Writers Don’t Quit Your Day Job (Not Yet)


Writers don’t like to hear this but landing an agent or a book deal isn’t going to solve all your problems.  Believe me, I’ve been there.  I was living off of Ramen noodles in my Miami studio apartment before I landed a book deal.  I had been self-publishing and ePublishing my first novel and I knew if only I could get a book deal then all my problems would disappear.  That’s what a lot of writers believe, but that’s just not true.


You need to, in your mind, separate your passion from your money-issues. You have to because if you do not, the desperation will eat you alive. You must find happiness first and anything else that happens is just gravy. You’ve heard it before, and it probably sounds cliche but there’s a reason why 99% of the successful writers say the same thing.


That’s why, in most cases, it’s best that someone not leave their day job until they’ve not only sold their book but are doing extremely well.  If you jump ship, before it’s time, then your desperation to make a living will eat at you and it’ll be counter-productive.


Nothing’s more unattractive to a potential agent than a desperate aspiring writer. Oh, they won’t say that to you or say it on the record, but it’s what agents tell me behind closed doors.


But how do you do it, when you hate your job or your co-workers and rent’s due tomorrow and you have nothing else you can depend on but you’re writing?


Here are a few tips that helped me during that time:


1. Get a job, any job; even if it’s one you hate and be grateful for it.  Understand that what you do for a living is not a reflection of who you are or where you’ll end up in the future.


2. Stop pretending you need to have all day in order to write. Let’s be honest 90% of the time you’re staring up at the wall or checking Facebook or your email. If you calculate how much time you’re actually writing, it may only be 2-3 hours tops.  That said, you can certainly carve out 2 or 3 hours before, during and or after your job to do your writing.


3. Use the job you hate and the employees that drive you up the wall to motivate you. One thing that helped me when I was dealing with situations like that was to think in my mind, “Just you wait! One day I’m going to have a published novel,” and I allowed the things they did that irritated me to motivate me to get out of there. (By the way, those ex-co-workers are still at that job that they hate)


4. Count your blessings. I know people hate to hear this. They want me to tell them to just quit their job, risk it all and everything will fall into place just like it did for me in my situation. But when you have a family to support, you have to be a little responsible.  Oh, there will come a time, and you’ll know it, when you need to “hold your nose and jump” like Jeff Foxworthy told me, but it’s not yet. Make a list of all the great things your job provides and write something new about it on that list everyday. It might be the fact that you get free Xerox copies or a check so that you can eat while you write. At my last day job, we had a lot of dead time when there were no clients, so I’d use that time to write.  Then, I thought to myself, “Hey, they’re paying me to write!”


Don’t worry, if you focus on doing your job and writing the best novel of all time, you’ll know when to quit your job. You’ll know it, without a doubt.


Writers: Stop Chasing After Them


If an author was to ask me for one piece of advice, one thing I’ve learned so far, being deeply involved and intertwined with the book business, it would be the same advice I’d give filmmakers today, stop chasing after them.


Them, meaning, agents and publishers. Why? What’s the point?


The best thing you can do is:


A) Write a dynamic book that will have people talking about it.


That’s it.


Most people haven’t gotten past that point yet. Oh, there’s some beautiful writers out there but they’re not writing scenes that would get people talking.  If you’ve finished a novel, you’re already way ahead of the game because I’ve seen some amazing writers who can’t even finish a novel and yet they’re trying to get an agent.  Finish the damn thing first.


Then, ask yourself is this particular scene something that people would want to share?  A friend of mine used to run the video department at and his job was to find viral videos all day. I asked him one day, “what’s the secret to a truly viral video?” He answered, “That’s easy. Ask yourself, ‘is this a video I’d want to send out to all my friends and family?'”


I say the same thing with novels.  But how do you know if you’ve created something that is buzz-worthy or share-worthy?


You know if you’ve shared it with a friend and they went ahead, without you asking, and shared it with everyone they know.


If they didn’t, then it wasn’t buzz-worthy, no matter how beautifully it was written.


If it wasn’t, and your goal is to create a phenomenon, go back to the drawing board. No matter how well you wrote that scene, go back and rewrite it or toss it out and come up with something people would want to share. Sometimes it’s something that goes right to your heart and touches you deeply, sometimes it’s something hilarious you’ve written or something that they just don’t see every day.


It doesn’t mean what you wrote previously sucked, it might have been beautifully written but it wasn’t something that people wanted to share. And if that’s your goal, go back and rewrite it.


That’s why it bothers me when people ask me if I’ll post something of theirs on my Facebook page, maybe it’s a video they created or a new book they wrote or something. If it’s share-worthy enough, you don’t need to ask anybody, they’ll post it on their Facebook page without you even asking them.


A friend of mine and client, who also happens to be one of the bestselling nonfiction authors of all time, told me the process they went through with each of the short true stories in their first book. If the story wasn’t buzz-worthy enough, they’d work on it and re-edit it until it was. He knows what he’s talking about, they’ve sold over half a billion (not million) books.


Here’s my point:


If your book is share-worthy enough, then you won’t need to chase agents or publishers, they’ll chase after you.  Trust me, otherwise, they wouldn’t be asking people like me to recommend new clients for them. These agents are actively looking at the bestsellers charts on Amazon, Smashwords, and for new authors. They are looking at the blogs and seeing what people are talking about.


You don’t need a publisher to get your story in the hands of “the people”. Putting it on Amazon,, Smashwords, is free.


Why did 50 Shades of Grey work? Because it was naughty. It was something that moms across America were shocked about and read under their digital covers with their digital flashlights.  Make something share-worthy, and everything else will fall into place.



Lit Agent, Michael Murphy: “Writers Do Your Homework”



Michael Murphy, a former publisher of William Morrow books, is a veteran literary agent who is actively seeking writers. In our in-depth interview with him, Murphy discusses why he has to sometimes jump in and do the publishers job, why it sometimes better to go with a small publisher over a major house, why he’s staying away from vampire books and his love for blowing up mailboxes with M-80′s.

Michael, what’s your official title at your company and why do you think you’re one of the best agents in the biz?
I change my official title based on whim and need. Generally, I am Chief Susurrator (translation = director of emitting small noises). But, when I want to seem ‘professional’ in order to lure in a certain kind of writer, I fall back on founder, owner, or director. I am not the best agent in the universe. But, I do think I’m the best agent in New Orleans. Because there is no real training or vetting to become an agent, we all bring different skill sets. I assume ex-lawyers (or current lawyers) like Jeff Klienman or Paul Levine bring a sharper pen to the vetting of a contract. I know uber-agents like Esther Newberg or Binky Urban raise the bar on how a proposal will be received by publishers just based upon the fact that it’s coming from an uber-agent.

With my years on the publishing side and a lot of experience in marketing & sales, I do bring some creativity to the process not as available from all agents. In the process of getting books to the marketplace, I have at times been the primary editor, designed covers, written jacket copy and or the press release, set up my authors at book festivals, conferences, or interviews on-line or on-air. In one case I designed, printed, and paid for a preview sampler for a book where the publisher didn’t want to use their marketing budget in that way. In another case, I actually jumped in and started selling bookstores (I was trying to shame the publisher for what I considered a tepid job). I was six for six in getting orders in bookstores from Los Angeles to Milwaukee, to Miami where the publisher had failed. Except for this last case, I don’t fault the publishers nor do I mind jumping in on what might be considered “not my job.” The staff at most houses has been cut to the bone. People left in marketing, publicity, & sales are often now asked to perform the jobs of 3 or 4 people. If I can help the cause, I’m happy to. I actually love all aspects of publishing. I try (but don’t always succeed) to meld my passions to the publisher’s efforts so I’m not perceived as a nuisance.

Things have changed so rapidly for this business and continue to change. What are you doing to prepare your writers?
I have tried to expand my net from the traditional New York trade houses to include far more small and independent presses. With the pinch being felt by book publishers, advances from The Big Guys have been coming down (unless you’re a Literary Master like Sarah Palin or Keith Richards). So, the difference on an advance from The Big Guys and small houses is not as great as a few years ago. The fact is, a writer can get a book published as well or better by a tiny house located time zones from New York. Gin Phillips (not my author) couldn’t ask for a better job than Rhonda Hughes and her 2-person publisher in Portland, Oregon, Hawthorne Books, did on THE WELL AND THE MINE.

Quite frankly, the other thing I’ve been doing to brace myself has been to try to develop side revenue streams. I love being an agent – more than anything I’ve ever done in the book business, which includes being the Publisher for William Morrow Books. But, it’s damn hard to make livable wages as a certain kind of agent right now. Since moving to New Orleans at the end of last year, I have squeezed in discussions with area universities and writing centers to teach a course on book publishing as I used to do with the NYU Publishing Program. With the Saints Super Bowl victory, its aftermath blending right into Mardi Gras, this hasn’t been easy. I never want to charge writers for one on one book doctoring. That somehow strikes me as sleazy. There are absolute scam artists out there taking the money from aspiring writers to learn their SYSTEM or METHOD to be published successfully in 8 weeks or whatever. Shameful. I have, however, spoken to a few downsized highly placed publishing executives about doing a road show to places like Madison, WI or Lawrence, KS to present to writing groups the publishing landscape (at least as we see it).

Michael, what do you think about all these technological changes happening in the publishing world?
I think anything that makes the connection between a writer and their core readers faster, easier, or sexier is ultimately a wonderful thing. In the short term (and this is just my silly theory), I think the evolution away from a wide sea of book people who cared passionately about good writing and reading (independent booksellers, publishers’ sales reps, and a wealth of book reviewers) to an isolated individual holding a device, their book interests being driven by anything that makes it through the clutter of media and the internet, is a terrible thing. There are vastly fewer book reviewers to advocate books to readers than just a few years ago. The great Susan Larson, an institution in the New Orleans book community, just took her buy out option from The Times-Picayune. There are vastly fewer sales reps to highlight books to booksellers. I just heard Simon & Schuster is down to but seven reps covering the entire country. These changes feed into books that have to sell themselves without this former wide sea of book people. It leads to books driven by profile over content. When I walk into a superstore and see the front tables dominated by books by former sit com stars or current reality TV show performers, my old grizzled heart just seizes up a bit. All those books and nothing I want to read.

I do hope that people smarter than me will learn how to use the promise of the new social media to take a writer without obvious “hooks” (other than the fact that they write beautifully) to find the tens or hundreds of thousands of readers who’d love their work rather than the 2-3,000 that now happen upon the 1 or 2 copies on the shelves of a select number of bookstores.

What would you say editors are hot for?
Probably to my financial detriment, I don’t devote a lot of focus toward what’s hot now. I tend to physically recoil from hot categories. I hope never again to see another memoir about the life lessons learned from the family dog. I love Mark Doty. I think he’s the greatest living American poet. I stuck some of his writing from FIREBIRD into my wedding vows. But I refuse to read his DOG YEARS. In January, I went into the YA section to get some books from my daughter’s school reading list. I nearly passed out from the vapors when I saw that practically EVERY book in the entire section looked like a vampire novel to take advantage of the Twilight craze. Even Jane Austen had been re-packaged to look like a vampire novel. I hate this aspect of publishing (or I guess our culture at large). I choose not to feed this beast. Of course, that probably leads to my needing side revenue streams.

As far as what I’m looking for, I am a sucker for writers like Susan Orlean and Tony Horwitz where their work is extremely personal and infused with the feel of memoir, but the subject matter is outwardly focused so that the reader learns a whole lot of “stuff,” not just the impressions or reflections of the writer. Amy Baker, the marketing manager for Harper Perennial, had a great term for this kind of work that I can’t now recall (I need to call her). In essence it was Intensely Personal Journalism, but less clumsy than that wording.

I’m also willing (and desirous) to have my head turned by something in which I never expected to be involved. Originally, I set out not to handle fiction. But, when I read a short story by Barb Johnson, I felt “But I have to be involved with THIS!” On March 3rd, Barb just won 2nd place as Barnes & Nobles Discovery title of 2009. This was for MORE OF THIS WORLD OR MAYBE ANOTHER, a short story collection by a first time 52 year old writer. I am just now sending out a proposal for a manuscript I don’t even know how to define. I call Anne Ricketts’ BLUE SKIES AHEAD an apercu. It’s a series of nonfiction prose-poem sketches, quick impressions that dip in and out of the characters in her life and in and out of chronological order. Collectively the sort-of-memoir deals with the Big Issues of love, lust, betrayal, fitting in, and sexual orientation but in a style so light in execution that it feels no more weighty than riding around with the top down. I have alternately called Anne’s work “Colette with most the words taken out” or “LOVE LOST & WHAT I WORE for lesbians” or “Kind of like Annie Ernaux, except it’s nothing like Annie Ernaux.” I certainly wasn’t looking for anything like BLUE SKIES AHEAD and I sense it could be really hard to sell in 2010. But, Anne’s writing resisted my every attempt to dismiss it. I even made my wife and two of my writers read it to assure me it wasn’t bad poetry or trite musings but something sneaky that builds up to be subtle and beautiful. Their opinions secured my opinion. I hope Anne Ricketts’ weird little book gains the life it deserves.

What’s the best way for writers to approach you, Michael?
I appreciate cogency (at least in others). A tight email telling me what the book is, why anyone would drop $24 for it, and who you are should accompany 2 or 3 chapters and we’re there. My #1 pet peeve is that so many writers don’t do any homework. Maybe nearing 50% of my queries are for categories I do not represent (Science Fiction, Romance, Self-Help). I know I just replied that I am looking to have my head turned, but I will never represent Science Fiction, Romance, or Self-Help. I don’t read it. I don’t understand why books in those categories work or fail. I have no relationships with editors in those categories. If I wanted to be a Sous Chef, I wouldn’t apply to Jiffy Lube. I really don’t get it.

And finally, what is something about you that very few people know?
Y’know, in these days of FaceBook and just regular old email, confessional chatter is just so easy (and maybe a little addictive). I don’t think there’s anything I have ever done or thought that I have not fed onto somebody’s computer screen. I have a writer-client in Los Angeles whom I have never met, where we footnote our every correspondence with a series of questions. We are up into the thousands. I know her favorite singer is Van Morrison, her favorite cereal Raisin Bran, if given the chance, she would have slept with Helen of Troy, and way way more…and she knows way too much about me.

I guess the average friend or colleague doesn’t know that in high school I loved to blow up mailboxes with M-80′s. My personal record was 28 in one night. Testosterone in a 17-year-old boy is a scary thing.

Penny Sansevieri Tells Writers: How to Hit the New York Times List



If you ask any aspiring writer what their greatest dream is (besides being on Oprah), many would say they dream of hitting the New York Times list. But how do you do it? Is it possible for an author to hit list without the full support of their publisher? How many copies do you need to sell exactly to hit the list? And where does Twitter, Facebook and YouTube fall into the scheme of things? For these answers, and more we asked, Penny Sansevieri of Author Marketing Expert, an online book marketing firm whose efforts have resulted in numerous New York Times bestsellers.

Penny, you and I have known each other for a few years and I’ve seen first-hand how you’ve successfully built authors’ campaigns and we even shared a client at one time. You didn’t just wake up and start doing this. How did you go from zero to hero, where did this journey begin?

First off thanks for interviewing me, I’m really honored to be a part of this. How I got started was quite accidental, actually you could call me an accidental entrepreneur. In the space of less than a year I lost my job not once but twice when two companies I worked for were shuttered. I took that as a sign and decided dip my toe in consulting. I figured I’d do it for 3 months and see what happened, that was almost 11 years ago now. While I dreamed of a company this size, I had no real intention of it when I started, in fact I didn’t even have a business plan. I just decided it was time to do what I loved. I also realized early on that there was a keen need for a company that devoted itself to authors who were either just starting out, building their platform, or from small publishers or self-published. That’s where I focused and because of this, we created a company that was wildly different from any PR firm out there. The reason for this is that because of the nature of the author that we managed, we were forced to be super creative. We didn’t have the luxury of books being in bookstores, we had to develop campaigns that drove folks into the stores. As it turns out, this has served us well for all of our authors, not just the small press folks.

You’ve mentioned that you’ve helped quite a few titles hit the New York Times list. Which titles and what did you do specifically to make that happen?

Some of the titles we’ve worked on have been Happy for No Reason, The Answer, The Go-Giver, and the notorious If I Did It all of these books were in our Internet campaigns which as very different from any other programs out there. I say this because first off, I have an amazing team and we are always a step ahead of the curve when it comes to online marketing. We were using Twitter 2 years before anyone knew what it was, that’s how these books succeeded. While we were focused on reviews by bloggers, we quickly realized that reviews don’t always create the inertia that a title needs to soar up a list, they need inbound marketing which we’ve always done, but now thanks to all of the Internet guru’s out there blogging on inbound marketing, it’s becoming a more mainstream term. The idea I think for any author really is getting their book (via their website) to come up in searches, so for example if someone is searching on a particular term the book comes up. It’s really all about getting in front of consumers who are looking for your message. And for some books it’s not about the consumer finding the title. For example, when we worked on The Answer we realized that consumers were looking for the terms “grow any business”. No one was searching for The Answer, well lots of people were but it was for different things that weren’t part of the author’s market. So we branded this campaign to those search terms, that inbound marketing, combined with any reviews we got for the book really helped to position the title for success. That’s the key. Relying on reviews alone to drive the success of a book won’t work, at least not anymore.

People say that hitting the New York Times list or any list is luck but is that true and if not, is it as simple as having everyone buy the book at a certain location within a certain window of time?

Well each list reports differently. For example the New York Times uses reporting bookstores, meaning certain stores (around 30) spread throughout the country. These stores report into the Times with their most successful titles for that week. USA Today is based on sales as is the Wall Street Journal.

While no one knows the secret to hitting a list, there’s a metric involved in this process. The metric is this: books are sold into stores by publishers early on, months in advance. The publisher starts building interest for this title via its sales team and also something called the announced first print (which is often higher than the actual print run). Publishing is about perception, so the first piece of this is the perceived momentum that a publisher is putting behind a title which will encourage bookstores to order it. The second piece to this is having enough copies on hand to surge the list. How many copies? The average changes because the amount of books published but historically it’s been around 30,000. Then comes the magic word: availability. Sometimes self-published or small press authors will associate an Amazon listing with availability. Amazon is neither an indication of availability or distribution. Yes, you should have a book listing on all the online store sites but a listing and distribution are two very different things. So advanced sales, print run, and distribution all factor heavily into a book surging a list. There are, however, always exceptions to this rule. If a book surges suddenly and in a short period of time it can hit a list. Last year I was having lunch with a publisher who said a book they were working on hit the top 10 of the New York Times with little marketing and only a 4,000 print run. How did this happen? The author had done some of their own online marketing and the viral factor kicked in, sending people into bookstores, and it surged up the list.

Authors often know that they should blog, build a fan base on platforms such as Facebook but they can often feel like they’re spinning their wheels. What works and what doesn’t in terms of turning online promotion into actual sales?

That’s a great question and one I get all the time. Authors get so caught up in participating in online promotion they almost always forget one thing: measuring success. It’s easy to get caught up in the Twitter-stream of conversation and dialogging with your Facebook buddies but the numbers don’t lie. Here are some things to ask yourself to determine if your campaign is really paying off, or just a waste of your time:

1) What are your goals for your social media campaign? Before you dive in you should determine why you’re doing this: to build your brand, increase incoming links (and traffic) to your website, increases newsletter sign ups?) Start by determining your goals and then let the campaign unfold to support those goals.
2) Are you increasing traffic online, meaning to your website? If this is one of your objectives then you need to keep a close eye on your analytics.
3) Are you expanding your network to include people who will make a different to your campaign or are you just finding old high school buddies who aren’t really your target audience?

You’ll notice that the one thing I didn’t mention was book sales. Yes, this factors in but there are a lot of other pieces that come before the sale. Getting more traffic to your website, networking with others in your market, increasing the exposure for your brand.

Don’t get into online marketing and say “I want to sell books” yes, that’s (hopefully) the eventual outcome for all of your efforts but there are many steps that come before the sale.

If we’re starting from scratch, what is the fastest and most effective way to build an online platform?

The first and most effective is to launch a website. But not a personal “hey, learn more about me and oh, here’s a picture of my new puppy” website, a real, author-focused site that’s branded to you, your book, your business or your message.

Second, make sure the site includes a blog and start getting into the online conversation. Blogging twice weekly at a minimum will really help your site grow in online exposure and, consequently, grow your platform.

Third, participate on social media that’s right for you and your book. What I mean by this is don’t just jump into the deep end of the social media pool and just because someone in your writing class is on 350 social networking sites (yes, there are that many) doesn’t mean you need to be. I live and breathe social media for a living and I’m only on three. Why? Because it makes sense for me and my market. Do what makes sense for you and your market. The worst thing you can do for your author platform is start up a bunch of online sites only to abandon them. When you abandon a social media site it’s a subliminal message to your reader that you’ve abandoned your market.

The authors that have the greatest challenge in promoting their books online are novelists, what can they do to build their fan base other than blogging?

Interesting that you should ask this question. In my spare time I write fiction and one of the reasons I developed our Internet division was to support the fiction author. There are a *lot* of places to go for a fiction author: sites dedicated to their message, whether it’s mystery, romance, thrillers, or sci-fi, there’s always a market for it online. You just have to dig in and find the community. I don’t know whether this phrase is unique to us but I call them intentional communities: a gathering site for authors looking for everything related to their particular interest. Once you identify these sites, why not pitch them yourself as a guest blogger or pitch them your book for review? Join groups on Facebook that are dedicated to your market and participate in those groups, follow opinion leaders on Twitter in the area you write about and then comment on their tweets. Also, if you have the time and budget, consider doing a book trailer for your novel. Especially for fiction it’s a great way to promote a book and if you’re good on camera consider doing some short video posts. Jeff, you did this and they were great, very impactful and well done.

Wendy Keller Tells Writers “Platform is King”



Wendy Keller of Keller Media is the CEO of her company which not only includes her literary agency but also a speaking bureau. In our interview with Keller today, she discusses what she is doing actively to help authors build their platforms online, why she’s more excited than ever to embrace new technologies in the publishing industry and why she refuses to read any more memoirs.

Wendy, your agency seems different in that it focuses on building author’s platforms. How important is that now with your authors in order to keep them from eating Ramen noodles the rest of their lives?
What’s wrong with ramen noodles? We have broadened our focus from just a literary agency and speakers bureau to include a company that builds online platforms ( and a service that helps authors invest in their future and configure their talents to the emerging boom ( We believe the prepared will rule the new media world. We’re prepared and we’re handing out life vests!

So, your company really supports the Internet as a means to spread word about your author’s books and build their platform. What do you think about new technologies such as the iPad?
Bring it on! This is the most important invention to affect the common, literate man since Gutenberg! This is going to save trees, make books easier to buy faster, make them more interesting and make the entire publishing industry respond quickly to consumer demand. This is fantastic. It’s also the wild west and Napster all over again – the swift and clever will survive, and for now, nothing is truly “fair” – like the percentages paid to authors. But then again, 20% of 50,000 extra electronic sales is still good cash money. It always comes down to this: is your content good and your market huge?

What do you hear editors asking more for?
That’s is an impossible question to answer. The authors we specialize in have or want to have a massive platform – tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people they reach before, during and after publication. We look for people who don’t sit around dreaming of how they’ll spend the money once they’re on Oprah and instead are out there making things happen.

So, for all the writers out there reading this, how should they approach you?
Email queries to No attachments or embedded photos. If we want to see your NONFICTION project, we’ll let you know. We only handle nonfiction, which doesn’t include memoirs unless you’re a celebrity or cookbooks unless you have a show or a renowned restaurant or books channeled by aliens unless you have skin that glows green and funny shaped eyes. Pet peeves: the last three types of queries, as well as slow drivers in the fast lane and people who shout on their cell phones. Other than that, the world’s a lovely place to be (until I go back to my home planet).

And finally Wendy, what is something about you that very few people know?
Other than a cruel sense of humor? Hmmm. I speak some Italian, so I got to be part of an archaeological dig last summer in Pompeii and saw things that no one has seen since A.D. 79. THAT was on my bucket list.

Please, note: GalleyCat does not endorse or recommend any agency or agency’s service in particular. We encourage you to do your own research when investigating representation opportunities.

Writers: Making a Living Off of Kindle?



So much media attention has been given to the iPad and to eBooks lately that it made GalleyCat wonder aloud: Is it possible for an author to make a living from selling eBooks?

Author, J.A. Konrath of the Jack Daniels series says, “Yes.” He has successfully built a career and a living wage doing exactly that. In our interview with him, he tells us exactly how he did it, what the advantages and disadvantages are of publishing traditionally and why he says his books are outselling even bestselling authors such as James Patterson.

What is the Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels series about and what is your writing process from story concept to finished novel?

Jack is a forty-seven year old Chicago cop, and she chases serial killers and other assorted loonies. The books are fast paced–lots of action and dialog–with some humor thrown in to break-up the suspense.

Which you do you enjoy more; traditional publishing or independent publishing, and why?

I enjoy writing. Publishing… not so much. I’ve been lucky to work with some very talented people in the publishing world, and the print industry has allowed me to write full time. I’m proud of my books, and I’m pleased to be earning royalties.

Unfortunately, the print world is flawed. The business model–where books can be returned, and where a 50% sell-though is considered acceptable–is archaic and wasteful. Writers get small royalties, little say in how their books are marketed and sold, and simple things like cover and title approval are unheard of unless you’re a huge bestseller.

Self-publishing is a huge pain. It allows for more control, but the workload is doubled. I prefer to write stories, not spend hours formatting HTML.

You seem to have a natural knack for branding. What gave you the idea to do the Jack Daniels series? And how important was branding for success?

I just try to write entertaining books that are easily identifiable. A reader doesn’t need to know my name, my titles, or my characters, and they can still find me by asking a bookseller “Who does those thrillers that are all named after drinks?”

The easier you are to find, and to remember, the more books you’ll sell.

You design your own covers? How much can author expect to pay to design their own covers with the quality that you have?

A friend of mine, Carl Graves, does my indie covers. Carl charges between $300 and $1000 per cover, depending on the amount of work that needs to be done.

Is it really possible to make a living from selling eBooks on Kindle? Could someone actually give up their day job? And if so, how long would it take to do so?

I’m currently selling 180 ebooks a day on Kindle. My ebooks are also available on Nook and iPad through Smashwords, but I don’t have those sales figures yet.

When the royalty rate for Amazon switches to 70%, I’ll be earning $2.04 on a $2.99 ebook. That’s $134,000 a year. I also plan on uploading three more ebooks this month, which I expect will sell well because fans are anticipating them.

How many books have you sold on Kindle total from day one? How long did it take for you to come to the point where you could see yourself making a living?

I’ve sold 40,000 ebooks since last April. At first, I was amused to be paying my mortgage with Kindle earnings. But now it’s turning into serious money.

This all happened by accident. Some Kindle owners emailed me, asking if I could make my early, unpublished books available for them to read. I uploaded them using Amazon’s Digital Text Platform ( and charged $1.99. Readers like low prices. And why wouldn’t they? Two or three bucks is less than a cup of coffee. It’s an impulse purchase, and perfect for intangible, digital content which costs almost nothing to copy and deliver.

What would be the winning formula to stand out from the thousands of other eBooks on Kindle?

I’m not sure you have to stand out. Writers aren’t in competition with one another. It isn’t a zero sum game. If you have a good book, a good cover, a good product description, and a low price, you can sell well.

Currently, on the Police Procedure Bestseller Kindle list, my ebooks occupy ten of the top hundred spots. I’m outselling James Patterson, JD Robb, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Jonathan Kellerman, and many other heavyweights. Simply because I’m cheaper.

Print publishers have said that a low ebook price “devalues” the book. That’s silly. The value of a book isn’t its cover price. The value of a book is how much money it earns. On several of my ebooks, I’ve earned more than the average advance NY gives to a debut novelist. And I’m earning more money on a $1.99 ebook than I earn on a $7.99 paperback.

If you had to it all over again, would you have been published traditionally? What advantages/disadvantages does a new author have when choosing to traditionally publish or independently publish?

Much as I love to write, it’s a job. I go where the money is. Seven years ago, when I got started in this business, the only way to make money was by getting into print. Now I’m making $4k a month selling ebooks that NY rejected.

Ebooks are gold that publishers aren’t doing a good mining. When a single author uploading his own books to Amazon can earn more money than a large NY publisher exploiting both print and erights, there’s something amiss.

My first Jack Daniels novel, Whiskey Sour, has sold 2500 ebooks since 2004, and earned me around $2500. Compare that to the ebooks I’ve self-published. My top five titles are now averaging 800 sales per month, and those numbers are going up. On my top selling ebook, I’ve earned more money in 45 days than Whiskey Sour has earned in 5 years.

Why? Price. My publisher (and all publishers) are pricing ebooks too high.

What did you do to build your writer’s platform and build a fan base large enough to support yourself?

My blog and website offer content in the form of information and entertainment. You can still get the ebooks I’m selling on Kindle for free on my website, and I’ve done over 500 posts about publishing on my blog. I’m active on social networks, and do my best to stay in the public eye.

In real life, I’ve signed at over 1200 bookstores, and have spoken at hundreds of libraries, schools, conventions, and book fairs.

Out of all the things you’ve tried to promote yourself what was a total waste of time and what actually worked to not only build awareness but actually sell eBooks?

I’m not a huge fan of advertising. I’ve never bought a book based on an ad, so I don’t use ads to sell my stuff. I once mailed letters to 7000 libraries, which was an expensive and time-consuming undertaking that didn’t really seem to pay off.

But, honestly, I really haven’t done much promotion for my ebooks. I blog about them, and I occasionally post on a few forums like I’ve been fortunate to get some good reviews, and decent word-of-mouth. People surfing Amazon happen to find my books, either on the bestseller lists or as an Amazon recommendation (Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought), and for $1.99 decide to give them a try. Once they do, some readers order all of my books; something I know happens because I get daily emails from new fans.

My bestselling ebook is called The List–a thriller with a sense of humor.

The List isn’t just outselling all Kindle police procedure ebooks, it’s also outselling all print police procedure novels. I’ve never even come close to doing that with my print books.

Sort of makes you think about where the future of publishing is headed, doesn’t it?

Lit Agent, Jean V. Naggar Tells Writers to: “Revise, Revise, Revise!”



agentlogo.jpgVeteran literary agent, Jean V. Naggar is no stranger to changes in the industry but she has not lost her joy for the business. In our interview with Naggar today, she tells us what she is currently looking for, her views on the Wild West new publishing era and the importance of listening to your agent now more than ever.

Thank you so much for your time, Jean. You’re a veteran agent who has been in the business for quite some time. For those who aren’t familiar with your company, can you tell us a little bit about it?

I am the founder and president of the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, Inc. which has been in business since 1978. I can tell you that our philosophy has been to build a team. Each individual has the ability and the freedom to fulfill their own goals and ambitions in building their list, but where we work together for all the clients of the agency. Each agent has a knowledge and responsibility for the entire list. While each of us has our own very individual list of clients, each agent also is responsible for a significant area (magazines, foreign rights, audio, permissions, reversions, e-rights, etc.) that covers and encompasses the entire agency list.

Do you get panic calls from clients worried about everything that’s going on in the industry and if so, what are you doing as a company to help your clients?

In focusing on building a career rather than representing our authors work by work, we have built a flourishing backlist as well as an active, vibrant frontlist. We work to obtain the best deal every time, but are as focused on the back of the deal as we are on the obvious factors. Together with a careful policy, regarding overhead commitments, we have tried to achieve a healthy business balance. We keep many ears to the ground to be alert to every industry change and never miss an opportunity to keep informed on every volatile issue we in publishing are facing in these complicated times.

Authors need to offer their best work, to be ready to revise, and to trust that they have put their work in good hands. Having a job on the side can also provide a guarantee of more food variety, and they should keep counting the pennies, also keeping up a steady constant presence in all social networking areas, twittering and tweeting, helping themselves to get the word out about their books with energy and resourcefulness.

Now, you’ve been in the agenting business since 1978, you’ve probably seen a lot of changes but nothing like what’s happened technologically lately. What are your thoughts on that?

We are in the Wild West of a new publishing era, and it is transformational. On one level, the Internet has enhanced the immediacy between writer and reader, but it is creating many important logistical problems that will take some time to work out.

But despite this Wild West era you speak of, do you think this has changed what editors are looking for or what you’re looking for?

It’s simple. Editors are looking for fresh original material in perfect condition. Dramatic pace, writing quality, and clarity of thought trumps any particular trend, and my recommendation to writers today is to listen to their agent if the agent is requesting that more work be done before showing a manuscript to editors. Editors today are heavily bound up in meetings and other requirements, and showing them a strong national platform and a manuscript that is almost ready for the printer is the best way to get their attention.

Okay, so if I’m an aspiring writer and I’m hooked on what you have to say, what’s the best way for them to reach out to you?

Our agency website, is very author-centric and each of us has a different way that we prefer to be approached. In general, I would suggest a well-constructed query letter after carefully researching on the website which of our agents would be the most appropriate for a particular work and what their requirements are. My pet peeve is a lack of research by the author in approaching us. Our individual tastes are clearly defined on the website.

On a side note, many people in the industry know the business-side of you but what is something about you that very few people know?

I used to play the violin for many years. I have written about my unusual childhood in my recent memoir,Sipping From The Nile, My Exodus From Egypt (Stony Creek). It is filled with information that very few people know!

Lit Agent, Kate Epstein Tells Writers to: “Follow Directions”



Literary agent, Kate Epstein is so in love with her job. In our interview with her today, she tells us why, and mentions also why non-fiction authors should be marketing their book before their agent sends their manuscript to editors, why she’s seeking young adult fiction now more than ever and why she hates when writers don’t follow directions.

Kate, you seem to really enjoy what you do. What is it still about agenting that keeps you going when the days get tough?
I really, really love what I do. I love sprucing up proposals and editing manuscripts. I love calming authors down and hyping them up. I love pitching book projects and negotiating deals. I love representing authors’ interests and telling them when they’re wrong. (Rarely, of course.) I love giving my advice and helping authors figure out what it is that they want. Most of all I love working with authors. Every relationship is different and interesting and being a source of wisdom and support is a joy to me.

Do you find yourself being extra picky about who you represent given all that’s been happening in the industry lately?
As an independent agent, it’s easy for me to stay fleet-footed and open to change. The economic changes in the industry are certainly not the only reason I decided to request young adult fiction and nonfiction starting in January, but they’re a reason. I’m seeking to be quite cautious and measured in this area; in almost-four months I’ve probably reviewed more than 1,000 submissions and made two offers of representation.

For authors I think my best advice is not to rush to seeking publication. Nonfiction authors generally should do many of the things their marketing plan proposes (and many things it doesn’t) BEFORE seeking publication. Books are not beginnings, though they may be new beginnings; they generally come after your material, point of view, or platform is somehow tested in the marketplace. Fiction authors may have to toil in obscurity a long time, and should really seek publication in short forms as well as long form. Don’t rush; you rarely get a second chance to get this right.

So, how do the new technologies come into play for new authors, Kate?
The biggest change is that they make everyone plan for change. I’m in favor of people having access to books in the format that works best for them. If I commuted I would surely have an electronic reader; at this point the only time I would wish for one is when I go on vacation and fear I may not be packing enough books. My computer screen is just fine for reviewing and editing manuscripts.

I hope that sometime soon practical nonfiction will have more e-enhancements, instructional video and that kind of thing, and that there will be more experimentation as to price, not just price point, but approach such as paying by the chapter for a serial book or for the parts a reader needs of a practical book.

So, if I’m a writer and I want to grab your attention, what are you looking for right now?
For fiction, paranormal, speculative, post-apocalyptic, and fantasy are certainly hot in the YA area but I get a LOT of that. And glad of it, but really good realism would jump out at me.

For nonfiction, I’m actually working on an update to my website now professing my lust for narrative/investigative/polemical nonfiction. I don’t want to just hear your opinion, I want to see you investigate it and support it.

Would you say email is the best way to reach you or is there a better way?
Email is the best way to approach me. A couple of months ago I started asking for sample material (1-3 pp) pasted into emails for fiction and memoir. I really hate looking at fiction especially without sample material; it’s hard to evaluate that way and I end up saying no to things because people didn’t follow that direction that might, possibly, have had a shot with me.

And finally, what would you say is something few people know about you, Kate?
I love to hike in the woods, but I do not love to camp.

Lit Agent Gail Fortune Tells Writers: “Focus on Writing”



Gail Fortune is an agent and partner at The Talbot Fortune Agency, LLC, and she really believes in her clients. In this interview, she tells us why it is important that a writer make their work ready for the marketplace, and keep in close touch with their editors.

What is your official job title at your agency, and why are you the best they’ve got?

Literary Agent and Partner, The Talbot Fortune Agency, LLC

There are a lot of great agents in the business, including my partner John Talbot, but I hope I’m always the best agent for my clients. I think the key is to treat each client individually and only take them on if you are utterly passionate about their writing and their work.

Quickly before we begin, let us in on a fact that not many people know about you.
I love to cook.

What are you looking for right now in the books that you represent?
I think editors are always looking for what agents are looking for-great new voices, writing that jumps off the page at you and stories that linger long after you close the book. I would certainly love to see more historical fiction, women’s fiction and narrative nonfiction-history, food narrative and science titles.

Do you think that ebooks are a good thing for the publishing industry? What kinds of worries could they open up in your work?
I think anytime people are talking about books-it’s a good thing. And any new device that opens up the world of books to more readers is a good thing. I think as agents we really have to keep a close eye on the new platforms and the royalty issues for our clients. Also piracy is becoming a huge concern.

Have you made any changes to respond to publishing’s low time right now?

I think that I’m focusing a bit more on ancillary rights these days with the help of our rights director Eileen Laverty. I’m also very involved editorially with my clients (I was an editor for 16 years) to make sure that projects are really tailored to today’s marketplace and are really ready for submission.

What about your writers? Would you suggest that they make any changes to keep ahead?
Authors need to focus on the writing-to polish and then polish again and make every proposal shine. Authors also need to maintain very good relationships with their editors and be open to suggestions and possible new projects that their editors need.

And finally, if an author wants to reach you after reading this interview, what is the best way for them to do it?

Via query per our guidelines on our website. I really don’t like it when my reply gets bounced back to me or I have to register with some spam filter to respond.

Gail Fortune is a literary agent and former book editor with over twenty years of publishing experience. Her clients include New York Times and USA Today bestsellers. Prior to becoming an agent she spent sixteen years at Putnam Berkley (now part of Penguin Group (USA)), where she rose from assistant to the Editor-in-Chief to Executive Editor. Her authors won six RITAs, and were nominated for Edgar and Anthony Awards. She published two Publishers Weekly Books of the Year. She edited many other national bestsellers in romance, mystery and narrative nonfiction. She is a graduate of Northwestern University ‘s Medill School of Journalism.

Lit Agent, Andrea Hurst Wants Writers with High Internet Presence



Literary Agent, Andrea Hurst’s clients include those who have appeared onOprah, Ellen DeGeneres Show, Good Morning America, National Geographic network and in the New York Times. As a publishing veteran of over 25 years, she knows exactly what she’s looking for in terms of representation and in our interview with her she discusses exactly that.

Andrea, there are so many agents in the industry today, why should authors choose you in particular.

I am the president of Andrea Hurst & Associates which includes Andrea Hurst Literary Agent.
There are many wonderful agents in this universe, and I would include myself for these reasons:
*Available and supportive for my clients
*Strong professional contacts and work ethic
*Over 20 years experience in the publishing industry
*A deep understanding of plot and story
*A keen eye for commercial appeal in the nonfiction market
*Personal, friendly, honest representation
*Marketing and branding experience to assist my authors

What do you think about everything that’s happening in industry nowadays? What have you done to prepare your clients for it?

I think cutting back, getting closer to nature, and facing world changes head on can be a real growth experience. I have moved to a beautiful island in the Pacific NW, love shopping at farmer’s markets, and have found a slower pace that is more people oriented but still a great place to run my business. As far as the industry changes, we have expanded our services to be available to help writers in all they myriad of ways they will now be challenged to face, through our classes and consulting/packaging areas on our website

Do you see any trends now that editors seem to be looking for?

Editors, now more than ever, want the “sure thing.” That is for a nonfiction author they have an impressive platform and high visibility internet visibility and presence. For fiction, craft is still exceedingly important, but so is marketability. This is no time to send out a manuscript or proposal that is not top of the line and thoroughly edited. We are looking for what we think we can sell based on what the publishers are looking for.

And what about you? What are you looking for?

Please, look at our website FIRST. See which agents are right for your book and email them a query. Personally, I am only looking for referred authors or those with publishing credits and a large platform. Pet Peeve – poorly written queries with no research behind them where they fit in the market or for our agency.

Enough business, Andrea. What’s something about you that few people know?

Most people know I love dogs, few people know my guilty pleasure is American Idol.