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Why Literary Agents should start looking for a new line of work (fast)

Should Literary Agent Rachelle Gardner worry her profession's days are numbered?

Literary Agent Rachelle Gardner recently posted what seemed like a simple question on her Blog:

“What is the most important thing you expect from a literary agent?”

I’ve had disagreements on Twitter with publishing icons like Michael Hyatt regarding what I’m about to say, but I still think I’m in the right on this:

In today’s world, I need a literary agent to sell ME on why I should use him or her – not the other way around.

Why? Well, it’s 2011. In book publishing, down is the new up. Authors no longer have to plead like disheveled beggars outside the e-mail inboxes of literary agents and publishers for someone to notice their work.

Here’s why:

  • Self-publishing and selling your own book at virtually no cost to yourself is easier than ever thanks to sites like CreateSpace and Lulu.
  • The emergence of e-books and e-readers like the Kindle and iPad has started pushing “traditional” book sales off a cliff.
  • “Nobodies” like John Locke (who sold 1 million e-books in 5 months) have shown us the blueprint for self-publishing success. (FYI, it includes pricing and – most important – building and growing a thriving Social Network of supporters, fans and brand evangelists.)
  • Unless you’re already a huge name like Stephen King, an author must handle all of his or her own marketing and PR efforts. In fact, literary agents and publishers now expect an author to come to the table having already established a selling platform and a thriving online network of Twitter followers, Facebook fans and the like.

Since authors already do all the work selling our books to readers, why split the royalties with a literary agent and/or traditional publisher?

The ONLY advantage I see in using an agent and/or traditional publishing house is large-scale distribution of a project into brick-and-mortar bookstores. But so what? Those places are dying a hasty death (remember Borders?) and won’t be around much longer. In addition, most standard publishing contracts only net the author $1.00 to $2.00 per book sold. Why not just self-publish and sell your project as an e-book for $2.99, keeping nearly all the profit for yourself?

(An aside: Pricing is key! Like John Locke says, if I sell my sports novel for .99 cents on Kindle and Author X’s sports novel retails for $9.99, that means Author X’s book has to be 10 times better than mine for the consumer to justify the expense. Right? Also, who won’t spend .99 cents on something even of mild interest to them in 2011? Make it $9.99, and we’re going to hesitate quite a bit more!)

I’ve worked with literary agents in the past and especially in Christian fiction. Most of my books are a tough sell because of my niche (sports fiction with a Christian theme). But I know that if I work my face off in the Social Media trenches like this guy taught me, I’ll see real results and move product.

That’s why literary agents and traditional publishers have become like landline telephones and fax machines: Once critically important to the process, they’re being pushed quickly and unceremoniously to the side.

I know we’re not all the way there yet. And maybe it won’t happen as fast as I think, but it will happen. That’s just fact.

You’re Fired: Why all the talent in the world and outstanding performance reviews won’t save your job

Hint: Unlike me, read this book BEFORE you get fired!

So I had coffee recently with the CEO who fired me a few years ago.

I still remember being floored at being fired. I knew I’d made a big mistake at the time after a dispute with a high-up exec (over the use of Social Media, of all things!) spilled over into a group e-mail where I let my anger get the best of me in front of the entire executive team. (FYI, Michael Hyatt has a great post about how to stop yourself from hitting “Send” after typing that angry e-mail!) Needless to say, it put my boss (the CEO) in a bad spot.

Still, I didn’t think I’d get fired over it. After all, I’d just gotten a huge raise, had racked up one outstanding performance review after another and even won a National PR Award during my most recent campaign for the organization. I thought I was bulletproof.

What amazed me even more was that a few months later, this CEO – an ultra talented, extremely hardworking and successful person, a true visionary in that industry – was canned as well. It came completely out of the blue, and made no sense in light of this executive putting together more than a decade of outstanding performance reviews, successes, awards, accolades, etc.

A few months later, at that same organization, two of its biggest rainmakers – people who were, again, ultra talented and successful, both coming off outstanding performance reviews and in fact having just received huge financial bonuses for exceeding sales goals – were fired on the same day. Totally out of the blue.

How does this kind of thing happen? Granted, you might be tempted to attribute the stories above to the thought that this was simply an aberration that happened at a single organization, but that’s not the case. It happens all the time, across all industries and in all types of of organizations. It may have even happened to you.

Now, had I read the groundbreaking book Power by Jeffrey Pfeffer back then, I believe I would have seen it all coming.

So I cannot say this strongly enough: You need to read this book!

At the very least, hop over to SlideShare and download my notes on it. “Power” is the type of book that will completely reframe how you approach your job, your career and everything else related to your professional life. It could also save your job, which needless to say is worth the price of admission (and then some) itself.

Here’s an example from the book that could have used the scenarios I described above as a case study:

Politics vs. Performance

  • People who had more political skill received higher performance evaluations and were rated as more effective leaders.
  • As long as you keep your boss or bosses happy, performance really does not matter that much and, by contrast, if you upset them, performance won’t save you.
  • One of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking that good performance – job accomplishments – is sufficient to acquire power and avoid organizational difficulties. Consequently, people leave too much to chance and fail to effectively manage their careers.
  • If you are going to create a path to power, you need to lose the idea that performance by itself is enough.
  • Research shows that job performance matters less for your evaluation than your supervisor’s commitment to and relationship with you.
  • Loyalty: CEOs tend to put loyalists in senior positions – regardless of what past incumbents have accomplished.
Needless to say, I learned an incredibly valuable (albeit painful) lesson about workplace dynamics and power after getting fired. But I believe now that it all could have been avoided had I approached my time at that organization applying the principles Pfeffer outlines in “Power.”

Have you had a similar experience? Have you seen examples of what I’m talking about? Have you read Power? Would love to hear your thoughts!

The Secret of Successful Negotiations (and the 1994 Saturn SL1 to prove it!)

Believe it or not, I'm still driving the 1994 Saturn mentioned in this post!

Michael Hyatt wrote a great post recently – “The Secret to Negotiating a Better Deal” – and it reminded me of my own experience with the fine art of haggling.

In a nutshell, here’s what you need to be successful:

  • Leverage: Usually in the form of other options. (Unless it’s an Apple product, which there simply is no match for! ;))
  • Walk-Away Power: You’re not so emotionally attached to the item that you just “have to have it” right now and can’t say no.
  • Research/Knowledge: You’ve done your homework on what a fair price is and what the alternative options are.
  • Timing: The game started 25 minutes ago when you approach a scalper who still has a fist full of unsold tickets, or you go to buy a car near the end of the sales quarter.

The best tactic I’ve learned as a customer is the ability to show the seller I’m willing to get up and walk away, no matter how long negotiations have gone on. No matter how much time, blood, sweat and tears I’ve put in. Because rarely is someone (especially a seller) who has also spent that much time, blood, sweat and tears negotiating with me going to WANT to let me get away!

In 1998, my wife needed to buy a car. I had a 1994 Saturn SL1 that ran great, and we found another one listed at a dealership nearby. My wife literally had a check from her father (we were both just out of college at the time, just starting our careers) for $6,200 to buy a car with. We called, and the dealer said on the phone the Saturn was priced at $8,500, but that we “should just come in and we can talk.”

So we did. And after spending three of four brutal hours negotiating with a used car salesman and being put through the ringer (“I have to go talk to my boss” and all the rest), I was hungry, tired and frustrated. I had a pounding headache and just wanted it all to over with. The thought of getting up and walking away, and having to do the entire process all over again made me sick to my stomach. But I told my wife we had to do it. She agreed.

So we got up to leave and said “no thanks,” even though we were now only $100 apart. We’d negotiated him all way down from $8,500 to $6,300 over the past 4 hours. We’d used the check from my wife’s dad as a prop for much of the day. She’d wave it in front of the sales guy (my wife is an awesome negotiator, by the way) and say, politely, “Look, this is literally all the money I have to spend. What part of that don’t you understand? You can see the check and the amount right here. I’ll be happy to sign it over to you right now, but this is literally all the money I have. So taxes, title, fees – it all has to add up to $6,200.”

We got up and left, and it took the stunned salesman several seconds to recover his wits. He burst through the glass doors at the main entrance, literally chasing after us as we walked through the parking lot. It was like a scene out of a bad movie.

“You’re going to walk away over $100?!” he yelled at me, incredulous.

“You’re going to LET us walk away over $100?” I shot back.

He threw up his hands, made a big spectacle then told us to come back inside because he’d give us the price we wanted.

I’ve done the same thing countless other times in all sorts of settings – with ticket scalpers at Minnesota Twins games (much easier during the Metrodome days than at brand new Target Field!), with extended warranties (especially for cars, you can always negotiate these and get 25-50 percent knocked off the list price), with home repair quotes, with Internet/TV service and more.

I learned it from my father, who was a master haggler. My old man prepared for and delighted in the fine art of haggling like a professional boxer training for a heavyweight bout. Even though he was the Vice President at a large liberal arts college, he’d dress in his worst clothes (pants with patches on the knees, a ratty gray sweatshirt, etc.) and would refuse to tell the salesperson what he did for a living. My father would prepare for weeks at a time, researching the item he wanted to buy and every possible discount and scenario imaginable. He’d put on Hollywood-quality performances, raising and lowering his voice, running the emotional spectrum, acting aloof and cool at the appropriate moments, showing off the “walk-away power” that strikes fear into a salesman’s heart.

The old man and haggling: It was like watching an artist creating a masterpiece right in front of your eyes! My favorite part was afterward, when my father inevitably got the deal he wanted. He’d have that twinkle in his eye, the “Heh, heh, heh” laugh he was so famous for, and another great story to tell. To this day that’s one of the things I miss most about my father. (He died in 1993.)

Speaking of stories, do you have any good ones to share? Any tips I left out of this post?

You’ll Be Sorry if you don’t read this: The Best Haggler I Ever Knew

My old man in the late 1970s, cooking up another haggling scheme no doubt!

I’m going to Blog about this more in depth next week, but Michael Hyatt wrote such a great post today – “The Secret to Negotiating a Better Deal” – that I had to share this memory.

When it came to the fine art of haggling, my father was a master. The old man prepared for and delighted in the fine art of haggling like a professional boxer training for a heavyweight bout. Even though he was the Vice President at a large liberal arts college, he’d dress in his worst clothes (pants with patches on the knees, a ratty gray sweatshirt, etc.) and would refuse to tell the salesperson what he did for a living. My father would prepare for weeks at a time, researching the item he wanted to buy and every possible discount and scenario imaginable. He’d put on Hollywood-quality performances, raising and lowering his voice, running the emotional spectrum, acting aloof and cool at the appropriate moments, showing off the “walk-away power” that strikes fear into a salesman’s heart.

The old man and haggling: It was like watching an artist creating a masterpiece right in front of your eyes! My favorite part was afterward, when my father inevitably got the deal he wanted. He’d have that twinkle in his eye, the “Heh, heh, heh” laugh he was so famous for, and another great story to tell. To this day that’s one of the things I miss most about my father. (He died in 1993.)

Question: Do you know any master hagglers? Are you one? Share your story in the Comments!

The Power of Twitter – Thomas Nelson’s CEO and Me

Not so long ago, the idea of me – a self published author – being able to have a personal conversation with the CEO of Thomas Nelson – arguably the biggest and best publishing house in Christian books today – would have been laughable.

But thanks to Twitter, Thomas Nelson CEO Michael Hyatt not only follows me, but has even DM’d me! Granted, it’s not like we are close personal friends, but Mike (after one DM I feel like we’re on a first name basis) and I are Tweeps now!

And the way I connected with Him was NOT by sending him self-promoting “Will you publish my Christian novels?” type drivel. Rather, I’ve taken the time to follow his Tweets, and offer @replies and other methods of feedback and/or congratulations related to Thomas Nelson and it’s brand.

By taking an interest in his Tweets and adding useful replies to the ongoing conversation, I’ve become a part (albeit a tiny one) of Mike’s consciousness online.

Literary agents, are you listening? Authors looking for a break, are YOU listening?

Michael Hyatt is. And I think that’s one of the main reasons his company had 8 of the 10 best sellers on a recent book list. Mike is out there listening and interacting with people like me, people who buy his books and are passionate about his industry. And as a result I now feel a personal connection to Thomas Nelson as a consumer. I’m all warm and fuzzy because it’s CEO literally took five seconds to DM me. Wonder what publisher’s books are going to be at the front of my mind next time I go into a Christian bookstore?

See how this works?

The power, influence and ability to connect with anyone – even a big shot CEO at a major publishing house! – is what makes Social Media the most important development since the Internet itself was invented.

And if you have a brand (including yourself!) out there to advocate for, once you start putting in the sweat equity (to quote Gary Vaynerchuk) in the trenches, chances to make career and potentially life changing connections are just out there waiting to happen.

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