A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry
Just recently, PW published an article in which agents shared their thoughts on children’s books and YA trends. Although I’m quite tickled that so many agents are seeing lots of submissions featuring diverse characters, it’s dangerous to consider diversity the latest YA trend.
I’m sure I’m not the only agent who can say they’ve been repping diverse authors/books since day one. It certainly didn’t take a trend for me to sign those books and authors (for example, Kelly Parra’s awesome MTV Book Graffiti Girl in 2007, Kim Reid’s memoir No Place Safe in 2007, and Simone Elkeles’s Perfect Chemistry in 2008). But I can say this: unequivocally, before #WeNeedDiverseBooks became a rallying cry in April 2014, selling in a diverse author/book was tons harder to do. I have my submission logs to prove it. It often took me about 12 to 16 months of grim determination to find a diverse book a home.
If diversity is now hot enough to make the selling-in part a lot of easier, trust me, I’m all for it. Yay! Finally! But I absolutely do not want diversity to be considered a trend in young-adult literature, and here is why: If something is a trend, then it can go out of fashion just as quickly as it came in. And quite frankly, that would be a travesty.
The blunt truth is that selling a diverse book is a perfectly normal thing to do in publishing. So my rallying cry? Agents, new and old, even when diverse books become harder to sell, as they inevitably will (in publishing, trends of every kind have always come and gone), keep on keeping on.
Diversity is not a trend. It’s simply here to stay. This is the new normal.
Photo Credit: Ahmed Alkaisi
On Wednesday, May 20, I was delighted to be in town for one of the Association of Authors’ Representatives‘ (AAR) monthly educational meetings, which are designed specifically for literary agents. Such a rare treat, since I’m not based in New York. May’s topic was subscription services (i.e. Scribd and Oyster) and whether such programs were good for authors.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say yes, I do think subscription services are okay for authors—although I’m going to stop short of calling them “good” since these services are still too new, so the verdict is still out. I’ll tell you why, but first let me sum up the evening.
The panel tackled how the model works and why HarperCollins decided to come on board and make their catalog available in these services. And the reason? Because both Scribd and Oyster are paying a full book sale royalty to the Publisher (and then the Publisher pays the author his/her percentage) if a customer reads 20% or more of the actual book via the subscriber platform.
All of this info has already been covered in multiple Publishers Weekly and Publishers Lunch articles, so in essence, the evening didn’t necessarily present new information. Not to mention, since Oyster and Scribd are competitors, neither representative could be completely candid because of proprietary business practices. That, understandably, is going to limit the discussion.
Although I’m not sure the evening actually answered the question posed in the program heading, I did learn two valuable new things:
1) As Marc Ribot noted, this was not how subscriber services worked in the music industry, and had such a royalty set-up existed for this industry, things would be a lot different/better for musicians.
2) Neither Scribd or Oyster is designed for new, frontlist titles. If a new release was featured on the platforms, their systems would be overwhelmed by subscribers’ demands for the new release, and their budgets would be overwhelmed by their agreements to pay out full royalties.
The strength of the platforms is improving the discoverability of a backlist title (defined as having been published and out in the world for at least six months). In other words, demand for the title has leveled off, yet the title could still be discovered by a subscriber at no risk (as they pay a monthly flat fee for all-they-can-read).
That nugget of information finally made subscriber services and their value for authors click for me (along with Scribd addressing the issue of piracy via a robust spider-bot system that searches for illegally uploaded content).
For authors with a long career and extensive library of titles, this is just one more way to reach a reader—and get paid a full royalty, even if the reader does not finish the book.
Before 2001, very little information was available about deals happening in the industry. No transparency, really, regarding what agents were selling and what editors were buying. Michael Cader and Publishers Marketplace changed all that. Now, a wealth of deal information is available to anyone via a monthly subscription and the click of a button.
The deals-search feature on the site is a powerful tool that helps agents quickly learn what editors have been buying. It also helps writers research who might be a good fit to represent or buy their novel.
At first glance, the deal-reporting system is fairly straightforward:
Nice = an advance between $1 and $49,000
Very Nice = $50,000 to $99,000
Good = $100,000 to $250,000
Significant = $251,000 to $499,000
Major = $500,000 and up
It’s clear cut, right? The advance falls within a particular range, which determines the announcement term used when posting the sale.
Reality is actually a bit murkier. Why? Because there is an ongoing discussion about whether bonus monies in the deal should be counted as part of the advance or not.
In several recent conversations with editors, most assumed that agents only counted the actual advance, nothing else in the deal. In conversations with several agents, most said “it depends.” Some agents just outright include the bonus monies in the advance when they report their deals. Others assess whether the deal is borderline and may count the bonus to pop the deal into the higher level. The higher the level in the report, the more foreign and film interest might be generated. So this is actually important stuff.
What about when a deal announcement doesn’t mention a level at all? What’s the subtext? There are only two reasons a money range won’t be included:
Reason 1: There was no advance (as is the case for a lot of ebook-only deals), or the advance was so small that it’s better not to mention it at all and leave it ambiguous for film and foreign interest.
Reason 2: The author is so big or well known that the deal is likely to be very high indeed. Perhaps the author’s privacy is being maintained.
Happy deal searching!
Photo Credit: MoneyBlogNewz
Get ready! A real rant I’ve been wanting to do for awhile.
First off, I want to make it clear that this is in no way a commentary or a critique of Michael Cader and his amazing Publishers Marketplace. I firmly believe that Cader, by launching the Deal Lunch feature of PM, has brought a ton of transparency to an industry that had very little before the site was launched in 2001. He deserves a big round of applause.
But I don’t think the general public realizes that deal announcements on Deal Lunch are based on the honor system. Agents report the information to PM and it’s not Cader’s job to fact check or police the deal announcements posted there.
And I know for a fact that some agents exaggerate or misrepresent the deals they post there. How do I know this? From conversations I’ve had over the years with editors about deals I was skeptical went for the money range represented in the deal.
Sometimes authors talk to one another (as well) and we agents get the real details about what happened behind the scenes of a deal. I saw a deal announcement recently that made me shake my head as I was privy to the deal details. The reality of it was definitely not reflected in how it was announced.
By the way, everyone in the industry knows this. I’m not blogging about a topic that will be a shock to any industry folks. Most of us just shrug and say “it is what it is.” But I think it does a disservice to aspiring writers who might rely on the Deal Lunch for an accurate picture of agents and the deals they do.
And the word that is most misused on Deal Lunch? The word “pre-empt.”
For the record:
* it is not a pre-empt if a project is only shopped or seen by one editor.
* it is not a pre-empt if the project is the contractual option material that the editor then offered for.
* it is not a pre-empt if there are no other offers made on the project. If there is only one actual offer, then it’s simply a regular deal.
Quite simply put, a pre-empt is an offer an agent accepts to keep a book from going to auction because there are multiple publishers interested in the work and there are multiple pending offers or multiple offers already on the table.
Any other use of the term is a misrepresentation of the deal.
So if you are an aspiring writer and you are using deal lunch as research, just remember to weigh all the information gathered there with a grain (or a big pinch) of salt.
For years, I’ve been friends with the Backspace Co-Founder Extraordinaire Karen Dionne. Over the break, she reached out to me to see if I was open to doing the 2016 Salt Cay Writers Retreat in the Caribbean.
Like I need to think about that. Conference in a warm, tropical setting? Oh, heck yeah, I’m in. But as we were chatting, we started talking about how writers sometimes want an agent so badly, they are willing to sign with an average or even a below-average agent. Trust me, not all agents are equal.
And I said, “Well, writers don’t know what they don’t know.”
In that moment, a lightbulb went off for both of us. Writers don’t know what a good agent does. How could you if 1) a writer has never experienced it and 2) a writer has had one agent and no way to assess just how strong they might be at the job.
Granted, this is solely our own opinions, but having done this for 12+ years, and to good success, I have a very clear view of what makes for an excellent agent—an agent who is advocating for the author in every facet of managing the author’s career.
Karen has been in this biz a good long time as well. Through Backspace, she knows a lot of writers. She’s heard the good, she’s heard the bad, and she’s heard the truly ugly.
So Karen and I decided to do a whole series of articles on what makes a good agent and the articles are going to appear in the NLA newsletter first before they go public on my blog Pub Rants and on the Backspace Website.
And this is our gift to all my loyal newsletter followers, and pass it forward as both of us welcome new followers as well.
For my whole career, I’ve done my best to provide good information and an education for any writer interested in learning about the publishing industry.
Stay tuned, and I hope your 2015 is amazing.
The fight continues. Amazon proposes paying authors 100% of the royalties as the dispute continues.
Click here for NYT Article.
Authors Guild says Amazon’s intention is to pit authors against their publisher.
Almost better than an episode of Dynasty!
In one corner, we have Stephen Colbert giving Amazon the finger (and I don’t mean proverbial) on live evening TV.
In the other corner, we have Joe Konrath ranting against Mr. Colbert and defending Amazon based on information from the 2013 DOJ settlement but not based on facts regarding this particular negotiation.
What should the average reader think or believe? My suggestion is nothing at this point. Neither Stephen Colbert or Joe Konrath know what the actual negotiation stand-off is about. This is not a polarizing moment when one side is clearly right and the other side is clearly wrong.
Both Colbert and Konrath are simply making suppositions about what they think is going on in this dispute, but they don’t actually know. And let me go on record saying very clearly that neither do I, but I can make some educated guesses and extrapolations.
So my best guesses are these:
1) Is Hachette negotiating to reinstate the agency model in their Amazon contract, but Amazon would like to remain wholesale?
2) Is Amazon pushing for a greater wholesale discount? Traditionally, the wholesale discount has been about 50%. A higher discount would radically change wholesale structure, publisher profit, and author royalties.
3) Is Amazon willing to reinstate the agency model but looking for a higher than 30% commission for being the agency of distribution?
4) Is Amazon pushing for more money in exchange for retail services (for pre-order buttons and co-op)?
Only the parties negotiating know.
Mr. Bezos, you may be learning first hand that actual facts don’t play a part in the court of public opinion, and right now the general sentiment is not in Amazon’s favor. Over lunch, one high-ranking publishing professional told me she believes that what Amazon is proposing in this negotiation is an untenable position for any publisher to accept. I’m not sure it’s as simple as that.
Last year we participated in World Book Night and gave away THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH and GOOD OMENS.
I’m over the moon that last night, World Book Night announced that Jamie Ford’s Debut novel HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET is a 2014 pick- both the regular and large print version.
To sign up to be a Book Giver and give away Jamie’s book, or if you’d like to choose something else (but really do you want to? Grin.) click here.
The auction has concluded. Wowza. I’m completely humbled. And trust me, I’m going to spend hours on this critique! The winner deserves that and more.
I don’t think Dave and company are going to believe me when I tell them how much money we raised on their behalf.
THANK YOU! I’ve said it before but y’all are awesome. If you still want to make a donation, feel free to. I haven’t closed that portal yet.
First off, let me just say how AWESOME every single one of my blog readers is. You guys have just blown me away.
Right now my 50 page Manuscript critique with 30 minute follow up Skype session is at $2500. That’s crazy! And just FYI that the auction closes today (August 7) at 5 pm Mountain Time. As soon as it ends and there is a winner, I’ll be sending out an email to set up the date and time.
And for folks not bidding but just wanting to make a donation, we’ve raised $3240.00!
That’s $5740.00 total!!!
Dave, Jen, Jason, Rebecca & Timothy are just going to be stunned.
Big Hugs. People in publishing are the best.