Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

Authors Guild on RH’s Rights Grab, Q&A continued

STATUS: It’s obvious that I need to rule the world. I couldn’t BELIEVE that the judges dismissed FACE from the Sing-Off. Are they nuts? Not to disparage the other performers but FACE is doing something different with a cappella. Surely an audience might like to see more of what they can do. Now it’s just the same old same old for the remaining groups with the exception of Nota (who were outstanding). Go and buy FACE’s new album Momentum anyway. Take that Sing-off.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? COLORADO CHRISTMAS by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

I’m getting an early start to my blog or I’m just going to get buried. I was very happy to see the Author Guild speak out. In a message to members, they basically rejected RH’s argument that its older contracts that grant rights to publish “in book form” or “in all editions” is a grant of electronic rights.

RH politely disagreed with their stance. Surprise I know. Put on your boxing gloves. Here we go.

But back to Q&A.

Anonymous asked:
Ask them – are mid-list authors dead in the water? What do you expect from mid-list to say yes to future projects?

I don’t believe that midlist authors are dead in the water but it also depends on where they are in the midlist. There are different levels—the consistently-selling midlister versus the midlister who is now having declining sales for each subsequent project.

If the author is a solid seller, publishers are still buying new projects—however, they may be offering less money than they have in the past or they are sticking with the same terms as previous contract. There’s not a lot of negotiating leverage for the midlist author.

In order to say yes to a future project from a midlist author (looking to change representation), I would have to believe that the new project or proposal is strong enough to bump the sales numbers or will take the author in a new, stronger direction from which the author can build.

Anonymous asked:
I was wondering if you have ever fallen in love with a manuscript and then never found a home for it?
Sadly yes. It always amazes me when I’m not able to sell a project. There’s obviously something wrong with the editors. Grin.

Rebecca Knight asked:
Hmmmm. My question for an editor would have to be what direction they think e-book pricing and the royalty structure is going to go in the next few years.
Actually, individual editors have no idea. All changes to eBook pricing and royalty structures are set by corporate policy. In fact, in negotiations, they have to toe the party line.

From my perspective? I think eBook pricing and royalty structure is going to be a huge battle. Publishers are seeing squeezed profit margins and they are clearly on notice about how third parties such as Amazon are controlling the perception of what pricing should be for eBooks (with their $9.99 price point or lower).

On Mike Shatzkin’s blog, he speculated that the publishers’ decision to delay the e-book versions of some major upcoming titles isn’t “a battle to rescue hardcover books from price perception issues caused by inexpensive ebooks” so much as it is about “wresting control of their ebook destinies back from Amazon.” I don’t disagree. His insights are worth reading.

Because of fear, publishers are all jumping on board the 25% of net bandwagon because they have no clear idea of price points and discounts that would be needed to stay with a 15% or 25% of retail model.

Who loses out the most right now? Authors. Unless they contract directly with eBook providers such as Amazon or Rosetta Books (see the stories on Stephen Covey’s deal with Rosetta and the Pat Conroy deal with Open Road). However, that’s probably only profitable (right now) for clearly established authors who have a backlist and control of those eRights. A debut author is not going to be in the same position and if that debut wants a traditional print publisher on board as well, then they will have to acquiesce to the electronic royalty structure being offered.

Agents aren’t stupid. We know that this 25% of net crap is not good now and it’s not going to be good 5 to 10 years from now and we might be stuck. (Just as the 7.5% trade pb royalty rate hasn’t change in 20 years although the publishing model for trade books has shifted significantly). If we have leverage, auction situation, we get more. When that’s not available, what is the likelihood of that debut author or midlister walking away from a traditional book deal over eRoyalties when the current percentage of sales done electronically is not even 1% of the total book sales overall? And yes, I know this is going to change drastically over the next 5 years but the agreements being done right now are creating the “standard.” However much we disagree with them and warn authors that it’s not to their advantage.

May you live in interesting times. Rather sounds like a curse right now.

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21 Responses

  1. Kristi said:

    I thought Face rocked – how many a cappella groups sing Bon Jovi? Nota was definitely the only other group that stood out for me. I don’t even watch television but made an exception for my fellow Coloradoans (yes, I think that’s a word 🙂

    Thanks for all the ebook info which honestly confuses me and further reinforces my desire to have an agent help me navigate those waters.

  2. A Novel Woman said:

    I DID buy the CD as a gift for my singing-dentist husband (no, he doesn’t sing while he works, but all the way home on his commute.) Too bad about Sing-Off. I think they’re amazing and deserved better.

  3. Sarah Tormey said:

    First, a quick note on the midlist question. From a sales perspective, it can be very frustrating to sell an author with declining sales from book to book. My account focused mainly on the first 8 week sales at their store and bookscan, plus bestseller or award info. These were smart business woman who saw no reason to waste shelf space on an author with a declining audience. Something new, they were often willing to give it a shot. I was always pleased when a midlist author with declining sales changed his or her pen name for a fresh start. Some sales reps could mention the change if it helped them and others would present the author as a fresh debut.

    I’ve been following your post on RH’s recent announcement and I understand that this is not in the best interest of authors and agents. However, RH (and other publishers) must negotiate terms with the retailers that actually sell the books. While it might seem like agents and authors have very little leverage (apart from auctions), RH might feel they are in a similar position with some of their big name retailers. After all, grocery stores and big box chains don’t need to sell books. In fact, they might make more money using the space for diapers or soft drink products.

    These “interesting times” present a challenge to everyone involved with the publishing practice. .

  4. Marilynn Byerly said:

    I believe it was in one of Richard Curtis’ books on publishing that he said royalties have never gone up in publishing.

    I remember years ago, authors agreed to a drop in royalties FOR THE SHORT TERM when the price of paper rose drastically, but, of course, royalties never rose after the paper prices dropped considerably.

    I hope that e-royalties will rise as digital takes a much greater share of the market, but I really doubt they will.

  5. Rebecca Knight said:

    Thank you for answering my question! 🙂 These really are interesting times, and I feel like the more I know, the better off I’ll be. I appreciate all the insight!

  6. Gordon Jerome said:

    I wonder what you would consider a good deal for e-book royalties. It seems to me, that if an e-publisher publishes a book, the author should get 50% of the net profit. In other words: book sells at amazon for 7.99; Amazon gets 65% Publisher gets 35%, author gets 50% of the 35% of cover price. In other words, author gets: $1.40 per book sold. That seems fair to me.

    On a new author if the cover price is 3.99, the author would ultimately get $.70 per book sold.

    That’s not a lot for a new author, but if they sold 5,000 copies, they’d get $3,500.

    Really, what else can an author expect?

    If they write a hit, and sell 100,000 copies, they’d make 70 grand off the book and probably sell the screenplay rights, translation rights, and if books are still around, the print rights.

    What else can they expect? This is the new world. We may just have to own up to the fact that writing doesn’t pay any better than any other business venture. For it to pay, you have to be one of the few who really hit. You have to write the better mousetrap (mixed metaphor intended:)

  7. Eric Riback said:

    As with any content business facing an unavoidable transition in business models, most publishers are acting defensively. It’s understandable. Why not delay e-books and claim it provides an additional marketing opportunity, when even the model of delayed paperbacks doesn’t make much sense anymore as hardcover sales continue to decline and there are more original paperbacks. The best bang for the promotional buck is to publish a book in every format at once and let consumers decide how they want to consume it. I know this will hasten the decline of hardcovers, but you can take a slow death or proactively transition your business.

    I also think what RH is doing will only make it harder for them to obtain new electronic rights at a time when Amazon, Rosetta, and even agents and publishers can disintermediate them.

    I think the best case a print book publisher has for retaining e- rights is that they will publish hard. soft, audio and e- at the same time with an effective marketing blitz.

    (Did I say effective marketing blitz by book publishers?)

  8. Natalie said:

    I totally agree FACE was awesome last night. One of the college groups should have gone home. My husband and I were both scratching our heads at the judge’s choices. Bah. At least it was fun to see Sara.

    Thanks for answering questions. I’ve enjoyed these posts.

  9. Michelle Schusterman said:

    (Sorry to derail)…FACE was great! I loved that they did Bon Jovi, and I really loved we got to see Sara and her wonderful act! Very cool! They’re an extremely talented group of guys, and definitely NOT who I would’ve chosen to go. (And I have a degree in music/percussion, so take that, judges!) 🙂

  10. Anonymous said:

    Kristin,

    I read your blog daily and I absolutely love it! It was one of the first things that really helped me get a grasp on the publishing industry!

    But I have a question specifically for you if you have time to answer it.

    When you receive queries, how do you feel about getting the first three chapters along with it? As far as I can see, your website simply says, ‘E-queries only’. But is it permissible to send along the first three chapters with it, or is this something you personally object to?

    Thanks so much Kristin for all the time and dedication you instill into this blog! You are amazing!

  11. Madison L. Edgar said:

    Hi Kristin! I know there’s no “ideal” time of the year to send out query letters, but I was wondering about the holiday season. How long should you wait until after the holidays to start querying?

    Thanks so much for all you do!

  12. Erin Edwards said:

    I really appreciate all the “digging into the details” information on your blog.

    I have a question of further clarification on e-books if you are still taking questions. I feel like I am missing a really basic point here.

    Certainly it makes sense that an ebook version of a book would cost less to produce than a print version of a book, because copying data is cheaper than printing on paper. But, shouldn’t it still be be possible for authors *and* publishers to make the same amount per book? (And have the savings in production costs be reflected in the e-book price.)

  13. Erin Edwards said:

    An addition to my previous comment. Publishers have less invested in an ebook effort-wise (as in there is no design – cover or page, no time spent on securing a printer, etc.). So shouldn’t authors in that case make more, as they have a bigger percentage effort invested in an ebook than a paper book?

    I think I am seeing more of why this is so complicated…

  14. Anonymous said:

    “…they basically rejected RH’s argument that its older contracts that grant rights to publish “in book form” or “in all editions” is a grant of electronic rights.

    It’s happened to me. It’s not a good feeling. A smaller press just released all my work in digital format without letting me know. When I contacted the editor, he didn’t even know. I had to provide amazon links. I thought I’d signed contracts for print books.

    On one level I’m screwed, on another, I signed a non-exclusive and I still own the copyrights. And I’ll re-release and take advantage of an opportunity. If traditional print publishers think they are going to muscle in on the pioneers of digital publishing without a fight, they are sadly mistaken.

  15. Karen Burgess said:

    Joe Konrath revealed info on Kindle sales and what the impact is for lower-vs.-higher priced e-books on his blog, it was very interesting. Take a look athttp://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2009/10/kindle-numbers-traditional-publishing.html
    (A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, October 13)

  16. Angie said:

    I agree with you on FACE. I thought they were rockin’ and there were not very many groups that got me going (except Nota). The backstory about Sara was so totally awesome. I thought that was amazing what she did for her friends. Tell her she is an angel.
    Also love your blog!

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