My Agent Answers: Why Did You Become a Literary Agent?

My literary agent, Rick Broadhead, specializes in non-fiction and works with the top publishing houses in North America. Rick has represented non-fiction books that have appeared on bestseller lists. His clients’ books have also been shortlisted for literary awards, translated into multiple languages and optioned for film and TV development.

By Rick Broadhead

Copyright © Rick Broadhead. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

I’m an entrepreneur at heart and I love the business side of publishing–finding great authors and book ideas, pitching book projects, negotiating deals and being a part of an exciting and dynamic industry.

I became a bestselling author early in my career and eight years later, after several successive bestsellers, I decided to put my business savvy and passion for publishing to work for other authors.

I love what I do, and I love getting excited about a new book project that I can pitch to the editors I work with. There’s something special about holding a book in your hand and realizing you played a part in its creation.

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My Agent Answers: How Can a Writer Improve Odds of Landing an Agent?

My literary agent, Rick Broadhead, specializes in non-fiction and works with the top publishing houses in North America. Rick has represented non-fiction books that have appeared on bestseller lists. His clients’ books have also been shortlisted for literary awards, translated into multiple languages and optioned for film and TV development.

By Rick Broadhead

Copyright © Rick Broadhead. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

First of all, you should know what types of books I’m most interested in, as I’m most likely to be receptive to a pitch if the book fits my interests and the subject categories I like to work on.

Second, books rarely sell themselves these days, so I need to look for authors who have a “platform.” This means that, ideally, you have some type of public stature that a publisher can leverage to promote your book.

If you’re a leading expert in your field or you have experience writing for major newspapers or magazines, I’m more likely to have success selling you to a major publisher. If you have a popular blog or Web site or you’re affiliated with a major organization or university/college, publishers are more likely to be interested in your work.

The lack of a decent platform is one of the most frequent reasons for an agent to reject a book proposal. It is very hard to generate publicity for books, even when a major publisher is doing the pitching, so publishers, and hence agents, are very leery about taking books by authors who don’t have a platform.

Third, you need to have a strong proposal and strong writing skills. As good a salesperson as I may be, publishers usually make decisions on the strength of a proposal that outlines the book, the author’s credentials, and the marketing opportunities the author can bring to the table. A strong proposal can make the difference between getting an offer and not getting one.

My Agent Answers: What’s the Most Common Author Complaint?

My literary agent, Rick Broadhead, specializes in non-fiction and works with the top publishing houses in North America. Rick has represented non-fiction books that have appeared on bestseller lists. His clients’ books have also been shortlisted for literary awards, translated into multiple languages and optioned for film and TV development.

By Rick Broadhead

Copyright © Rick Broadhead. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Most authors are unhappy with the marketing efforts expended by their publisher. In some cases these complaints are warranted, but in many instances they are not.

A publisher will typically include your book in their catalog (used by the publisher’s sales reps to sell your book to retailers), include it on their Web site, and assign an in-house publicist to mail out review copies and pitch the book to print and broadcast media. Sometimes the publisher will run print advertisements in selected publications or on Web sites. The publisher cannot be expected to do much more.

Most publishers are publishing dozens of books a year and it is simply not practical or effective for your publicist to continue pushing your book month after month.

Some authors hire a publicist at their own expense to supplement the publisher’s efforts, but even with this added ammunition, the results are often disappointing.

By and large, the media decide what books they are going to review or feature. A well-connected publicist (yours or your publisher’s) will get your book to the right people, but after that, it’s up to a reporter, editor, or producer to decide whether they are interested or not.

If you’ve ever tried to get publicity for yourself or an organization, you know how difficult it can be. Publicists have the same challenges. In an environment where there are always more books being pitched than there is space or air time to feature them, the media usually give precedence to books by well-known authors or hot topics that they feel their readers will be interested in. Even if you’ve got a decent platform and a timely book, there’s no guarantee you’ll secure the type of national press coverage that’s usually needed to sustain strong sales.

Even if you’re able to generate publicity or land a positive review of your book in a major publication, it doesn’t necessarily translate into sales. Sometimes luck and/or timing play a role in determining what books make it onto the bestseller lists.

Since a publisher has limited control over which books succeed and which ones fail, and a narrow window of time to promote any given book, it’s essential that you work hard to promote your book through your own network of industry-specific contacts.

Publishers are generally focused on reaching mainstream media outlets, so you should draw up a list of your own contacts, people who may not be on your publisher’s radar screen, and have your publicist mail out review copies.

Your personal involvement in your book’s media campaign doesn’t guarantee success–you’ll no doubt run up against the same obstacles your publisher faces–but at least it will give your book a better shot at success.

Q&A: Dan Smith, Author of ‘CLOG!’

Dan Smith is a veteran journalist, writer, editor and the founder and director of the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference. Dan recently answered my questions about his new novel, CLOG!, including his journey to publication and the decision to self-publish.

Q. Tell me about your new novel.

CLOG COVER
Available at Amazon.

DAN SMITH: CLOG! is the story of the adjustments a boy must make in his life as he faces a new school and all-new challenges. Eb McCourry has left his crumbling family to attend his final year of high school in a remote North Carolina mountain community, living in a children’s home. He is a good athlete and catches on immediately with the football team, but shortly he is recruited by a sharp-eyed square dance team captain trying to help fill the team’s mononucleosis-depleted ranks. The team is a state powerhouse and in the past has won three national championships.

Eb takes immediately to the dance team, working with polished dancers and developing something of a crush on the young woman who recruited him, his left tackle’s girlfriend.

He begins to take a leadership role on both the football team–where as the quarterback he helps develop a conference contender with his skill and leadership–and on the dance team, where he is learning in a backup role.

The square dance team faces a stiff threat to its dominance in the region from a huge high school in Asheville where the father of a dancer has brought in an accomplished ballet teacher from New York and she has recruited a team from the North Carolina School of the Arts, all to win the coveted Old Smoky trophy at the Mountain Youth Jamboree in Asheville for the daughter’s mantle. He has spent thousands of dollars creating a juggernaut, even as the small school struggles.

Meanwhile, Eb falls for the lovely and bright Lizetta McIntosh and a young love storyline develops.

Eb’s coming of age is at the center of the story, but the dual competitions (football and dancing) provide the core of the book and lead to a heart-thumping conclusion where both teams are playing for titles on the same day in Asheville.

Q. Why did you decide to self-publish? Take me through your process.

DAN SMITH: Initially, I went through the routine of making an attempt at conventional publishing. I contacted about 125 agents and, while I got some good feedback, nobody was buying what one derisively called “a page turner about square dancing?”

This took a few months and wasn’t the response I wanted from the book.

I went back to the beginning and thought about what I wanted from CLOG! and it wasn’t plowing through the field of agents, who’d then have to mine for a publisher, which would then have me do major re-writes (the book was re-written 10 times) before publishing two years down the road with a net gain in royalties of about 10 percent.

So, I thought, “Hell, publish it myself and get the book I want.” Since there is very little money in books anyway, and since money wasn’t my goal (I have enough), this seemed to be the right choice.

I have published five books, two conventionally, three myself, and I’ve had better experiences with the self-pubs every time, though the conventional books generally made more money.

CLOG! is a book that would have sold eventually had I been willing to put in the time and effort necessary to find an agent who believed in it. I think it is a book a publisher would be proud to publish, if I found the right company

Q. How did you decide to go with CreateSpace? Continue reading “Q&A: Dan Smith, Author of ‘CLOG!’”

Q&A: Bestselling Author John Coyne (Conclusion)

John Coyne is a seven-time bestselling author who has written more than 25 books of fiction and nonfiction. He is also a friend, someone I had the good fortune to meet after he published a successful golf novel that focused on Ben Hogan. John encouraged me to write my first book. He also helped me get my first literary agent.

This is the second and concluding part of my Q&A with John. Read Part 1.

Bestselling author John Coyne.
Bestselling author John Coyne.

Q: Describe your writing routine or process.

JOHN COYNE: Well, my website (www.johncoynebooks) and my new book How To Write A Novel In 100 Days go into the writing process for any writer, but I’d say for myself the key has always been to do a little writing every day. I try and write about 1000 words each day. Now, they are not finished copy, but once you have something down on paper (or in a computer) you own it and second drafts are a lot easier than just having a blank page.

Q: What is your approach to research?

JOHN COYNE: I research while I write, as I need the information. The wonder of the Internet is that what you need to know is just a click away. Also, I have a rather extensive library of books on topics. For example, I must have 200-plus books on the history of golf. If nothing else, golf has a lot of facts and figures.

Q: How do you prepare for interviews?

JOHN COYNE: If I am talking about my novels, I really don’t prepare. After writing one, I know everything that I need to know about the book. However, if I am going to talk about golf, golf history, a particular tournament or player, then I try and have the facts of the situation close at hand. At my age, just remembering where my car keys are is a daily struggle.

Q: Tell about your work space or where you like to work. What’s on your desk or close by?

JOHN COYNE: I have a small office on the second floor of our home and it is jammed with book shelves and filing cabinets. I have one desk and I operate with two computers. Why two? I have no idea but I just got a new computer and half of the stuff is on the old computer and I’m too lazy (or inept) to coalesce the files.

Q: What has to happen for you to feel like you’ve had a good writing day?

JOHN COYNE: Write one thousand words before noon so that I can play golf in the afternoon.

Q: What do you like to read?

JOHN COYNE: When I was a lot younger, I read novels. Now I tend to read non-fiction. And the truth is, when I’m writing, I just don’t have time to read much between the daily New York Times, New Yorker and New Republic. These magazines seem to find a way to stack themselves up around the house demanding to be read.

Q: Share a tip or word of advice for an aspiring or less-experienced author.

JOHN COYNE: Try to get published, anyway. Write for the local newspaper, send in a letter to the editor. Whatever you can get published. Also, join a local writing group (they are everywhere) as then you can get feedback on what you have written. That’s very important for all of us, however long we have been at the game.

Q: What is your next project?

JOHN COYNE: Breaking par for eighteen and publishing a bestseller. I’ll take either one and be happy.

Q: Any final comments?

JOHN COYNE: The Internet and Print-on-Demand as well as ebooks and various other forms of self-publishing have changed forever the publishing world. I am not sure how the world of books will change but I do know that the world still needs stories to read or watch. Therefore, the world still needs creative writers. So keep writing.

Q&A: Bestselling Author John Coyne

John Coyne is a seven-time bestselling author who has written more than 25 books of fiction and nonfiction. He is also a friend, someone I had the good fortune to meet after he published a successful golf novel that focused on Ben Hogan. John encouraged me to write my first book. He also helped me get my first literary agent.

When John isn’t writing, there’s a good chance he’s playing or watching golf. Recently, he was kind enough to answer my questions.

Bestselling author John Coyne.
Bestselling author John Coyne.

Q: What is your current project, and how did it come about?

JOHN COYNE: I just finished a non-fiction book entitled: How To Write A Novel In 100 Days. It only took me 356 days to write! I’m now working (and have been working for about six months) on a novel entitled Long Ago and Far Away, which is set in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Westchester, New York; Menorca, Spain; St. Louis, Missouri; Washington, D.C.; New York City; and Kentucky.

As the heart of the novel is a murder mystery that is relived and tracked through thirty-plus years of two characters who were not involved in the murder, but whose lives were shaped in many ways by the event. There is no golf angle in this novel.

Q: What drew you to the story?

JOHN COYNE: I had lived in Ethiopia in the 1960s and knew the Empire then when it was ruled by Haile Selassie. It is a beautiful and fascinating country full of beautiful and fascinating people. (The only problem is that is only has one nine-hole golf course!)

A few years ago at a used book store, I came across a copy of a small guide book that was published in 1965 or so. I had never seen the book before or knew about it. Of course, Ethiopia, like the rest of the world, has changed. In fact, they are building a subway in the capital now which to me seems beyond comprehension.

Having the book, I began to think it might make a nice plot device and from that, I began to churn up plot ideas.

Q: Share a surprise and a challenge.

JOHN COYNE: When I started working on the book, I thought it was going to be mainly about the male character, but the female character became much more interesting to me, and the center of the plot—was it a murder?—became the focus on the story. I didn’t know any of that when I wrote the first sentence. The story itself told its own story, I guess.

Q: What drew you to writing and how did you get started?

JOHN COYNE: I remember when I was about ten or eleven reading a novel and being swept up with the prose and thinking not “oh, how beautiful this is said,” or even “I wish I had written that,” but thinking “to write this a person would be very powerful.” Odd that a little kid might come to that conclusion, but for me the ability to write such prose made a person “powerful.” I guess what I thought was that to write in such a way made a person important.

Q: How did you become a writing instructor?

JOHN COYNE: I have helped, in some minor and major ways, friends start and/or finish their books and over the years I have developed a series of suggestions that I think work for all writers. So, I pulled them together recently into How To Write A Novel in 100 Days.

TO BE CONTINUED.  Next time I’ll share what John said about the writing life.

My Agent Answers: Why Is It So Hard to Land a Literary Agent? (Conclusion)

My literary agent, Rick Broadhead, specializes in non-fiction and works with the top publishing houses in North America. Rick has represented non-fiction books that have appeared on bestseller lists. His clients’ books have also been shortlisted for literary awards, translated into multiple languages and optioned for film and TV development.

By Rick Broadhead

Copyright © Rick Broadhead. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

(This is the final installment of a two-part series. Read Part 1.)

Often, a book proposal doesn’t get the past the editor’s desk if the editor doesn’t believe he/she will be able to generate internal support for the idea.

Even if an offer is made and you sign a deal with a major publishing house, you’ve still got two more major hurdles. A book isn’t guaranteed to be well-distributed just because a major publisher has acquired it. If the booksellers don’t get excited about it, orders will be small, and the book can stagnate before it even hits the shelves. And regardless of how many orders are placed by retail stores, if there isn’t sufficient publicity to generate awareness and momentum for the book, sales could be very disappointing.

Publishers are looking for books that can move tens of thousands of copies, so the bar is set very high. This is not as easy to achieve as you may think.

Keep in mind that most agents are receiving dozens or hundreds of book pitches a week. Editors are usually in the same boat. The process of pitching a book to editors, and then negotiating a contract, if an offer is made, is very time consuming. It can take several months. So agents have to pick and choose their projects carefully. It is simply not practical or possible for an agent to circulate every proposal to publishers.

I once had an author ask me why I couldn’t just send out his proposal to editors and see what happens, even though I wasn’t keen on it. Editors depend on literary agents to vet proposals and send them the most promising prospects. Even though editors and agents often disagree on what constitutes a strong idea, I have to believe in a project in order to attach my name to it and then take up an editor’s valuable time.

When an agent rejects a proposal and says “it’s not right for me” or “it doesn’t fit my current needs,” it means that the agent isn’t motivated enough by the idea to be able to pursue it enthusiastically.

That decision is usually based on multiple factors, including the agent’s current client load, the quality of the writing, what the agent’s personal interests are, what projects the agent believes his/her publishing contacts are most likely to be interested in, how much the project is going to sell for, and more.

It’s a complicated business!