Agency Lessons: Querying post publication

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.

Today's post comes from the mailbag. It's a doozy, so let's jump right into it.
Q: I have an eBook that has gotten great reviews from book bloggers. Would it be useful or useless to query agents to see if they might be interested in seeking print publication? I don't want to spend a lot of writing time querying agents if they immediately reject because it's an eBook.

There is a lot going on here, so let's break this one down.

First, let's talk about querying after you have published a book. I see this more often that I care too, and it makes me sad every time. People take the plunge into self-publishing for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, a lot of authors find that the road to success if bumpier than they expected and decide maybe they should take a different course. That's when I get queries for books that are already published. Usually the author uses phrases like "hope to reach a larger audience" or "find a publisher who can get this book the attention it deserves". 

Here's the problem with these queries. It honestly doesn't matter how good your book is. And it's not going to make a difference if you have a hundred 5-star reviews. Unless you're selling books by the truckload, publishers aren't going to be interested. And I don't blame them. Publishers have thousands of books to pick from when deciding what to publish. Why would they pick one that they can already see isn't selling over one that still has the potential to sell? 

A lot of authors will say that they didn't know what they were doing when it came to marketing and selling their books. They are convinced that with the help of a big publisher, their book would fly off the shelves. And maybe it would. But now they are asking a publisher to take a book that isn't selling, analyze what has and hasn't been done for marketing, come up with a plan that fills in those holes, and re-market a book that already has a poor track record. Let's be honest, that isn't going to happen.

So unless your book is already doing smashing sales, publishers aren't going to be interested. As an agent, I can't take on a book that I know going in is going to be nearly impossible to sell. That's a huge waste of everyone's time.

Now, let's address a second aspect of this question. The author in this case has only published the book as an ebook and is looking to get a print deal. This is another one of those 'not gonna happen' scenarios. Unless you're name is Hugh Howey, you can forget it.

Ebooks are currently dominating the market and the profit margin for a publisher is much higher on an ebook. By only offering up the print rights to a publisher, you are basically taking away the most profitable portion of a book's sales. There have been a handful of deal like this that I've heard of. A Handful. I'm talking less than five. And those were all for authors who managed to get on lists like the NYT Bestseller's and USA Today. These people were selling books the way apple sells overpriced phones. Publishers were happy to get any piece of the pie because the pie was big enough to be a balloon in the Macy's parade. 

For the other 99.99% of authors, publishers are not going to be willing to give up ebook rights. Other rights, such as audio, foreign sales and film/tv are always negotiable. Ebooks. Not so much.

The long and short of it is this. Publishers aren't lacking for submissions. There isn't a shortage of authors hoping to catch a big break and land a Big 5 publishing deal. And so long as that continues, publishers will have to be extremely picky about what they sign. Which means they aren't going to be interested in any already published works unless that author can show a very strong readership.

This is why I always preach that authors should be certain about their decision to self-publish. If you aren't going to be happy as an indie, don't put your book out there in the hope that a publisher will swoop down and offer you big bucks. Self-publish only if that's the path you really want to be on.

Reasons your book isn't selling: Paid Reviews

Last week I kicked off a brand new series here on the blog: Reasons your book isn't selling. Every Wednesday I'll discuss common mistakes I see authors make that are hurting their book sales (except this is Friday because Wednesday was Thanksgiving Eve). Last week I talked about bad review requests.

Today's reason your book isn't selling: Paid Reviews
So, we know how important reviews are and now you've got a handle on how to write a request letter that might actually get reviewers interested in your book. But even with a great letter, you may still find it difficult to get reviewers on board, especially if you are a new author without a track record.

And that's when paid reviews start looking mighty tempting.

Let's break down two types of paid reviews you should definitely avoid.

#1 - Fiver Style
We've all seen the ads on Fiver and various other sites advertising paid reviews for cheap. For as little as five buckeroos someone you don't know will "read" your book and write a review for Amazon or B&N or wherever. And you may be thinking that this is a much better option than spending all that time researching legitimate reviewers, sending them requests, sending them books and then waiting on reviews. And you'd be wrong. Here's why.

First, the people who advertise these review type services make their money with volume. That means, they need to pump out a ton of reviews every week in order to pay the bills. Think about it. At $5 a pop, a reviewer needs to turn around 58 reviews per week just to make minimum wage. Do you think they are reading all those books? And if they aren't reading them, how are they reviewing them? They aren't, they are pumping out generic paragraphs that will basically be worthless to you. And if that's all you've got, readers are going to be wise to the gig and your sales will suffer.

Second, when you reach out to legitimate blogger/reviewers, you start building relationships. And this means each time you have a new book release, it gets easier and easier to contact reviewers and get reviews. You aren't building relationships on Fiver, because it's a business transaction, plain and simple.

Trust me on this one. Don't do it.

#2 - Kirkus Style
In the world of reviews, there are some paid services which are considered "above board" within in the industry. Several industry publications sell reviews and Kirkus is considered the gold standard for paid review services. While it gives me a bit of the ick factor, paid reviews of this nature are part of the biz for traditional publishing. If you are with a traditional house, they will generally cover this cost if they feel it is worth it.

Most of these publications offer an option for indie authors to get in on the deal as well. And this is where I say run. These options are usually very expensive and I can think of a hundred better ways to spend your marketing dollars. Seriously, hundreds. Also, for an indie author there really isn't a payoff. These types of reviews are not going to attract readers and that's not what they are designed for. These are the reviews for the industry, librarians, booksellers, etc. They consider these reviews when deciding what books to put on their shelves. While there are plenty of ways for indies to get into bookstores and libraries, I don't think a Kirkus review is your golden ticket.

While a review of this nature isn't going to hurt your book the way a Fiver review will, the cost is so high, it is likely to be the only marketing effort you can afford which will result in an inability to use that money toward more effective marketing. And that will hurt your book.

When it comes to paid reviews, you really are better off keeping your money in your pocket. I know how tempting it is, trust me, I know. But the reality is that buying reviews can cost you a lot of money, and, more importantly, your reputation.

Finding joy in the midst of unholy chaos

This past week has been...well, let's just put it out's been hell. Without going into a lot of detail, I'll just say that one of the cogs in the publishing process for Rite of Revelation crumbled into tiny pieces and started messing up all the other little gears and the publication machine came to a screeching halt. I should also mention that all of this was going down as I was trying to celebrate my birthday, even though I'm not excited about how close to 40 I'm getting.

cake and crying, pretty much nails it

As I write this, I am about 24 hours away from getting back my final edits. Yep, you read that right. Two weeks until publication, still don't have a finalized book. Did I mention week from hell? This weekend will be dedicated to getting that finished and getting books out to bloggers who graciously agreed to review the book, even though I was super late in asking them. Yep, it's been that awesome.

I was talking to my writing group, some of whom are published and others who haven't taken that step yet. Because these are my people (and margaritas were involved) I sobbed my whole story to them and spazzed about all the looming deadlines that I'm paranoid I'll miss.

Those who have trod this trail, nodded with sympathetic eyes that said they'd been there before. The non-published of the group just stared at me, slack jawed as if I had killed their beloved family pet. I didn't even apologize, just said that I would give up any percentage of royalty fees right now to have a publisher swoop in and clean up the disastrous, poo-covered mess that is this book release.

But in the midst of my writing world spinning in a fiery tornado of failure, I stopped to find some bright spots. While everything else fell down, my husband and I finally signed on the dotted line for a new house. This is after five months of house hunting and two failed contracts. I'm feeling good that this one is going to stick since we've already passed the inspection stage. Woohoo! My family is healthy and kiddo #1 has started asking me to help her write little stories. So far, she's really into this one fat rat. Hello, series potential. Also, due to the madness, I made a new online writer friend, and after only a few days, I can tell she's awesome.

The point is, even though it would be easy to just curl up and woe myself to sleep, I can't. Being an author is fun. Most of the time. But there are going to be times when it sucks. And not just for self-publishers. Every author, at every stage of their path is going to have times when the whole thing sucks. It doesn't matter if you are still knocking out the first draft of book one, querying your third project, or publishing your fifth book. You are going to have some sucky times.

We all live in this very socially connected, but mostly isolated world. So it would be really easy to let the bad times overwhelm you and suck you into a whirlpool of misery. To fight that, we have to find the joy. We have to intentionally seek out the parts of our lives that make us happy. It can be another aspect of writing or something completely unrelated, but we all need happy.

At the risk of sounding like a middle-aged, suburban mom (which I totally am) I've decided to start a gratitude journal. Nothing fancy. But I've realized that it's too easy to let all the piles of problems stack up so high that I can't see the good things anymore. And that's not cool. Not cool at all. I like being happy.

I don't know what's going on in your world. I hope it's sprinkled with magical rainbow unicorns who edit your pages into gold while you sleep. But just on the off chance that the unicorns are on a break, I'm giving you permission to find joy. Even if it feels like the world has rolled off its axis, you are allowed to be happy. Maybe a journal works for you. Maybe a thanks jar or prayer or just a morning pep talk. Find a way to stick your head up above the chaos and be happy. We'll have to dive right back into the deep, but at least we can go down with a smile on our faces.

Have a great weekend, all! Also, two weeks until Rite of Revelation releases!!!!!!

Reasons your book isn't selling: Review Requests

Hello, fantastic readers! I am so excited to launch a new series of posts today. Woohoo! This new series will focus on the common mistakes I see authors make that hurt their book sales. Check in every Wednesday for tips and tricks to take your books out of the lost land of book sales.

Today's reason your book isn't selling: Review Requests

It's no secret that reviews sell books. I've already given my two cents on the importance of reviews. Readers use them to vet new authors and retailers use them to fire up their algorithms. But getting those crucial reviews can be easier said than done if you are making these two crucial mistakes.

Mistake #1: Disrespecting the reviewer

I see this A LOT and it gets my blood boiling every time. Too many authors think that book bloggers are there only to be a conduit for writer's to sell books. And they are wrong. Book bloggers serve the important role of helping other readers find books they will love. It is not their job to sell your book for you. They are unpaid, unsung heroes of the book world and they deserve to be treated with respect from authors.

This means taking the time to find their names, read their submission guidelines, and check out the kind of reviews they write. Sadly, too many authors fire of an email to any warm body they can find. And this is a waste of everyone's time. The romance blogger is not going to review your WWII adventure novel. The paranormal blogger has no interest in your MG mystery. Sending them requests is more than an act of futility. It can also hurt your chances to get other reviews. Bloggers talk to each other. They have a fantastic community that supports each other. The last thing you want is to end up being the talk of the town because no one wants to work with you.

Not sure if you're doing it right? Check out this blog post from a blogger on the exact type of request that will get you in trouble. For tips on what to put in your review request, check out this article.

Mistake #2: Stopping too early

I was able to get a huge number of bloggers to review Rite of Rejection, but that's not only because of a strong request letter. It's mostly due to the fact that I asked a ton of bloggers to review it. I started with a list of over 300 bloggers. From there I culled it down to 140 who were open and good match for my book. That earned me 51 accepting bloggers.

If those numbers seem big to you, it's because they are. You can't expect to send out 10 review requests and be good to go. I had a 34% acceptance rate and that is considered very high. 20% is probably more on par with normal. So if you only send out 10 requests, you'll be lucky to get 2 or 3 reviews. Plain and simple, that's not enough.

You need to send out a lot of requests. A LOT. But you still have to do your due diligence and investigate each one. That probably sounds like a ton of work and that's because it is. Marketing your book is not an easy feat. It can be fun and energizing, but it is also a commitment. It's you saying "Hey, I worked my butt off to create this amazing book, but if I don't put in the time to market it, no one will ever even know it exists."

If you send out a bunch of requests and don't have a great response, research some more blogs and send out more requests. There is no expiration date on when you can request reviews. While most bloggers like to post reviews on books when they are new, plenty of bloggers are open to reviewing projects that are a bit older. It's never too late to ask and you can never have too many reviews.

Come back next week for more "Reasons your book isn't selling" where I'll be talking about paid reviews.

Agency Lessons: Not a good fit

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.

Today's post comes from a reader question. If you have questions of your own, you can submit them with this simple form. Now, on to the question:

"What does it mean when an agent says "it's not a good fit for me" when it was exactly what they were requesting?"

Good question. I think the best way to answer this is to imagine a library. Just stick with me on this, I promise it makes sense in a minute.

So let's say I'm a reader and I head into the library to pick out my next good read. There are hundreds of thousands of books to pick from, but the good news is that I already know what I want. That's is, I don't know the exact title, but I know what kind of book I want.

I head straight to the fantasy section because I'm in the mood for a good dragon story. I know I want one with a female main character and a cool magic system. So I search through the catalog. Know what I find? No less than a dozen books that meet this criteria.

Now, I want to read a good story, but I don't want to read a dozen of them. So I scan the back cover blurb and discover that while all of them have dragons and magic and daring ladies, these stories are all vastly different. Some of them will sound great. Some of them will miss the mark. Others will sound a little too much like another dragon story I've already read. I take a look at the contenders and pick one or two that sound promising and put the rest back on the shelf.

Sound familiar? It should, because this is how most of us pick our next book to read. You might love science fiction space stories, but you know they aren't all created equal and not every author's writing style is going to work for you. You read some, you ignore the others.

As agents, we do the exact same thing. There is so much more to a story than it's subject matter. That is only one part of the equation. Even if a query has all the components of the type of story we are looking for, it can miss in other areas and that means it's a pass. Also, your dragon story might show up at the same time as another similar story and the other one is simply stronger.

There are lots of reasons an agent might pass on a story that sounds like exactly what they are looking for. And there's nothing you can do about that. So much of this industry is subjective. Because readers are subjective. Not a good fit simply means that...not a good fit. As an author, mark that agent as a pass and keep querying. You never know when your perfect fit is right around the corner.

Mistakes I'm planning to make

Hey there, book fans. Long time, no see. That's because I'm currently up to my eyeballs in pre-publication madness. In true author fashion, I thought I was better prepared for this.

Seriously, my promotion spreadsheets for book one have made more than one blogger drop their jaw in shock. I thought I was meticulous in my record keeping. I had lists for everything. Or so I thought. Until I started working on my blogger sheets for book two. That's when I realized just how shoddy my record keeping was.
A rare glimpse inside my computer

Here are just a few missteps I made:

1. Several bloggers have contact forms instead of email addresses on their websites. Which is fine. But once I contacted them and they agreed to review my book, I never went back to the spreadsheet and updated their contact information. So, now I have to sort through hundreds of emails to find them. Joy.

2. Overall, blogger feedback on book one was positive, but I know there were some who weren't as impressed. Do I know which bloggers those were? Nope. Because I didn't update my spreadsheets after their reviews posted. I should have, because now I'm going back to find all those all posts and figure out if any bloggers indicated they didn't want to read book two.

3. What's in a name? Tons. Just like authors have pen names, some bloggers use one name for their social media, but another for their correspondence. So even though the initial contact with them was addressed to their public blogger name, I learned their real name and used it in their emails. Did I update my information with this name? If you guessed no, you'd be right.

4. My biggest wish is that I would have added a comments section to all my data. I had a ton of really positive interactions with some fantastic bloggers, but a year later, I can't remember who went with what. Because apparently I'm getting old. I wish I had captured this so I could be more personal with bloggers this time around.

So, what have I learned from this? Other than correcting these mistakes (which are just the ones I'm aware of so far. I'm sure there will be more), I'm trying to grant myself more grace. The first time out of the gate, I was so paranoid that I would fail in the most public and humiliating way possible. I didn't know what that would look like, but it still kept me up at night. This fear drove me to try to be perfect.

This time around I know better. I know I won't be perfect. I know I made mistakes and I'm confident I'll make a ton more on this release. I can also pretty much guarantee that there will never come a day when I sit back and say "Yep, totally have this whole author thing nailed down. Flawless."

I'm going to make mistakes. Lots of them. And so are you. And you over that. And that guy who's been sitting in the corner for three months. Yep, we're all going to make mistakes. That's not going to stop me from trying to do my very best and to strive toward perfection. But knowing the mistakes are coming will hopefully let me feel less anxious when they do arrive.

Now, go make your own mistakes.

And speaking of working with bloggers, did you know you get a free copy of my eBook "DIY Blog Tour" when you sign up for my mailing list? Yep, it's chock full of mostly helpful advice from me and tips from real, live book bloggers. I'll be putting out a revised edition next year and mailing list subscribers will automatically get a new copy.

Publishing: not for the faint of heart

For the most part, I love being a part of the world of publishing. Seriously, how lucky am I that I get to have regular conversations with authors, editors and book bloggers. I can jump online and chat any time of the day or night with people who are just as passionate about books as I am.

And I know many of you are hopefuls. So many of you who work hard and dream big about breaking into the publishing scene. You've got inspiration boards in your office and affirmations stuck to your mirror. You know exactly what you'll say to Oprah when she asks you about your book and you're pretty sure what color dress you want to wear to your movie premier.

To you, the beautifully hopeful, I say to keep holding on to those dreams.

But know this.

Publishing is not a path for those who get a little squeamish at the site of blood. It is a grueling trip that can be the often touted uphill in the snow, both ways walk all our grandparents took to school. There are days when I want to pull my hair out or punch someone right in the gut. There are days when I cry and days when I laugh and eat chocolate so I can keep from crying.

Like everything else in the world, publishing is both beautiful and painful.

I say this not to dissuade you from running at your dreams full steam ahead. Go for it and rally all the others with your battle cry.

But be certain that you know what you are running toward. Because no one is immune to the process. Every author of every book in every book store in every country all over the world has felt the miraculous highs and the momentous lows that come as part and parcel of the publishing journey. And in order to achieve those futures you dream of, you'll have to fight for them.

Everyone knows you'll have to work hard. That should be a long gone conclusion. But don't doubt that your hard will not be enough. You will have to fight and there will be injuries and possibly blood loss. And if that sounds like too much, then publishing may not be the right road for you. Write on, for sure, write your words and share them with the people you love who love you back. But understand that to publish means to pour all of you out, and like a tube of toothpaste, once it's out, it can't be squeezed back in.

The world of books is wonderful and marvelous and it brings me joy on a daily basis. But it also brings challenge in the way that builds character in the people we write onto the page. So before you decide on where you're going, figure out how hard you're willing to fight to get there. Then go fight.