It’s 2012, has the world ended yet?

Now that’s a tricky question to answer. Why? Because in this last year it seemed like the world of publishing had indeed started the  slow march to extinction. They are being faced with changes that are now starting to effect their bottom line and they are going to have to really dig deep to stay viable. So what does that mean for us agents?

Well, it means we are going to have to change the way we do business as well. We need to source the best manuscripts we can to sell. So if you are thinking of submitting a book, it’s now more important than ever to produce the best work you can. And look at all your publishing options.

Remember, just because you want to self-publish doesn’t mean there isn’t a contract involved. There is. And that’s where  agents are valuable. We are here to negotiate the terms so that you don’t get screwed out of sales. After all, if you are going to spend money on producing a book- why not make sure you get the best deal you can?

Last week I sold a book directly to Kobo- a digital edition of a book that had been out of print for a long time and now has a chance to be read and bought on e-readers. It’s a great opportunity for all of us to embrace change and sell the best writing we can to all the publishers out there. As much as I dislike a lot of the technology out there ( Cell phones) there are some good opportunities for readers and writers to get their work into print.

Agents aren’t just around to sell books. We are top negotiators on the side of the writer.

So, that’s my short blog about stuff. Just got back from L.A and I really wish I could have stayed longer. The rain is sure coming down in Vancouver right now. SIGH.


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Catching up

As the smell of the fall leaves comes through my window, I thought I should catch you up on a few items. As you can tell I almost never get onto my blog because I am so busy making book deals! In the last few months I travelled to Toronto for my twice yearly visit, and met some great editors and publishers, as well as caught up with a few friends from Ottawa and Montreal. It’s always great to travel back east and take in the sites and sounds of Toronto, but I’m equally as happy to come home.

This year has been an interesting one for me and in general for the publishing world. In the media we are seeing more and more stories about authors going the self publishing route but then having issues when their books don’t sell, and then we see ones that breach their contracts without realizing it- and wondering why they just lost their 20,000 dollar advance.

That’s one of the reasons agents are valuable -for their knowledge and expertise in the industry. Too often I hear complaints after the fact about why an author lost out on a deal. My first question is always “Did they have an agent?” and if they didn’t then I tell them “That’s why your author is losing out.” Agents act in the interest of the author first, publisher second. Without an agent a writer has a higher chance of being cut out of profits and second book deals because they simply don’t know what they are signing- or they don’t think a point can be negotiated.

The next thing I hear is ” But Brian, it’s not that easy getting an agent. My work sits in a pile for months before they even respond- if they respond at all.”  My answer to that is
”  A) Did you read their submission requirements down to the letter? Did you follow them? B) Did you research the agent you are contacting? Do they even publish your type of book? C) Did you actually include the bottle of scotch and cigars or did you just say it was on the way? and D) Is your book any good? Not- friends and family good, but actually good- good grammar, good story, good subject. Is it interesting and exciting? Why would I want to sell this?

Remember- once you finish writing the book it moves into the business of selling. It’s not about how great you think your book is, and what ‘people’ say about it. It’s about how it’s going to do in the marketplace. How is your marketing, advertising, publicity going to be put together- what is your platform- does anyone know who you are? That’s what it’s about now, and that’s what you have to show to an agent. And if you do all that then who knows- you may end up with a great agent and a book deal.

And on that note, this Christmas please consider buying one of my newest releases Where There’s Smoke – Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man by William B Davis– he’s a great guy so go and buy his book!!

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So….this week I thought I would address all of you out there who are very close to finishing your outline/sample chapter to submit, whether to me, another agent, a publisher, whomever, really.

You have labored for months. You are just about ready.

And one day when you are thinking about something else… occurs to you: “Hey, my uncle knows Steven Spielberg! I wonder if that would help.”

Answer: it might.

An editor at Doubleday once told me blurbs were like icing: nice, but not essential.I would agree with that statement….but I would add this: if you are an unknown author building a career, blurbs can help you skip over piles.

That is, if the top of your submission has this:

“I could not put this down!” Steven Spielberg, Hollywood, CA

you stand a MUCH better chance of being looked at, esp. if you do not have an agent.

My point? Go ahead & line up blurbs BEFORE you submit. Make sure they are visible–believe me, it can’t hurt.
p.s. the same goes for intros/forewords.  Say you are writing a book on the history of the Canadiens; it will not hurt your chances if the intro is by Jean Beliveau.

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Net vs Retail

Last week I explained (or tried to) how advances work.

This week I will try to explain the two kinds of royalties.

In general, with a very few exceptions, they boil down to this:

1) NET (sometimes called ‘publisher’s receipts’)

This means your share is a % of the amount AFTER everyone else has taken their cut. And by everyone I mean retailer/wholesaler, shipper/dist. In other words, the retail price minus about 45%. (Retailers typically get a 40% discount, or higher, when they buy books from publishers.)

2) Retail (sometimes called ‘list’)

This means your share is x % of the retail price. Say your book comes out next fall & the price is exactly $30.00. Let’s say (to keep the math simple) your royalty rate is 10%. In this example your share would be $3.00 per copy.

Does that make sense? If it does not, two examples below. In both cases, the retail price is exactly $30.00

AUTHOR A has a deal where he gets 17.5% of the net. So for each sale, his share is 2.89 (30-45%x.175)

AUTHOR B has a deal where she gets 10% of the retail. So for each sale, her share is 3.00. (30.00 x.1)

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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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We’d publish you…if you were someone

Just got back from Edmonton, from the Get Publishing conference held every two years. Met a lot of great new people.

The conference  organizers asked me to be part of “Pitch Camp,” where authors can come to see editors, agents, publicists, publishers, etc, etc, for some one-on-one contact.

Six people came to see me over the course of two hours. All of them had some great ideas–& I wish them well.

But my associate, Rachel Sentes, had a story to tell me afterwards that was kind of, well, sobering. One of the six people who came to see her described her adventures trying to get published. She had managed, without an agent, to get her stuff reviewed by some editors at Doubleday. (I can tell you that that is no day at the beach.) Anyway, they were quite close to making an offer…..but never did. The finally told her:

“If you were someone, we would have published this last week.”

Translation: “if you were someone famous, we would have made an offer. ”

In many respects, this is what book publishing has been reduced to: publishers are making less & less, so they are taking fewer & fewer chances. In April I had a publisher in Toronto, a good one, tell me he was uninterested in any book that would not sell at least 10k copies.

So where does this leave the first time author?

Good question. It’s one thing for a  new author with a national tv, print or radio forum. They can always find a publisher willing to take a chance with their stuff, esp. for non-fiction.

I tell new authors they should think about hiring a publicist. (Two great ones in western Canada are gal friday in Vancouver & the publicity mavens in Nanaimo.) There are no guarantees; but publicists can get you the media’s ear in ways no one else can; & this could lead to the kind of regular exposure that publishers are interested in.

The other thing to do is attend events like Get Publishing. I learned more talking to the G.M. of NeWest Publishing than I would have in months & months of reading the website. We can have all the fancy e-availability we want; but nothing will ever replace the face-to-face meeting; not texting; not teleconferencing; not skype.

To all the people who came to see me at Pitch Camp–thanks, & best of luck!

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Why face to face meetings are important


Just got back from my biannual (or is it biennial?) trip there, had a great time as usual. (I just checked: it’s biannual.)

I started doing this in  2009. An agent I know, a good one, had a look at the books I was working on, & said–

“Brian, you’re doing great, don’t get me wrong…..but to really succeed, you need to go to Toronto twice a year. Even if you have nothing to pitch at the moment, just go in there & show your face for a few minutes. You’ll sell more books when people can put a face to your name.”

This has turned out to be true. I am, proudly, based in Vancouver. But of my 22 sales, only 6 have been in B.C. The other 16 have been sold to Toronto-area publishers; & this would not have been possible without these trips.

It’s amazing, in this this era of cell phones, texting, emails, conf calls, & so on….how much personal contact means.

My point?

If you are an aspiring writer, esp. if you live in Western Canada, I strongly urge you to attend Get Publishing in Edmonton in May. (May 6-7, Grant MacEwan College)


Because if you sign up to attend, you’ll hear great speeches by the keynote speakers….but to me THE great opportunity for writers is the pitch camp. Because you get a chance to actually meet people in the industry. Publishers, editors, managing editors, agents, publicists….you name it. It’s one thing to check out a publisher’s website. It’s quite another to meet someone who actually works there.

I’ll be at Pitch Camp….come & say hi if you get a chance!

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What is a Chapter outline and why do I need it?

Yes, I know I should post more, but really, who has the time? I’m too busy betting on ridiculous things with my brother and girlfriend, (even though I know I’ll lose- case in point it wasn’t Jodie Foster in Single White Female- it was Bridget Fonda- oops) that blogging is the last thing I’ve been thinking of.

But seriously, I want to talk about Chapter Outlines for a minute. Many authors know they need to have one to show to an agent but they don’t know why. Well, I’ll tell you. I can tell from a chapter outline immediately if I want to represent your work. It gives me an instant look at how clear your writing is, what your book is about and whether you have the organizational skills to complete your book to the level that I can sell it.

In many cases I really don’t need your sample chapters. I can tell by your outline. And if you don’t submit a good one, then I’m going to say no. Simple as that. As well, if you have typos in your email to me, I usually say no. Your introductory email is your elevator speech. I scan the page in 60 seconds and if I find typos or poor grammar, I don’t give you the time of day. Why am I so strict? Probably because I haven’t had my scotch yet, or that I’m tired of people telling me all about their fantastic book that their friends and family liked so they don’t need a professional editor. These days, books have to be in pristine shape to sell to a publisher, because there are fewer editors available to work on your book once you get a deal. If they have to worry about dozens of typos- they aren’t going to buy your book.

So what do you put in a Chapter Outline? Well different agents request different styles. Some like a full chapter synopsis and others want to see an outline that maps out certain areas.
Below is one example of how you can structure an outline.

Chad Viminitz, author of the Money Assassins published by Insomniac Press, kindly let us use his work as an example. This book was sold to Insomniac by my associate Rachel Sentes, and I negotiated the deal.
This is what a Chapter Synopsis looks like, but also gives us an idea about how the book is going to be set up.

Part One

Chapter One: The Forgotten Savers

This chapter explores the impact that the Great Depression and World War 2 had individuals’ financial perspectives and beliefs and how today’s society has forgotten many of the valuable financial lessons from this time period.  The Depression has said to have one long lasting therapeutic effect, it lingered in the financial memory of those who survived, it made individuals question their relationship and values surrounding money.  This introspection is missing today.  This chapter discusses the importance of financial empathy, the value of a common purpose and shows how government played a supportive role in encouraging savings in the past and why it is needed again but will not happen.

Chapter Two: Wealth, Happiness, and the First Assassin

Chapter two forces individuals to question what wealth and happiness really means to them.  It discusses why money does not buy happiness through the concept of relativism, the idea of financial “waste” and challenges the traditional measurement of economic progress, GDP.   This chapter helps readers to understand that financial well-being is not a number but rather a mind set.  The First Assassin, technology, is introduced and how it has changed and influenced payment methods and exposes the true financial cost of Debit Cards and Credit Cards. Never being without the ability to pay, bypassing ones financial conscience, has led many individuals to spending beyond their means.

Chapter Three: Groomed to Consume

Sending the Money Assassins after adults is one thing, sending them after our children is a whole other story.  Child marketing and its effects on personal finances is an essential but missing piece of the puzzle in solving, “why we spend more than we make?”  With children nagging and influencing hundreds of billions of dollars a year, individuals need to be aware of the changing role marketer’s play in our children’s lives.  Groomed to Consume examines the methods that are used to get children to spend their own money and influence parent spending ranging from groceries, vehicle purchases and family holidays.  This chapter also raises concern about the future financial mindset of generations who have been told to consume, spend, and go into debt.

Chapter Four: Spending to Belong & the “New Necessities”

The social pressure to spend and consume is considerable.   Applying this pressure has been both the marketing and advertising industries.  They have woven themselves into the daily fabric of our lives and have gone through a transformational role since the 1970s.  Consumptive communities and undercover marketing are just two ideas, which exemplify the social pressure to spend and its harmful effect personal finance.  The consumer society’s unspoken motivator has been fear.  Fear of being social excluded if one does not participate.  So individuals spend and have been spending more and more on life’s so called “new necessities.”  The base line standard for consumption has been quietly raised and the distinction between want and need has been blurred.

Part Two

Chapter Five: “Living Car Lite” – the discovery of free money

Few people are aware of the cumulative costs of owning and operating a vehicle and the potential adverse effects on their financial well-being.  The chapter breaks down the full cost of vehicle ownership and outlines the financial benefits of reducing ones vehicle expense from 20%, of total income, to 10%.  The chapter addresses the challenges of reducing ones reliance on private transportation and gives suggestions on how to make the transition easier, through such concepts like location efficiency.  It is through adopting a “car lite” lifestyle that readers will learn they can find extra money to commit to other financial goals such as early retirement.

Chapter Six: Home Cent$

The decision to buy a home is the single greatest determinant of the long-term financial fate of individuals and families, yet 80% of first time homebuyers never seek financial advice.  This chapter will address some basic guidelines, with a focus on first time homebuyers, home up-graders, and those who seek to free up cash flow and reduce debt.  It will also explore strategies to avoid becoming “house rich” and “cash poor,” to save effectively for a down payment, and to determine the mortgage payment that their financial plan can withstand, through calculating ones Total Debt Service Ratio.  Caution about using the Home Buyers Plan to fund ones down payment is also discussed.

Chapter Seven: The Joy of Living Debt Free

In this chapter we explore ways to eliminate current debt and avoid debt in the first place.  It addresses the root cause of most debt, consumption, and over-spending and how to rebuild a financial belief structure that is debt resistant.  The reader will be taken through one of the most effective exercises to clarify ones core financial convictions and beliefs.  This clarity will empower the reader to stay on financial track and avoid debt.  Building from the previous chapter, a more detailed discussion about ones total debt service ratio takes place and we will dispel the “Good Debt” myth.  The concepts of thrift and frugality are outline and we try to answer the question “Should I save or payoff debt?”

Chapter Eight: Nuggets of Financial Freedom

The last core chapter highlights pearls of financial wisdom.  The first being how much of ones gross income should one save. Explaining it should be between 20-30% of ones gross income.  The “Heart Attack Graph” is used to help the reader understand their financial plans allocation.  One of the most important concepts in the entire book is the “investor-saver confusion,” and in detail, clarity is achieved.  Every financial plan requires both an offense and a defense.  Most financial books skip the defense but here we explore the misunderstood world of financial protection and personal insurance.

I can tell a great deal about is writing, how the book is going to come together from this kind of submission. And it also shows me that he’s willing to take the time to put down his thoughts in a cohesive and complete manner.

Here is another example of an Outline that I often show people- Now I found this someplace but I have NO idea who originally put this together. So if you did, then by all means I want to give you credit for it! So drop me an email!!
Now this one is based on an imaginary Non-fiction book, but you’ll get the idea:

Book Title Here

Author Name Here
Introduction – Map out what the reason for this book is. Why you wrote it, What you’ll find in the book and any other important reasons for reading it.

Part I: Write out how each chapter is going to work- in detail

Chapter 1 – Writing as a Career?
How I did it
Why not?

Chapter 2 – This Book is for You–but is Writing
Full-Time for You?
What I expect of you, and what
success expects of you
“If I can do it …”
Why not everyone can write full-time
What it takes to write full-time ((brief
The two paragraphs in this book
you’ll hate most
Building toward a full-time career by
writing part-time
A few words on success
What is success?
Why writers write
Success goals for the full-time writer

Chapter 3 – What It’s Really Like
Gloom and doom, or riches and
The “ideal” writing life
The real writing life: typical and
atypical writers’ lives
From one extreme to the other
What to expect if you’re still
A moderately happy medium

Part II: Preparations and Going for It

Chapter 4 – What it Takes, Part I: Self-Management for the Writer
Getting organized
Scheduling your time
Project management
Project-management aids
Strategy and tactics for full-time
When bad things happen to good
writers: dealing with adversity
Dealing with success

Chapter 5 – What it Takes, Part II: Getting Yourself to Write
Dealing with adversity, revisited
Self esteem and writing
Is money success?

Chapter 6 – Are You Ready?
Measuring your professional
How to know when you’re ready

Chapter 7 – Getting Ready, Part I: Your
Professional Life
Your workplace
Tools of the trade
Expanding and enhancing
professional contacts
Finding and developing new markets
for your work
Establishing regular markets for your

Chapter 8 – Getting Ready, Part II: Putting Your
Affairs in Order
Cold cash and hard realities:
financial preparation
Personal factors
Financial supplements
Spouses/partners and the Medieval
concept of patronage
Keeping your hand in the working

Chapter 9 – Making the Break
Decision or Delusion?
Sharing the Decision
Trading your job for a career
“Banking and finance and
benefits–oh my!”

Part III: Now that You’re On Your Own …

Chapter 10 – Staying Alive
Your first few weeks on the job
Transitional problems

Chapter 11 – Getting Down to Business
Cash flow
Acting like a business

Chapter 12 – Marketing for the Full-Time Writer
The importance of marketing your
work properly
Market information: the writer’s
Marketing professionally
A short course in contracts and
Do you need an agent?

Chapter 13 – A Little on the Side: Extra Income
for Writers
Writing is more than writing
Hands-on methods for turning your
writing talents into cash

Afterword: Final Words of Advice
It’s your life, but don’t blame it on me
How to know if you should quit
A new start: turning your writing
experience into a new job
“Still crazy after all these years …”

Appendix A: Resources
Writers’ Organizations
Organizations for the Self-Employed
Online Special-Interest Groups for

Appendix B: Bibliography

“About the Author”

So you see, if you put the effort into it, you can go a long way when submitting to an agent. And trust me, we appreciate the dedication to your craft. It’s not all about the book. It’s about how you sell the book.

Until next time!!


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