Friday, July 4, 2014

Can I land an agent with a short story collection?

Hi Noah,

I'm a short story writer with a finished collection. I've published 6 of the 11 stories in literary journals -- reputable journals, but not the New Yorker. What is the likelihood of my landing an agent? Is it highly unlikely? I've been contacted by a few agents when my stories have appeared (a good sign) but they've lost interest when I didn't have a novel in the works. Is this more or less how it will go if I start querying agents? Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for your generous blog!

The fact that you've landed several stories in reputable journals and that agents are contacting you is a very good sign. It is not impossible to land an agent with just a collection, particularly a younger agent who is just starting out and has a passion for literary fiction. But it is much harder to do so without having a novel ready, too--or at the very least a synopsis for a novel and the first 50 pages. I would really suggest, if at all possible, having the novel synopsis and pages ready before querying with the collection. On the other hand, if you don't plan on writing a novel, then query with what you have. Nothing is impossible!

"Should I pay a fee to get published?"

"Hey Mr. Lukeman, I hope you can offer some advice, experience, suggestions and knowledge about publishing a book for me. I tried to self publish my first book but it was very costly. I recently finished my second book and was looking for a publisher. I was contacted by and chatted with Page Publishing in NCY. When I described my book to the guy and told him everything is done, illustrations, type, cover he said to send the file to the submissions link for review (this was Friday), I got a call today saying they loved the illustrations and the story and that it would do very well and they want to take it to the next level. So I get the contract and they want $795 initial up-front payment and (10!!!) monthly payments of $295 for a whopping total of $3745 for them to publish my completed book. I have everything ready for publishing and they want to publish my book but it's costing me this much! I had several people tell me I shouldn't have to pay up front fees. Are there publishers out there who will accept new artists and publish a first time illustrator? Any advise would be greatly appreciated."

As I have mentioned several times throughout this blog, NEVER pay a fee to get published. In nearly all cases, that means the "publisher" is just trying to take advantage of you--and in this instance, that certainly is the case.

It is difficult to get published, and even more difficult if dealing with an illustrated work, but the answer is not to pay money to "publishers" who are likely illegitimate anyway.

If you have a strong desire to self-publish, then I would suggest you publish your book as an ebook, via self-publishing portals like KDP, Play, KWL, B&N and Apple. If you want a printed edition, then use a service like CreateSpace or Lightning Source.

If you have a strong desire to be published by a traditional publisher, then you must first seek out an agent (I describe how to do this many times on this blog and in my free ebooks). If your work is heavily illustrated it will be much harder--and it's hard to say exactly without knowing the genre and subject matter of your book. But that doesn't mean it's impossible.

Please take some time to read ALL the questions and answers on this blog and to download the free ebooks. This question is covered many times.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

26 tips for maximizing sales of an ebook series

I was recently asked by BookBub for my thoughts on this topic, and I have written a brief article that I believe you may find useful. If you'd like to read it, here is the text:


Best wishes,

Noah Lukeman

26 strategies for maximizing sales of an ebook series

1. Make your first book free on all etailers
This is crucial. Make your first book free. Not 2.99. Not .99. But free. And keep it that way, permanently. This is one of the most important things you can do. I’ve seen a huge difference in the number of downloads between a book priced at 99 cents and one at free. It is what will spark momentum and reader interest in your series, especially when you don’t have any merch. Thousands more readers all around the world, every day, are searching for free—many more than are searching for paid.
A free book is the key that will unlock the doors to a number of promotional opportunities and strategies that are simply unavailable otherwise. Without that first free book there is a limited amount you can do—it is like having your hands tied behind your back while trying to promote your series.
Consider it an investment in your future. If the idea of spending two years writing a 400 page novel and making it free does not sit well with you, then consider approaching your series with an eye for keeping the first book shorter, say 200 pages. (More on this point next.)

2. Write shorter books, if possible (while preserving artistic integrity)
In my experience, readers of Ebooks are not quite as discriminating when it comes to length, so I don’t believe you are gaining any edge with a 400 or 500 page novel anyway. See if there is any way you can keep your books shorter (while of course preserve the artistic integrity of the book). Try to plot the entire series that way before you embark. If you’ve already written a 400 or 500 page book, try to see if there is any way, preserving the artistic integrity, that you can split it into two books—thus giving you your first free book. This might entail some heavy revisions and/or new material, but it is worth it.
If each of your books is 200 pages instead of 400, it will make it much easier for you to have, for example, 8 titles in a series instead of 4. I say if artistically possible, because you don’t want to arbitrarily end a book, and you don’t want to end a book without readers being satisfied. But if you can plot it shorter, then do so. While Smashwords did release a report showing that longer books have stronger sales, I personally have not seen any evidence that a 350 page book gives you any significant sales advantage over a 250 page one—as long as the readers are able to be truly satisfied in 250 pages. Of course, you can write 550 pages and not satisfy anyone, and write 150 and satisfy everyone. It all depends on the quality of your writing and plotting. But the main point is, don’t feel obliged to stick to convention—just because everyone tells you a traditional novel must be 350 pages, you don’t need to listen. Your readers, and ultimately your, sales will dictate if you are doing something right or wrong. That is the final say, and it is they who cast the final judgment.

3. Don’t end your series too quickly
Frequently authors will do all the hard work of setting up a series—the characters, the world, etc.—and then end the series after only 2 or 3 titles. There seems to be entrenched in our society an unspoken etiquette that series should not contain more than a few titles—any author who breaks this unspoken rule is immediately accused of “milking it” or “cashing in.” There is no reason why you have to subscribe to this. It is ultimately your readers who will decide what they want, and they will speak loud and clear via your sales figures.
If your readers are still buying your books in strong numbers, then they still want more books in the series. If haters surface and attack you for having too many books, are you going to let them be the ones to dictate what you can and cannot do, what is and is not acceptable? Cater to your fans, not your haters. My experience is that fans often do not want a series to end—as long as artistically the series demands it, and each book is as fresh as the next, and you make as sincere an effort with each new book as the last. My experience also shows that once you end a successful series, those fans won’t necessarily show up to your next series. So don’t assume that they will and don’t be so quick to end it. When sitting down to plot a series as a whole, ask yourself if it can comprise many more books than you had originally intended.

4. Shorten the release time between books
My experience is that series overall tend to sell better when the release time between books is shorter. The faster the better. Push yourself to write faster without, of course, sacrificing quality. In my experience, the optimal release time between books is approximately 4 weeks—the greater the time after that, the bigger the risk of your losing momentum and readers. Especially in this day and age of binge-reading, which is especially prevalent amongst ebook buyers. Imagine a TV episode being released on January 1 and the next episode not airing until March 1. Would you tune out? Ebooks are not quite as drastic as TV episodes, but when it comes to series, they are moving in that direction. You also gain crucial momentum on sales rank by releasing books quickly that you will lose with longer release times. Of course, 4 weeks is a near impossible feat for most writers, but do the best you can.

5. End your books with genuine cliffhangers
Too many books end in a way where you are not necessarily propelled into the next book. Ask yourself if, after reading the last sentence, a reader ABSOLUTELY MUST purchase your next book immediately. Is there a driving, burning urgency? You must feel that burning feeling, that you have no choice but to buy and read it right way. If you don’t, they won’t.
Don’t take it for granted that fans will buy your next book. You should always assume they won’t and always be fighting for your life to keep them.
At the same time, the paradox is that you must, in most other ways, leave your reader with a strong feeling of resolution, so that he feels as if he’s read a complete novel and not a few chapters. This is a very fine balance and not easy to achieve—but if you do, it will make the difference.
Spend some time watching and analyzing some popular TV shows that are absolutely addictive. How do they end each episode? What is it that they do that makes you HAVE to watch the next one? There is much to be learned in this regard from TV episodes.

6. Give all the jackets a uniform look
You want your series as a whole to have an easily recognizable look, which will also make it easier for readers to find future and past books in the series, and which will make the series feel more connected and the reader thus more likely to buy subsequent books. Also, if a reader is browsing and there are multiple jackets on a screen with a similar look, you are more likely to catch his eye amongst the thousands of other titles out there.

7. Get your books up on ALL etailers
Most authors will be live on just Amazon, Google, Apple, Kobo and BN, and these do comprise the majority of sales. But there are many midsize and smaller etailers now, all around the world, and if you reach dozens of them, it can add up and become significant. You might want to reach them individually and/or use a distributor, like Smashwords, EpubDirect, Wheelers, Gardners, Overdrive or others, to name just a few.

8. Get your free ebook onto “free ebook” sites
There are a ton of websites that offer free ebooks—not just the major etailers. Do a Google search for “free ebooks” and you will be surprised at how many they are. It would be ideal to have your free ebook live for download on at least the top 10 search engine results. Many of these sites don’t sell books (they just give away free ebooks), so make sure that you put prominent links at the end of the files to all major etailers (ideally with embedded clickable links) to direct readers to buy your next book, so that you can convert new readers to buyers of your paid books.

9. Get your free ebook onto “free ebook” apps
There are many apps devoted to giving away free ebooks, and users searching apps might not necessarily be the same user searching the web. You want to reach as many readers as possible, so check the major app marketplaces for “free ebooks” and ideally get your ebooks up on at least the top 10 results. Again, make sure clickable links are included at the end.

10. Put up free excerpts on sites like Wattpad, Scribd and Feedbooks
There are some sites, like Feedbooks, that have thousands of readers searching for free excerpts or sample chapters. Post the first chapter or two of all of your books on each of these, with links at the end to buy the paid version.

11. Keep the price low on ALL ebooks in the series
Many readers will look at a free series starter, then check the prices of all the other paid books in the series. If they see the prices escalate and are too high, they might not even bother starting the series. If they see that all the books in the series are, for example, 2.99, they are more likely to give the series a try.

12. Consider that readers might discover you via ANY book in the series
Most authors assume readers will first discover their series via the first book, as the only entry point into the series. But this may not always be the case. A reader might be browsing and attracted to a particular jacket—which may happen to be book #3 in your series—and click on that. It might be his first experience of your work. He might be disoriented, landing on book #3, and you must make it obvious in the first sentence of the synopsis that this is book #3 and name the title of book #1—and let them know that it’s free. This way he doesn’t have to go wasting time searching for the title of book #1,and he knows he can start the series for free. In this day and age of instant browsing decisions, if you frustrate a reader, making him work to figure out where he is in the series and the title of the first book in the series, he may very well move on.
Also, some readers skip the synopsis, sample a book, glance at the first few pages, and make a decision. Again, if they are landing on book #3 or #4, add a sentence inside the book, upfront, naming book #1 in the series, and tell them that it’s free and offer a prominent link to it, so they don’t have to work to go find it.

13. Optimize your front and back pages
Along these lines, make sure your back pages are optimized so that, if the reader likes the book and is ready to buy #2 in the series, he can easily click or tap a link. Include a synopsis to #2, and an image of the jacket (linkable). You might even want to include the first chapter of #2. If you have audio editions, include links here.
Many authors optimize their back pages, but forget their front pages. Make sure you have prominent links to your other books and/or to your other series, in case a reader samples your book and wants to try something else (but not this book).

14. Make it easy on the reader to instantly know the series order
It always amazes me when I visit a book’s page and have no idea which number book in the series it is. It is often not in the title, not in the subtitle, not mentioned immediately in the synopsis. Often new readers are forced to waste (precious) time trying to figure it out, and they can easily get so annoyed that they click away.
Make it easy on them. Err on the side of hitting them over the head with clarity, as opposed to annoying them with lack of information. I recommend putting the series title and number right in the title itself, for maximum clarity, and then repeating it again in the first sentence of the synopsis.

15. Make subsequent books in the series free for a limited time
Often writers run promotions for the first book in a series and stop there. Often they make the first book free and never consider making any other titles in the series free, for any period of time. This is a mistake. Again, you never know which book in a series will be a reader’s entry point—it may not always be the first one. You never know which jacket/title/synopsis will make a reader finally want to pay attention to your series for the first time. Run promotions and/or advertise for subsequent books in the series, and make them free for a limited time—at least one week--as you do so.

16. Have your next books up for pre-orders
On the etailers that will allow them, get as many of your future titles up for pre-order, and as soon as possible. In fact, it is ideal to release a new book and already have the jacket, title and synopsis of the next book embedded at the end of the new release, with a link for the pre-order page, which should already be live. It takes a lot of work, but you capture more sales and you can even hit bestseller lists you would not otherwise because of the way some etailers calculate bestseller lists.

17. Make your books DRM free
There is a lot of controversy over this issue, but I personally feel that it’s better to err on the side of gaining readers than it is worrying about piracy, and I feel that to maximize sales, all books should be DRM free. The bigger danger for most authors, in my view, is not piracy but rather not having any sales. DRM free is appreciated by many readers for ease of use on devices. It will lead to greater piracy—but again, I think this is a lesser concern. I also think that greater piracy may actually be a good thing—which bring us to my next point.

18. Embrace piracy
Let’s face it: there are millions of readers browsing for pirated books on piracy sites—perhaps even more than are searching for paid. We will never stop all of them. Most are afraid of piracy—but I say EMBRACE IT! Why turn away millions of potential readers? If your first book is free anyway, then get it up yourself on all the piracy sites. Let millions of people read it. Some of those might want your next books. And those next books will be paid, on legitimate sites—and for the paid books, you definitely should fight piracy—which bring us to my next point.

19. Hire a piracy fighter, like MUSO
For a small fee, there are services that will roam the web looking for your pirated titles and take them down. Use this for all of the paid titles in your series. That will help counterbalance their being DRM free and will protect your paid books.

20. Translate your books into the major languages
Hiring translators is expensive and is by no means an easy process. Nor are sales guaranteed overseas. However, if you have the spare cash to try it, then go for it. Translate into a few of the major languages, starting with the first book, and see how it goes. If you are seeing a high volume of downloads, then you can translate the second and make it paid and see how that goes—and take it one book at a time. If they do well, over time it is possible for the income to end up matching the English language edition.

21. Create audio editions
Use a service, like ACX, to hire narrators and produce audio editions. If you choose the royalty option, then you don’t have to put up any money upfront. If your ebook sales take off and audio editions are available, it might become one more stream of income. There are also some users who ONLY want audio—and having these editions might make the difference to gaining some fans or not.

22. Create POD editions
Use a service like CreateSpace or Lightning Source to create print on demand editions. If the ebooks take off, print sales can be one more source of income. There are also some users who ONLY want print—and having these editions might make the difference to gaining some fans or not.

23. Create bundles
Some readers prefer to buy books in bundles and some may even go so far as to only buy ebooks in bundles. Having bundles give you more virtual shelf space, more jackets for readers to stumble upon when browsing. And if the prices are lower, you can attract bargain hunters that might not have bought your books otherwise. And if you do indeed have many books in a series, as you get deeper into it, many readers will prefer to have bundles rather than a dozen individual titles clogging up their ereader.

24. Be generous to your fans
Stay in constant touch with your fans and shower them with free books. Ask them to review your books, and let them know that there is no pressure to write a good review—that they are free to write any review they wish, positive or negative. Most fans who seek you out anyway will want to help support your work and will be happy to post reviews, as they want to let others know how much they like your work.

25. Constantly experiment
Don’t sit back on your heels and let everything coast, even if you’re doing well, and don’t ever think that you’ve figured it out—even if your books become bestsellers. Things are constantly changing in the incredibly fast moving ebook world and the beauty of ebooks, and of controlling your own publishing career, is that you have the freedom to instantly make changes and experiment. I’ve seen some books not sell a copy for 8 months, then suddenly sell tens of thousands. Sometimes ebooks need time and need to reach a critical mass. In other cases an ebook does not need time—it needs hands-on tweaking. It could be the jacket, the title, the series title, the synopsis, the price point—or, of course, the writing. Try to isolate each and every element and figure out what’s wrong. It could be that your experiments fail 99 times, and on the 100th time you accidentally stumble across something that changes your sales from 10 books a month to 10,000.
Also experiment with genre. If your series is not taking off, write another series in another genre. Sometimes it is the genre switch, or even the tweak to a different niche within the genre, that makes all the difference between not selling any copies and becoming a bestseller.

26. Advertise on Bookbub.

I’ve found Bookbub to be the single most effective tool for driving ebook sales, especially if you make your book free for the promotion and especially if it is first in a series. Advertise for all books in the series, too. It is a great service and well worth the money.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Literary or Commercial fiction?

Hi Luke,

First, I'd like to thank you for making your e-books available online and for THE FIRST FIVE PAGES, which is a very helpful book indeed. I've just received feedback from a literary agent who said my novel is a high-concept novel. I cannot reconcile the definition of high-concept (mostly applied to blockbusters) with my story, which even though driven by a big and hypothetical idea, weaves in three first-person narrations and is very much character-based. What is according to you a high-concept novel? Could you possibly give me examples? Thank you very much!

Many thanks!

A good question, and hard to answer. We always enter into a gray area when we start to try define precisely what is "commercial fiction" versus "literary fiction" and where one departs and the other begins. In some ways our industry is split down the middle, with some editors tasked solely with acquiring commercial fiction, and others with literary. That said, there are also many editors who will acquire both, and/or who will look for the hybrids. There are many shades of hybrids, across the whole spectrum, with some leaning literary and others commercial. Complicating matters, as soon as one gives examples one can immediately be proven wrong, as one can point to a literary novel which was a huge commercial success or a commercial novel which reads like a great literary work. Also complicating matters is that the line in the sand has become more apparent in our day, whereas going back a century, many literary works were expected to have great plots. Moby Dick is a great literary work--yet at the same time, it has a great plot. That can't necessarily be said about many "literary" works today, for which a great plot can be absent.

From an agent's point of view, there have been many great novels I've sent out to, say, 30 publishers, only to have 15 tell me it's too commercial for their list, and 15 tell me it's too literary. It can be maddening, and shopping novels that fall into that gray area can be one of the hardest tasks for an agent.

In any case, all great fiction, whether high-concept or not, should also be character-based, so I don't see the two as mutually exclusive. Yes, you need a great plot to guide the characters--but you also need the characters to come alive and to do something, at some point, that you would not expect, and to influence the plot themselves. The plot and characters must play off each other, and that is to be expected.

Should I allow my agent to negotiate my deal?

Hey Mr. Lukeman,

I just signed on with an agent. He has been great so far, already sending out a manuscript of mine. The problem is, just before he made me an offer I began working directly with a publisher on a separate non-fiction book proposal of mine. The publisher really likes it, and I think that a deal may happen soon.

If a deal is offered by the publisher, should I bring my in to negotiate the contract? I’m sure that he could help me get the best deal, or even potentially shop it around to other publishers. That said, I did all of the groundwork.


It's a bit hard for me to answer without knowing if you signed the agent for fiction or non-fiction, but I will assume the latter. In either case, since you like this agent and he had been doing well by you, then I would indeed allow the agent to negotiate this deal. First of all, if he's a good agent he will get you more than the 15% you pay him and can protect you in the contract in ways you don't anticipate; second, the publisher will give you more respect knowing you have an agent and he can be there to deal with any thorny issues that arise during the multi-year process; third, you have to think long term. Over the course of a career you may write many books, and what matters more than this one book is having a good agent by your side who is devoted to you and can help you navigate it all and get you many deals. Bringing him this deal will help endear him to you. This is especially true with non-fiction, as often writers have to reinvent themselves with each book and concept and go out there and find a new publisher all over again. If you were an author of commercial fiction with a huge sales record, it would be a different story.

Should I pay a publisher in order to get published?

Dear Mr. Lukeman:

I've been approached by Rocket Science Productions who expressed a lot of interests to publish my novels that have received a lot of notice in the ebook site world. However when they sent over the information for me to go over, they stated the following:

" The world has changed a bit in the near 2-1/2 years since we met, and our prices have gone up to pay those professionals and experts who will lend their expertise to your book. However, because I like you very much and I believe you are going to become a great young author, I am going to discount your costs.

The Phase One cost today is $595.00 and includes a whole lot of work by individuals to register your book with the Federal Government (to protect your copyright), your ISBN, and all the registrations required for selling your book in every place where books are sold. I can discount this cost to $550.00. This fee must be paid upfront in completely when you send the MOU.

Phase Two for novels now (which includes editing and art direction) is $1,975.00, but I will discount you to $1800.00. Instead of requiring 60% upfront, you can send 50% upfront and the rest can be paid over 6 or 12 months with no interest.

Phase Three is still variable...every book is different in cost, but generally novels can range in cost from $4 to $10 depending on size and number of pages and cover design materials. We'll know more about this as we get closer. Whatever cost this is, you still need to send 60% upfront and the rest can be added to your monthly payments over 6 or 12 months.

Ebooks are $395.00 to convert to the dozens of different algorithms necessary to sell it on the many platforms. This is a one-time fee. "

Is this legit? I mean I would love to have my novels published this year, and so far this is the only company that has gotten back to me that could put my novels in bookstores. Any advice?


As I have mentioned many times on this blog, I do NOT recommend your paying any publisher any fees to be published. If they are a legitimate publisher, they will not charge you any fees, and they will, in fact, pay you an advance against royalties. If legitimate publishers are not offering you a deal, then that does not mean you should rush to pay someone. If you want a legitimate deal, then I would recommend devoting time to your query letter, finding a legitimate agent and having the agent finding a publisher--and of course, continuing to improve your writing. I talk about how to go about all of this at length on this blog, so please read ALL of the questions and answers, and please download my free ebooks, with hundreds of pages of additional info.

If you would rather self publish, whether in ebook or print form, then, once again, you don't need them. You can convert and upload the ebook yourself with virtually no fees. It takes some time to learn but is not as demanding as they might have you believe. You can also design your own jacket, if you have the eye for it and the talent--or hire freelancers to do it at low cost. And for a print edition, you can use CreateSpace or Lightning Source, again with virtually no fees--and control all the right yourself and have your book up instantly.

Whether your book needs editorial work is an entirely different conversation. But again, in general, I would be wary of telling you to hire an editor, as I am always wary of those who might try to take advantage. Continually improve your writing on your own as best you can, and have those close to you whom you trust as impartial readers. And always keep writing--and write more books. Each book will teach you something new.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Bookbub interview

I recently answered some questions for Bookbub regarding ebooks and self-publishing, and in case you find any of the information helpful, here is the interview:

Friday, January 3, 2014

Best colleges for publishing?

Hello! I am a junior in high school and I am starting to look at colleges that I might want to apply to. My hope is to become a literary agent or an editor for a publishing company. Do you have any advice on how I should pick the right college for this? on YA or adult?

This is an excellent question, and you are clearly way ahead of the curve to ask this. I am sure that, given how determined you are, and how early you are starting your search, you will have no problem finding a job.

That said, there is not one particular college that agents or editors recruit from. The best thing you can do to set the stage for a job, possibly even more important than the college you attend, is to have as many internships as you can before you graduate. I would advise lining up internships every year during college (typically during the summer, though could be anytime). Keep in mind, some of these internships may require your applying many months early, for example in the fall for a summer spot. In this regard, it would obviously be helpful if your college was in or close to New York City--unless you are willing and able to travel back and forth to NYC for interviews and internships.

How long should I wait to hear back from an agent?


So when I first heard back from an agent at a respected NY agency she requested the rest of my manuscript, but told me very clearly that she never officially represented a novel until it had been written three times. She gave me great advice on the first draft I sent her, providing excellent line editing and assistance with plot and character. The book got better. She worked with me on the second draft and we went even deeper, sometimes working together in person. She even told me it might take years to get the draft just right. She even told me she had spoken to publishers about the concept and they had asked to be kept informed about the development of my book over the months and possibly years to come. About a year and a half later I resubmitted what I hoped was a pristine (or close to pristine) draft, but now it's been 6th months and she still hasn't read it. I know this business takes time, but should I be seeking representation elsewhere, or is this wait time normal? I know I'm not required to stick with her, but I feel bad looking elsewhere because she put so much work into it with me. Thoughts? I don't like feeling like I'm waiting for just one possibility to work out, especially with the weeks flying by. But as I said, we HAVE put a good chunk of work into this manuscript together, so this long wait seems odd. I just feel like if you're really interested, and you've got publishers interested, wouldn't you want to push that particular manuscript closer to the top of the pile? Maybe I'm wrong. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

First, I address this very topic at length in my FREE ebook HOW TO LAND A LITERARY AGENT. I also address this topic in my FREE ebook ASK A LITERARY AGENT. Both are available for download here on this blog. I suggest you read them both.

That said, I will repeat again that one should never wait this long to hear back from an agent. It's absurd for any agent (or editor) to make an absolute statement like "I never represent a novel until it's written three times." Every novel is different. Some may need to be re-written more than three times, and some may be perfect the first time you read them. How can one possibly apply an arbitrary number like 3 to all novels? That would be a major red flag to me.

Additionally, no agent should take so long in working on revising a novel, and/or in waiting to read your book. An agent telling that you it will "take years" to get it right is another major red flag. I know of no legitimate agents who would do this. Most agents tend to either want books that are ready to submit and/or to want to take on books that can be revised relatively easily and quickly.

I would move on. Query many agents at once. Agents should reply to a query letter within 2-4 weeks. To a manuscript within 10 weeks. It's your career. Do not put it on hold.

Publisher copies of book returns?

Can an author purchase book returns from the publisher? (I'm thinking of trade paperbacks.) What percentage of the original price would the author expect to pay? Could the author sell the books? Use books as door prizes? Give books to people doing reviews, to people winning contests and other promotional uses? It seems like this would help both the publisher and the author and make it easier to promote the book.

Typically, there is a clause in your contract with a publisher stating that you can buy copies of your own book at a discount of 40 or 50%. You can do this at any time, from day one.

There is no standard clause for buying returned copies. It can be complicated. Some publishers may choose to destroy returns--it might be cheaper. In other cases, publishers may want to keep them on hand and see if they sell down the road. You may get most of your books returned, but then sell them all (and go back to press) a year later. So I don't see publishers rushing to sell these at an even deeper discount.

That said, you can indeed buy books at a very deep discount if they are REMAINDERED by the publisher. Sometimes, thousands of them, for as little as $1 or $2 a book. Once you own them, you can do anything you wish with them.

How to land a job in publishing?

Hello. My question is about getting your foot in the door of the publishing industry without a college degree. I left college after a year to travel & after completing two novels while living in Australia, I decided I didn't want to go back to school. I consider myself very knowledgable about writing, publishing, & the industry. While considering both the traditional publishing, and self-publishing route for my novels, I spent years doing extensive research. In addition, I'm extremely passionate about all things literary & I would love to be surrounded by it all on the daily basis. I've applied to everything from internships to secretary positions at agencies & publishing houses, but I quickly learned that not having a degree makes it wayyy harder.

My question is, is it impossible? I don't mind difficult, as I'm extremely determined. I just want to learn more about the industry I plan to make a living in & be able to submerge myself in something that I love SO much. I have the skills & I know I'm completely capable of handling whatever is thrown at me, all I need is for someone to give me a chance to prove myself. But what are the chances of that happening without a formal education?

Thank you for your question.

Usually, the best way to land a job in publishing is to do an internship--or several of them, if need be. It is not always easy. When I was starting out, I'd already had 3 summer-long internships at great publishers, and even then, it took me many months of interviewing (and rejections) to land an assistant job.

It is hard for me to answer about whether not having a B.A. would prevent your landing an internship. On the one hand, it is true that most other interns will have a B.A. or equivalent--but that said, I don't see why not having one should make it impossible. I would imagine that if you tried hard enough and long enough, you should encounter at least one person smart enough to take you on for an internship, especially if you are so determined and passionate.

In your case, since you are serious about your writing, another possibility is that if you, as an author, land an agent or publisher and establish a good relationship with your agent/editor, then possibly they might be more open to hiring you as well. It can't hurt to try everything.

No matter what, if it's your dream, don't give up, and somehow the door will open.

Novel length

Mr. Lukeman, I've been reading your blog for over a year and have learned a college degrees worth. What I appreciate most is your willingness to give examples of the principles discussed in your free e-book How to Land (and Keep) a Literary Agent. You must get frustrated repeating that which is free for the reading but for this middle aged writer...the duplication is greatly appreciated. I do find it sad though that authors may end up writing shorter and shorter novels not because the content is best covered that way but because so few people have the attention span to finish an average sized book. on How long is a novel?

Thank you for your post, and I am glad this blog has been helpful.

While your comment is not a question, I will address your point on novel length. Yes, I agree that there is something sad about our society's inevitable drift towards a shorter attention span, towards sound bytes and text messages and 140 character means of communication. That said, keep in mind that there have always been successful short novels, all throughout history, and that numerous long novels are still being published today, every year, and some doing quite well. I think the longer novel will always survive--indeed, one can argue that readers may end up turning to books precisely for that longer hit that other forms of media won't give them. As a writer, I would not advise setting out by paying attention to length; just focus on writing a great novel, and that is all that matters, whether it ends up at 120 pages or 1,020.

To use italics?

Hello, Mr. Lukeman,
Thank you so much for "The First Five Pages".
I have a question regarding italics, and I feel that I really cannot continue editing until I know more.
My novel is a historical fantasy with elements of time travel and telepathic communication. There are conversations between characters that occur both telepathically and vocally. There are also many POV portions that focus on characters' thoughts. In both situations, I use italics extensively; in the dialogue, especially, this is an issue, as there are places where the only way that the reader can discern telepathic from vocal communication is font change (italics).

Removing the italics is possible, but it will make much of the text difficult to understand, and when I change things in POV from italics to regular font, it will change the tone entirely.

For example, the very first sentences (which use italics in this way, although I cannot use italics on the blog post and have indicated them by asterisks before and after):

"*Bloody good time for Angela to die*, Daniel thought as he navigated his rented Mercedes out of the crowded airport parking lot. The sedan had been Arwein’s single concession to Daniel’s comfort after they had gotten the call. The cream-colored leather driver’s seat smelled of cheap polish, somewhat diminishing the effect Daniel sought as he drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. Glancing with annoyance at something flickering in his vision, Daniel noted a ridiculous pine-tree air freshener hanging from the rear-view mirror, which he promptly yanked down.

*Stupid thing.*"

I could change it so that it reads: 
'Daniel thought sarcastically that it was a bloody good time for Angela to die. He navigated his...'
'Daniel considered the poor timing of Angela's death as he navigated....'

But that really changes the flavor of the text such that the reader is a bit more removed from Daniel's thought processes... and Daniel's thought processes form the backbone of the book. And what to do about "stupid thing" eludes me entirely.

And then, for the telepathy, consider:
“My Lady, this is a most gracious offer, but I must decline. I have been given a charge, and I must submit; I cannot well protect Her Grace from halfway down the hall, though I am certain that I would be well-fed and well-attended. Please extend my thanks to His Grace.” *I can protect you both here; I can keep Thomas in his place. Leave me.*

In this passage, Daniel is injecting subconscious thoughts into Catherine's mind. How to do that without saying something awkward and clunky like, '...Leave me, Daniel projected' for every instance will make the text unwieldy, especially if I have to do it in paragraph after paragraph.

And then for dialogue (this example comes from the second book, which I am currently writing):
'“Lie down, Daniel,” Arwein said, rather more gruffly than he intended. Stepping to the boy’s bedside, he pressed Daniel back into the mattress.
“What are you doing?”
“Staying with you for a few days, while you get better.” Arwein arranged his documents neatly before turning back to Daniel. *“Would you like to practice?”*
Daniel looked a bit startled, but responded after a few moments, *“With you?”*
Arwein felt a sharp pang of regret at the boy’s surprise. *Ah, what a mistake it was to let this go*, Arwein thought. “*Yes, Daniel; with me.”'*

I really am at a loss about what to do. The first book is over 400 pages; the second is at 250 and is about 2/3 done. Obviously, it doesn't matter at all what the content is if nobody reads it, but... the content will be drastically changed by removing the italics.

Please, I could really use your input. And (she chuckled ruefully), if you should see in the above that there are significantly greater issues than italicizing, don't hold back.

Thank you again. I know you are tremendously busy, but... I really want to get this right.

Take care;
Julie Hoover


Thank you for your question.

The mission of this blog is to answer general questions about writing and publishing, not to address specific editing and revision issues. Thus I will not be able to comment on your piece of writing.

That said, to answer your general question about the use of italics: there is no absolute right or wrong. It is not a science. However, personally, I always prefer to err on the side of caution: if you fear you may be overusing italics, you probably are. In most cases (not all) I find that a heavy use  of italics tends to be distracting. The main point here--and this applies to many aspects of writing, not just italics--is that you never want to yank a reader out of a text, to call attention to your writing, to do anything that might make her have to re-read for clarity and/or put down a book. Your goal as a writer is to make your writing invisible, to allow the reader to settle into a read, deeper and deeper, so they never want to put a book down. If you are using some device that may counteract that effect, then I'd err on the side of caution and do away with it.

Negative reviews

I noticed another literary agent knocking your book, The First Five Pages, which has always been inspirational to me and got me multiple publishing contracts and several good book deals. I thought I would let you know because much of the blog post by this literary agent is taken out of context. Here's a link where you can read it for yourself.

Thank you for pointing this out, and I appreciate your support and am glad to hear the book has been so helpful to you.

While this is not a question, it is good to know for writers: once you are published, your book may find much praise and, no matter how good or helpful it is, it may also meet much criticism. It is a perpetual lesson for us writers to steel ourselves, daily, from criticism, and to stay focused on our work. In some cases, criticism will be warranted, and we can learn from it. In other cases, such as this, where the critic takes something out of context and clearly has not even bothered to read the book, it will be unwarranted criticism--which, in my view, does not even merit a response. Better to focus on replying to the people who actually take time to read a book and who have something intelligent to say (positive or negative), than those who are too lazy to do so and have nothing intelligent to add.

And best of all just to stay focused on your work, and to focus on the people who appreciate your work, and to keep writing every day, no matter what. There will always be people who try to keep you down--don't let them! As James Patterson said: "There are thousands of people who don't like what I do. Fortunately, there are millions who do."