Pub Rants

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

Category: publishers

What To Do If Your Books Are Popular In Iran?

The short answer is nothing. There actually isn’t much you can do.

Rarely discussed in publishing is the fact that certain countries don’t recognize or honor copyright law. Persian countries (including Iran and Iraq) are an excellent example of territories that don’t. Persian publishers will often translate popular novels and publish them in their countries without a license, and the author does not receive a dime as an advance or royalties.

Kind of shocking, isn’t it?

This situation has happened a number of times for my authors. We usually find out about unlicensed editions when an author receives fan mail or a lovely note from the translator. Even though the Persian publishers don’t feel much obligation to the author, we have found over the years that the translators actually do. And often they will reach out to the author and ask permission to do the translation—even though they know (and are quite apologetic) that the publisher has no plans to compensate the author in any way.

I have a special place in my heart for these morally centered translators.

So what can an author do when it becomes apparent that his or her books are being translated and published in countries that don’t honor copyright protection?

My answer is this. The author should offer to write a special foreword for the edition in exchange for a nominal fee. It’s my attempt to get the author at least some compensation. Yet so far no Iranian publisher has taken me up on this offer.

But I’m hopeful. Someday…

Photo Credit: Peta de Aztlan


Former Egmont Authors: Check Your Royalty Statements

Publishing is a complex business with a lot of moving parts. Every contract is unique, and most errors we find on royalty statements are caused by data-entry mishaps that occur when contract terms are incorrectly keyed into publishers’ accounting systems.

In other words, human error is often the culprit.

So I’m going to give Lerner the benefit of the doubt and assume that such a scenario is currently at play here.

A recap of history for context: In January 2016, news hit the wires that Egmont USA children’s publisher was closing up shop due to its failure to find a buyer.

This created a lot of consternation, as more than 100 titles that were going to be published were now suddenly in limbo and contracts would most likely be canceled.

Good news was just around the corner, though, in the shape of Lerner, who bought out the titles and committed to honoring the contracts. Authors would live happily ever after!

Until their royalty statements arrived.

On the surface, everything looks normal. Royalty rates appear to be the same as they were under Egmont—except for one very crucial difference. Egmont contracts specified that author royalties would be calculated based on list price. But when the Lerner statements arrived, royalties are now being calculated based on net amounts received.

Not the same thing.

How do they differ? Let’s do some easy math: 10% of list price = approximately 20% of net amounts received. If this in play, the author will earn approximately the same amount of money, regardless of whether the calculation is done based on list price or based on net amounts received.

So not a big deal. The problem occurs if the number “10” stays the same, but how it was calculated changes.

Here’s why: 10% of net amounts receive is one-half (1/2) the royalty money earned in comparison to 10% of list price.

That’s a significant drop for the author.

It’s pretty easy to see how this might simply be a data-entry mistake. Either way, I feel compelled to alert writers might have been unagented when they signed contracts with Egmont and, thus, probably didn’t catch this accounting error—especially if they are unfamiliar with deciphering royalty statements.

It is also possible that a fair amount of literary agents have also missed it—especially if they haven’t yet audited the Lerner statements.

So former Egmont authors, check your contract, and then check your royalty statements. Make sure you’re getting paid everything you’re contractually owed!

Photo Credit: Ano Lobb


Your Writing Should Not Be Your Main Source of Validation For Who You Are as a Person

I think this can be the most debilitating mistake an aspiring writer can make. There be dragons if you start down this mental path.

I recently gave a talk to Regis University’s MFA in Creative Writing students. In the fifteen-minute Q&A, one participant asked why it was so hard to get a literary agent to even look at her project. I could hear the frustration in her voice. I didn’t have a ready reply because the truth is that there is no good answer.

Writing is personal business. And any response and/or rejection can definitely feel like a commentary on your talent and who you are as a person.

But here is the reason you need to start thinking like an agent and less like a writer when it comes to submitting your material. If someone passes on your work, that rejection is not a commentary on your qualities as a human being. In a lot of instances, it’s not even a commentary on your ability or talent as a writer!

Let me repeat that: A rejection is often not a commentary on your writing talent.

I can cite a bundle of different reasons why an agent or publisher may pass on your work, reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with your writing ability. Don’t believe me? Here are a few (and in no particular order):

  • The agent/publisher has seen two-dozen concepts just like that one in the last four weeks.
  • That concept trend was hot, so now the Publisher has bought too many similar projects for their list and will not be acquiring any more.
  • The agent has an aversion to that type of story. I know a well-respected literary agent who personally cannot handle any story in which a child is in danger, and so will pass on any submission containing such scenes.
  • The editor could not get support in-house from the sales/marketing team to acquire the novel.
  • An agent read the story and thought the writer was talented, but for whatever reason, just didn’t connect with it enough to offer representation.
  • Bad timing. The agent was on vacation or at a conference, or just back to the office, and is simply swamped. It’s hard to be excited about taking on someone new if you are buried in work that can’t be accomplished in a 40-hour work week. And, LOL, no good agent works only 40 hours. It’s more like 60+ a week.
  • There’s talent on the page, but the editor or agent might think a significant revision is necessary, and taking the hour to write up an editorial letter isn’t going to happen.
  • The novel just has an element the agent is never enthusiastic about. For example, some agents are never going to take on a fairy-tale retelling or superhero story. It’s just not his or her thing.

I could go on. There are so many reasons that when I spoke at Regis, the best advice I could offer is this: Do not use writing as a means of validating who you are as a person.

No matter what an industry person’s response is to your written work, your writing is only one facet of who you are as a human being. Don’t make it everything, or you may lose your joy of writing and find the whole business very depressing indeed.

Photo Credit: BK


A Digital Love Story of Survivability

The following would have been impossible even seven years ago:

This week I sold the film/tv rights for a memoir that a major publisher took out-of-print in 2013. But because of the indie-publishing revolution, the author had made her memoir available in the digital realm. Because of that, it was discoverable by a major Oscar-winning director and producer who not only took an interest, but also optioned the rights for television.

Sounds like fiction, doesn’t it? Back in 2005, I met Kim Reid at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in Colorado Springs. Kim had made a pitch appointment, but she pitched me a novel that didn’t sound right for my list. However, in the course of our conversation, I learned about her extraordinary childhood as the daughter of one of the lead detectives who helped solve the Atlanta child murders, committed by Wayne Williams in the seventies and eighties.

I immediately told her, “You need to write that. I could definitely sell it!” So she did, and I signed her as a client. It took sixteen months of dogged determination, and Kim surviving a slew of rejections, but I finally sold No Place Safe in June 2006.

Kensington Publishing did a lovely job with it. Good packaging. Wonderful editing. And then the book was published, and bookstores shelved it, oddly, in African American Studies rather than in biography, where it truly belonged. I can honestly say that the shelving diminished the book’s discoverability, as well as its ability to sell.

Heartbreaking. By 2013, the work was out-of-print, and the rights reverted to Kim.

Luckily, the digital revolution happened. So Kim, in partnership with NLA Digital LLC, indie published the memoir to give it a second chance at life. Director/producer John Ridley found it. Bought a copy. Read and loved it so much that he convinced ABC Studios to buy it for him.

Suddenly, a memoir that would have dropped completely from sight was saved by publishing’s digital transformation. This title now has a ton of exciting new possibilities unfolding.

This is why I love agenting in the digital age. Authors have so many more options available now. And this particular terrific story happened to a very worthy book!

Photo Credit: Alyssa L. Miller


Guest Post by Angie Hodapp: Authors, Do You Know Where Your Money Is?

Every six months, you get an envelope from your agent. You tear it open, take out the enclosed check and royalty statement, and glance at the numbers on both. You shrug and mutter, “Guess that looks about right.” Then you toss the statement on your to-be-filed pile at the back of your closet, endorse the check, and head to the bank.

Sound familiar?

I can’t even begin to tell you how many published authors I’ve talked to at conferences who don’t give their royalty statements much of a glance. Why? Because they don’t know what they’re looking at. “Dammit, Jim, I’m a writer, not an accountant,” they say (or something along those lines). “Besides, isn’t that what I pay my agent to manage for me?”

News flash! Like you, many agents consider themselves word people—not numbers people—and your royalty statements are just as baffling to them as they are to you.

This means that the buck, quite literally, stops with you. Have a conversation with your agent about the level of support he or she is providing when it comes to combing through your statements and making sure you’re getting paid everything you’re owed.

More importantly, educate yourself. Learn how to audit your own statements.

Every year, we at Nelson Literary Agency recover thousands—sometimes tens of thousands—of unpaid dollars on behalf of our clients, simply because we audit their royalty statements.

Does this mean that publishers are nefarious, knowingly cheating authors out of a few bucks here and there to improve their own bottom lines? In our experience, no. (In fact, not all errors we find are made in the publisher’s favor!) Every error we’ve called to a publisher’s attention has immediately resulted in the issuing of a corrected statement and, when called for, a check covering the difference.

Without naming names, here are some examples of errors we’ve recently found on our clients’ royalty statements:

1. Unpaid royalties of approximately $5,000 because the publisher had applied a $10,000 advance against the author’s earnings when the actual contracted and paid advance had been only $5,000. This means the author had actually earned out—though the statement said otherwise—and was now owed nearly $5,000 in earned royalties.

2. Unpaid royalties of approximately $4,200 because the publisher’s accounting department missed the fact the author’s contract contained a royalties escalator. What’s that? A royalties escalator increases the author’s royalty rate in steps, based on units sold. For instance, a contract might specify that the author will earn 10% for the first 5,000 copies sold, 12.5% for the next 5,000 copies sold, and 15% for all copies sold thereafter. In this case, the author had sold about 12,500 copies of a hardcover edition priced at $16.99, but she had earned only 10% for all of those copies. Not one, but two escalators had been missed.

3. Unpaid royalties of approximately $7,300 because the publisher sold nearly 6,500 copies of a $17.99 hardcover edition at “high discount,” even though Agent Kristin had ensured that the author’s contract limited the number of copies the publisher was allowed to sell at high discount. What does that mean? When publishers sell copies of your book at higher-than-usual discounts, it’s common that the author’s contract will specify that she will earn “one-half the prevailing royalty rate” on those copies. Because Agent Kristin had limited the publisher’s high-discount sales, this author should have earned 12.5% on those particular 6,500 copies, but she earned only 6.25%, and we were able to recover the difference. (By the way, does your agent understand this and negotiate your contract’s high-discount clause in your favor?)

Dear Authors, the only way to protect your assets is to do the math. Join me July 30, from 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm, for my Royalty Statements Auditing Workshop, a live webinar sponsored by Nelson Literary Agency. Hope to see you then!


Is HarperCollins Pitting Authors Against Booksellers?

Just this week, HarperCollins announced that they would give authors a royalty incentive (35% of net instead of 25% of net) on any sales of an individual author’s book(s) that are sold via an affiliate link to HarperCollins’ new consumer-facing branded book retail site.

In other words, if the author is directly responsible for the sale, they get a higher royalty percentage. (Note: this only holds true for sales of books by the author. Authors can’t provide HarperCollins links to other author books and get an affiliate commission on the sale.)

To sum up, authors are rewarded if the sale is made directly through their publisher.

So does that pit authors against booksellers?

In my mind, the answer is no. Here’s why. HarperCollins is not mandating that their authors provide and feature ONLY links to the HarperCollins’ branded retail site.

HC is simply asking that the link be included along with all the other retail links to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google, Indiebound (the consortium of independent booksellers), etc.

If HarperCollins mandated that authors could only use their links on websites, newsletters, and email blasts, that could create a problem.

But it does raise another interesting thought. If Publishers have online storefronts? Are they in direct competition with booksellers? After all, they are now selling direct-to-consumers.

(By the way, Publishers have always had the ability to sell directly to readers via mail order, phone sales, catalog, and special sales, but it hasn’t been a big revenue avenue in the past, except for some specific titles.)

That answer is probably yes, if a publisher’s retail store starts building real market share.


S&S finalizes agreement with Amazon

This went out on the wire late last night. Carolyn Reidy has finalized S&S’s agreement with Amazon. Yes, the same agreement Hachette has been at loggerheads with Amazon for months now. So what is S&S okay with that Hachette isn’t? That’s a very good question….

S&S - Amazon Agreement

 

 


Writers: Please Read Your Contracts

I know for a fact that some of my clients don’t actually read the final contract they sign. I also freely admit that this makes me nervous. No person should ever be so trusting, even though I know I do a heck of a job on every contract negotiation. I actually prefer that all my clients read their 25+ page contract from first page to last. In fact, I even welcome questions or any concerns a particular clause might raise.

Why? Because I’ve looked at that publisher’s contract a million times, and my familiarity with it might actually be a liability rather than an asset. It never hurts to have a fresh pair of eyes on a contract I’ve read three times before I send on to the client for signing.

Fresh eyes might be a fresh perspective, and a client’s questions based on his or her interpretation of the contract language might actually make me evaluate familiar clauses in a whole new way.

Not to mention, Publishers Weekly just ran a story called For Major Publishers, Will Print No Longer Be the Norm? In it, PW highlights that agents are concerned about publishers who no longer guarantee a publication format in their contracts. In short, publishers are becoming more hesitant to commit to printing a physical edition of your book–just in case they want to do eBook first or eBook only.

Well, a big reason a lot of writers are interested in partnering with publishers is because publishers offer the advantage of producing both print and electronic formats. And if a print edition is not guaranteed…well, that might change the author’s desire to sign a contract.

Luckily, we here at NLA have made it a standard to specify the production of a print edition in our authors’ contracts. It’s always a tough discussion, but we are sure to get publishers to guarantee that they will produce a print edition in the deal-points stage, before contracts are even drawn up. That way, the expectation is clear early on so the author can decide whether or not to accept the publisher’s offer. This has been our standard for years now, but I’m guessing that getting publishers to agree to it is only going to get tougher.

Thinking like an agent ensures that you read your entire contract. Word for word. And that you start thinking like a negotiator. What have you read about in the news lately that might need to be covered in a publishing contract? Maybe you’ve read about “subscription services,” which is quickly becoming a hot-button issue. If you see that, or anything else, in your contract that you don’t understand, have a conversation with your agent. It’s probably rare you’ll think of something that your agent hasn’t, but, honestly, you never know.

Fresh eyes can be a powerful tool.


Amazon: Hypocrite. Customer is not Always King

One of the reasons why I wanted Hachette to be forthcoming when I started asking about the shipping issues (many moons before the news became public) was because I had already guessed that Amazon was flexing some muscle in a contract negotiation.

So confirming it wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t probably already know…

But also so I could tell Hachette and the editors that my authors and I were firmly on their side and hugely supportive of what they were having to face.

Amazon – I have been very appreciative of the many changes you’ve already created in publishing but now you are just being a big old fat hypocrite.

Because your motto is customer first, always.

Well, this kind of hardball in no way serves your customers. It hurts authors (whom you claim to support) and you deserve the public fall-out that this spat creates.


The Amazon – Hachette Spat

This just hit the newswire in the last week but I’ve informally known about this since late fall 2013 (as early as November). The problem? My Hachette authors and I noticed this “shipping issue” multiple times and brought it to our Hachette Editors’ attention. 

Multiple times. Repeated emails. We were assured that all was fine. (Which we, of course, did not believe since it kept happening….)

This is yet another moment where big publishing could have chosen to partner with authors and agents by explaining the truth behind Amazon’s muscle flexing.

Instead, Hachette choose to go with “we don’t discuss contract negotiations” tactic, which leaves their authors in the dark, agents like me fuming, and fosters a general atmosphere of distrust that the publisher is not being forthright.

Not the end goal here! What we need is more communication, not less.

Let agents and authors help you take a stand–which is actually what’s going on now and is detailed in this New York Times Article.

As happens time and time again, the truth does emerge and leaves those of us who have been asking about it for the last six months with exasperated hands in air, the desire to bang head against desk, and authors who now won’t believe the publisher when the response is “all is fine” in the future.


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