Friday, June 25, 2010

Agents get Paid?

Earlier this week literary agent Colleen Lindsay started a great discussion on Twitter by asking how things would change if agents started charging based on billable hours (much of the discusssion is collected here #agentpay) rather than commission. Part of the point is that as publishers seem to be offloading their responsibilities agents have seen theirs expand without an equal increase in pay. Of course at the same time authors advances seem to be going down (unless of course you are Sarah Palin. WTF?!!!) so they probably don't want to pick up any additional costs.

So what to do?

Thankfully the internets have allowed a number of smart people to chime in on the subject. I particularly like the point-counterpoint pieces Digital Book World have provided. One, by Victoria Strauss, founder of Writer Beware, is titled 'Are Agents Due for a Raise?' The other, by Jane Friedman of Writer's Digest, is titled 'Agents Need to Develop Alternative Models.' Both make some great points so read them. For the record, I couldn't agree more with Jane's title (as for Victoria's lead question: yes please!). also has some interesting thoughts on paying agents by the hour. As do KT Literary, author Jodi Meadows, and the people at Wylie-Merrick Literary (this is the internets after all).

Now I want to know what you think?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Guest Post: Mary Tod

Chris Bucci’s recent post, Some Social Networking Pros and Cons, offers an important reminder that social media, while an intriguing and useful tool, is not a panacea. I am delighted to guest post on the Anne McDermid & Associates blog and offer additional perspective sparked by Chris’ insights.

Today’s excitement about social media reminds me of the dot-com bubble in the 90’s (yes, I’m old enough to have lived through that) and the excitement about e-commerce several years later. Hype upon hype, traditional business models threatened, get in while it’s hot, the allure of easy money followed by toppled careers and lost fortunes.

Early in my business career I worked for IBM, a paragon of sales and marketing, and recall attending a lecture on the buying cycle as part of sales training. According to our instructor, the cycle consists of five steps: (1) awareness, (2) knowledge, (3) liking, (4) commitment and (5) buy. In other words, there are many steps before someone buys and each step requires deliberate planning and execution to prepare for success. I believe this cycle applies to books just as it applies to computers or laundry detergent.

As Chris points out, social media is only one part of a complex equation the variables of which are the strategies and tactics of positioning, marketing, promotion and sales applied not once but consistently over time.

As I explore the business of writing, I am beginning to see myself as an entrepreneur with products to sell. From that vantage point, writers – myself included – need to consider a host of questions related to marketing and sales:

- how are you positioning your book(s) and in what market segments?
- what differentiates you from your competition?
- what are the key messages you wish to convey through the buying cycle?
- what type of media, including social media, will you use to promote your work?
- what is your plan in terms of timing, frequency and people involved?
- how will you use PR to assist your efforts?
- what will you do, what will others do on your behalf, how will you integrate their efforts with yours?
- how will you build a community of potential readers and interact with them?
- what channels will you use to distribute your works and how will they affect the marketing you do?
- will you form any alliances to help you reach your target markets?

These questions stem from materials I’ve used to help clients build a sound business plan. Imagine convincing investors to put money into your writing business. Before securing their endorsement, they would want answers to questions like these and many more. Wouldn’t you?

Mary Tod blogs about writing at One Writer’s Voice and is currently at work revising her first two novels, Lies Told in Silence and While the Secret Sits.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Some Social Networking Pros and Cons

Earlier this week I shared a link to a post called The Hidden Costs of Social Networking on our facebook page. I thought it might be an interesting corrective to some of the more far-fetched claims made for the efficacy of social networking as a marketing tool.

In part this was also inspired by a couple of conversations I had while at BEA in NY. The first was with a prominent agent who has had at least one NY Times bestseller attribute a great deal of her book's success to the social media work she put in before and after the book's publication. But my agent friend went on to stress what a time-suck these eforts can be for all involved and relayed the story of another client who had done all the right things according to the "social media bible" and still the book disappeared without a trace. It seemed to me that the obvious lesson was that social media isn't going to sell every book -- like just about everything else it works in some cases and not in others (and don't spend all your time twittering).

Discussion number two was with a high-powered publisher who was frustrated that authors expected too much from their social media efforts, and often didn't bother to co-ordinate them with the publicity and marketing efforts of the house. Again it seems that one rather obvious lesson is make sure you plan your efforts with your publisher's efforts in mind.

HOWEVER in spite of these stories, and the link I refer to above, I do think that social networking is a useful tool for many authors. No its not for everyone, and no it won't work equally for everyone (in spite of equal efforts) and please don't let it suck away all the time and energy from your writing. It requires planning and foresite, but also creativity and experimentation. Be wary of the evangelists claims but also be wary of the naysaysers.

To respond to just a couple of Rob Eager's points from the post: I think his numbers mean next to nothing. First he says that "at Book Expo 2009, John Sargeant CEO of MacMillan Publishing stated, "Viral Marketing doesn't sell a ton of books."" Sargeant goes on to talk about a very popular Macmillan video that only sold an extra 200 copies of the book. Eager then goes on to talk about a client with a blog boasting over 50,000 monthly readers, but has not seen an increase in book sales.

These anecdotes lead to a number of questions, like: 2009? I think facebook and Twitter, to name two, have grown by millions of users since then, might things have changed? Of course they will change again by this time next year - maybe for worse. Perhaps videos don't sell books? And maybe your client has just tapped out his market -- if he wasn't blogging maybe his sales would be falling. But what is more interesting to me is that I just can't seem to believe any of the numbers that claim to tell me how many books a certain form of publicity or marketing or social media actually sells.

I used to work with some old-school publishing types who liked to repeat the nonsense that "An ad never sold a book." (I suppose that's why we are inundated with thousadns of ads everyday) even though they never attempted to prove that statement. Anywhoo, the point is that one ad in the wilderness will not sell a book - a well planned ad campaign might. A well planned ad campaign, plus reviews, plus publicity and a well planned marketing campaign, plus having some books in stores probably will. Throw in some of that social media stuff and you'll probably sell even more. But will we ever be able to measure ROI on that? Not until we have chips planted in our brains that track every decision and the circuitous routes they take from first becoming aware of something to the point where we actually buy it. One mention is almost never enough to get someone to buy something (unless you're my 8 year old apparently, and even then he needs me to actually buy it) but a number of re-inforcing mentions in influential places might. Of course that's where social media can help.

That was a long post. What the hell was I talking about.