Conferences—Advancing Your #Writing Career

best-selling author of more than twenty novels, ROBIN CAROLL writes to
entertain. Her books have been recognized by the Carol Award, HOLT Medallion,
Daphne du Maurier, RT Reviewer’s Choice Award, and more. She serves the writing
community as the Executive/Conference Director for ACFW. Find out more about
Robin at
Your Writing Career
As a
little girl, I had a dream—to be a writer. Life ensued. I went to college and
graduated with a paralegal certificate, then realized I hated the legal
industry. I wanted to experience life, so I went to work in the automobile
industry. Stayed there, in customer service, for ten years. Let me tell you,
THAT was an experience. Every now and then, I’d remember the dream and write a
poem. Enter it in a contest, got a couple published. Then I got married and had
my first daughter. I had such a busy life, how could I think of my dream? Until
the day my little girl and I were reading, and I thought to myself, “I love
reading, have always loved reading. I want to be an author, have always wanted
to be an author.” I decided to do something this time. I enrolled in a Writer’s
Digest fiction course. Completed it, and began work on a manuscript.
interrupted again. We moved—twice. I had two more little girls. But the dream
didn’t die. And ten years after I completed my fiction course, I decided to do
something again. I bought craft books. Joined writing groups. And learned about
writing conferences. Before then, I hadn’t a clue that there were conferences
you could attend to take workshops and classes to learn and study. Places you
could go and be taught by nationally recognized authors. Events where you could
meet with *gasp* editors and agents,
face-to-face. Boy, was I hungry for that.
I attended some small, local conferences. Learned
what a pitch was. Realized I was nowhere ready to pitch to an agent, much less
an editor. Honed. Studied. Absorbed. It took me having gone to four conferences
before I attended the “big” ones—ACFW National and RWA National.
At my first conferences I:
  • Met
    my critique partners face-to-face and our relationship changed from just
    writing partners to dear friends for life.
  • Met
    my mentor in person and realized I loved her just as much as I did on
    email and telephone.
  • Met
    my agent in person for the first time.
  • Pitched
    to the editor who ended up contracting my first book—the one I’d pitched
    to her.
  • Networked
    with editors who I just like hanging out with because they’re fun
  • Been
    blessed to have taught and encouraged other writers
  • Realized
    how much I NEED conferences to feed my writing spirit
Now that I’m published and have many, many
conferences under my belt, I still wouldn’t miss going to at least one or two a
year. Why? Because now I can:
  • Connect with my
    writing friends. There’s something special about hugging a friend and
    praying with them in person.
  • Network with others
    in the industry.
  • Visit with my agent
    and various editors I’ve worked with.
  • Get up-to-date
    information on this ever-changing industry.
  • Feed my writing
  • Learn new insights
    as well as brush up on my skills to hone my craft.
Want to advance your writing career? GO TO A
CONFERENCE. Yes, it takes money to go. Plan ahead. Apply for scholarships. Sale
the kids. (Ok, I’m kidding about that.) But the expense is worthwhile—you’re
investing in your career. And for me? It’s investing in my mental stability to
be around others in this crazy industry.
As a white water rafting guide, Katie
Gallagher must battle the forces of nature on a daily basis. When sabotage
becomes apparent on a weekend rafting trip, Katie must determine who she can
trust—and who has their own agenda.

Hunter Malone has a mission on a
business adventure trip on the Gauley River, a mission that didn’t include a
spunky guide who could handle the class-five rapids better than he’d ever
imagined. But can she handle the truth?

The Myth of the Unearned Advance

The following blog post is shared
by permission from the Steve Laube Agency blog.
A common myth permeating the industry is that a book is
not profitable if the author’s advance does not earn out. I would like to
attempt to dispel this myth.
First let’s define the term “Advance.” When a book
contract is created between a publisher and an author, the author is usually
paid an advance. This is like getting an advance against your allowance when
you were a kid. It isn’t an amount that is in addition to any future earnings
from the sale of the book. Instead, like that allowance, it is money paid in
advance against all future royalties, and it must therefore be covered by
royalty revenue (i.e. earned out) before any new royalty earnings are paid.
The advance is usually determined by a series of
assumptions that the publisher makes with regard to the projected performance
of each title. The publisher hopes/plans that the book will earn enough royalty
revenue to cover the advance within the first year of sales.
A NY Times essay
a couple years ago casually claimed “the fact that 7 out of 10 titles do not
earn back their advance.” Of course they did not cite a source for that “fact.”
But I have seen it quoted so often is must be true! (and it isn’t.) The
implication then is that a book isn’t profitable if it doesn’t earn out its
advance. The publisher overpaid and has lost money. The author is the happy
camper who is counting their cash gleefully celebrating the failure of their
publisher to project sales correctly.
Let me try to explain why that isn’t always true. And to
do so means we have to do math together. This may be a little complicated, but
realize that these calculations are critical and each publisher runs these kind
of scenarios on your books. To dismiss this conversation and claim you “don’t
do math” is to ignore the lifeblood of your profession.
Realize that this is a generic model. Each and every
number below fluctuates from title to title. That is the weakness of the exercise,
but bear with me.
Advance paid to author: $10,000
Retail price: $13.00 (paperback)
Net price: $6.50 (this is what the publisher receives
when they sell the book – to dealers, big box retailers, distributors, etc. )
Copies sold: 10,000
Scenario one: Author earns 14% of net for each
book sold. ($6.50 net x 14% royalty x 10,000 sold)
Thus, after selling 10,000 copies the author has earned
Leaving $900 of the advance unearned.
Scenario two: Author earns 16% of net for each
book sold ($6.50 net x 16% royalty x 10,000 sold)
Thus, after selling 10,000 copies the author has earned
The publisher writes a royalty check to the author for
$400. The amount above the original advance.
The myth says that scenario one equates a failed and unprofitable
book , while scenario two is a profitable book.
But wait! Let’s do some more math.
New Assumptions. (remember these are all estimates based
solely on this scenario.)
BOTH scenarios have the publisher making the same amount
of revenue. ($6.50 net x 10,000 sold.) Both scenarios generated $65,000 in net
revenue for the publisher.
To determine profitability we have to subtract costs.
Fixed costs
Editorial expense: $8,000 (includes all stages of the
editorial process)
Design (typesetting/cover): $4,000
Printing and warehousing:  $15,000 (the approximate
cost of printing 12,000 copies)
Marketing and PR: $10,000 (an average of $1 per book)
Administrative costs: $13,000 (20% of the net revenue)
Advance paid to author: $10,000
TOTAL COSTS: $60,000
Profit for the Publisher: $5,000 (or 7.7% of revenue
before tax)
or the $65,000 in revenue minus the $60,000 of total
Are you with me so far?
Now watch this.
Scenario one – (with the unearned advance still
on the books) has a profit of $5,000 for the publisher.
Scenario two – (pays the author $400 for
earnings beyond the advance) has a profit of $4,600 for the publisher.
In this comparison it is the book that didn’t earn
out the advance
that actually makes more money for the publisher!
Why? Because scenario one pays a lower royalty per book
sold. The advance itself has NOTHING to do with it. The advance is a fixed cost
that is covered by the revenue generated by the publisher.
Pause and reflect on that for a moment.
The advance is a cost of acquisition. If that cost of
acquisition in the above scenario were $50,000 of course neither scenario would
have been profitable because sales would not have been enough to cover all the
costs. And it is likely, if there was a $50,000 advance, the publisher would
have spent more on marketing and PR.
So this is not an argument for bigger advances. Instead
it is an attempt to show, albeit using controlled statistics, that an unearned
advance does not necessarily equate the failure of a book!
So when is a book profitable if there is a bigger
Let me do one more set of numbers to illustrate:
Advance paid to author: $75,000
Retail price: $13.00 (paperback)
Net price: $6.50
Copies sold: 45,000
TOTAL REVENUE ($6.50 net x 45,000 sold.) = $292,500.
Fixed costs
Editorial expense: $8,000
Design (typesetting/cover): $4,000
Printing and warehousing:  $55,000 (the approximate
cost of printing 50,000 copies)
Marketing and PR: $75,000
Administrative costs: $58,500 (20% of the net revenue)
Advance paid to author: $75,000
TOTAL COSTS: $275,500
Profit for the Publisher: $17,000 (or 5.8% of revenue
before tax)
If you are an experienced person from the publishing
side of the table it is obvious that this is a very generic scenario that has
only an echo of reality. For example, the net revenue for a publisher is
usually less than the 50% of retail that I used above. That is because
distributors and specialty vendors (like the book racks you see in the airport)
command a much higher discount off the retail. Thus the true picture is highly
complex. And we don’t even touch on ebooks or ebook sales or royalties here.
This exercise is merely to show a business model where the advance is a fixed
cost. Not a cost that has to be earned out for the book to be profitable.
In the above case, a book with a $75,000 advance makes
money after only 45,000 copies are sold.

So what do you think? Is the math realistic? Does it
make sense? What are the implications (either to the publisher or the author)?
Steve Laube, a literary agent and president of The Steve Laube Agency, has been in the book industry for over 31 years, first as a bookstore manager where he was awarded the National Store of the Year by CBA. He then spent over a decade with Bethany House Publishers and was named the Editor of the Year in 2002. He later became an agent and has represented over 700 new books and was named Agent of the Year by ACFW. His office is in Phoenix, Arizona.

Who is Your Audience?

Guest post by Robin Patchen
I’ve heard plenty of authors say
they write for themselves and for God—an audience of two. I do that
myself. I’ve filled journals with thoughts and prayers,
written for myself, an offering to God. But my books? I don’t
write them for me.
I do have an audience for them, though. And it’s
not some generic demographic. It’s not some non-existent person
between the ages of 20 and 60. No, my reader is more than that.
She’s in her mid-forties, a member
of Generation X, and she probably couldn’t tell you what that means. And maybe it means nothing. As a little
girl, she wore orange-flowered pants and pulled her milk out of a gold
refrigerator. Or maybe it was olive green. She watched Sesame Street and
never missed Saturday morning cartoons. She got a perm in middle school, hated
it, swore she’d never do it again, and then got another one in
high school. She wore great big bows in her hair to go along with her shoulder
pads and chunky jewelry. She shampooed with PermaSoft or Gee, Your
Hair Smells Terrific
, and then she covered that great scent with Aqua
to keep her big hair in place.
She joined her family to enjoy the Huxtables every Thursday
night. She remembers that chick from Weird Science asking viewers not to
hate her because she was beautiful, and she remembers secretly wishing being
beautiful enough to be hated.
She watched the nightly reports about the hostages in Iran and
the images as they returned to American soil. The shocking moment when John
Hinkley’s bullet came within inches of altering the course
of history was wedged forever as an image in her mind, as was the wedding of
the century. Prince Charles and Diana, taught her that even ordinary girls can
be princesses.
She thought Guns N’ Roses’
Sweet Child of Mine a stirring melody. Or maybe she couldn’t
be bothered with “Water Pistols & Pansies”
and instead preferred the more sophisticated sound of U2. Either way,
she knew all at the words to Toni Basil’s Hey, Mickey, and if
she happens to hear it, she sings along every time.
She wore jeans from Sassoon and Jordache and Gloria Vanderbilt
and Calvin Klein. She owned a Member’s Only jacket, sported a
bi-level at least once, and dated a guy with a MacGyver mullet. Business in the
front…always more party in the back.
Her parents, products of the 50s, were gloriously unaware of the
world they raised their daughter in. About half of them stayed married to their
first spouses, so it’s likely my reader was raised
by a single mother and spent Wednesdays and every other weekend with her dad.
Unlike her mother (she hoped), my reader did not wait until she was married to
experiment with sex. In fact, she might not have waited until she was out of
high school. She learned early on that so-called free love came at a great cost—more
than just pregnancy and disease. The emotional cost couldn’t
be undone with a procedure or a prescription.
Unlike Bill Clinton, she might have inhaled a time or two. She
discovered alcohol young enough that it was still deliciously illegal, and the
drugs and the alcohol, too, cost more than just her weekly allowance. Or maybe
she was a good girl watching her friends make those choices, wishing her world
were less complicated.
She was raised to believe she could have it all—career,
marriage, children. Her future was so bright, she needed Ray-Bans to look at
it. She went to college, studied hard, and planned to achieve success in the
form of a six-figure salary and a four-bedroom house.
Only it didn’t turn out as she’d
planned. Not that it was bad—just unexpected. She got a job
and realized the workplace was nothing like Michael J. Fox made it look in The
Secret of My Success
. She met a guy and learned the hard way that marriage
was nothing like they made it appear in The Cosby Show. And then she had
children, and nothing had prepared her for that.
She rocked her babies and cried as she watched the towers fall on
9/11, wondering what kind of a world she’d brought
these children into. Along with the rest of the nation, she sang God Bless
and prayed and somehow went on in a world that was no longer sane.
Maybe she worked full time and raised her kids. Maybe she was
blessed with a part-time job. Maybe she home schooled. No matter what, she was
busier than her mother, than any woman in any generation before her. And she
still is. Today, her favorite music is on the oldies station, and her kids sing
along with her, because somehow, it’s cool again. If only big hair
would come back into style, too.
She’s struggling with her
teenagers while her parents have procedures—joint
replacements and heart surgeries and everything in between. She’s
still married or long divorced, and either way, despite all the people in her
life, sometimes she’s lonely.
She remembers the choices from so many years ago, the boy with
the bad haircut and the sweet talk. The partying and the fun that never really
was. She thinks about those things that cost her so much and longs for the
simple joy of floral-scented shampoo. She sometimes wishes she could do it
differently. Yes, she lives with regrets. And then she sees the faces of the
people she loves and realizes she, too, is loved. She’s not
perfect, but she matters. Because it was never about perfection. It was about
going for it. Trying and falling and standing up again.
The woman I write for is not a demographic or a statistic. She’s
a real, living, breathing human being. 
She is my friend.
And yes, maybe, she’s a lot like me.
Who are your readers?
What do you hope to say to them? How do you think your books will
touch their lives?
Robin Patchen lives in Edmond, Oklahoma, with her husband and
three teenagers. Her third book, Finding Amanda, released in April, and its
free prequel, Chasing Amanda, released in July. When Robin isn’t
writing or caring for her family, she works as a freelance editor at Robin’s
Red Pen, where she specializes in Christian fiction. Read excerpts and find out
more at her website.

A Growing Divide in the Christian Fiction Industry?

Several weeks ago, literary agent Chip MacGregor caused a bit of a stir in Christian fictionland by frankly commiserating the state of the industry. MacGregor wrote:

CBA-LogoMD“CBA [Christian Booksellers Association] fiction is in a world of hurt. When I started my literary agency nine years ago, Christian fiction was the fastest-growing segment in all of publishing, and continued to be a growth category for a couple more years. But, as I’ve said so often, publishing is a ‘tidal’ business — the tide comes in, the tide goes out. Seven, eight, nine years ago, it was in. Then the tide started to recede, and now it’s out. Way, way out. 

Several CBA publishing houses that used to do fiction don’t do it any more. (Today [July 8, 2015], Abingdon announced they’re killing their fiction program, for example.) Several others have cut back their lists. There are fewer slots for authors, and shopping for inspirational fiction has become harder. Barnes & Noble sort of sticks all religious fiction off into one corner, so if you don’t walk in specifically hoping to find that section, you’re not going to stumble onto it. Books-a-Million does a better job, but they’re not a huge chain. The potential demise of Family Christian Stores is a looming disaster — it leaves Lifeway Stores as the biggest chain, and the fiction decisions at Lifeway have been a huge disappointment to many of us in the industry (meaning the company only wants VERY safe Christian romances where nothing truly bad happens, sex doesn’t exist, everyone talks like they’re living in Andy Griffith Land, and in the end the characters will fall to their knees and accept Christ so that All Life Problems Will Be Resolved). Sales numbers have fallen, so that the novelist who used to routinely sell 18,000 copies is now selling 9000, or sometimes 4000. With that decline has come a drop in advance and royalties, so that far fewer CBA novelists are earning a living than just a few years ago.”

As an author, someone who has written for and has friends in the CBA, it is refreshing to hear industry insiders speak honestly about the state of business. Especially important, in my opinion, was MacGregor’s admission that with Lifeway remaining “the biggest chain” of brick and mortar distributors, and the store’s commitment to “VERY safe Christian romances,” CBA fiction is guaranteed to continue to struggle

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the post prompted a swift response from CBA defenders. In her post, What’s Really Going On With Christian Fiction: A Response to the Chatter, Lifeway book buyer Rachel McCrae doubles down on the “Lifeway brand.”

As the book buyer, I have the responsibility to make sure the titles we carry at LifeWay fit within our beliefs as Christians as well as within our company’s parameters of what we do and do not carry. LifeWay is owned by the Southern Baptist Convention and because of that, there will be times that we choose not to carry an author or a particular book. For instance, with nonfiction books, there are authors who have different theological views than we do at LifeWay so we choose not to carry their titles. If we decide to not stock a fiction title, it has historically been because of vulgar language, using the Lord’s name in vain, or explicit descriptions of sex, abuse, or violence. [emphasis mine]

So on one hand you have a literary agent lamenting the types of books that Christian booksellers sell (and even connecting the preponderance of such fiction as stunting long-term growth), while you have an influential bookseller defending their choices to carry such books. 

This, I believe, is evidence of a growing divide in the Christian fiction industry. 

It may also show where the power really lies. Most notably, see MacGregor’s update to his original post:

UPDATE: I’ve had several people take me to task for being hard on Lifeway. Just so I’m clear, my criticism is of the larger Lifeway chain and its decisions, not of one particular buyer. I’ve found the chain has been very reluctant to take in much realistic fiction — but several have told me it would be unfair to blame the buyer. I’m sorry if I hurt feelings.

Obviously, MacGregor’s in a tough spot, needing to both represent authors who need Lifeway, while representing authors who are, basically, hurt by Lifeway’s “[reluctance] to take in much realistic fiction.” But his concerns are valid — Does a commitment to “safe” fiction actually damage the brand long-term?

What’s at issue here is a specific view of “Christian art.” The — a belief that our “Christian” obligation is to create and support the proliferation of “safe,” sanitized fiction; stories that are free from “vulgar language, using the Lord’s name in vain, or explicit descriptions of sex, abuse, or violence,” as opposed to stories written by believers that are “realistic fiction.”

This is the dividing line between much of the CBA;s Old Guard and the New Guard. 

I attended a workshop at the 2012 Dallas ACFW [American Christian Fiction Writers] with Allen Arnold, former fiction acquisitions editor for Thomas Nelson. Really, it was just one long Q & A session, so the conversation went everywhere. I’d estimate maybe fifty-plus attendees. Being it was an open forum and Mr. Arnold has commented on this blog, I took the opportunity to ask about the ever thorny language guidelines and what I perceived as a need for more realism in Christian fiction. It led to a much longer discussion with other attendees chiming in, mostly in agreement. Until one gentleman, visibly shaken, made an impassioned plea that we should not be apologizing for clean, inspirational Christian fiction. We are writing some of the best books on the planet, he said, and we have the message the world needs to hear. It was a clear counter to the point I’d raised and, unlike my question, received a polite round of applause. The incident was a stark reminder of the very real polarization among Christians regarding what Christian fiction should be. 

Whether or not there is a genuine ideological divide in the industry, being honest about the state of the CBA is essential for its long-term growth and/or survival. Is the CBA really “in a world of hurt”? Is a commitment to “sanitized” fiction really limiting the scope of potential readership? Or should such values continue to be a distinguishing mark of our stories? Is the closing of Christian fiction lines simply a temporary glitch, or does it signal a sea-change in the rapidly changing world of publishing? How you answer these questions may determine what side of the “divide” you’re on.

* * *

Mike Duran is a monthly contributor to Novel Rocket, and is represented by the rockin’ Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary. Mike’s novels include The Ghost Box, a Publishers Weekly starred review item, The TellingThe Resurrection, an ebook novella, Winterland, his short story anthology Subterranea, and the newly released Christian Horror: On the Compatibility of a Biblical Worldview and the Horror Genre. You can visit his website, or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.