Agency Lessons: Should you enter that contest?

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.
Seems like every week I see a new contest popping up on Twitter or Facebook. There are contests for everything from the first line only to your whole manuscript. As a writer, I can see where you might start to wonder if these contests are worth it.

Many of these contests include active agents as judges or offer them the opportunity to request manuscript from participants. Of course, this doesn't really get you anything you couldn't get from just querying. Others offer critiques from established authors. Again, this is fantastic, but not something you can't find outside of a contest.

Before you think I'm anti-contest, let me tell you why I think you should enter them.

Success breeds confidence and that often leads to more success.

Winning a contest, getting requests from agents, and even being selected for someone's team is a big victory for a writer still searching out their path to publication. Even if the contest doesn't offer something you can't get elsewhere, it's worth it to enter for the mental game.

Publishing is a long road. It's often lonely and it's chock full of people saying now. Contests are a way to get involved in the writing community and gain some successes, even if they don't directly lead you to publication.

Now...there are a few caution flags I would throw up before you enter any contest.

1. Make it fresh
Agents like to peruse these contests for fresh manuscripts, and there will be more agents looking at your work than just the ones officially listed. When I see the same manuscript submitted to the same contest in back-to-back years, it's an immediate turn off.

Why? I have to immediately wonder why this author hasn't written something new. Is this author so hung up on this manuscript that they are unable to move on? Are they so committed to it that they won't be able to accept it if an agent is unable to sell it to an editor? Have they edited it to death so now it's nothing more than a shell of other people's suggestions? Just don't do it.

2. Make sure you're ready
If you enter your first 5 pages in a contest and an agent requests the full, you had better be ready with a shiny and polished full manuscript. It can be tempting to jump into a contest when you've got something you think is great, but unless the contest specifically states unfinished manuscripts are accepted, don't do it. Trust me, there will be more contests.

3. Make it worth your time
Most contests are run by established authors or bloggers, and there are plenty of them that I would highly recommend. That said, there are also some that don't really offer you anything as a writer and some could be harmful. For example, if there is feedback make sure it comes from a respected source. Not everyone with a website knows what they are doing and I've seen some feedback that could do more harm than help. Also, check out what you can win. While gift cards are great, what you really want is the chance to get your work in front of agents or editors. Make sure the contest will help you move forward in your career.

So should you enter that contest? If you've got a fresh, fully edited manuscript and the contest gets you a solid critique and/or access to agents, go for it!

Little known random facts about publishing

I have a few quick announcements before launching into today's post.

First, voting for the Utopia Awards ends tonight at midnight (central time). Voting is open to the public and you don't have to register or even put in your name. If you haven't done so, I encourage you to take a few minutes and vote for your favorite reads from the past year. You might also notice a familiar title *cough Rite of Revelation cough* nominated in the first category.

Second, I am finalizing the blog tour for Rite of Redemption and will post the full schedule next week. If you have a blog and would like to participate, it's not too late. Just fill out this short form with all your contact info and I'll get you everything you need pronto.

Alright! With that out of the way, let's talk about how weird publishing a book is. Seriously, it doesn't matter what path you take, turning a steaming pile of words into a glorious masterpiece fit to be consumed by perfect strangers is just bizarre. (Tweet This)

There are plenty of odd nuggets that you might expect, but here are five random little know facts that I've discovered over the course of publishing three books.

1. Chapter breaks are expensive
This means nothing for eBook, but in your print copies, the more chapters you have, the more pages your book will be. This is due to page breaks and the fact that chapters generally don't start at the top of the page. The more pages you have the more expensive it is to print your book and it could mean distributors will force you to charge more for your book than you wanted.

There is a reason, big publishers rarely gamble on debut authors with extra long books. Those books cost more to print, but you can't charge more since the author is a debut and doesn't have a following yet. This is why I always tell new authors that they shouldn't count on being the exception.

2. Microsoft word is created by the devil
Chances are you already know this, but book formatting will really drive the point home just in case you forgot. Word is filled with a million settings, the vast majority of which we never use. Some of them will make you book look amazing. Others will make you want to punch a baby.

Case in point. My proofreader recently had to delete and retype a few sentences of my manuscript word-for-word, because the formatting was wonky and she couldn't figure out why. It was easier to delete and start over than to figure out what strange formatting word was using. So that's fun.

3. Someday your book will not be your baby
When your first book comes out, you will wrap it up in swaddling clothes and lay it in a...well you get the point. You will take a million picture of you and your book, shout about it from the rooftops, and expect payment for every single copy.

By the time you've got a few books out there, you'll basically throw that first book at random people on the street if they promise to read it. Not because you don't love your book, but because you realize that precious angel is in a sea of precious angels and that makes it not so precious.

4. First royalty payments are also created by the devil
Most of us understand that in a sea of millions of books there is little to no chance that ours will be the one that catches on fire and becomes an instant bestseller. Of course, that doesn't stop us from wishing and dreaming that it will happen. And that's why that first royalty payment is the devil.

You are first crazy excited because here is actual money that someone else is paying you for your book. When this happens for the first time it's all kinds of magic because you know you've crossed that barrier of just dreaming of being an author to becoming one. It's real! And then you read the statement and no matter how much it is, you're going to be disappointed. Because even though your head knows it's not a mega bestseller, try telling that to your heart. Chances are you will simultaneously want to frame and torch your first check.

5. The weeks leading up to publication are stupid dumb
There is so much to do before your book publishes. Seriously, So MUCH! And it doesn't matter which route you take. The list is endless. I keep going to do a task and see something that reminds me of a task that wasn't even on my list yet, but obviously needs to be done, and how could I be so stupid to forget it, and what was I doing again.

Yep, that's me right now. So eventually you reach a point where there is so much to do, and because each tasks takes you down a rabbit hole of to-do lists, you become frozen by it all. I swear to you, I sat at my desk for a good half-hour the other day just staring at my computer and all the random lists of things I need to do, frozen by the decision of what to do next. 30 minutes of nothing because of how much needs to be done. The sooner you realize that the whole thing is a hot mess and you'll never finish all of it, the better.

That's it! Don't forget to vote for the Utopia Awards and let me know if you'd like to be part of the Rite of Redemption blog tour. If you've got your own random facts about publishing, I'd love to hear them. Just tell me your crazy facts in the comments. Sometimes it helps to know we aren't alone in the craziness that is bringing a book to readers.

When publishers go south

Booktrope, Samhain, Elora's Cave, Month9...

The collective writing community has been inundated lately with news of publishers closing shop, refusing royalties, or restructuring in ways that mean the end of the road for many authors.

As both an author and an agent, every new announcement sends a shiver up my spine. And it usually sends authors to my inbox asking what they can do to keep from being the next poor soul to find themselves with a book and no publisher.

Honestly, there's no surefire method for avoiding this. But here are a few tips to try to avoid the dangers.

Public forums aren't the answer
I know many an author that runs to the public forums whenever a publisher or agent shows interest in their work. They send out that "Hey, has anyone had any experience dealing with X" message out hoping to hear about how amazing X is.

But here's the problem. You generally aren't going to hear about any negative aspects of X in a public forum until it's too late. When your name is tied to your income (as it is for an author), it's reasonable to be hesitant to speak out. No one wants to be labeled as the author that causes trouble, and because we generally don't speak about what's going wrong, most authors think it's just them. Public forums are great, but they generally aren't going to tell you when you should be worried.

An agent is not a foolproof system
Sometimes I know about a sinking ship before it happens. Yes, we have a list of publishers that are still in operation that we don't submit to. No, I'm not telling you who they are. But for every questionable publisher out there that I know about, there's probably another I know nothing about.

Unless I've had a client there, our agency has had a client there, or I've gotten the dish from another agent, I have no idea if a publisher is going to fold up six months from now. This is one of those times I wish I had a crystal ball. But I don't. An agent can help steer you away from danger, but only the danger she/he knows about.

Talk to authors at all the stages
Talking to authors at a prospective house is a great idea, but don't just talk to their headliner who is doing well and getting all the press. Talk to someone who is a few months from their pub date. Talk to an author six months after their pub date.

Did they release on time? Do they feel the edits were thorough? Was everything delivered as promised when it comes to marketing and promotional help? Are the royalty statements on time? Do they make sense? Ask the hard questions. So long as you aren't asking how much another author is making, they shouldn't have any reason not to help you.

Look for the clean-up
With so many of these situations, I hear authors say the warning signs were there, but they didn't add them up. Mistakes happen in all avenues of publishing. A royalty statement can have errors, the wrong file is sent to you for proofing, etc. The people working in publishing are human and therefore, they aren't immune to mistakes. Ask about how mistakes were corrected?

Did the publisher correct the mistake immediately? Did they take months to acknowledge a mistake? This is where the differences come out. A mistake that is rectified is just a mistake. A mistake that is not acknowledged is a warning sign.

Remember, it's business
Publishing is a small world and we like to think of ourselves as a little family. But at the end of the day, this is still a business that we are a part of so we can keep the lights on and food on the table. I heard a podcast today where an author admitted she saw the writing on the wall months ago, but continued to give her publisher books because of the personal relationship they had. I wanted to hug her and shake her at the same time.

Getting along well with the people who help bring your books to readers is important and if you can become friends, that's great. But if your head starts telling you everything isn't rainbows and unicorns, you can't let your heart convince you to stay.

This isn't the end
Publishing is a landscape that changes almost daily. These types of announcements will probably continue. The same way that new companies will continue to form in the quest to find new and better ways to bring books to readers. Some of these companies will succeed and others will inevitably fail. This is the natural course of business in almost every industry out there.

As an author, just remember that your books are your books. And that means doing what's best for you. Ask for help, seek out guidance from those who have been there, and keep writing. Because no matter what the business landscape looks like, readers are still out there clamoring for more words to devour.

Free Books!

This is it folks! Two weeks until the release of Rite of Redemption. And my brain is officially fried. I feel bad for anyone who has gotten an email from me recently, because I doubt it made very much sense.

So I don't have an Agency Lesson post today. I have several fermenting and I promise I'll get one up next week. To make it up to you, how about an entire collection of free books? That's better, right? All of the titles below are available for free for the next week and you definitely want to check these out.

Also, you can enter the giveaway below to win a $30 Amazon gift card. Which you can then use to buy more books. *cough* Rite of Redemption *cough*

Any who, be sure to check out the free titles listed below and get your name in to win that gift card. Because Mondays are made better with books.

The Vampire Hunter's Daughter-Books 1-6 by Jennifer Malone Wright
Seeking Havoc by Lila Felix
Shame by Sarah M. Cradit
The Amber Project by J.N. Chaney
Rite of Rejection by Sarah Negovetich
Honey Queen by Christina Mercer
Unspoken by Amy Richie
The White Aura by Felicia Tatum
Lichgates by S.M. Boyce
Disarming by Alexia Purdy

A Thunderous Experiment: The results

Several weeks ago, I embarked on an experiment to see if Thunderclap was the powerful tool we all hope that it is or simply another wheel-spinning task that we do in the hopes of effectiveness. The campaign ran last week, so now it's time for results. This will be a long one so, get comfy.

A few things to note about Thunderclap:

1.The set-up to create a campaign is fairly easy, but it will take you a minute. I spent more time than I'd like to admit creating the image header for the campaign and trying to craft a 140 character message that would rock the world.

2. For a free account, there is a three day approval process before your Thunderclap will be live. So you can't wait until the last minute to create the campaign. Also, that approval process eats into the number of days you have to run the campaign. That said, I submitted my campaign at 2:48am and it was approved at 7:54am. So only five hours. It's possible, but don't bank on it.

3. Thunderclap is still new, but it's growing in popularity. This means more people are familiar with the set up and aren't as gun shy to link their social media accounts as they were when it first came out. The downside is more people are using it and you might find that your potential supporters are already getting sick of them.

Supporting the campaign
Because if you don't hit the minimum number of supporters, your campaign doesn't launch.

I launched the campaign on Wednesday, April 27th. My goal was to get to my 100 supporters as quickly as possible so I didn't have to spend the next 10 days fretting over the whole thing. In order to achieve this, I posted the campaign here and sent it to my newsletter followers. I also posted it on my Facebook fan page and solicited help from two FB groups I am a part of that allow for this type of promotion. Finally, I enlisted the help of a few friends to share the campaign on their own social media platforms to help me get a larger reach.
*A note here, please check the rules of any group you belong to before posting something like this. In other words, don't be that guy that ruins it for everyone.

Unfortunately, At 24 hours before Go Live, I only had 50 of my 100 needed supporters. Admittedly, I only promoted the campaign on the first and last day because that's when people take action. It's just human nature, so I didn't waste time tying to promote it the whole week. In all, I managed to get 103 supporters with

Going live wasn't everything I'd hoped for...
But it wasn't completely pointless

One hour after the message blitz I'd racked up 168 clicks on the blog site linked in the blitz and three pre-orders. After 24 hours, I had 299 blog site clicks and four pre-orders. As of today, there have been 333 blog clicks and six pre-orders.

So what does that mean?

For one, the campaign results are very short lived. I got over half of my results in the first hour of the campaign. This makes sense since some social media feeds (like Twitter and Tumblr) are very time sensitive. People might scroll through a bit of their feed, but that only takes them back maybe an hour or two. Facebook posts have more of a shelf life, however, not all posts are seen by an individuals fulls reach. So, even if they have 500 friends, their message is only ever sent to the feed of a fraction of those people.

Two, out of the thousands of people who saw the message and over 300 people who actually clicked on the link, only six eventually took the leap to press the buy button. For those of you who like math as much as me, that's only a 1.8% conversion rate. In marketing terms, that's not bad. In sales terms, it's not great.

For my time, Thunderclap wasn't worth it

That's probably not a popular opinion since the service is free and relatively easy. But I probably won't be doing another one any time soon.

First, it's been widely established that social media posts that contain images, and especially videos, do better than plain text posts. Unfortunately, Thunderclap doesn't allow for an image to be included in the posts. So, right from the get go, you know the post isn't going to be as effective as it could be via another delivery method.

Second, I spent entirely too much time setting up the campaign, monitoring the progress and trying to get people to sign up. I hate asking people to do these for one main reason, there is no return attached. Yes, there is an assumed future back scratching involved, but that's not what I'm talking about. The best marketing strategies don't ask for favors, they provide them. But the nature of Thunderclap forces us to ask others for help without offering anything in return.

Last, Thunderclap is a one shot option. The message goes out and then that's it. But marketing doesn't work that way. Most of us need to be exposed to a message multiple times (the general belief is 7!) before we commit to a purchase or action. Can you imagine running seven Thunderclap campaigns in quick succession?! Instead of spending so much time posting messages to get people to sign up, I could have been posting actual messages that were meant for my target audience. I could have reached out to my newsletter and FB fans. I could have created teaser images that were more likely to be shared and spread organically.

In the end, Thunderclap turned out to be a lot of time and effort for very little result that doesn't have the opportunity for residual activity. My numbers suggest that after a day, the campaign had exhausted its usefulness. That's too much give for not enough output for me.

Agency Lessons: How not to get an internship

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

I received the following email yesterday. Names have been changed to protect the clueless. Typos have been left in.

How's it going?

I visited your website today..
I'm currently looking for work either full time or as a intern to get experience in the job fiield.
Please review my Resume and let me know what you think.

Your help is greatly appreciated, 

Person not being hired

With all of my heart I want to believe that this is spam. I have never in my entire life wanted an attachment to be full of viruses more than I did today. I'll never know since there is no way on God's green earth I'm opening that attachment. Sadly, I'm feeling pretty 50/50 about the chances of it being spam versus an actual request for a job given the history of emails that have landed in my inbox.

I'm thinking the reasons this would be an automatic no should be pretty obvious. But just in case.

How's it going?

Really? No name. No, Dear Person I'm very much hoping to work with. As a general life lesson, if you are A) approaching someone regarding a professional matter or B) approaching someone from whom you are going to ask for a favor, you should always use their name and go with formal over casual. Since this is both A and B, this greeting is a big fail.

I visited your website today..

Great! Our website does state that we have an open call policy where people can send their resumes in at any time and we will pull from them when looking for new interns. However, the website also gives clear guidelines for what to submit and where. Hint: it's not a poorly worded email to me.

I'm currently looking for work either full time or as a intern to get experience in the job fiield.

Outside of the continued typos, this is two very different things you are asking for here. One is requesting a job (I'm assuming as an agent) and the other is requesting an internship. Besides the previously covered business that I'm not the person you should be talking to, a little more information would be lovely. Exactly what it is you're looking for would be a great place to start.

Please review my Resume and let me know what you think. 

No thanks. For clarification, see all of the above.

Again, I'm praying to the starry heavens above that this is spam. Regardless, let's all let this be a reminder that our correspondence with others carries weight. From a query letter to a review request and even a response to a fan email. We should all be mindful that our emails are part of the platform we create as professionals. Make sure you're sending the right message about your brand.

Revelation of Redemption

See what I did there...with the blog post title...? I'm feeling clever today.

I'm also feeling so excited to officially reveal Rite of Redemption out into the big, bad world. So, in addition to showing off this gorgeous cover, the final book in the Acceptance Series is now up for pre-order! Woohoo!

Also, before I lay it on you, I wanted to let you know that the Thunderclap for my experiment fully funded, so that's happening today. I'll be tracking the clicks and shares and all that good stuff so I can report back to you. I'll have data and what not next Wednesday, so be sure to tune back in if your interested in the effectiveness of it all.

So now without further ado:

Rite of Redemption

Rebecca escaped the PIT, found a family among the Freeman...and watched too many loved ones die. All she wants is the Cardinal to leave her in peace, but he's made it clear that's never going to happen.

When the Cardinal attacks other Freeman villages, she finally understands that no one is safe from his wrath. As the only one who's stood up to the evil that is the Cardinal, it's up to her to convince the others that they can't hide forever. It's time to fight.

The Machine predicted Rebecca would become the Cardinal's enemy. It may have gotten that one right.

In the conclusion to the Acceptance series, enemies become allies and old friends emerge, but in the end, sacrifice may be the price of freedom.  

Yeah! I hope you're as excited as I am. You can go reserve your copy now and it will be ready for you on release day, June 6th!!!!

Agency Lessons: YA vs. NA

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

I got a great email question this past weekend and I have a feeling maybe more than one of you has wondered about this. A reader asks:
What is the difference between young adult and new adult? The only difference I am able to find is NA is allowed to have sex and more unsettling that 'NA is a fake genre'. All the other lines seem very blurred and confusing.

Oh boy, everybody get comfy while I try to break this down. The reason the lines are blurry is because so is life. We don't wake up magically one day on our 18th birthday as full grown adults ready to tackle board meetings and taxes. Growing up is a gradual process, often bumpy, that isn't defined by any certain age. At 36 I'm still working on the whole growing up business.

That said, there are a few key areas that we can look at to define the differences between these two growing markets.

1. Age
We don't become magic adults at 18. However, age is a good place to start. Also, since there are lots of legal things that take place at 18, this tends to be a hard line that most editors I know follow. 18 and still in high school, YA. The second you start that first semester of college NA.

The upper limit on NA is a little nebulous, but generally until people start having their life together. If your character is still somewhat dependent on their parents financially or has to call mom the first time they make meatloaf, you are probably still in the NA zone.

2. Independence

YA is all about trying to exert independence while still having that safety net of not being an adult yet. Mom and Dad are usually still present, though maybe more in the form of an annoyance or barrier to freedom than as a key player. In NA, we see a change. It's that first leap where parents aren't there, either because your character is in college or because they are living on their own. This is all about figuring out how to navigate that scary world you couldn't wait to be a part of, only to realize it's not everything the brochures promised. NA stories rarely include the parents, though they can often be present in the form of texts or check-in phone calls.

3. The sex
It's really all in the details for this one. Plenty of YA stories have teens having sex. While this used to be completely taboo and enough to get your book banned from every library out there, times they are a changing. The literary world recognizes that some teens have sex, so excluding it completely is unrealistic. However, we are talking about teens. As in not 18. So any sex is generally closed door or fade to black.

With NA, you're more likely to find scenes commonly found in adult romance. Sex seems are more accepted and tend to be a bit more forthcoming with the details. However, just like there are all kinds of adult romance genres, NA is starting to spread its wings. I just recently saw an imprint make a call for clean NA romance. Also, there is some movement that readers would like to see more genre fiction from NA, which may or may not include sex scenes. In short, it can be in there, but it doesn't have to be.

Hopefully this helps to clear it up some. NA is still an emerging market, which means the guidelines are still on the wishy-washy side. The good news is that if you are interested in writing for this group of readers, the doors are open and you can be one of the authors that sets the rules. Happy Writing!

Also, just a quick reminder that I still have the Thunderclap experiment going on. We have until Friday afternoon to hit the supporter goal, but I'd love to exceed the 100 minimum so I have more info to evaluate on this platforms usefullness to authors. If you haven't signed-up yet, you can do it right here and it only takes a second.