Pub Rants

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

Tagged romance

USA Today Bestseller – 6 Years After Publication

Last week my author Jana DeLeon, who has been digitally self-publishing her backlist titles, hit the USA Today Bestseller list at #98 for the very first time and for the very first novel she ever published: Rumble On The Bayou (originally published in 2007). And the big question is: How did she do that?

It’s a great question. More and more digitally self-published titles are hitting the lists. I’m certainly not a liberty to reveal all the genius marketing ideas Jana has been pursuing but I can tell you one thing that is public knowledge. She’s not doing it alone.

Over two years ago, Jana and 9 other digitally self-publishing authors formed a marketing co-op where they pool ideas, platforms, and resources. Together this group creates aggressive strategies and they’ve seen remarkable results for every member of the co-op.

It gives a whole new meaning to “it takes a village.” I imagine most authors who are digitally publishing tend to go it alone. I’m seeing the real efficacy of marketing in numbers. And I also don’t think grabbing any old person will do. Each member of the group needs to be equally invested and savvy about what it takes to market digital titles.

On a side note, RUMBLE was originally published by the now defunct Dorchester back in the day. I had quite the battle to arm wrestle the rights back when they stopped paying royalties three years  ago. Obviously that was worth doing!

Rumble-#98_UsaToday-BSL


Writing Craft: Breaking The Rule: Show Don’t Tell

STATUS: What is up with over 100 degree days in Denver in June? We live here because summer tends to be awesome. We could be confused with Phoenix this week.
What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? NOVEMBER by Ben Williams

A week ago I attended Denver Lighthouse Writer’s Litfest where I gave my Agent Reads The Slush Pile workshop to over 50 hearty souls–which convinces me yet again that writers are gluttons for punishment.

As I was giving the workshop, inspiration hit for a couple of blog posts I could do on writing craft that I think my blog readers would understand and find helpful.

So guess what I’m going to do this week if I can find 30 minutes of time to get one posted?

Writers are often given writing “rules” that woe be you if you break them. And for most cases, because beginning writers have not mastered craft yet, these rules hold true. But if a writer knows what he or she is doing, breaking the rule can often create something really unusual that will work and be amazing (but will have a lot of aspiring writers crying foul that so-and-so writer does it and gets away with it.)

For example, how often have you heard that as a writer, you should show and not tell? Too many times to count I imagine.

Do you want to know one NLA writer who breaks this rule all the time at the beginning of her novels? Sherry Thomas. Sherry has won the Rita Award twice in a row now (the romance genre’s highest honor) and her debut novel PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS was named one of Publisher’s Weekly best books of the year in 2008.

So obviously somebody agrees that she has mastered craft and Sherry always begins her novels with a lot of exposition–usually a big no-no. But for her voice, it just works. Just last month, Sherry released her latest historic romance entitled BEGUILING THE BEAUTY which John Charles said in the Booklist review: “Thomas distills superbly nuanced characters and flawlessly re-created settings worthy of a Merchant and Ivory into a gracefully witty and potently passionate love story that sets a new gold standard for historical romances.”

And, if you check out the beginning of her novels, it’s all exposition. BEGUILING begins with the following:

It happened one sunlit day in the summer of 1886.
Until then, Christian de Montfort, the young Duke of Lexington, had led a charmed life. 
His passion was the natural world.  As a child, he was never happier than when he could watch hatchling birds peck through their delicate eggshells, or spend hours observing the turtles and the water striders that populated the family trout stream.  He kept caterpillars in terrariums to discover the outcomes of their metamorphoses—brilliant butterflies or humble moths, both thrilling him equally.  Come summer, when he was taken to the seashore, he immersed himself in the tide pools, and understood instinctively that he was witnessing a fierce struggle for survival without losing his sense of wonder at the beauty and intricacy of life. 
After he learned to ride, he disappeared regularly into the countryside surrounding his imposing home.  Algernon House, the Lexington seat, occupied a corner of the Peak District.  Upon the faces of its chert and limestone escarpments, Christian, a groom in tow, hunted for fossils of gastropods and mollusks. 
He did run into opposition from time to time.  His father, for one, did not approve of his scientific interests. But Christian was born with an innate assurance that took most men decades to develop, if at all.  When the old duke thundered over his inelegant use of time, Christian coolly demanded whether he ought to practice his father’s favorite occupation at the same age, chasing maids around the manor. 

This goes on for three pages. It’s backstory. Something writers are admonished to never do. But with her skill and voice, it works.

So keep that in mind. If you can pull it off, a rule is worth breaking. The trick is knowing whether you’ve truly pulled it off! From most of what I’ve seen in the slush pile, the answer is no, the writer hasn’t nailed it.


What Kristin Requested From Pitch-A-Palooza

STATUS: Started out the week with 354 emails in the inbox after being out for RT. Only 203 to go. Progress!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? TUFF ENUF by Fabulous Thunderbirds

Does it say anything about trends? Probably not but just in case you are curious, here are the types of projects I requested.

2 paranormal adult romances
1 contemporary adult romance
3 women’s fiction projects
1 SF romance (haven’t seen one of these in a while–kind of excited!)
1 SF (but not a romance)
2 contemporary YA
2 paranormal romance YA (I have to be honest, this genre is getting to be a tough sell to editors who have seen nothing but this for the last two years.)

And my sincere apologies to anyone that I had to turned down during the Palooza. When it’s a speed dating format like that, I do have to say no to projects that don’t grab me immediately to reduce the amount of material we receive and have to review. We requested 12 projects but I had over 25 pitches that day. That’s a lot in 90 minutes.


Why Asking ABout The Next Trend Is The Wrong Way To Go

STATUS: I feel like I’m being pulled in 10 different directions. I’m here at the RT Convention. On Tuesday, I offered rep to a potential new client. Wednesday I did an hour phone conference with a film producer for another client. Yesterday, I reviewed 5 different offers for a UK auction going down. Today let’s talk about romance. It’s almost time for Pitch-a-Palooza!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? IF IT’S LOVE by Train

But writers can’t help themselves. They still ask this question anyway.

At best, this question is unhelpful. If you start writing for the “next hot trend” by the time you finish your project, that particularly trend is on the way out.

Not to mention, if you ask me the question, “What are you looking for?” I can ramble on about something I’d love to see (such as a completely charming, witty, and fun historical romance a la Julia Quinn) but what I offered rep for just this week would never have landed on my “This is what I’m looking for” list.

I’m constantly taken by surprise by what I fall in love with.

After being here at RT, certainly I can tell you that editors are weary of paranormal romance. That everyone is talking about erotica because of 50 Shades (by the way, I don’t rep erotica so please don’t query me for that.)

That “hook-y” women’s fiction novels (i.e. hooks like a knitting club or cupcake club) are still on editors’ wish lists (which by the way, are topics that don’t ring my bell much).

I can tell you that a lot of the romance editors also rep YA and they might be moved to violence if just one more YA paranormal romance lands in their submission inbox.

I can tell you all these things and then I can also tell you that the minute the “right” project lands in that same inbox–even if it contains any of the above–but it blows them away, they’ll offer for it.

So I can’t tell you what I’m looking for as an agent. I can only say that I’m going to know it when I see it and this: I haven’t taken on a romance author in over the year. I’m opening my universe up to that possibility as I’d love to read an awesome romance right now.

I’ve been in my “dark” phase for the last 7 months by taking on dark and gritty SF.


For The Book That Almost Didn’t Sell–Happy Release Day FIRELIGHT!

STATUS: Another phone conference in 20 minutes! Must blog quickly.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? LOWDOWN by Boz Scaggs

Blog readers, have I got special treat for you today. If you ever wondered what the editor rejections looked like for a book that has shown every sign of coming out of the gate wildly popular, well today is your lucky day.

Today is the official release day for Kristen Callihan’s FIRELIGHT.


I’ve blogged before about the fact that I almost could not sell this book. And today, Kristen has given me special permission to share her rejections.

But let me preface this.

This debut novel has received two starred reviews (Publishers Weekly and Library Journal) and top pick at any number of romance sites, too many to list here.

When we sent the novel out to already established and successful authors to read with an eye for a possible blurb, we had our fingers crossed that maybe we’d get one or two responses.

Every author on our list read and blurbed it:

“Callihan has a great talent for sexual tension and jaw-dropping plots that weave together brilliantly in the end.”
—Diana Gabaldon, New York Times bestselling author of Outlander

“A sizzling paranormal with dark history and explosive magic! Callihan is an impressive new talent.” —Larissa Ione, New York Times bestselling author of Immortal Rider

“Evocative and deeply romantic, Firelight is a beautiful debut. I was fascinated from the first page.” —Nalini Singh, New York Times bestselling author of the Guild Hunter Series

“Passionate and sizzling, beautifully written and dark. This unique paranormal twist on the beauty and the beast tale rocks!”
—Elizabeth Amber, author of Bastian The Lords of Satyr

“Kristen Callihan delivers a dark, lush offering to fans of gothic and paranormal romance. With a deliciously tortured hero, an inventive supernatural mystery, and slow-building heat that simmers on each page, Firelight is a sexy, resplendent debut. I can’t wait to see what Kristen Callihan comes up with next!”
—Meljean Brook, New York Times bestselling author of The Iron Duke

“This book has everything: sword fights, magic, despair, a heroine with secret strengths, a hero with hidden vulnerability, and best of all, a true love that’s hot enough to burn the pages. I couldn’t stop reading. This book is utterly phenomenal.”
—Courtney Milan, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Unraveled

“Inventive and adventurous with complex, witty characters and snappy writing. Callihan will make you believe in the power of destiny and true love.”
—Shana Abé, New York Times bestselling author of The Time Weaver

“A dark, delicious tale of secrets, murder, and love, beautifully shrouded in the shadows of Victorian London.”
—Hannah Howell, New York Times bestselling author of If He’s Dangerous

“A dazzling debut, sexy and thrilling. Callihan now has a place on my to-buy list.”
—Anya Bast, New York Times bestselling author of Dark Enchantment

“A fantastic debut that has everything I’m looking for in a story: compelling conflict, beautiful writing, gripping sexual tension, and strong, intelligent characters.”
—Sherry Thomas, RITA-award winning author of Not Quite A Husband and His At Night

“A compelling and emotional pageturner that will have readers burning the midnight oil.” —Anna Campbell, award-winning author of Midnight’s Wild Passion

“Lush and imaginative, Firelight will sweep you away.”
—Zoë Archer, award-winning author of Devil’s Kiss

“Combines romance, wit, and suspense in a fabulous retelling of Beauty and the Beast…with a supernatural twist.”
—Colleen Gleason, international bestselling author of The Gardella Vampire Chronicles

“I LOVED the book! Fabulous writing, great characters, innovative plot. It held me from the first page. I was so drawn in by the quality of the writing. She’s sure to become a fave of mine. I have already raved about the book to my readers group.”
—Gail Link, 2010 RWA Bookseller of the Year

And yet, the editors did not feel the same love.

–I’m afraid I didn’t love the voice, which felt a little bit overdone to me, and this kept me from getting immersed in the story. I’m therefore going to pass; I’m sorry. But thank you for giving me a shot at this, and I hope you will find the right home for it.

–I love your description of the story, but for me, the writing itself doesn’t stand out from the crowd.

–Thanks so much for sending this! I liked the reimagining of the beauty-and-the-beast story, but didn’t quite love the voice as much as I’d hoped

–I do love a great gothic, so I was really hoping to love this. Unfortunately, I just didn’t connect with the voice as much as I wanted to.

–Many thanks for thinking of us for this, but we’re going to pass. Gothics are very hard to sell right now

–I’ve been reading this, and I’ve enjoyed the appealing voice and the strong element of mystery. But while I liked this novel perfectly fine, I just didn’t feel the level of enthusiasm necessary to make this a success. Ultimately I just didn’t feel the strong emotional connection I’d hoped for.

–I really tried hard to get emotionally attached to FIRELIGHT because the atmosphere is so beautifully written. I just couldn’t connect, I’m sad to say,

–I did find plenty to like in the manuscript: Miranda makes a great heroine, and I absolutely loved our introduction to her in the opening chapters. (In particular, the scene where Miranda is having the ethical dilemma over whether to steal or not really hooked me.) The main problem I have, though, is that I never really connected with Archer as a hero. Miranda won me over, but she alone wasn’t enough to make me believe in the romance.

–Here’s the thing-I kept hoping I could make this work, but increasingly we’re having a hard time making new historical romance authors grow in the market.

In the end, it’s so so true that you have to find the right editor with the right vision who is the right fit. When you do, even for a book that almost didn’t sell, it can be magic.

And I think Kristen’s holiday gift to me is the perfect end note!


Happy release day Kristen!


Story Of An Underdog

STATUS: Yesterday got away from me so I’m blogging “early” today.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? SUNSET BOULEVARD by Charlie Robison

Hum, I’m wondering if championing an underdog that then goes on to be successful might be the story of my career.

Either that or I simply have strange tastes most of the time (with the occasional hitting the market square on with a project that generates lots of initial excitement from the get-go).

So here’s another tale of an underdog–a novel that I absolutely loved but had trouble selling. And I can tell you that agents often delude themselves; I seriously expected an auction when I went out on submission with it. I was totally flummoxed when that didn’t happen.

But finally, after much work, this genre bending, doesn’t-fit-into-an-easy-category novel sold. I would call it a dark gothic Victorian historical romance with an unusual paranormal twist.

And I’m always telling aspiring writers not to do what I just did with my description above. LOL. Everything but the kitchen sink!

Given the nature of the story, the editor, author, and I all agreed that we needed to give the novel the best chance possible and one facet of doing that is going after established authors for praise blurbs to hopefully start the early buzz.

Now, the blurb process is not an easy one. In general, you’re lucky if maybe you get one or two blurbs out of 10 or 12 blurb read submissions. Established authors are on deadline, they get asked to blurb a million times, the story isn’t their cup of tea. There are a hundred reasons why established authors pass on reading for blurbs so you don’t go in with high expectation of the response. You’ll be happy with anything that comes of it. And a lot of times that means just one blurb.

Well, in this case, every established author we sent the novel to read it, loved it, blurbed it.

I’m still stunned. This never happens.

“If the word FIRELIGHT sounds cozy–think again. Both characters and plot are literally ON FIRE!! Tremendously, engagingly sensual.”

–Diana Gabaldon, bestselling author of the Outlander Series

“Passionate and sizzling, beautifully written and dark. This unique paranormal twist on the beauty and the beast tale rocks!”

—Elizabeth Amber, author of Bastian The Lords of Satyr

“Evocative and deeply romantic, Firelight is a beautiful debut. I was fascinated from the first page.”

—Nalini Singh, New York Times bestselling author of the Guild Hunter Series

“A sizzling paranormal with dark history and explosive magic! Callihan is an impressive new talent.”

— Larissa Ione, New York Times bestselling author of Immortal Rider

“Inventive and adventurous with complex, witty characters and snappy writing. Callihan will make you believe in the power of destiny and true love.”

— Shana Abé, New York Times bestselling author of The Time Weaver

“A sexy, resplendent debut with a deliciously tortured hero, an inventive supernatural mystery, and slow-building heat that simmers on each page. I can’t wait to see what Kristen Callihan comes up with next!”

— Meljean Brook, New York Times bestselling author of The Iron Duke

“A dark, delicious tale of secrets, murder, and love, beautifully shrouded in the shadows of Victorian London.”

— Hannah Howell, New York Times bestselling author of If He’s Dangerous

“A dazzling debut, sexy and thrilling. Callihan now has a place on my to-buy list.”

— Anya Bast, New York Times bestselling author of Dark Enchantment

“Utterly phenomenal! Sword fights, magic, a heroine with secret strengths, a hero with hidden vulnerability, and best of all, a true love that’s hot enough to burn the pages.”

— Courtney Milan, New York Times bestselling author of Unraveled

“Lush and imaginative, Firelight will sweep you away.”

— Zoë Archer, award-winning author of Devil’s Kiss

“A compelling and emotional pageturner that will have readers burning the midnight oil.”

— Anna Campbell, award-winning author of Midnight’s Wild Passion

“A fantastic debut that has everything I’m looking for in a story: compelling conflict, beautiful writing, gripping sexual tension, and strong, intelligent characters.”

— Sherry Thomas, RITA Award-winning author of His At Night

“Combines romance, wit, and suspense in a fabulous retelling of Beauty and the Beast…with a supernatural twist.”

— Colleen Gleason, international bestselling author of The Gardella Vampire Chronicles

Gosh I hope the reading public feels the same! And if you are one of those readers that loves unique romances that don’t fit into neat square boxes, then all I can ask is that you add this one to your To Buy list because it almost didn’t happen. Editors WANT to take chances on unusual stories but it’s a tough argument for them at the editorial board meeting unless they can point to titles that were successful and sold well. That’s the cold, hard truth.

I’ve got high hopes that FIRELIGHT by Kristen Callihan will do just that.





And speaking of authors who like to tackle unusual but powerful stories, if you haven’t had a chance to read a Sherry Thomas romance, well, you are in luck. You can’t try her out in ebook for only $3.99. Random house is doing a special promo.

Amazon

BN

Kobo

Google eBooks

Sony


Only Once In An Agent’s Lifetime?

STATUS: Even though I look absolutely ridiculous doing a happy dance, I’m doing it anyway! White woman overbite. Here I come.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? THE LOAD OUT by Jackson Browne

This is just getting impossible. If I keep hitting crazy milestones, what will I have to look forward to? Last year, I had 3 authors on the New York Times bestseller list at the same time.

Then it happened twice in one year. Fabulous. Where to go next?

How about 4 authors on the NYT list at the same time? And 3 of them on the top 150 USA Today Bestseller list at the same time as well.

Yep! That’s the news that hit my inbox about an hour ago. And here they are.

At #19 on the Trade Paperback list and #146 on USA Today

At #9 on the Children’s list

At #11 on the Mass Market paperback list and #109 on USA Today

At #13 on the eBook listand #59 on USA Today

When I got into this biz, this wasn’t something I ever imagined so the reality is not quite real. Maybe it will sink in tomorrow…


Two Years In A Row!

STATUS: First day back in the office after 6 weeks. Slight chaos.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? BRANDY (YOU’RE A FINE GIRL) by Looking Glass

I honestly didn’t think it was possible but obviously it is. *grin*

Huge congrats to Sherry Thomas for winning the RITA-award for Best Historical Romance two years in a row. In 2010, she won for NOT QUITE A HUSBAND. This year, it’s HIS AT NIGHT’s turn!


Doing The Math on Harlequin’s Move to 25% of Net Receipts but on Wholesale Model

Status: It’s official. RWA in New York has just begun. Most awkward moment today? Sitting on a panel that also had editors and being asked the question: what is a fair electronic royalty rate. Grin.

What’s Playing on the XM or iPod right now? BAILAMOS by Enrique Iglasias

Last Thursday, Harlequin sent out a press release announcing that for single title romances on their list, they would be switching to 25% of net receipts starting Jan. 1. 2012.

But before you begin celebrating that finally Harlequin is getting in line with the other major publishers, take a moment to look at the fine print or in this case, what isn’t there. What Harlequin didn’t mention in their press release is that as a Publisher, they are currently not on the agency model with their digital distributors—Apple iBookstore being the one exception.

So in short, this move to 25% of net is def. better than the paltry 6 or 8% of retail that they were offering but it’s not necessarily equal to what Publishers pay via the Agency Model.

Here’s why. Let’s do some math boy and girls.

Let’s say your single title Harlequin royalty rate is 8% of retail and the retail price for your romance novel is $7.99.

8% of 7.99 = 0.64 of royalty per sale to the author

That’s the baseline. Now let’s look at what 25% of net receipts from Harlequin looks like on the wholesale model.

$7.99 is the retail price but because Harlequin sells wholesale, they give (on average) a 50% discount to the seller. That would look like this:

7.99 – 3.99 (discount) = 4.00 of net receipts to Harlequin

25% of 4.00 = $1.00 of royalty per sale to the author

Well, that’s definitely better than 64 cents given previously!

But the whole reason why Big 5 Publishers moved to the net receipts royalty rate is because of the agency model. In this configuration, the Publisher gives 30% to the distributor and receives 70% as net receipts. So it would look like this:

30% of 7.99 = 2.39 to the distributor

Now deduct that commission:
7.99 – 2.39 = 5.60 of net receipts to publisher

If author gets 25% of net receipts on agency model, that would be:

25% net receipts of 5.60 = 1.40 of royalty per sale to the author.

Not quite the same.

Now keep in mind that the above calculations are not taking into consideration any other deductions a Publisher on Agency Model might possibly be taking before calculating the author’s share. So that is a possible factor to consider.

But in general, Harlequin’s move to 25% of net is not, on the surface, the same as what other houses are offering.

And from what I’m hearing via chat in the blogosphere, the other Harlequin royalty rate of 15% of net to series authors (which was also announced in a separate press release) is going over about as well as a lead balloon.


Romance Anyone?

Status: Whose bright idea was it to schedule meetings from 9 in the morning until 9 in the evening? Oh wait, that was my fault.


What’s Playing on the XM or iPod right now? I DON’T WANNA FIGHT by Tina Turner.


First off, if you are a Denverite and you have not had a chance to vote for Jamie Ford’s HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET to be the One Book One Denver choice, please pop on today as June 15 is the last day to vote!!


Pretty please. *grin*


As all of you know, I’m here in New York for the whole month of June meeting with a variety of editors. This week, I’ve had a chance to talk with 4 editors who work in the romance and women’s fiction field.

For wm’s fic, it’s still the order of the day to find an upmarket literary voice with a story that has a great hook.


In other words, a good story well told…


In romance, there’s a bit more uncertainty. Editors really don’t have a clear picture on what might work for a debut. Will it be paranormal? Historical Romance? I was hoping Historical Westerns would make a come back (as I do have a soft spot in my heart for them) but editors weren’t showing a lot of enthusiasm.

Now contemporary Western (or set in Texas) seems to be working okay. And yet sales, in general, for contemporary romance is soft.


All I’m really getting is that whatever the novel is, the author needs a powerful and strong voice. If she has that, the rest will hopefully follow.


In other words, romance writers, I got nothin’ to share here. Should make for some interesting spotlights at RWA!


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