Posts Tagged ‘laurie mclean’

The Indie Publishing Option

March 23, 2011

Laurie McLean is a literary agent specializing in genre fiction and  middle-grade/young-adult children’s books. She has really become a guru on this subject and is the agent I always turn to when I need to know the ever-changing fads and fashions of fantasy, science fiction, supernatural fiction and young adult fiction. A few months ago we had a great interview with her about the subject on “Ask the Agent.”  If you want to know whether the vampire train left the station, ask Laurie. 

Laurie has been a literary agent for 6 years and works at the Larsen Pomada Agency in San Francisco.  She has a fantastic blog, Agent Savant,   which is a good place to start learning about genre fiction.

Laurie has started a new consulting business separate from her agency called Agent Savant Inc. She specializes in creating custom digital marketing plans for eBook authors, authors with significant back lists of titles who want to get their rights reverted and sell them as eBooks and POD books, and midlist authors who want to know how they can market their books more effectively online.

Today the publishing landscape is changing almost weekly. Commercial publishers are struggling to redefine themselves in the new digital marketplace. And new venues seem to be sprouting up almost daily that give writers alternatives to traditional publishing. Today I want to talk about what these transformations mean to writers. Both the challenges and the opportunities.

 Andy: First of all, Laurie, congratulations on your New York Times best seller. Tell us a little about it.

 Laurie: My client, Julie Kagawa, writes amazing young adult fantasy. Her Iron Fey YA series, with The Iron King, The Iron Daughter and The Iron Queen out now and The Iron Knight coming out in the fall, has really resonated with today’s teens. She put her own spin on the traditional mythology of Oberon, Mab and the summer and winter fairy courts by adding a new dimension—The Iron Fey. They are cobbled together out of what kids truly believe is magic today: technology.  The Iron Queen is the book that landed Julie on the NYT bestseller list a mere year after her debut, and we just sold three more books in this series plus three more in a new post-apocalyptic series.

 Andy: It seems to me that there is an awful lot of good writing being done today and most of it is having a hard time getting published in traditional channels. That’s true isn’t it?

Laurie: That’s one of the reasons I am so bullish on digital publishing and eBook publishing. A writer commented during a writers conference workshop I was giving several years ago that the worst part of my job must be reading so much bad writing, and I replied, “No. The worst part of my job is reading good or very good writing and knowing that I was going to have to reject it because it either wasn’t marketable at that point in time or because it wasn’t perfect.”  The bar has been placed so high for writers,  it’s made it nearly impossible for even the strong writers to break in. You must be good at every facet of writing and marketing and know the publishing business inside and out to even have a chance at the brass ring. But now opportunities have opened up with eBook and POD (print on demand) indie or self publishing, and the successes of some of the early adopters have destroyed that notion of who is a published author and how you can make a living as a writer. You can publish your book on Kindle Direct Publishing,  Smashwords,  or Barnes and Noble PubIt! sites and, voila, you are now a published author. Does that mean you don’t have to put in the hard work of always improving your craft and marketing your books? Hell, no. Cream will always rise to the top. You still have to learn and grow and pay attention and be diligent.

Andy: I know this changes every week, but can you go over the kinds of options available if you can write great books and still can’t find a publisher?  Tell us the pros and cons of each.  (POD, ebooks, smashwords, etc.)

Laurie: Boy, I could blog about this for weeks on end, Andy. So instead I will challenge your readers to discover how easy it is to post an eBook themselves. And I’m not doing this to be mean. Part of do-it-yourself publishing means you have to roll up your sleeves and actually do it! No agents or editors or cover designers or sales force will be there to hold your hand and make it happen. Give one more polishing edit to that  work in progress –or to an old manuscript, novella, short story or article that has been sitting in a digital drawer on your computer–and at the very least go to Kindle Direct Publishing  and then Smashwords  and see how simple and straightforward it is to take your MS Word document, cobble together a cover from clip art or the like,  and publish that book. Oh, and did I forget to mention that  IT IS FREE TO DO THIS? Well, it is. Price your book anywhere you like it or give it away for free to generate some buzz. Then dive into social media (Twitter, blogging, Facebook, etc.) to let the world know you’re out there. If readers request a print copy of your book, go to Lulu.com, CreateSpace, Author Solutions or directly to a printer and make POD available. Some options will give you a number of books in return for a price and then you keep 100% of the sales dollars, like in the old days of vanity publishing, but newer options like Lulu cost you nothing up front and you collect a small royalty on each book you sell and they ship.

 Andy: So it is pretty cheap and easy to get your book published either in print on paper or in e-book format. But the real challenge is how do you get the word out. Can you give some advice to the reader on marketing your books?

Laurie: Here’s a link to my blog post  that presents a digital marketing plan writers can use as a starting point. I spent 20+ years in high tech marketing and publicity before I became an agent, so this has a lot of knowledge behind it.

Andy: Internet gurus used to use the term “disintermediation” to describe the new world of Internet commerce. What they meant was that the Internet would eliminate the middleman and allow consumers to buy direct from the producers at a reduced cost. It hasn’t exactly come out that way. In our business Amazon.com is a classic middleman. A typical retailer, really. But with the explosion of self-publishing, disintermediation seems to be a real possibility, no?

Laurie: That’s the billion-dollar question, Andy. How will this incredibly disruptive technology change the publishing industry? No one knows the answer, even though many offer their guesses daily. My informed opinion is that indie publishing will progress along the same lines as indie movies and indie music. You’ll have some overnight indie sensations that either thrive (for example American Idol megastars Carrie Underwood or Jennifer Hudson) or fizzle (can anyone remember AI runner ups?). For every  self published Amanda Hocking superstar (and if you don’t know who she is, please find out), you will have hundreds of eBook authors making a decent wage and doing what they love without the baggage of being a household name. Yet, like Carrie Underwood, 26-year-old Minnesotan Amanda Hocking now has an agent who is about to sell her next series to a traditional publisher for seven figures.

Andy: Laurie, if Amanda Hocking is doing so well self publishing, why on earth should she bother to sign a contract with a commercial publisher. I bet she is getting better royalties on her own.

 

Laurie: Why? Because Amanda would rather spend her days writing than tweeting, giving media interviews, working with cover artists and editors, and negotiating with foreign publishers. There is so much work that must be attended to if you want to become successful in publishing—whether indie or traditional. And so when fame finds them, I predict indie authors will eventually straddle the line. They may continue to self-publish work that the traditional publishers don’t think will sell (short fiction, non-fiction, blogged books of advice, experimental writing, co-authored work, etc.), but their bread and butter mainstream books will come out in digital and print from established multi-national conglomerates. That’s why this chaotic stew is driving publishers insane. It’s impossible to predict the outcome of any decision. Everyone’s experimenting from authors to agents to publishers. I think your concept of  “disintermediation” is really a fancy word for do-it-yourself. And some DIY projects look homemade, while others look crafted. It all depends on skill level and attention to detail.

Andy: Other than Amanda Hocking, are people really making money doing this kind of self-publishing?

Laurie: Some are, some are not.  Self-publishing juggernaut Author Solutions estimated that the average number of books sold by their customers last year was 150. That’s not a lot. It’s not going to make you rich. But one of my new clients, Kait Nolan, sold 1,000 copies of an e-novella herself in January at 99 cents each. And she’s sold more copies of her three short stories in the first three months of 2011 than she did in all of 2010. So her momentum is growing to the point where I found her because of her awesome social media presence last month and offered her representation before she had even written one query letter to an agent or editor! The point is that some indie authors who really work at it are making money. Some are not. Which one will you be?

Andy: You have set up a separate business recently to help people navigate the new landscape. Can you describe what you do?

Laurie: Anyone interested in Agent Savant Inc. should  check it out. For a flat fee I help authors discover their unique author brand; I help them publish their writing online as an eBook; and then I create a customized digital marketing plan to help them sell their eBooks and POD books more effectively. I don’t do the work for them. I create the plan and get them started. Sometimes all it takes is a push with some direction behind it to take off.

Andy: Thanks, Laurie. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have to go make a phone call to Amanda Hocking to see if she needs a new agent. I think I’ll tell her that I can get her an 8 figure deal!

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Laurie McLean on Genre Fiction

February 25, 2010

Laurie McLean

Laurie McLean is a literary agent specializing in genre fiction. That is a term of art for such categories as: romance, thrillers, mysteries, fantasy, horror, westerns, science fiction, etc.. Laurie has been a literary agent for 5 years and works at the Larsen Pomada Agency in San Francisco. The agency’s website is at: http://www.larsen-pomada.com/lp/pages.cfm?ID=15. She has a fantastic blog, Agent Savant at: http://www.agentsavant.com/as/, which is a good place to start learning about genre fiction.

Today I’d like to talk to Laurie about genre fiction.

Andy: Laurie, can you give us a definition of genre fiction? I mean, don’t all book subjects fit into a genre?

Laurie: The term, genre fiction, is used by marketing folks inside publishing and bookstores to help book buyers, also called readers, find the type of books they like to read. If one is a reader of mysteries, then it makes sense that a bookstore would shelve all mysteries together to increase overall sales. That’s really why the term genre fiction was coined—to differentiate these specific genres from general commercial or literary fiction.  It’s also similar to the way non-fiction is shelved by interest rather than author.

Andy: I’d like to go through each of the genres and have you describe them and tell me what publishers are looking for now.

Laurie: Science Fiction: It seems that the UK is the biggest audience for hard science fiction, while US readers prefer space opera and softer speculative fiction. There is also cyberpunk, where man has integrated with computers; time travel; alternate history; military SF; and the newest craze, post-apocalyptic or dystopian speculative fiction.  Think Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

Fantasy: Epic fantasy, also called sword-and-sorcery or high fantasy, is the coming of age quest tale like the Lord of the Rings or the Sword of Shannara books. It has gone down in popularity today by what is called urban fantasy, stories that revolve around the conceit that supernatural creatures, mainly vampires, werewolves or other shapeshifters, ghosts, demons, etc., have lived among us forever but are now recognized by humanity and begrudgingly accepted—until a rogue creature starts wreaking havoc and humans and preternaturals must team up to put things back in balance.  It features a lot of ass kicking but no quests.  There is also interest currently in steampunk, where everything from appliances to weaponry to transportation runs on steam and the devices and clothing are very Jules Verne-esque; futuristic fantasy; superhero fantasy, etc.  Fantasy and Science Fiction can sometimes genre blend or bend and are often located in the same section of the bookstore.

Romance: When you have a hero and heroine who meet, with sparks flying, then internal and external conflicts keep them apart despite their mutual attraction until the end of the book when a happy ever after ensues, you know you are talking about the largest genre in fiction by far: romance. More than 50 percent of mass market [pocket size paperbacks] fiction sales in the United States each year are genre romance.  The biggest trend in genre romance lately is paranormal romance, but there are also contemporary, historical, comedies, romantic suspense, inspirational and erotic subgenres.

Mysteries/Suspense/Thrillers: I’ve lumped all these together, although they are all different. In mysteries you have a murder in the first scene and the remainder of the book is spent trying to figure out who dunnit.  In Thrillers, the fate of the world is at stake and the clock is ticking.  Suspense novels are somewhere in between where a family could be in jeopardy, or a town or group of friends and the protagonist(s) must save them with, again, time against them.  You’ve also got subgenres within these categories such as cozy or detective mysteries; legal, crime, action, disaster, conspiracy and religious thrillers; and more.

Horror: While horror, now sometimes called Dark Fantasy, is more popular on the movie screen than in books, you have everything from serial killers to splatterpunk (think the Saw movie series) to dark fantasy, to more psychological horror.

Young adult: This is not a genre, per se, but one of the healthiest and fastest growing categories in fiction. The young adult, or YA, category was created by a savvy bookseller who observed families coming into the bookstore, the young children going to the children’s section, the parents going to the adult stacks and the teens going to the coffee shop. The young adult section was created and all of a sudden teens had a comfortable place to shop for books about subjects ranging from chick lit and teen fantasy to more contemporary realistic gritty fare about teen suicide, pregnancy, drugs, sexuality preferences and more. Urban fantasy and post-apocalyptic fantasy are currently big trends for teens.

Andy: In the greatest works, doesn’t genre fiction cross over into literary fiction? Isn’t the greatest romance novel ever Wuthering Heights? Can you give us some examples of contemporary works in the genre that are also literary masterpieces?

 Laurie: When a genre book is superbly written and an instant classic, it rises out of the genre shelves and migrates over to the general fiction or bestseller stacks.  Think anything from Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer for romance—or modern names like Nora Roberts and Jayne Anne Krentz; Stephen King or Dean Koontz for horror; Terry Brooks, Neil Gaiman or J.K. Rowling for fantasy; John Grisham, Dan Brown and Tom Clancy for thrillers; William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, and Orson Scott Card for science fiction; Janet Evanovich or Sue Grafton for mysteries; Stephenie Meyer and Scott Westerfeld for young adult.

Andy: Which of these categories are hot and which of them are not?

Laurie: Hot: Young adult, steampunk, paranormal romance, urban fantasy, political thrillers, apocalyptic fiction.

Not hot: Chick lit, contemporary and inspirational romance, epic fantasy, quaint cozy mysteries.

Andy: Do you think that the rise of the e-book offers opportunities or challenges for genre fiction? It seems to me that these titles are perfect for the new electronic formats.

Laurie: Erotic romance was one of the first genres to do well in the eBook format and some credit this subgenre for the rise of eBooks today. Ellora’s Cave was a pioneer in racy romance. But really all genres do well in eBook format. They are perfect for this digital format in terms of storage (you can fit a lot of vacations reads on your eReader but not in your suitcase) and anonymity (no one can see that you’re reading a “bodice ripper”, the disparaging term for romance novels).

Andy: You ran a public relations agency for 20 years in Silicon Valley. Why did you get out? How do you like being an agent?

Laurie: I got out of high tech public relations when the lucrative nature of the business could no longer hold my interest as the challenges declined and ethics began to get compromised.  Being a literary agent, to me, combined the best of both halves of my brain, similar to the way being a publicist allowed me to be creative and strategic simultaneously. I love the publishing industry because it really is about the writing. They money’s not the greatest unless you’re a bestseller or handle a stable of bestselling authors, but every day is different, the pace is often bracing and exhilarating, and the people I deal with on a daily basis are wonderful. I think I’ve found my calling!

Andy: How has your experience in public relations been helpful in your second career?

Laurie: All the facets of what made me successful in PR—time management, marketing savvy, the ability to think on my feet, contract negotiations, interpersonal skills, a diligent hard work ethic, attention to details, the ability to think outside the box—all come in handy for a literary agent.

Andy: When we had lunch the other day, you astonished me by saying  that you receive 1200 unsolicited queries a month. How do you manage to address this ocean of pitches?

Laurie: Well, this is kind of like the frog in boiling water analogy. If you put a frog in boiling water, it jumps out immediately. But if you put a frog in cold water and turn on the heat, that frog will boil to death because of the gradual nature of the temperature rise. I started off with a small number of queries each day and could easily give personal suggestions for improvement and reasons for rejections. When I got busier, I switched to a form rejection letter where I could add a few sentences of advice in many cases.  But by the end of 2009 I was receiving more than 1200 queries a month. I was boiling. So, I’ve had to change my submission process. Now I have a separate email address for queries only (query@agentsavant.com) where I have an automated reply that informs the writer that I’ve received his or her submission, but they will not hear from me again unless I want to read more of their work. It’s not something I ever thought I’d do, but once I’d given up my spare time, some of my sleep and meal time, and it still wasn’t enough, something had to give. Now I don’t have the monkey on my back screaming and clawing at me. I can read queries on the weekend, as many as I can fit in the hours I have, and ask for more from those that interest me.