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Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

Recently I found myself quoting Mark Twain: “Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” Not that rumors were floating about regarding my demise, I hasten to add. But a rumor regarding me had surfaced–and it was about as accurate as the rumors Twain encountered.

I’ll tell you in a minute what the tidbit of gossip about me was. But the event caused me to ponder: How does one counter a rumor and keep it from spreading? I came up with a few answers and borrowed some advice after googling about options for how to respond.

The Rumor with My Name on It

The rumor with my name on it was stated succinctly: I was going to retire and shut down the agency.

One of my clients and I had scheduled a check-in phone call, and she started our conversation saying that she had heard the rumor and was just checking that, surely it was false, right?

Unfortunately I don’t have Twain’s wit, or I would have invented some quote-worthy snappy reply, but I was flabbergasted. First, retiring is a distant, nebulous idea to me. I might not even bother with it but keep working as long as my mind doesn’t betray me. Given that my mother is  93 and just beginning to show a wee bit of fuzzy thinking, my genes are in favor of such a plan. My calendar doesn’t even have a retirement year on it, let alone a day.

Second, I would never just close down the agency. I’ve worked for 22 years to build this business, and I would not walk away one day and throw away the key. Not to mention that I take very seriously that we have more than 250 clients, all of whom would be affected by such a decision. And four other agents who are deeply invested in Books & Such, in each other, and in making a living.

For all those reasons, my mind could hardly take in that such a patent lie would be floating around in the atmosphere. But what to do about it?

Locate the Source

After the initial shock wore off, I asked my client to tell me whom she had heard the rumor from. I wanted to talk to the person and set the record straight. She didn’t offer a name but did say the person is an unpublished writer. And my client assured me that she would “take care of” nipping the falsehood in the bud.

I, of course, don’t know whether the writer invented the rumor. So I asked a well-connected industry friend if she had heard the tall tale. She assured me she hadn’t. And I informed everyone in our office about the rumor so they could keep their ears to the ground. And now I’m telling you.

Sometimes the source is hard to locate, but I wanted to at least determine how far flung the rumor was. It seems, in my case, not too far.

Why Fuss over Rumors?

Why didn’t I just laugh off the rumor? Wasn’t I actually helping to spread it by telling others?

I pondered those questions and chose to guide my decision by how presidential candidates responded to rumors. Not that I put myself on that level, of course. Rumors are rife during campaigns and receive wide media coverage for people wanting to be president, as we so well know. But I saw what happened to those who didn’t handle rumors well, and those who did a good job.

My first thought was of John Kerry, who reacted feebly to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth aggressive barrage of rumors designed to assail Kerry’s Vietnam War heroic reputation. Kerry’s campaign suffered serious–probably fatal–setbacks because of his having difficulty engaging in responding to allegations that seemed outrageous to him.

In contrast, Bill Clinton set up a rumor war room. Those who worked in the room squelched rumors within 45 minutes of hearing them. The group was so effective the film “The War Room” was created to showcase all the drama inherent in such a rapid-fire response.

And then we have Governor Michael Dukakis’s response to an ad about his being soft on crime because he released a convicted felon, Willie Horton, for a weekend furlough. Horton escaped during the furlough and raped a woman. Dukakis took days to answer the accusation of his weak stance on crime. His candidacy died a certain death due in part to his slow response.

Noting the candidates’ responses and how their decisions affected their campaigns informed my decision not to shrug off the silly rumor.

Offer a Clear, Fact-Based Response

Provide an explanation of why the rumor is false. Just give the facts. The reasons my retirement rumor were false are listed in paragraphs three and four under the subhead, “The Rumor with My Name on It.”

My actions also speak to the truth of the matter. Last year I traveled for business an average of every other week; this year I’m on the road about once a month. I have added three clients to my roster so far this year and am in conversation with several more. I’m attending three writers conferences in 2018 and am on the faculty of two of them. I will visit a minimum of four publishing houses, each in a different state, this year. And our agency is more than halfway to the sales goals it has set for itself for 2018.

These are not the actions of someone shutting down her business or yearning to spend her days swinging in a hammock.

Three Different Approaches

Lately I’ve noted three television ads from businesses trying to repair their damaged reputations, which are instructive to watch. Wells Fargo’s ad reminds us that the bank has a storied history of being trustworthy. “And then we we lost it [our way],” the narrator says and goes  on to explain that they are returning to their roots and no longer providing incentives to employees for encouraging customers to sign up for certain services.

Uber’s ad lists a number of specifics about what they’re doing differently to change the toxic culture they’ve created for those who work for them as well as for those who use their services.

Facebook’s ad attempts to assure us that the friendly connectedness we first encountered there turned nefarious and FB was victimized by bad actors, just as we were. FB promises it will do better at keeping us safe and private; not is doing better but will.

These three approaches fascinate me. Whenever I see the Wells Fargo ad, I cynically tell my television, “Yeah, right.” Then I mentally count all the other ways the bank has shown itself untrustworthy. When I watch the Uber ad, I think, “They are doing good things to turn the company around.” And when I watch the Facebook ad, I think, “Until you change how you make money, you intend to keep using me.”

Stating a number of specific changes a company is making presents that firm as more credible. I think the same is true for how a person or a company refutes a rumor–be specific and be honest. Showcase the evidence.

Provide an Explanation as to What You Are Refuting

A few days ago I read an organizations’ online article that left me puzzled and filled with speculation. Apparently they’ve recently laid off many employees who have worked there for a long time. A disgruntled employee has been communicating to others in the industry how the new leadership is off the rails and…I don’t really know what else because the article wasn’t specific.

The essay offers reasons it fired the employees: They weren’t willing to be dragged into the 21st century; one of them stole from the company; they lacked adequate skills but had an inflated sense of their worth. My description of the article’s content is written with the same tone of the essay. Pretty hard-hitting and deprecatory. The situation was described as “cleaning up the mess.” Lots of innuendoes were included, but beyond the theft and an errant letter, I couldn’t figure out what was going on.

I had no idea any of this was happening, and I felt like I had just been given a peek into an internecine war. I guess the article was written under the assumption that the disgruntled employee’s communique had been distributed far and wide. But, because the email didn’t offer a clear explanation of what it was refuting, all it did was stir up my curiosity and make me wonder about just how big of a mess was going on there. My assumption is that it’s a real mess. The email is a PR nightmare.

Have you ever been the subject of a rumor? How did you respond?

TWEETABLES

What should you do to quell a rumor about you? Click to tweet.

Steps to take if you’re the subject of a rumor. Click to tweet.

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Blogger: Rachel Kent

Social media is a great tool. It can be used to connect with friends, readers, colleagues, family…nearly everyone is on some sort of social media these days–even my dad, who dislikes social media, looks at my mom’s Facebook account. He does not have one of his own though. 😀 He lurks behind her name.

Posting to Facebook or Twitter (or Pinterest, etc.) about your writing journey is great, but it’s important to think about what you post before you put it up. Here are a few examples of why you should be careful.

1. You ask for prayer because your deadline is approaching and you aren’t sure you are going to make it. <–This could be fine–unless you have also been posting all about the various vacations you have been taking and how much you tend to procrastinate. If you happen to be friends with your editor or someone from your publishing house, they might see this and could be more critical of the work you turn in or might even pass you up for a future writing opportunity because they see that you aren’t taking the time to do your very best work on the projects you have been contracted for. (And please always do try to make the most of the entire time you have to write your book!)

2. You post about ALL the things happening in your life. There’s definitely a benefit to this. Your friends and family should be aware and likely do want to know what is going on for you. But this might not be something that needs to be shared with all of your friends. Consider having two accounts–one personal and one for business. Or maybe start a group with family or close friends for posting the more personal items. Save your status updates for things that are beneficial for all of your friends to see. You don’t want people to have a negative impression of you based on your oversharing to those who are not close to you.

3. You constantly post about your money troubles. In most cases, this is one of those things that should be shared only to those closest to you. It’s a private matter and 99.9% of the time one of your friends has worse trouble than you do and isn’t talking about it online. If it’s on a GoFundMe-level of need that’s one thing, and I do believe in helping people who are trapped by some awful turn of events, but frequently posting about not being able to afford luxuries is not good. If it’s a “first world problem” we should avoid posting–especially if you are posting to your fans or potential readers.

3. You post something about someone else assuming they will not see it. Careful about this! I would go so far as to not post anything personal about anyone without their permission. This happened to a friend of mine. An acquaintance of hers posted about something my friend’s child said to another child at school. The thing her child said wasn’t a nice thing, but her child is only 5. Many of the acquaintance’s friends popped on attacking the young child in the comments. Crazy. The acquaintance assumed it was okay to post this because she isn’t friends with that mom on Facebook, but I assure you anything you post online isn’t private.

The moral of this post is: It’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to posting on social media. Use it as a tool, but do so carefully and thoughtfully.

Happy Posting!

Do you have any social media tips to share?

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blogger: Cynthia Ruchti

Writers on the way to something else are among the most inspired.

An ancient prophet said, “Do not despise these small beginnings.” For me, small meant an inch-long, bright yellow blossom tucked among mottled leaves in the woods that border our yard.

Writers on the Way to No Place Special

My oldest granddaughter and I took advantage of a spring-long-waited-for on Sunday afternoon and walked around the yard and the pond, observing. She too is a writer in the making, as are we all, truth be told. Perpetually “in the making.” My granddaughter and I noted unusual bugs, weeds that looked like cauliflower would if it were downy soft and standing on a wobbly stem, buds emerging after waiting in line so long they jumped when it was finally their turn, the stark contrast of a single daffodil against the aged wood of an old bench, bleached grasses bowing to the youthful versions rising at their feet.

We walked slowly. Ambled. Without destination. On our way to no place special that day. But it became special because we observed, listened, noticed.

Writers on the Way to Discovery

We picked two wildflowers and studied them. One boasted eye-catching yellow–a welcome color after winter’s monochromicity (I don’t even care that’s not a real word). The second wildflower was so tiny and delicate, it could only be observed at close range–pinkish white with deeper rose-colored veins. Appreciation reigned as the theme of the afternoon. But curiosity pushed us to add knowledge to our appreciation.

“What are they? What are the names of these wildflowers? Do you know anything about them?”

A round of applause, please, for the technology that allowed us to find out almost instantly. The yellow flower? Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum; also called Adder’s Tongue, Dogtooth Violet). Its long, broad leaves that rise from the base of the flower stalk resemble the mottled dorsal of a brook trout, hence Trout Lily. In the image, they’re the yellow, spiky blossoms in the shadow of the other, larger flowers.

The delicate pink-white flower with deeper pink veins and pink-tipped stamens? Diminutive in the image as well as on the woodland floor. The Spring Beauty (Claytonica Virginica).

Writers on the Way to Deeper Meaning

As we read further about the Spring Beauty, not rushing through the process but soaking up details, we discovered that Spring Beauties crave light and will close up at night or in dark weather. The tubers are edible and taste like radishes when raw or potatoes when cooked.

But another notation stopped us. They bloom only three days. We saw them because we had our eyes open on one of those three brief days of the Spring Beauty’s life-cycle. We would have missed its entire blooming season if we’d chosen to stay inside.

Writers on the Way to Wondering What She’s Talking About

Life is what we write about. It’s easy to get so caught up in the process of getting words onto paper that we fail to live the life we’re trying to write about. What if we spent less time plotting and more time ambling? How would our writing change if we wandered around more with no purpose but observing, noticing? What if we marveled more and marketed less? Discovered more and debated less? Listened to the non-verbal cues of nature, humanity, and our own souls? What kind of writers could we become?

Have you noticed that Jesus is recorded as having performed some of His most astonishing miracles when He was on the way to something else?

What astonishing moments could we collect–could we create–if we let life interrupt and inform us?

Tell us about a seemingly small discovery that inspired your writing lately. How often do you allow yourself to amble? What nugget of research have you uncovered while on your way to something else?

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Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

People in and around this business have long used the word “gatekeeper” when referring to those in publishing tasked with choosing which books to publish or represent.

Since the rise of self-publishing, it has become popular to deride the gatekeepers. The gatekeepers are trying to keep us out. They’re making it too hard for good writers to get published.

Well… here’s my take on all that:

There are no gatekeepers.

There is nobody in publishing whose job is to “keep you out.” It’s nobody’s job to lock down the hallowed halls of Traditional Publishing so the riff-raff can’t get in.

Are we watching the gate? Yes!—to identify authors we’d like to see published.

Each person who has a so-called “gatekeeping” role is tasked with finding authors to bring in, not authors to keep out. Anyone who acquires authors for an agency or for a publisher is totally 100% focused on bringing in books they believe they can sell.

You wouldn’t call the women’s wear buyer at Nordstrom a gatekeeper, because her job is to bring in clothes she believes her customers will like. Her job is not to keep anything out, but to choose and curate.

Some publishers, librarians, agents, and acquisitions editors call themselves gatekeepers. But really they’re selectors. Curators. And they’re salespeople. They’re looking for books they can sell.

Some are also looking for books and authors they personally believe in. That’s typically a good indicator of whether you’ll be able to sell something—you believe in it. But you’re not going to acquire the book or take on the author if you can’t sell them.

There is joy in bringing in a book your customers want. My customers are publishers, so I’m looking for books I think they’ll want to publish. Librarians are looking for the books their community members will want. Publishers are looking for books their sales and marketing teams believe they can sell.

There is no joy in saying “no” to authors, and the “saying no” part of our jobs is not the main thing, it’s just something we have to do, on the way to finding the books we want to say “yes” to.

So when somebody tries to engage you in a debate about the relative merits of self-publishing and traditional, and they launch into the question of whether we need the gatekeepers, just tell them: There are no gatekeepers. Talking about gatekeepers gives people an outlet for their frustrations, which is fine. But it obscures the reality of the way publishing works.

As a literary agent, I am in business to say YES to writers, not to say no. I’m constantly looking for books and authors I can believe in, and I can sell. I am not a gatekeeper. And I never want to be. I am constantly looking for what I can say yes to.

What are your thoughts on gatekeepers? Do you think it’s an issue of semantics? Do you think agents & editors ARE gatekeepers by virtue of their function in publishing?

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Blogger: Wendy Lawton

Lately we’ve heard a number of literary agents citing the number of sales they’ve made, comparing those numbers to other agents. Don’t you think it’s time to dig a little deeper?

Let me state from the outset that this is not a blog post intended to compare Books & Such agents to any other agency, whether an agency that specializes in the CBA market or in the general market. We shy away from making claims comparing our sales to anyone else’s sales for the following reasons:

  • There is no way to know how many sales an agent makes unless that agent honestly discloses those numbers.
    Most do not disclose those stats for a number of reasons. I can speak for one agent who could easily get caught up in that kind of competition and yet that agent knows that attitude does not please the One she serves.
  • Sometimes an agent will make claims based on statistics gathered from Publisher’s Marketplace, an online service that announces recent publishing deals, sometimes including the approximate size of the advance. The site also ranks the number of sales for agents and editors, both for the year and for all sales ever reported. Few of the longtime agents in CBA report all their sales to Publisher’s Marketplace. Some, like Books & Such agents, rarely report sales at all, believing that until a book is released for pre-sales, the information regarding that book is up to the publisher to divulge or not.
  • Many times the claims of sales are on par with the claims made by fishermen about the size of a fish that got away. ‘Nuff said.
  • There are no rules about what constitutes a sale. Are we talking about foreign sales of the same book? These are legitimate sales but they are very different from the initial sale.
  • How about reported “sales” which are little more than placements with a small indie publisher who offers no advance and historically shows precious few book sales. Is that a sale?
  • If an agency helps its clients self-publish an out-of-print book or a ministry book, is that a sale?

I could continue to ask questions to qualify what makes a sale, but again, I’m not participating in this numbers game. It’s important for a potential client to ask these questions and hope that the answer is accurate and forthcoming. If I were to seek an agent who claimed “top” sales, and if my goal was to have my book published by one of the respected traditional publishers, I’d ask what percentage of those sales were made to my target publishers. If I were looking to be published by an up-and-coming indie publisher, I’d ask what percentage of those sales came with an advance over x-number of dollars– whatever my bottom line.

I guess I’m just irked when those in my profession sound more like the snake oil salesman of old than the professionals we are. All sales are not equal and one cannot compare quantity to quality. All anyone needs to do is look at an agent’s clients and the books on the bookstore shelves to sense quality.

This blog is not aimed at any of our CBA agents in particular. For the most part we have a fine group of professionals who strategize carefully and take great pride in considering the career path of each writer when we sell a book. And those professionals sell an amazing number of quality books– just look at the shelves!

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blogger: Cynthia Ruchti

Approaching an agent with a project in hopes of having your work represented is sometimes a complicated process. As mentioned in a blog post earlier this month, agents wear many hats. One of them is Talent Scout. Even an agent with a full list of clients and multiple projects in the works is always open to consider a great book, well-written, from an author who knows both the craft of writing and the publishing industry.

The percentage of those who think they’re ready to send a query to an agent is high.

And some authors are ready but hesitant to do so, which is another form of heartbreak for author and agent.

How do we know? When is the time right?

Am I Ready to Approach an Agent with My Proposal?

Agents want to meet with you. It’s why we attend conferences. But we also want the meeting to be as productive as possible. If you’re considering approaching an agent, trying to set up an appointment at a conference, or wondering if you dare hit “send” on your query email, consider how many points from this checklist describe you.

  • I have a novel that is complete or nearing completion…or…I have a proposal and sample chapters ready for my nonfiction.
  • I understand what makes my book fit its category, but also what makes it a fresh approach.
  • I’ve done a title and topic search on amazon.com for books already on the market on a similar topic.
  • I can describe my book in two or three sentences.
  • The book I’m proposing has not been published before, including independently.
  • I study the craft of writing.
  • I’ve received constructive criticism from writing mentors, writer friends, or a critique group about this project.
  • I have a website, an active social media presence, frequent speaking engagements, or other means of reaching readers (especially important for nonfiction projects).
But Can’t an Agent Help Me with These Things?

Yeeesss. But a typical agent–misnomer, since we’re all atypical–wades through more “not ready yet” queries and proposals than a typical writer–misnomer, since we writers are all atypical–would imagine. Agents deal with, and often have to pass on:

  • Concepts that have been overdone
  • Concepts that are underdone (not yet fully formed in the mind of the writer)
  • Verbiage that reveals the author is unfamiliar with what’s already on bookstore shelves
  • Self-aggrandizement that hints that the prospective client is not in a place of humility necessary to learn and grow…or take rejection as part of the process
  • Great writing that won’t have an opportunity to be considered by a publishing house because the writer is set against joining the digital age
  • A good story that doesn’t move the agent, so how can it move an editor, the publishing board, and readers?
  • An intriguing book with no real takeaway
  • An author who is convinced he or she is the ONE exception to industry standards, publisher guidelines, protocol, or reader expectations.
Agents Want to Say Yes, But Often Have to Say No

Why? For the reasons listed above. Because their client list is full and their current clients deserve the bulk of their attention. Because the checklist above is missing too many factors to make representing the work successful for either author or agent.

If I’m Not Yet Ready for an Agent, What Do I Do? Give Up on Having an Agent?

Get ready. Study. Investigate. Work hard to move your social media/built-in audience reach numbers (but more importantly, connections) higher. Make sure chapters four through twenty-four are as strong as the first three chapters on which you’ve focused your efforts. Keep reading informative blogs like the Books & Such blog. Listen to podcasts about the industry. Study the “personalities” of various publishing houses. Get a good grip on the category into which your work best fits.

Don’t let “I guess I’m not ready” derail you from your writing goals. Use the guidelines above as goals rather than stop signs.

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Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

Many of you are working on your first contracted book. (Yeah!) Prior to your publishing deal, you may have been through countless edits and revisions. But you’ve never had to do it under deadline, and you’ve never done it with the input of a publishing house editor. So this is something new, so we need to talk about the emotional aspect of this milestone.

You care deeply about your words and you’ve tried to get them just right, so your first encounter with an editor might be a little daunting. When they send you pages and pages of notes for revisions, you might be overwhelmed, depressed, and demoralized. Take heart… this is normal.

If you are overwhelmed and even if your honest gut reaction is, “No way! I’m not doing this. The editor doesn’t get me, she is missing the whole point of my book. This would RUIN it!” — it’s okay. I promise!

Give yourself some time, a few hours to a few days. Let your emotions subside, and let your editor’s words sink in. For most writers, this is all that’s needed in order to get back to work.

The best approach is to enter the editorial process with a humble and teachable spirit. Maybe not the advice you wanted! But the editing process is your best chance to learn more than you ever have and keep improving your writing.

Handling Disagreement

One of the questions writers ask me is: How do you tactfully interact with your editor when there are differences of opinion about the revision process? In other words, your editor is requesting changes with which you disagree. The answer may vary depending on who you are, i.e. if you’re a bestselling author versus a first-timer. Guess who has more leverage?

In a situation where you don’t understand the editorial request or you disagree with it, ask a lot of questions of your editor. Try to get their perspective. Get them to explain their reasoning, and keep your mind open, considering the possibility that they may be right. If you feel the need, gently explain your side. But realize you may not understand what they’re saying until you actually do what they say. Most times, authors end up agreeing that the changes improved the book. In any case, the key is communication. Be courteous in your disagreement and try to negotiate a win-win with your editor. Your name is on the book, so it’s important you get your point across.

When Things Turn Bad

You’re always going to hear a few random stories from authors who feel an editor ruined their book, totally didn’t get it, etc. Take my word for it, that scenario is not the norm.

Now sometimes an author deeply disagrees with certain changes an editor requests. And sometimes, the editor has strong reasons, and they won’t back down. In this situation, you have to decide if this is a hill you want to die on. In the last fifteen years, I’ve been involved in two cases where the author so strenuously disagreed with the editorial changes that the author and publisher agreed to cancel the contract. And the author paid back the advance. So, consider how important it is that you get your way in the editorial process. Are you willing to give up the contract for it?

If you want an overview of a typical editorial process at a publishing house, here’s a post.

How do you handle the editing process? Any advice for your fellow writers?

Photo by John Jennings on Unsplash

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Blogger: Wendy Lawton

Curated books. That’s how we discover books we love. Let me explain.

In this day, discoverability of books is the issue everyone in the publishing community is discussing. With the avalanche of books available today from self-pub or do-it-yourself publishing to small indie presses to traditional independent publishers, all the way to the Big  Five Publishers— there are more more books coming to market than any army of readers can ever discover.

So how do books get discovered, let alone become bestsellers?

The simple answer we always give you is word-of-mouth. We buy a book because someone recommended it. If we love the book we keep buying from that author. But in this changing climate it’s a little more complicated. I think book curators are rising to the top. Just as in a museum or a zoo, the curator is the person in charge– the person who decides what makes it in and what is outside the collection.

Traditionally the publisher has been considered the curator of books. With so many unedited, uncurated books coming to market, readers have begun to realize that a publisher’s name on the spine stands for quality. Having a traditional publisher is often an important indicator of curation. When I submit a client’s book proposal to an acquiring editor, the level of scrutiny given to that book sets the bar high. A book that comes from a publisher has gone through an army of dedicated book curators before it ever reaches the shelf. That’s not to say that self published books are not quality– some are, some aren’t– I’m only saying they are not curated by the tough standard of a known publisher.

Bookstore owners and personnel are also curators. The bookstore buyer is very selective in choosing which books go on the store shelves— his very survival depends on it. The bookstore sales staff are also curators. Just ask them to recommend a book and you’ll see. I used to love the way our independent bookstore put tags above a book, saying which staff member highly recommended that book.

Another form of curation is a book club. I recently saw a Facebook post by one of my FB friends, announcing which nine books her hometown book club selected for the coming year. The comments were interesting. Several commenters decided to read the same books. After all, those books were curated by a group of book-loving readers.

Reviews have always been another source of curation. With shrinking print media it’s harder and harder to find professional review vehicles but a positive review is a valuable boost to a book. Amazon, Goodreads and Christian Book Distributors reviews are still more forums for book curation. I find I often go these places even after I finished a book to see what others think of the book.

And my favorite curators? My reading friends. I have several friends who have very similar tastes and I’ll often ask them what they are reading. Some of my best recommendations have come from fellow readers and writers, or favorite editors, or my good buddy, Janet Grant. And many of my clients are the perfect book curators for me because, after all, I loved their writing enough to offer representation. It stands to reason that we often have similar tastes.

So how about you? Who curates books for you? Are you a curator? Where? And how do you choose which books to read?

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Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

Do you think publishers are afraid to take on your book? Maybe you’ve decided, after much striving to find a publishing house, that your work is too (pick whichever apply):

  • revolutionary
  • daring
  • explicit
  • graphic
  • esoteric
  • honest
  • culture-altering
  • literary
  • creative
  • out-of-the-box
  • unique

Recently I read an essay in Publishers Weekly’s e-newsletter in which the writer opined that publishers were afraid to take on her memoir telling about her father’s sexual abuse of her. She recounts her reasons to believe the writing is very good. But then she goes on to mention the consistent feedback from writing instructors and agents to set the work aside. Publishing, she decides, is too cowardly to contract for her book.

But is courage the real issue?

Real Reasons Publishers Say No

Years ago I daily flipped my way through a Murphy’s Law perennial calendar that offered a fun quote each day. Only one of them has stuck with me, and that’s because I’ve found it unfailingly accurate: “Whatever they say it’s about…it’s about money.”

The pool where I swam laps changed the schedule, making it hard for us ardent lappers to actually use the pool. So I asked the lifeguard why the lap swimming time had been greatly reduced–despite plenty of interest from the fitness center’s members. He mumbled various rationales that made no sense to me.

Finally, I asked, “Will the center make more money because of this change?”

Chagrined, the lifeguard admitted that, yes, limiting lap swimming meant the pool was available for more personal party rentals, and several entities wanted to regularly rent the pool.

See what I mean? Murphy’s Law.

Okay,publishing is a far cry from lap swimming, but the same dynamic is at play.

Follow the Money

While the essay’s author thought the subject of her memoir was the problem, the reality is money is the major decision-making factor for a publishing company. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I want publishing companies to stay in business, and the only way they can do that is by producing the books they believe are the most likely to be profitable.

Do they misstep and overpay for a “hot” manuscript that many publishers are eager to get their hands on? Oh, yes. Do they miss out on producing the best written books? Probably. Are they so conservative in their choices that their books fall into a routinized formula? Sometimes.

But is lack of courage the issue? Only in terms of being afraid that saying yes won’t result in profits, not because of a book’s subject matter.

Other Reasons Publishers Say No

Lest you think we should, at this point, all settle into cynicism over publishing’s myopic decision-making, publishers might feel compelled to say no to this young woman’s project for other reasons, including:

  • Legal hot water. Is her father still alive? Is her mother? What about a relative suing because of the damage to the family’s reputation?
  • The details might appeal most to those with a prurient interest. Especially if the book contains explicit description, even though it might be powerfully written, some publishing companies don’t want to dip into the details. That’s not for lack of courage but because of a sense that the approach to the topic isn’t one that suits how the publisher views itself.
  • Insufficient readers for a tale of woe. Readers tend to want to read uplifting books in a world that feels increasingly dark. (Read Cynthia’s recent post on the new fiction trend: uplit.)
  • The work isn’t unique. As much as we all abhor how common sexual assault is in families today, this writer’s story isn’t one-of-a-kind. Yes, it’s unique to her, the person who experienced it, but at every writers conference I attend I will meet at least one, often more, conferees with similar stories they are writing.
  • Lack of a platform. In her essay, the writer indicates she heard from publishing personnel that she didn’t have adequate connections to readers to help sell her book. Yeah, we all know what a millstone the word “platform” is around many a writer’s neck.

As you can see, a publishing house’s decision can be nuanced and go beyond just the money.

Is Publishing Soulless?

Does this mean that everyone who is connected to making publishing decisions is soulless? Absolutely not.

Last year I landed a contract for a new-ish author when a publishing house decided that he has important things to explore with readers–despite his small platform. They agreed with me that he is someone worth taking a risk on, in hopes of building him into an author who will write for decades to come and move the needle in people’s hearts closer to God.

Was this publisher easy to find? No. I looked diligently and over many months. And this was my client’s second project, not his first, which I could not sell.

A few years ago, I knew I had found the right publishing house for a project I was representing when I was told the company’s president cried when he heard the story that formed the book’s core. To say his heart is in his business is an understatement.

What to Do…

So what should that essay writer do with her memoir? First of all, recognize that every manuscript is not destined to find a publisher–most won’t. We all write for many reasons, and this project, for her, certainly is written from her heart. The writing thereof hopefully helped her to come to grips with the horrible things done to her. And that would be a healing journey for her. Finding a wound less festered surely is worth a great deal.

Other ways to use one’s life history are viable and worthy of consideration as well. I’ll explore some of those in an upcoming blog post.

For you, the blog post reader…

Might I suggest you take off your Creative hat and plunk on a Business hat? And then ask yourself these questions: Why do I believe a publisher can make a profit with my book? What would I need to change, if anything, to make it profitable? Am I willing to do that?

If you’d like, tell us your answers in the Comments below.

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