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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Filed under Agent Services, Book advances, Literary agent, Mobile phone, publishers, publishing, Publishing strategies, Sport, Submission Guidelines

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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BLURBS

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…..it 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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ADVANCES

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:

1) NO ADVANCE

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.

2) ADVANCE + ROYALTIES

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.

AFTER THE ADVANCE HAS BEEN PAID, YOU WILL NOT GET A CENT UNLESS THE BOOK SELLS AT LEAST 1670 COPIES, NET. (net=sales minus returns.) (1670 x $3.00=$5010.)

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:
http://bit.ly/jMFrl7

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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