CAG Spotlight

CAG Spotlight with Eddie Jones

July 20, 2013
Eddie Jones
Eddie Jones, Acquisition Agent for Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas.

This is Cynthia L. Simmons of Christian Authors Guild and
you are listening to CAG Spotlight where we interview authors and VIP’s of the
writing industry. Today I have with me Eddie Jones of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. Welcome, Eddie.

Eddie: Hey,
Cynthia. Great to be on the show.

 Cynthia:  It’s
conference time. Christian Authors Guild is offering Catch The Wave writing
conference in August, and ACFW is in September. We will be presenting
manuscripts to acquisitions editors and I know you do this, Eddie. Can you help
us to get that little extra bit of something so that we can get our manuscripts
in print?

Eddie: Sure.
The first advice I give conferees, I’ve done this, I think this year I’m
probably going to serve on faculty at probably twelve different writer’s
conferences. I may approach it a little bit different than some other
faculties, but there is kind of a trend that all the faculty see when we’re
meeting with conferees. And that is that the conferees sometimes just get so
jazzed up with the appointment, they’ve been told how to make their pitch, they
only get a couple of minutes to really make that pitch and get the editor or
the agent’s attention.. So they’re prepared their one-sheet and they’ve
prepared their proposal. But then they come in, and for us, the faculty sitting
across the table, it’s almost like we’re getting a firehouse in our face.

So one of the things I do with almost every conferee is I
kind of let just spill everything out and then I pause and I ask one or two
questions that really gets to the heart of what they’re trying to say. Often
times that kind of throws them off their game, because they came in, again,
thinking they were going to kind of control the conversation. But often times
the faculty wants to know a little bit more about the person sitting across the
table than they do the project. And in fact, that’s probably maybe the best
advice I could give a conferee, is in the end you’ve just to go to keep in mind
that editors and agents are people. This is a relationship business. No matter
how good the pitch is or the project is or even how well your writing is, if
the editor or the agent doesn’t feel like they can build a rapport with that
author and they can establish a relationship, they may not be that jazzed about
the project anyway.

That’s kind of one observation I’ve made throughout the

Cynthia: What
kind of things did you do beforehand, and what did you bring to an interview?

Eddie: Definitely
bring your one-sheet, and bring your proposal if you have it. Do not expect the
editor or the agent, in most cases, to take that proposal with them. In fact,
most of us may not even take your one-sheet. But it’s good for you to have
because we’re going to ask questions and you’re going to need to refer to that
proposal or that one-sheet to answer those questions. We may ask what your
marketing is and you need to be able to quickly flip to that section of your
proposal and give us the numbers we need for your marketing. How many Facebook
friends do you have, Twitter followers, what’s your Pinterest reach, are you on
Goodreads. What’s your platform and can you market the book. We may ask those
questions. You need to be able to get your hands on that information quickly.

But most editors and agents that come to conferences, in a
lot of cases, they’re flying in, so they just don’t have room to take printed
copies of anything back with them. So often times we will ask, if we’re
interested, to email us the proposal as an attachment or the one-sheet as an
attachment. If you’ve got it on a flash drive that’s good too. When I go to
conferences if somebody gives me a flash drive I can take that back to the room
and transfer it to my laptop, and then I have it with me. For me that’s really
helpful because I’m flying to conferences, and if I’ve got the proposal when I
leave the conference, or the one-sheet, then in the airport and on the plane I
can kind of look over a lot of what I’ve just talked with an author about, and
make a decision before I get home. If I don’t do that then it’s back to that
three-month turnaround because we got home, we’re so inundated that then it
takes forever to filter through everything.

That would be one of the things I would encourage them to
do. Put your proposal or your one-sheet on a flash drive, invest in that $10,
and be selective about who you’re going to give it to. Obviously you don’t want
to go giving away flash drives. But that’s probably a better option than
suggesting that a conferee give an editor or an agent a hard printed copy of
their proposal.

Cynthia:  Before
you go to the conference you would have looked at the different websites and
you would know what the publishers accept, so that when you get there you’re
handing that publisher a manuscript that he would be willing to publish.

Eddie: Absolutely.
Absolutely. Cynthia, you bring up a good point. That is key when a conferee is
meeting with a faculty member, and editor or an agent. You need to know in
advance what that house is looking for. And if they’re not looking for the
project that you’re pitching then be respectful of that and don’t argue with
the editor.

In a lot of cases the houses don’t necessarily tell you. We
put up submission guidelines on our website most times. Lighthouse Publishing
of the Carolinas doesn’t because we don’t take unsolicited manuscripts. And so
usually the conferees don’t know in advance what we’re looking for unless we
tell them. But most major houses they’ve got their submission guidelines up on
the site, so you know what they’re interested in purchasing before you get to
the conference.

But if you get to an editor and they used to do historical
and you’re pitching historical and they say you know what, we just stopped
taking historical, we’re moving away from that, be respectful of the editor’s
words and don’t argue with them. Don’t say well, oh man, but this is the best
historical ever. If they say they’re not taking it, they’re not taking it.

And then you’ve got a fifteen-minute appointment. Try to
learn as much as you can about that editor and what they are looking for.
Because you’ve got that valuable time you don’t want to waste it, so even if
that house isn’t a good fit for that current project, it’s a chance for you to
build a relationship and a rapport with that editor. And then maybe come back
with a different proposal that does fit what they’re looking for.

Cynthia: What
do you like to see on a one-sheet? Just so that everyone knows what we’re
talking about.

Eddie:  Each
editor and agent looks at a one-sheet a little bit differently. What I tell
authors, I view it just like a reader would in a bookstore. For me a one-sheet
is going to take about a minute to go through, at the most. So I tell authors
imagine you’re going into Barnes and Noble, you’re standing in front of a
bookshelf, you pick up a book off the shelf, and you scan the front cover.
That’s going to give you the title, the author, if there’s a tagline that goes
with that title. The one that comes off the top of my head is I think it was
the second Jaws movie where it says “just when you thought it was safe to go
back in the water”. Something to that effect. One man, one bullet, one chance.
That would be the tagline for an action-adventure story or something.

So you’ve got your title, your tagline, your author name,
and probably in some cases you’ve got some visual element on that one-sheet
that hints at what you think the cover might look like. It’s not that you’re
designing the cover, but if it’s a romantic beach read you’re probably going to
have picture of a sunset or a sunrise at a beach, or people walking on the
beach, of something like that. So you’re going to have maybe one visual
element. But you don’t always have to do that. Some editors and agents don’t
want to see visual.

But beyond that, Cynthia, it’s that back cover copy. It’s
the promise of the book, it’s the premise of the book, and it’s the payoff for
the reader. So I’m going to read probably a couple of paragraphs that’s going
to describe what this book is, what its promise is, what I expect to get from
the book if the reader, and that’s going to tell me whether or not, as a
reader, if I’m interested in that book. And as an editor it’s going to tell me
whether or not I’m interested in talking to this author about this project.

 Cynthia: But
your proposal is going to be a bit longer than that, correct?

Eddie:             Yeah.
I teach at a lot of conferences about how important that proposal is. Normally
I recommend authors, if they don’t know how to put a proposal together, to just
Google Michael Hyatt book proposals. You’ll find it on the Michael Hyatt
website. It’s like $20 for the non-fiction version, $20 for the fiction
version. It’s one that I recommend.

But that book proposal is everything. What I tell authors
are imagine you’re going to apply for a job. And so you show up for that job,
it is the kind of car you drove when you showed up for the interview. It is the
wardrobe that you wore to the interview. It is your hairstyle, it is your
nails, it is whether you have perfume on, whether you have too much perfume on.
It’s your resume, it’s your shoes, it’s your references on the resume. That’s
what your book proposal is. It is everything about your project and you,
because when that proposal gets to the editorial committee and the publishing
board and they’re making a decision about your book project, the only thing
that they can evaluate is that proposal.

That’s all they have. And so they’re going to read through.
The one-sheet that you had is going to be incorporated into the proposal, there
will be parts of that one-sheet in that proposal. But then everything else will
be in there as well. Your full marketing plan, your bio, your endorsements if
you have any endorsements from other writers or key figures within the
industry. Definitely your first fifty pages of writing are going to be in
there. If it’s a non-fiction book it’s going to be your table of contents and
sample chapters, and things like that.

I guess the one piece of advice I would give authors are
don’t shortchange yourself on the proposal and do it in a hurry, because that
is the only thing we have to evaluate you on. When it goes up to the pub board
it really doesn’t make any difference who you are or whether or not we met you
at a conference. By then there’s been enough time distance between when we met
you and when we’re evaluating your work that we have to judge it based on that

Cynthia: What
happens if you get tongue-tied? Because that has happened to me. I ended up
having to meet someone, I wasn’t prepared, and for some reason I swallowed my
tongue. What do you do?

Eddie: It
does not make a difference. Like I said, editors and agents, we have done this,
most of us, long enough to know that that’s just part of the drill. What I
would suggest is when you get tongue-tied stop talking, look down at your lap
for a minute, compose yourself, look up, make eye contact with the editor or
the agent, and say you know what? I just lost my train of thought. I guess the
one thing I want you to know about my proposal is that if you’ve been suffering
from cancer there is hope, and my story talks about how there’s hope coming out
of cancer. Whatever your pitch is, come back to that one key point, and then
pick up from there.

But we don’t care if you get tongue-tied. That’s part of the
business. We understand that.

Cynthia: Here’s
a hypothetical situation. What if you have a wonderful idea, you write really
well, but your platform is just a little iffy. Does that mean that you’re an
automatic zero and you shouldn’t even try till later?

Eddie: It
doesn’t make you an automatic zero with every publishing house, but it does
make you an automatic zero with a lot of publishing houses. A lot of houses,
and or agents, are going to probably tell you I love your concept, I love your
writing, and I love you. You just look like a wonderful author, like somebody
I’d love to work with. And I will encourage you to come back. Grow your social
media platform, your reach, and come back and pitch to me again next year. You
will hear that often at conferences.

And so in your mind you’re going oh man, that was a no. It’s
not a no. It’s a wait, it’s a come back later.

For other houses, smaller houses like Lighthouse Publishing
of the Carolinas and some smaller indie houses, the platform, it’s important,
but we’re not going to necessarily say no because we know the book’s going to
take about a year to come out anyway. And so that gives us and you a year to
help you grow your platform. And so we may take an author on who’s got a great
project, great premise, and is a terrific writer, and we’ll just help them grow
their social media long the way and then trust by the time the book comes out
they’ve done the things they need to do to get that influence.

Cynthia: What
about your website? Do you look at that?

Eddie:  I do
not personally go look at it. I will tell you, I’m not going to speak for all
the publishing houses, obviously. I don’t know how their inner workings of all
of them work. But I will tell you that an awful lot of editors and agents, when
they get into the pub board situation, when they’re evaluating that book
proposal, they might be looking at your website. They’re definitely looking at
your Amazon presence. They’re seeing what your previous books are on Amazon,
what was the sales ranking, what were the reviews. So from that they can get an
idea of how well the book sold.

And so that’s one of the reasons I tell authors when they’re
considering self-publishing a book, and we haven’t gotten into that, but if
you’re going to self-publish a book it better be great. Because if you
self-publish a book and it winds up selling 300 copies and the sales rank is in
the 500,000 or something like that and you only had three reviews and two of
them were bad, that almost kills your career before you get started. You may
have a great proposal. In fact, your second book may be wonderful, but because
you’ve got that bad book out on Amazon that’s going to hurt you. And you can’t
get that book down. Once it’s out there it’s up on Amazon, you can’t take it

So as to whether or not the editors and agents look at the
website, sure, sometimes we’ll go to the website and look and see what’s there.
But again, that’s not that big a deal because if you’ve got a web presence but
the website’s not the latest and greatest, we can come back and recommend that
you hire somebody to improve it and we’ll encourage you to add these elements
to your website.

Cynthia: What
about the writing? Do you expect that to be absolutely 100%? Or would you
accept a project that’s maybe close, but needs a little tweaking?

Eddie: It’s
got to be stellar. Well, I’ll tell you, Cynthia. When I get a proposal I don’t
even read the synopsis. I don’t read the marketing plan. I don’t know who the
author bio is. I go straight to that first page of writing and I start reading.
If I can get down to the first page and I’m still reading, then that’s a good
sign and I’ll read through the second page, and maybe to the third page. I
usually stop around the third page.

If the reading has engaged me, then I go back to see what
the synopsis of the story is, to figure out where the story’s going. But if the
writing’s not there, there’s really not much we can do. You almost have to be
at eighty and ninety percent there with your story. Meaning that when the
editor gets that story, even if they contract you, they’re only going to
improve it about twenty percent. Because they don’t have time to go in and do
the rewriting for you, or be your critique partner. It better be almost dead-on
when you submit it to the house. And if it’s not, they’re probably going to say
no because they just don’t have the staff and the time to go in and fix it.

I will say that because one of the things that sometimes
happens with houses is we will read that first fifty pages and it’ll be great.
It’ll be wonderful, because the author has spent a year or two years working on
that first fifty pages in that proposal. And then we get into the rest of the
story and we find out oh man, this thing’s got problems. Well, it’s because
they didn’t spend the same amount of time on the rest of the story. So
sometimes we’ll get snookered that way.

Cynthia:  Is
that also true for a non-fiction book?

Eddie:  Yup,
yup. The thing about platform and who you are as an author, at the end of the
day none of that really matters. It sounds kind of counter-intuitive to say
that. But, if you’ve got the platform to get your book noticed, then that’s
great because then people will pick up your book and start to read it. But if
the writing’s not there, if the book doesn’t do anything for the reader, then
it still doesn’t make any difference because they’ll return the book, if it’s a
Kindle or a Nook version they can return the book and get the money back
without any problem. And if it’s a print book then they may just not finish
reading it, but they’re definitely not going to tell anybody about the book and
recommend it. Writing is the only thing that really matters at the end.

It’s has that book, on a non-fiction side, does that book
change somebody’s life? And if so, in what way? If you’re writing non-fiction
books and it’s changing somebody’s life, it’s giving them hope where they
didn’t have hope before, if they’re taking that book and putting it by their
bedside and reading a few pages each night, you know you’ve got a winner book.
And it’s going to make a difference in somebody’s life and they’re going to
tell somebody about it.

Cynthia:  And
that’s the reason that we’re writing.

Eddie: Yeah.
We are, as Christian writers, we are one of the last defenses. I’m not saying
we’re the only last defense, but we are, if you look at the landscape, we are
part of the defense system. And if we don’t do our job there’s a hole in the
line and the enemy just keeps pushing us back.

Cynthia:  We
need more of the truth these days, written in such a way that people are
captured by it. It has to be professional because people are watching the news.
The media is perfect! And if we are less than that, we turn people off. Our
message is more important than that, because it’s eternal.

Eddie:  Yeah.

Cynthia:  So we’ve got to be good.

Eddie: We
got to be perfect. I think you’re probably hitting on the old trend within
Christian publishing used to be, it’s what I call using Christ as the crutch
mentality. So when I tell authors don’t use Christ as a crutch, they go what
are you talking about? I say well, if you can write a story, especially in
fiction, and never mention the word God or Christ in the story, but His truth
comes out, then you have not used Christ as a crutch. Meaning that you haven’t
slapped the sign of the fish on the back of the book and going to get people to
buy it just because you’ve got that symbol on it.

And that’s how good we need to be. We need to be just like
Jesus when He told parables. He didn’t mention God in His parables in a lot of
cases. He just told stories, and the truth of God was in that story, and then
He would close with a question, like who is your neighbor. He who has ears, let
him hear. Go and sin no more. That was as much preaching as He did in most of
His parables.

Cynthia:  And
the truth changes lives. That’s a good reason to write.

Eddie: Great
reason to write. There’s never been a better time to be a writer than there is
right now.

Cynthia:  Eddie,
I appreciate your time. You’ve encouraged me, and I know you’ve encouraged
other authors out there. We really appreciate your helping us get ready to
present. Blessings to you on your ministry.

1 Comment

  • Reply Elizabeth Van Liere July 24, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    Thanks once more, Eddie, for the helpful advice. Liz

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