QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Product Funnel

Why do readers buy books? Someone who picks up your book, after all, is agreeing to invest hours of time in your universe, your language, and your vision. Most of us are short on time, not even to mention money, and there are millions of books. How to bring readers to your work?

I've been reading Write. Publish. Repeat. (which, by the way, I'm enthralled with. I love their approach) and the authors have an interesting proposition: the product funnel.

Most of us have heard of "loss leaders." In retail, that's when your local grocery store drops the price of milk below cost so they can lure you in the doors to buy overpriced hamburger meat and overpriced butter. The loss leader is commonplace in retail because it works: people will travel to get a perceived bargain, and then while they're in the store, they pick up a few extra things to save time. The store is happy because it has your money; you're happy because you saved a few dollars; you're happy because you saved a trip to another store where you would presumably have had to pay full price for your milk.

A product funnel is similar to a loss leader in that you the author put it out there to get your reader in the door. Then once you've gotten the reader to look at your work, you've got a chance to convince the reader via your stellar writing and excellent storytelling to stick around and buy your other products.

The way this seems to work in publishing is for a writer to produce multiple books, usually books in a series but sometimes books linked by subject matter (category romances, for example.) The author then lists the first book in the series as a free book and promotes the heck out of the freebie.

Readers who have never heard of you might be willing to take a chance on a free book. Ideally, though, they'll love your free book enough that at the end, when you show a picture of your next cover and a brief description, they'll head over to their favorite retailer and pick up a copy of the next one.

Or, as the Write. Publish. Repeat. guys suggest, you could link them to a bundle of your entire series, available at a discount. See, you liked one volume. How about getting the next five books?

They also advocate running your first novel at $.99, since that's cheap enough for an impulse buy but also is going to self-limit potential readers to people who are already okay with spending money on books.

I've begun trying to leverage this style of marketing for my own books. For example, my publisher for The Boys Upstairs has published a short story about the main character and made it free. (We also have a nifty cover and a cool title, which helps.) Every so often I drop by the forums for freebies and promote it there. I'm still releasing my Seven Archangels novels, but once every few months I try to make one of those titles cheap or free to attract new readers.

(Please note: I haven't been doing this long enough to see an impact on sales. If you have been, let me know in the comments.)

The product funnel is, in effect, the free sample plus coupon combination you'd get at your local wholesale club. You're giving a reader a risk-free chance to sample your work, and in return, the recipient may be giving you a longtime reader.

Speaking of product funnels, Jane Lebak's novel Seven Archangels: Annihilation is on $.99 Kindle Countdown right this second. She has four kids, four books in print, two cats, and one husband. She lives in the Swamp and tries to do one scary thing every day. You can like her on Facebook, but if you want to make her rich and famous, please contact Roseanne Wells of the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Seasons Greetings




Seasons greetings from the Querytracker Blog family to you and yours!


~ Pat, Stina, Ash, Mary, and Jane

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Writer's Bookshelf: The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner

Today's edition of The Writer's Bookshelf is from author Marian Pereira. Enjoy!
 Betsy Lerner’s The Forest for the Trees is many things—an editor’s advice to writers (it says so on the cover!), a memoir of working in a publishing house, and a slice of history. I enjoyed reading it, because I love learning about what it’s like on the other side of the desk, but there are plenty of sound tips for writers as well.

My version of the book was published in 2000—partly because I haunt used book stores—but there’s a revised and updated version that came out in 2010, and the book is available on the Kindle as well. A lot of the fears and problems that writers had a decade and a half ago are still the same. If you’re concerned that a good editor at a major house is likely to stifle your voice or request too many changes, this book will help. It explains why determination is so important in publishing, and why agents sometimes find it easier to sell a debut novel than a midlister’s book.

And I loved the fact that even back in 2000, she mentioned “so much industry instability”. Some things never change.

 Betsy Lerner has worked as both an editor and an agent, but like all of us, she was new and inexperienced once. So much so that when a literary agent asked her to deal with a slush pile manuscript, she read it thoroughly and compiled a four-page report on the manuscript despite knowing it was unpublishable. The agent took one look at the report and said four words: “Did you like it?”

 “I lost my publishing virginity that day,” she writes ruefully.

 Another favorite part of mine was the unsolicited gifts she got along with manuscripts or queries. Nothing will ever beat the banana that Jane Smith received, but Lerner got “baby booties… a pair of dice, a five-dollar bill.” No, I don’t know what those were about either.

As Lerner says, this isn’t a book about how to write. It’s more of a step back to look at the bigger picture of publishing, and the many ways writers interact with their publishers: sometimes funny, sometimes inspiring, sometimes depressing (like the brilliant author with the heroin addiction). It’s an insight into how the people on the other side of the desk think, whether those people are literary agents or publicists. If she had included a chapter about cover artists as well, the book would have been perfect.

It's also peppered with memorable anecdotes and quotes about writing and publishing, such as this one about Flannery O’Connor:

When asked whether she thought writing programs in universities actually discouraged young writers, she replied, “Not enough of them.”

For writers who are curious about trade publishing, this is an entertaining, easy-to-read combination of memoir, self-help book and insider look into a business I find fascinating. It’s a long book, but that’s all the more to read. And here’s another four-word quote that I think is excellent advice: “Good writing creates luck.”

The Forest for the Trees is available on Amazon in paperback.
Bio : Marian Perera has three fantasy romances released by Samhain Publishing, with four more due in 2015 from both Samhain and Loose Id. She blogs about writing, publishing and her favorite genres at http://marianperera.blogspot.com, tweets as @MDPerera and has excerpts from her novels at http://www.marianperera.com. She collects books and swords, grows tomatoes, loves writing and reads everything. 

Flights of Fantasy

Friday, December 12, 2014

Publishing Pulse for December 12, 2014

New At QueryTracker:

Since the last Publising Pulse, we've added one agent profile and updated twenty four. That's a lot of motion in the industry, so please make sure you double-check every agent's website or Publisher's Marketplace page before sending your query.

If you're a QueryTracker premium member, then you can be notified whenever an agent or publisher profile is added or updated. If you're not a premium member, you can just check for yourself.

Publishing News:

Always changing is social media. In fact, Facebook is making some changes that may harm authors who use FB for marketing.

Amazon has listed its bestselling books for 2014. Buying off that list is kind of mutually reinforcing, no? Whatever. People liked those books. May we all sell as many. Meanwhile, the NY Times talks about the best book covers of 2014. My thought? Most of those covers would be death in a handbasket for genre fiction. The actual best book cover for a book is the cover that sells a million books.  I don't care if it's artful as long as it moves the product.

In case you weren't sure Neil Gaiman was amazing, he can recite Jabberwocky from memory.

A judge has ruled that you can send books to UK prisons. Apparently they're not dangerous after all.

Microsoft pulled out of its partnership with Nook.

Scholastic recalled a Geronimo Stilton book after it came to light that a map in the book completely erased the State of Israel.

Around the Blogosphere:

Agent Victoria Marini discusses working with a small press.

Identifying your unique brand.

Remember we talked about making an audiobook? Well, now it's time to market your audiobook.

And since we're talking about marketing, more tips for marketing bliss. Tell me that title itself isn't good marketing.

Eight things one author has learned about publishing a second book.

DBW has a survey out, and JA Konrath dissects the hell out of it. Takeaway: read the article and don't take the survey.

Literary Quote of the Week:

"All my life, I've been frightened at the moment I sit down to write." -Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Thanks for stopping by, and keep sending those queries! Oh, and buy someone special all the QT blog members' books for Christmas. Maybe yourself.

Jane Lebak is the author of An Arrow In Flight . She has four kids, four books in print, two cats, and one husband. She lives in the Swamp and tries to do one scary thing every day. You can like her on Facebook, but if you want to make her rich and famous, please contact Roseanne Wells of the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Battle Between Manipulation and Believability

What are two of the best ways to kick a reader out of your story? Write a story that tries to manipulate the reader or test the boundaries of believability.

A few summers ago, I took my kids to see the newest Winnie the Pooh movie. At one point in the movie *spoiler alert*, all of the friends (minus Piglet and Tigger) fell into a deep pit. Their only hope of escape was Piglet. At one point my seven year old asked (loudly), “Why doesn’t Owl fly out?” This echoed what everyone else in the theatre was thinking. A few minutes later, Owl did exactly that. He flew up and gave Piglet a motivational speech so Piglet would brave the scary woods and search for Christopher Robin. Owl then flew back into the pit to face the shocked expressions of his friends. Only they weren’t shocked that Owl flew out of the pit. They were shocked at what he had said to Piglet. The friends applauded and the audience laughed.

So why didn’t the audience have a problem with the scene in the Winnie the Pooh movie? Because from the beginning of the movie, it was made clear that the animal friends lacked for intelligence. Due to the sequence of events that happened between the opening of the movie and Owl flying out of the pit, we could easily believe that none of the friends would question why Owl didn’t just fly out and get help. The audience didn’t feel manipulated.

Now contrast this to a book I recently read. In it, the hero and heroine got close to “doing it” several times. But each time they came close to going all the way, they were interrupted by either the phone or the doorbell. The first two times was believable. By the fifth time, half way into the story, I felt manipulated and annoyed. More so after the great build up for the sex scene that I expected to rival all others (maybe even Fifty Shades of Gray) turned out to be nothing more than a fade to black scene. Talk about a major let down.

To avoid the issue of lack of believability, always ask yourself: “Have I given enough set up to the story so my readers are able to believe this event can happen this way?” If you’re not sure if it is feasible, ask someone who knows the answer. For example, if your protagonist is caught with drugs in his school locker, ask a police officer what would really happen to the character. Don’t make things up and hope for the best. And avoid overusing plot devices that will leave your reader feeling manipulated and frustrated. Either of these could result in your reader quitting the book prematurely, never picking up another of your books, and/or telling her friends how bad the book was. If you’ve sent the manuscript to an agent or editor, you’ve increased your chance of receiving a rejection instead of an offer. But if you’ve used the plot devices in a believable and unique way, you’ll increase the chance of an offer.

Has lack of believability or the feeling of being manipulated thrown you out of a story?

Stina Lindenblatt @StinaLL writes New Adult and adult contemporary romances. In her spare time, she’s a photographer, loves hanging out on Pinterest, and can be found at her blog/website. Her debut New Adult contemporary romance TELL ME WHEN and LET ME KNOW (Carina Press, HQN) are now available.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Guest Post: Beyond the Basic Questions for “The Agent Call”

Writers who want to take the path of traditional publishing all dream of that magic phone call when an agent offers to take them on as a client. It’s the first of many magical moments en route to seeing your book on a shelf in an actual bookstore.

For me, that phone call happened less than two years ago, and COMPULSION, the first book in my YA Southern Gothic romance trilogy came out from Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse on October 28th.

The two years between “the call” and publication have been a steep learning curve, and there isn’t nearly as much written about any aspect of that period as there is about the process of learning to write a book or craft an effective query letter. Even the questions authors suggest you ask during “the call” don’t go far enough. I have constantly come across terms and issues that are unfamiliar and that I have no idea how to handle.

Having come through these two years, I’d like to share what I’ve gleaned and put that knowledge in the form of additional questions to consider asking a prospective agent. Some of these are questions that I asked myself, some are questions I’ve since heard were asked by other authors, and some are questions that, having gone through the process, I believe would have helped me to manage expectations, smoothed communication, and resulted in less uncertainty on my part.

The Basic Questions

These are the defaults. You’ll find them suggested by almost every author, and you must force yourself to be your own advocate and ask them when the call actually happens. Not all agents will feel comfortable giving you details, and you will want to factor how they respond and communicate in general into your own decision process.

•    What do you like best about my manuscript?

•    What do you like the least?

•    How much editorial feedback do you like to provide?

•    Do you think the manuscript ready to submit to publishers, or does it need revisions before submission?

•    How extensive are the revisions you envision, and specifically what kind of changes are we talking about?

•    Did you have particular editors in mind for submission as you read?

•    What publishing houses do you think would be a good fit and why?

•    Where do you see this book positioned on a publisher’s list? Lead title, mid-list, etc.

•    What authors or books do you think are comparable and where do you see this positioned in a bookstore or categorized on Amazon?

•    Who do you see buying this book at a bookstore or online? How would you describe those people as a category?

•    How many editors do you envision sending it to in the first round of submissions?

•    What does your standard submission packet include and what is your submission process

•    How many rounds of submission are you willing to do before you consider a project “dead”?

•    Are you interested in representing only this project or do you want to represent future work with a career perspective?

•    Is there any work of mine, genre, age range, etc., that you would not be able to handle?

•    What sort of a path would you like to see with my career? How many books per year, what type of books, etc.?

•    Do you use a written agent-client contract?

•    How does your agency handle digital rights, foreign rights, and other subsidiary potentials?

•    How often do you provide updates on submission status?

•    Do you send copies of the editor’s responses?

•    Do you prefer to correspond by email or phone, and how often do you like to touch base verbally?

•    What sorts of things do you want to hear from me about and at what stage would you want to be involved in a new project?

•    What would be your ideal client relationship?

•    What is your standard agency royalty percentage?

•    How, and how often, is money distributed by your agency?

•    What would happen if you decided to leave the agency? Would I be able to stay with you, or would I be assigned another agent?

•    What are your standard termination provisions if either of us decide the relationship isn’t working?

Beyond the Basics

Initially, I thought the above was more than comprehensive. But there’s a great deal to working with an agent beyond the initial submission, and listening to author friends and meeting other authors since I embarked on the publication process, I have discovered that managing expectations for all concerned would have been much easier with additional information up front. The answers we get up front should provide us with a basic foundation of information. Without that, it’s too easy to spend time floundering and wishing for knowledge.

To that end, here are some additional things you might ask your agent and consider:

•    How involved do you expect to be in the editorial process once the book is purchased by a publisher? Do you ask for updates and gauge satisfaction from both author and agent?

•    How would you handle editorial differences of opinion between an editor and author?

•    How would you handle differences of opinion on titles or covers, etc?

•    How and when do you explain the various stages of the publication process or do you leave that to a publisher?

•    How would you handle a request for help if I need additional information, education, or intervention in the publishing process?

•    What do you see as the agent’s role when it comes to marketing or publicity decisions, mine or those of the publisher, and to changes or shifts in marketing or publicity plans for the book?

•    How do you handle foreign and subsidiary rights?

•    What do you see as your role, if any, if the publisher retains subsidiary rights, and what do you see as your role or process for checking/advocating for those rights?

•    If the book sells as part of a multi-book contract, what role do you expect to play in the editorial process for subsequent books?

•    How far in advance of the contractual submission deadline do you want/expect/need to receive subsequent contracted manuscripts?

•    At what point do you want to consider additional work to be submitted for “option” books or outside of an initial contract?

•    What sort of timeline do you envision needing before getting back to me when I submit future projects for potential submission?

•    How would you envision handling the situation if I love a project that you did not feel was salable or that you couldn’t market enthusiastically?


Martina Boone was born in Prague and spoke several languages before learning English. She fell in love with words and never stopped delighting in them. She's the author of COMPULSION, book one in the Southern Gothic trilogy from Simon and Schuster, Simon Pulse. COMPULSION is an RT Book Reviews ‘Top Pick’ Fall 2014 Okra Pick by the Southern Independent Bookstores Alliance, and a Goodreads Best Book of the Month and YA Best Book of the Month, described by Booklist as a “compelling mystery about feuding families and buried secrets, not to mention a steamy romance.” Publishers Weekly calls it an “impressive start to the Heirs of Watson Island series.”

Martina is also the founder of AdventuresInYAPublishing.com, a Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers site, the free monthly First Five Pages Workshop and YASeriesInsiders.com, a site devoted to encouraging literacy and all things YA Series by creating an intersection of different fandoms.