Tuesday, 28 February 2012

AAP Book Sales for 2011

The Association of American Publishers (AAP)  has just released the total sales figures for the 2011 calendar year, and there have been several blog posts commenting on this, at Shelf AwarenessPaid Content, Teleread and Passive Voice. 

Overall sales were down on 2010, but the highlight?

Ebook sales increased 117% over 2010. While the year-on-year growth for December was only (only!) 72.1%, that should be compared against a year-on-year drop of 3.5% for all categories of book sales. Only three categories of books experienced growth in 2011: ebooks, downloaded audiobooks, and religious books.

It should be noted that these figures are from the member publishers, so exclude self-publishing, which is dominated by ebooks.

So, authors of Christian fiction, you are in the right place (especially if you offer your book as an ebook)!

Monday, 27 February 2012

Ask an Agent

Sorry to anyone who thought I was talking about the ultimate agent, secret agent James Bond, but actually I meant another type of agent. Chip MacGregor, a well-known Christian literary agent, has recently been running an ‘Ask an Agent’ feature on his blog. Each week he answers two or three questions from the intelligent and insightful to the… umm… not so intelligent. The whole series has been very informative.

For those of who missed it, here are the links with the questions in each post:

How long does it take an agent to respond to a submission they requested?
Is it wrong to send submissions to several agents at once?
Why hasn’t the agent responded to my submission?

Is it normal for an agent to charge an up-front fee?
Is it true that the best place to contact an agent is to attend a conference?
Do I mention that a publisher has requested my manuscript when I query an agent?

When is the best time to approach an agent?
Do agents want to see part of my non-fiction book or the whole book?
Do I tell agents/publishers about my writing for e-zines and web sites?

What do you think of writing contests?
What do I do if my agent only represents non-fiction and I also want to write fiction?
Do I have to copyright my manuscript before I submit it?

Do I need an agent?
When should I get an agent?

When is it appropriate to enquire about the status of a submission?
Is there a rule about using the word ‘bestseller’ in their promotional materials?
How much should I spend on my website?

How will I know I need an agent?
What should an agent do for me?
What is the best way to find an agent?

I have a contract but no agent – should I get one?
Should I worry that the agent turned me down but referred me to his editorial service?
Is this legal?

There is some great advice in these posts (and also a couple of laughs).

What question would you want to ask a literary agent?

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Stuff Book Reviewers Say

I don't usually watch YouTube links, but this one caught my attention, no doubt because I am a reviewer too:

Monday, 20 February 2012

Christian Book Reviews: Why Do I Review?

One year at school, my teacher asked us to write a book review for every book we read. Even then I was reading at least two books each week, and I found this requirement onerous, to say the least. It meant that when we had 'Silent Reading' in the classroom, I was spending all my time writing reviews for the book I had finished at home the previous evening. This took much of the enjoyment out of reading and reviewing. As a result, I hadn’t reviewed a book since school. After I discovered Amazon, I started posting reviews because I found the reviews helpful and I liked having the opportunity to contribute.

About six months ago, I won an ebook which was delivered to me via NetGalley. I was interested in the concept of free ebooks in exchange for reviewing on a personal blog, Amazon and other sites, so I signed up. A bit of exploration found that BookSneeze® and Blogging for Books also provide free ebooks for bloggers. There are other sites that offer free paperbacks, but generally only to those living in the US. I’ve since reviewed almost 60 books, with more on the way.

In a recent blog post, Kaye Dacus talked about how her college professor made the class write a response paper to books they read, including why she chose the book, what her learning goals were before she started reading, what she got out of reading it, what she learned and if her learning goals were met (she then couldn't read a book for pleasure for years, let alone write a review!).

My reviews are not the in-depth critique that Kaye describes, because they are meant for readers. As a reader, when I am reading a review, I want to know the plot, and whether there was anything I will particularly like or dislike about the plot, characters or writing. This is often where the more negative reviews come in useful – if the worst thing a reviewer can say about a novel is that it is “too Christian”, then I will probably like it. If they are commenting about factual errors, I probably won’t like it. There is also the issue of whether or not it is ‘Christian’ to give a book a negative review, but that will have to be the topic for another day…

Do you review books? What do you think about the idea that Christians should only give positive reviews? Have you ever read a Christian book that truly deserved a bad review? What did you do?

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

How Much is Too Much in Christian Fiction?

I was browsing through the Amazon discussions, and someone asked me, as a reviewer of Christian fiction, “Is it important from the perspective of a Christian reviewer to have generally wholesome content, as well? How far does that extend? How much un-Christian behavior do you think is too much?”

My answer:

In my opinion... in real life, I expect Christians to hold to a Christian standard of behaviour. Yes, we all fail at times, but it is important to understand where we have failed, to express remorse and sorrow, and to attempt to make things right and not make the same mistake again (in Christianese, to repent and sin no more). But it would be unrealistic and unreasonable of me to hold non-Christians to those same standards.

For example, in New Zealand (where I live), prostitution is legal. It is legal to be a prostitute, to purchase the services of a prostitute, and to advertise your services as a prostitute (usually in the entertainment section, between the Garfield cartoon and the movie listings, which makes them hard to miss).

 I think the Bible is pretty clear in saying that engaging in prostitution (as the prostitute or the paying customer) is wrong, but it is not my place to judge someone for providing or using a perfectly legal service, no matter how unhealthy/undesirable I might consider it - if they are a non-Christian, because I can and should extend grace to that person. If that person claims to be a Christian, then a different standard applies. A married Christian man using prostitutes is committing adultery, and that is against God's law.

It's the same in Christian fiction.  I am more forgiving of unchristian behaviour from a non-Christian character, particularly as the plot often focuses on that character's journey towards becoming a Christian. But I don't need the details. You can tell me that he swore without telling me each word. You can have a murder or a rape scene or a sex scene without the graphic details (I'm married. I know what goes where). However, if Christian characters are sinning, there should be some remorse, some acknowledgement that this is outside God's law.

So I don't think it's so much a question of 'how much' unchristian behaviour as how it is presented, and whether there is remorse, repentance and a move to a growing understanding of or relationship with God.

I would also add that some readers of Christian fiction don't want any of this 'unwholesome' or 'edgy' behaviour in their books, and that is their right. As paying consumers, we all have a right to choose to give our money to those authors we like best.

What do you think?

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Will Amazon Destroy Publishing?

In a recent post on Amazon and the future of publishing, self-publishing giant JA Konrath says:

Treating authors like ****, when authors are essential to the process, is bad business.  Treating readers like ****, when readers are essential to the process, is bad business.  Bookstores and publishers and distributors are NOT essential to the process. You should have evolved.”

Wow. (Except for the bad word, which I’ve ****’d out. It wasn’t a really bad word, just one I don’t use, hence the ****).

That pretty much cuts to the chase, doesn’t it? Authors are important, because they write the books. Readers are important, because they pay for the books. But you can cut out at least two of the intermediate steps.

Christian literary agent Rachelle Gardner made similar points, commenting on the downfall of Kodak because they didn’t keep pace with the changing way consumers were taking and sharing photos.

As a reader who lives in New Zealand, these posts are relevant to me. Most of the books I’ve bought in the last year have been e-books (from both Amazon and Kobo), because they are cheaper. The paperback that my local Christian bookshop sells for NZD 24.99 to NZD 29.99 costs no more than USD 9.99 online, and many are free.

My Kindle has over 300 books, and I estimate I’ve paid less than NZD 50 for all of them. Now, I admit I haven’t actually read a lot of the freebies – but there sure is a selection of all kinds of books waiting for me. If I feel like serious Bible study, it’s there. If I want light-hearted romance, it’s there. If I want nail-biting suspense, it’s there. The only remaining advantage of a ‘real’ book is that I can loan it to other people.

So, will ‘traditional’ publishing last, or will Amazon (and other e-book publishers) take over?

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Writer or Reader?

Mike Duran has just published a link to a list of the Best Blogs for Writers in 2012.  While he acknowledges that this is useful, he also makes an interesting point:

Writing blogs potentially insulate writers from their real audience: Readers.

Now, I'm a reader, a reviewer and an editor, not a writer. I find the writing blogs useful for giving background information on the publishing industry, and for their debates into current issues like self-publishing. If you want to find out how to submit your work for publication, one or more of these blogs will tell you how (and Rachelle Gardner will give you the Christian perspective).

But Mike makes a good point: as writers, you need to be able to connect with your readers, your audience, your target market. You need to understand what readers want to read, what we like and dislike. Personally, I am over Amish romance novels with teenage heroines, but people continue to write them and publishers continue to publish them, so that might be just me.

However, I've just picked up an Amish mystery novel, featuring three Amish mothers. It's good, partly because it is a bit different. That is important to me. I don't want to read the same novel I've already read a dozen times before, only with different people in a different place in a different time. I want something new, something original, a story I haven't read before.

So, writers, there is your challenge. To write something new - and, as a Christian writer, to write the story God has given you.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Tips for Good Blog Posts

It is a truth universally accepted that an author with a desire to sell books must have a blog (with apologies to Jane Austen).  I follow quite a few blogs, mostly Christian authors or Christian agents. Many blogs post about blogging, as roundabout as that might seem, and last week, literary agent Amanda Luedeke blogged on ‘5 Rules of Blogging Well’.  That inspired me to go looking for other blogging tips from favourite bloggers:

Common Blogging Mistakes
Five Rules of Blogging Well
What Not to Blog About
Getting Topic Ideas
Building Readership Through Blog Comments

Amanda Ledeke and Rachelle Gardner are literary agents specialising in Christian fiction, Mike Duran is a Christian speculative fiction author who specialises in posts that attract discussion, and the daily blog tips come from various contributing bloggers.

What tip did you find most useful? What would you like to know more about?

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Writing Tips: The Perfect Pitch

In my 'other' life, I have just completed a proposal to write Position Descriptions for a client.  One of the hardest parts of writing a good Position Description is the Purpose Statement, a one-sentence summary of why the job exists.  It is hard because people spend so many hours of their week at work, and it can be hard for them to summarise all that effort into one short sentence.

It occurred to me that this is very similar to an author having to write a one-sentence pitch for their book. I have just finished reading Write Good or Die, which is currently available as a free Kindle download.  It is a compilation of blog posts by well-known mystery/thriller authors (or at least I assume they are well-known.  They have sold enough books, just not in a genre that I read). 

Anyway, two of the chapters focused on the perfect pitch, and gave examples.  Can you name these famous books?
  • When a great white shark starts attacking beachgoers in a coastal town during high tourist season, a water-phobic Sheriff must assemble a team to hunt it down before it kills again.
  • A treasure-hunting archeologist races over the globe to find the legendary Lost Ark of the Covenant before Hitler’s minions can acquire and use it to supernaturally power the Nazi army.
  • A young female FBI trainee must barter personal information with an imprisoned psychopathic genius in order to catch a serial killer who is capturing and killing young women for their skins.
You might not have read any or all of them, but I bet you know which books they are (the fact that they have also been made into movies no doubt helped).  What are the essential points of the perfect pitch?
  • The character of the protagonist;
  • The character of the antagonist;
  • The conflict;
  • The setting;
  • The tone;
  • The genre.
I also came across a post Rachelle Gardner's blog about One Sentence Pitches.  A couple of years back, she invited authors to submit a one-sentence pitch for their book, and she then critiqued them.  Her main points were:
  1. Use specific language (it can be tempting to be mysterious, but it seems this does not catch the attention of the agent);
  2. Avoid using words or abbreviations that can be confusing;
  3. Don't make the book sound uninteresting or depressing;
  4. Keep the word count down to 45 words or less;
  5. Avoid dialogue;
  6. Don't try to say too much or it will get convoluted;
  7. Don't use exclaimation marks!!
  8. Proofread. Spelling or grammar mistakes leave a bad impression.