Monthly Archives: June 2011


I sold my first title in early Feb 2006. Since then I have sold 23 more books, & tried to sell a bunch more.

One question that comes up time after time, every time I speak with a potential client, is $. Obviously.

People want to know how they will get rewarded for their efforts. Writing a book is not easy, as anyone who has tried can tell you.

With a few exceptions, this is how it works:


In this case, you receive nothing until the book is published. Then you are paid from royalties, i.e. a set % of each copy sold. Ideally that share will be at least 10% of the retail price. Ideally these royalties are sent twice a year; sometimes just once a year.


In this case, the publisher pays you an advance, usually in thirds. (1/3 on signing; 1/3 on acceptance of final ms; 1/3 on publication date.)

To keep the math simple, let’s say your advance is 5k. And your royalty rate is 10% of the retail price & the retail price is exactly $30.00.


Does that make sense? Put another way, the advance is not a gift or winning the lottery. You have to earn it back through sales.

Next week we will tackle two kinds of royalty numbers–the kind discussed here, that are derived from the retail price, & the kind a lot of publishers prefer–those derived from ‘publisher’s receipts.’


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Nothing like a face to face meeting

Email is great–except for you texting weirdos–& the phone is essential, but to me there is nothing like a face to face meeting.

In fact I would argue that 10 emails=5 phone calls=1 meeting.

And this week has been nice–I was lucky to have the Olympics here in 2010, & because the Canucks have done so well in the playoffs, there are a lot of hockey people in town right now. (And luckily for me most of them are at the same hotel.) This week I have seen

Bill Daly
Pierre McGuire
PJ Stock
Scott Oake
Eric Francis
Mike Murphy
Dan Shaughnessy
Nick Kypreos
Darren Millard
James Duthie
Darren Dreger

And I managed to have coffee or spend some time with

Bob McKenzie
Ray Ferraro
Doug Maclean
Bob Ryan
Ian Mendes
Elliotte Friedman
Glenn Healy
Mike Zeisberger

If you are reading my blog, you are either interested what it’s like being a literary agent, or, far more likely, looking for an agent for your own stuff.

So why I am telling you this?

Here’s why: the odds of me signing up all these people are slim to none (admittedly, two or three of them are already clients, but they only represent 10% of the names here); but still, I feel every minute was worth it. Because the people I talked to know who I am now. They might not do a book, or do a book with me, but the odds are good they will recommend me to others. And they know a LOT of people.

So don’t stop hustling for your book. It’s not supposed to be easy.

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The Ideal Client

Finding an agent is not easy. Recently Rachel (my soigne associate) gave me a copy of this book:

It’s full of good advice for the aspiring author; I highly recommend it.

It got me to thinking–is there anything someone can do to improve their chances with an agency, or agent?

And yes, there are. Keep in mind, aspiring authors, that the following list is a list of suggestions. They do NOT guarantee you will get accepted by an agent. Some of it is timing; some of it is luck; some of it is the fit. (By ‘fit’ I mean that someone could send me a first-rate children’s book & I still wouldn’t accept it, because I don’t deal in children’s books. That does NOT mean the book cannot be sold; it just means *I* can’t sell it.)

So, here we go–my suggestions!

1) Only send your work to the right people. A friend of mine Toronto runs a very successful literary agency. It says all over the website—“NON-FICTION ONLY.” And yet he still receives 2-3 novels a week. Don’t be one of those people.
2) Try to follow the submission guidelines to the letter. I know this is annoying; everyone has different rules; but those rules are there for a reason.
3) Patience. I know, this is annoying too. But please allow 8 weeks before asking for a response. I know, I know, this is a living death. But you would be astonished by how many submissions agents get, even agents who are are not famous or listed in directories.
4) Be prepared to take no for an answer, even some criticism on your proposal. Criticism is a gift, even if it doesn’t look like it or feel like it. I know this can be tough to take. But I am serious. If you submit to agent A, & she says no & says why, & you take her suggestions & amend your proposal, your chances with agents B or C are much improved.
5) DON’T be a whiner. Agents have to say no more often than they would like to.
6) If in doubt, send the shorter form. By this I mean, for submissions, less can sometimes be more. Say you are considering which chapter to send as your sample. One is 25k words long, the other, 15k. Unless the 25k chapter is sparkling, prizewinning, & un-put-down-able, send the chapter that is 15k.
7) Return calls & emails promptly. DON’T be one of those people who say “My spouse didn’t give me the message” or “We have relatives in town” or “It’s the long weekend” or “My Mom didn’t tell me you called.”
8) In your outline, try to make sure each chapter gets a one paragraph summary. Rules vary here, agents differ. But don’t have this–“Chapter 1–some guy steals my bike. Chapter 2–I get it back.”
9) Spell my name right. Spell your name right. Double, triple check your work. I throw away stuff addressed to Brain Woods.
10) Mind your p’s & q’s. A good friend of mine, a great editor at Penguin, told me once: “Brian, play friendly in this industry. You never know–someday you may be working for your intern.”

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