besides my obvious deep need for a brownie.

It doesn't matter how genius your marketing campaign is if you aren't visible. You could have the most innovative idea since the inception of virtual blog tours, but if no one can see your sign, it doesn't matter.

Logistics count. A unique blog tour concept won't work if your participants are sent the wrong dates for posting or a broken buy link for your book. A genius cover reveal is useless if you use a small or corrupted file of the image that no one can see.

By all means, be innovative, unique and ground-breaking in your marketing efforts, but don't get so hung up in your own creative genius that you let something as small as a poorly directioned sign stand between readers and your brownies...I mean book, your book.

Agency Lessons: Atom-bombing bridges

I had another, completely different, post all queued up for today. That will wait, because this is important.
It wasn't until I became an agent that I fully understood exactly how small the publishing world is. Seriously, everyone knows everyone else's business. That's why I'm constantly advising folks to keep things professional, even when you've lost all respect for someone. This business is too small to burn bridges.

As some of you may be aware, a popular anonymous Tumblr account shut down last week. LifeNPublishing was one of the bloggers I followed as part of a group of anonymous individuals from all different areas in the publishing world. While I didn't always agree with her assessments, I enjoyed the blog for what it was. A tongue-in-cheek poke at some of the more ridiculous aspects of publishing from one of the underpaid minions in it's midst. It was great.

The site shut down because an author decided to take issue with some of the posts from LifeNPublishing that poked fun at authors and probably hit a little too close to home. So instead of letting it be water under the bridge, this author decided to Atom-bomb the bridge. How? She threatened to expose the anonymous blogger and write a formal letter of complaint to her employer, putting her career in jeopardy.

Here's why this is a horrible, horrible decision. For one, the anonymous bloggers post these snippets of hilarity as a way to blow off steam. No matter where you work, there are people you probably want to throttle and toss out a 3rd floor window. By having an online outlet to vent, these professionals are able to keep it cool when yet another person complains that they didn't work all weekend to make them happy. 

Second, did I mention how small publishing is? This author has completely lost the respect of the blogger she threatened. Now the author may be thinking that's fine with her. But what happens when this underpaid professional is promoted, giving her more veto power over projects? Or how about when that author's dream publisher snatches up this blogger? How will she react then when this author's manuscript lands on her desk. Or when one of her clients is asked to blurb your latest book?

It might feel good in the moment to slam a few doors or write a scathing email, but the only person you're hurting is yourself. This business is difficult enough without making enemies. And this applies to everyone from your readers and bloggers to agents and editors. You do not want to make a name for yourself by becoming the author no one wants to work with.

The universal truth of marketing

Writers ask me all the time, what do I need to do to sell more books? What they are really asking is what is the magic easy button I need to hit to launch my book straight to the New York Times Bestsellers list. While I'd love to lean down, whisper in their ear and be henceforth known as the magic marketing guru, I can't. Because their isn't an easy answer. In fact, there aren't even any hard answer. Because marketing isn't universal.

Here are just a few different contradictions I've found recently that are enough to send any writer into a coffee coma.
Amazon vs. Mass Distribution
Some author swear by Amazon KDP select. It's the opportunity to post your book for free and be a part of the Prime borrowers money pool. Others will tell you that there's no advantage to KDP and you're best off getting your book in front of as many readers as possible, including those who don't shop at Amazon.

Frontal assault vs. Gorilla marketing
One tactic is to get all your fireworks lined up and fire everything in one quick blast to get your book pushed to the top of everything at launch. Set your book tour, your reviews, your media blitz, and interviews to release all at the same time. Another tactic is to spread your launch out over several weeks. Set off a few fireworks a day and draw a steady stream of readers to your book.

30 Day deadline vs. Ebooks last forever
Some authors will tell you that if you can't get your book to sell well in the first 30 days you've already lost the game. After that point, your book will be swept under the tidal wave of the thousand other books to be released that month. And then another author will tell you it took them 3 years before their book finally found traction and that's the beauty of an Ebook. No one ever takes your book off the shelf.

Tours are essential vs. Tours are a waste
This one is apparently a real hot button, with authors on one side of the fence claiming their book would be nothing without all the amazing reviewers who were a part of their blog tour. And on the other side of the fence, authors will tell you that a blog tour didn't do squat to increase their sales and was a complete and total waste of time and energy.

With so many contradiction, how is anyone supposed to know what path to take when it's time to promote a new book. You could spend all day reading blog posts, Writer's Digest articles and interviewing authors. And at the end of the day, you'll come up with 20 different, and useful ideas that all contradict each other.

The hardest part about marketing is that you can't market two books the exact same way and expect the same results. Every single book will need something just a little different. Based on genre, theme, author platform, author comfort level, time of year, the current market, other books with the same release, and past marketing campaigns. All of those variables and more play a part in sculpting the perfect marketing campaign for your book.

So why even bother?
Don't give up yet. I didn't say you can't find a successful marketing tactic. Just that you can't copy what someone else did. Research the success of authors and, by all means, learn from where they fell or flew. But know that even if you duplicate an exact copy of their campaign, you can't recreate their path. The universal truth of marketing is that everyone has to create their own universal truth.

Rethinking the launch party

I love the idea of a good launch party. In my head, I always imagine something out of The Great Gatsby with oodles of fashionably dressed VIPs mingling over cocktails and regaling each other with how much they love my book. In reality, most launch parties become an over-budget snooze fest, with the author lording over a half-eaten cake  and an empty bottle of wine praying someone will come talk to them, and also praying everyone would just go home.

The biggest issue with launch parties is that, by their nature, they are designed with the intent that people will come and buy your book. It's like a Pampered Chef party without the fun games and overly complicated food. But not doing something to celebrate the birth of your baby, I mean book, feels almost anti-climactic. So here's my idea for a new kind of launch party.

It's not about sales
First, time to give up the idea that a launch party is when everyone you know comes out to buy your book. This is a celebration, and certainly and opportunity to gain exposure. But if you eliminate the sales aspect, it automatically puts people more at ease and less hesitant to make an appearance.

Give your party a purpose
Since you aren't focusing on selling books, instead make the focus reading books. What if you ask everyone to come with a book to swap. Attendees could bring a new or gently read book in to swap with another reader. Now you have built in conversation pieces for people to talk about what book they brought, the books they like to read, and why another guest should read an available book. 

Spice it up
If you want to make things even more interesting, ask guests to wrap the book and mark it only by genre. It's like an office Secret Santa party, but better because all the gifts are books.

Make your book visible
You can still get lots of good publicity in for your book. Don't forget to have signs or posters with your cover. Also, be sure to interrupt the merry-making a few times during the party to hand out a signed copy of your book as a door prize. 

You can still sell books
If you want to make your book available for sale at the party, go for it. But make it discreet. Ask a friend or family member to man a small table on the fringe of your crowd where guests can buy your book. At the end of the party, station yourself at the door to thank everyone for coming and offer to sign books for anyone that did make a purchase.

Don't forget the media
There isn't much of a story in just a launch party, but by turning your launch into an event to encourage reading, you've given the media a hook. Be sure to invite the paper, the radio station and the local news station. And don't forget to offer them an advance copy of your book so they can read it ahead of time. 

Other ideas
This isn't the only way to rethink your launch. What about a read-in at your local library or bookstore, sponsored by you and your book, of course. Or a book drive for local schools, shelters, or retirement community. Consider a flash writing contest. Who can write the best story in 60 minutes based off a prompt that comes, conveniently, from your book?

What about you
There are tons of possibilities out there. So tell me, what have you done for a launch party? Any other ideas to celebrate the big event and avoid the awkward "who wants to buy my book?" party?

Agency Lessons: When your book doesn't sell

When you first start on the journey toward traditional publication, the holy grail is finding your agent. There are so many resources for sorting through the long list of agencies, writing a query letter, and perfecting those all important first pages and a scant few that discuss the process after. It's no wonder that the assumption is everything will be rainbows and sunshine once you get representation.
Ideally, you work with your agent to fine tune your manuscript, go out on submission and sell your book to the highest bidder. Realistically, there are writers who go through the first two steps and then falter on the third. What few folks will admit is that plenty of writers don't sell their first book.

And that can be scary. As a writer, you might start to wonder about yourself and your writing. Why didn't my book sell? Is it normal? Does this mean I'm not good? Is my agent going to drop me?

Books don't sell for all kinds of reasons. I've talked about this before. The current market, your genre, recent sales and comparison titles all factor into book sales. And none of those factors have anything to do with the quality of your work.

Now, what happens next is a conversation that takes place between you and your agent. Every situation will be different so there's no point in trying to compare yourself to another writer. But there is one thing that should be constant.
Regardless of if the realization that your book isn't going to sell means a parting of ways or forward into the fray, you can't find your next success unless you've kept writing. The only variable in this whole mess of a world we call publishing that you control is your work.

So try not to worry about what selling or not selling your book "means". Instead, focus your energy on writing the next book, and the one after that. That way, no matter what direction your path takes, you're ready.

You're turn. For those of you who've been through the submission process, what advice would you give to other writers who are on submission or facing the possibility that their book isn't going to sell?