Pub Rants

Category: general rants

Do You Do Big Money To Big Publishers?

STATUS: Responses are still trickling in so I’ll probably wait a day or two before tabulating the very unscientific results! Thanks to all who participated in the survey!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? DANCING IN THE DARK by Bruce Springsteen

In our June newsletter (which will probably go out this week), Sara talks about a query we received that began with this sentence: “Do you sell books to really big publishers for a lot of money? That’s all I am interested in and if you are small potatoes, please don’t bother responding…”

Insert picture here of Kristin snorting with laughter. The answer is yes, I certainly do sell books to big publishers for big money but I’m pretty certain I don’t want you as a client.
This opening is wrong on so many levels, I don’t even know where to begin this rant. I’ll just list some thoughts.

1. Why are you emailing me this query if you don’t know my sales history and what I’ve sold lately and in general, for how much? That info is certainly out there if one does the research.

2. How do you define “big” publisher? I know a lot of smaller, independent houses I’d love to do a book with. Algonquin and MacAdam/Cage come to mind. Aren’t they big enough?

3. How do you define “big” money?

4. It’s not always about the money. Now, it’s always foremost in my consideration but sometimes it’s about the right editor, the right house, the right vision and that doesn’t always equal the most money.

5. No agent can guarantee that a project will sell for X amount of money and if they tell you they can, they’re lying. Now sometimes my gut will tell me that a project will go at auction and for good money and sometimes I’ll cautiously share my optimism with the client but it’s always tempered with the caveat that I can’t promise a specific dollar amount.

6. Lastly, if you are in the publishing game for the money, you’ve got a rude awakening in front of you. Do I need to trot out the statistics on how many queries we get versus how many authors we take on and actually sell? Do I need to dig up the stats on how many authors actually make a full-time living solely from their writing? (And the stats are even smaller when we are talking about writers making their living from writing fiction!) Do I need to list the stats on how many author advances are under the 25k range? Or reverse and list some stats on how many authors make six figure advances?

So yep, we do occasionally sell to big publishers for big money but we’ll be saying NO to this query without a second thought. We just don’t need any clients with misguided attitudes. If that’s the case, our client list is full up.

PubRants First Blog Reader Poll Or Something Equally Unscientific

STATUS: I’m getting my 80s groove thing on to start the week. How can you be upset when listening to nostalgia music like this?

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THE LOOK OF LOVE by ABC

So this morning I’m breezing through my copy of Publishers Weekly as we had just found out our author Sherry Thomas was getting a new PW review for her August release DELICIOUS (and a fab review at that!). I was pretty sure it was coming in the current issue that hasn’t hit my mailbox yet but to make sure, I scanned the latest copy.

Well, this article caught my eye. Zogby International, in conjunction with Random House, did a survey on current readership. Here’s the link if you want to read it more fully.

And here are just a few eye-popping stats from this poll.

82% of Readers prefer the hard copy of a book over the electronic version (Oy! I’m in the minority. I love reading on my Kindle.)

43% of readers go into bookstores looking for a specific title

77% of those readers make additional purchases when looking for a specific book

52% of book purchasers are swayed by cover art

49% of book purchasers are swayed by reviews

35% of book purchasers have been swayed by a cover quote (now my authors understand why we work so hard to get those cover quotes!)

60% of book purchasers are swayed by recommendations from friends or family members.

Word of mouth is everything!

Alas, I didn’t see any stats on back cover copy and whether that influences a purchase. That could have been relevant concerning all my recent blog posts regarding it.

But let’s do our own, not-so-scientific and spur of the moment sample poll:

Do you prefer hard copy or electronic?

When going into a store to buy a book, have you then bought a second title?

Have you bought a book based on the cover alone?

Have you ever bought a book based on the back cover copy? (what the heck, let’s ask).

How often have you bought a book based on a friend or family member’s recommendation?

Have you ever bought a book because I mentioned it on this blog? If so, which book(s). (oh boy!)

How many books do you buy in a year?

How many books do you check out from the library in a year?

I’ll compile our own totally unscientific stats tomorrow or on Wed.

Feels Like The End Of An Era

STATUS: It’s early yet and no fires are raging that I’m seeing so I’m going to say it’s a good day.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? PERSONAL JESUS by Richard Cheese

How very dull and boring. Our little troll is back and hence all the deleted comments on the last entry.

In one sense, this is a compliment as having a troll certainly establishes that your blog has “arrived.” Trolls don’t bother with the blogs that aren’t getting traffic.

Anyway, I want to apologize for having to turn on the ‘moderate comments’ feature yet again and unfortunately, it looks like it’s going to have to stay on this time.

This makes me very sad as I’ve been blogging since January 2006 and for 2 ½ years this blog has been an open forum where writers could gather, express opinions about the industry and heck, even posts some criticisms about agents, about my agency in particular, etc. and I’ve never felt the need to moderate.

But I’m not going to allow a troll to hijack the blog so he can use it for his own personal forum with comments that don’t offer help to other writers or add to the discussion.

So on it goes. Do know that it’s just fine to disagree with me. I will post any comments that pertain to the entry topic even if they exhibit a dissenting opinion or a valid criticism—as long as it’s handled in a professional manner.

Sigh. Feels like the end of an era…

Millions Of Readers Are Not Wrong

STATUS: Today was mostly about getting ready to be out of town for Book Expo next week. It’s out in LA so basically my whole BEA week is about meetings with Hollywood people.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MUSTANG SALLY by Wilson Pickett

This is such an interesting discussion that I want to point out one other facet. Writers need to be wary of the trap of believing that popular books don’t contain good writing.

What is and isn’t good writing is opinion, opinion, opinion. It’s highly subjective.

Hardcore fantasy fans can nod sagely about the average (in their opinion) writing of ERAGON (or Terry Goodkind’s WIZARDS FIRST RULE) and lament that if readers could only just read their work, which truly has a complex story line and good writing, they’d see the error of their ways.

Stephenie Meyer critics can critique Bella’s character or their perception of the plotting until the cows come home.

I could personally go on and on about how I don’t get why readers love the novels of Nicholas Sparks. It doesn’t mean anything folks.

Because I will tell you this right here and now. Millions of readers are not wrong. They aren’t—despite the fact that it might not agree with your personal opinion about any of the above books.

If you are smug in the excuse that the writing is average or the storyline didn’t work for you then you are missing the point. There is something about these novels that are capturing millions of readers (and the dollars in their wallets). Ultimately I refuse to believe that a million people are so “uncultured”, “stupid,” “non-discerning,” or “insert your phrase here” that they don’t get it. That’s condescending and underestimating the reading audience.

They do get it because millions of readers are not wrong.

Now you can disagree with their general opinion about a certain book. Heck, that’s your prerogative but don’t fall into the trap of underestimating the reading public. They don’t think like writers. They think like readers and they vote on what they like with the dollars they spend on what they buy.

Da Vinci Code. More than 7 million people bought that book. Did they care about the various expressed opinions of the writing quality in the Da Vinci code? No. Now maybe 100,000 people bought the book because everyone else couldn’t stop talking about it so they needed to find out what the fuss was about, but that doesn’t account for the other 6 million + copies that were sold and it certainly doesn’t explain the huge surge in sales of Dan Brown’s previous novels.

You can critique and create all kinds of reasons for why popular books shouldn’t be as popular as they are. It can be a fun pastime (I admit I indulge in it myself) and all power to you, but if you fall into the trap of that being all you are focusing on, then you are missing an opportunity to learn about why millions of people bought and loved certain books and how that might translate into something you can use in your work-in-progress.

A Lesson To Be Learned from Popular Books?

STATUS: It’s late and I have lots to do tomorrow. Still, I had a fun evening.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHEN YOUR MIND’S MADE UP by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova

Even if you are a successful writer, you can still just be a fan. Tonight I attended the Stephenie Meyer event (hosted by the Tattered Cover) with my assistant Sara, Ally Carter, and Ally’s good friend Beth. All three are huge SM fans and of course were delighted to meet Stephenie (and Elizabeth, if you are reading this, huge thank you for the backstage passes. I owe you the Gallagher Girl book #3 ARC!)

It’s amazing to attend a book signing where the fans scream before the event begins—to be in a crowd where readers are palpably excited about books. That in and of itself made attending the event worthwhile.

But that’s not what I really want to blog about. While at the event, all four of us got to talking and my author Ally Carter had an interesting observation that I thought was worth sharing.

When books are as successful as THE HOST and the TWILIGHT series (or say, for instance, the Harry Potter books), there is often a focus (by aspiring writers) on whether the books live up to their popularity—whether they are worth all the hype. Writers tend to focus on their own opinions about whether they like or dislike the books rather than what they should be paying attention to which is what they can learn from books that have captured such attention.

Books are popular for a reason. Trying to put your finger on that “why” could potentially teach you a lot about your own writing.

Now of course everyone has an opinion and all those opinions are certainly valid but what I’m getting at is this: Even if you dislike a popular book, try and see past that opinion to the “why” behind why devoted fans love it so much. You might just discover something that could take your writing or your next project to the next level. It might not but that “why” is certainly worth contemplating.

What’s In A Pseudonym?

STATUS: It’s going to be a work weekend. I can already tell. I just don’t like to make clients way for too long for feedback and I’m just behind. I need to rectify that and a good solid work weekend ought to do it.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? TALK TALK by Talk Talk

So you want a pseudonym. Then all I say is choose wisely and maybe keep a few things in mind.

1. Pick a name that means something to you. For this reason, a lot of authors will often choose a family surname or a maiden name etc. Then google it. If it’s too common, you might have trouble reserving the url etc.

Also, you don’t want a name that’s also going to pull up the best porn sites on the web or something equally as unpleasant. You laugh but there it is. When I google my name, I get mostly references to myself, an actress and painter, and an athlete. Not bad company…

2. If you are going to create a name, make it one that is easy to recall or memorable in some way that’s interesting or ethnic (if that’s your background), etc.

3. Here’s a thought. Maybe check out a bookstore and the shelves in your genre. Who will you be sitting next to? Heck, if you can grab the casual buyer, it might be worth choosing a name that will give you excellent shelf position. Mercenary I know but it’s something to think about.

4. At the Borders’ computer, how many names will pop up in an author search when you plug in your pseudonym?

I’m probably missing a few good tips so if they come to mind, feel free to share.

Unexpected Twist To Economic Downturn

STATUS: Off to Fort Collins for the Northern Colorado Writers Conference. Lots of new publishing news hitting the internet. If you haven’t seen this article about HarperCollins advance-less imprint in WSJ, you might want to give it a look.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THE WAY I AM by Ingrid Michaelson

It is of no surprise to me that the publishing world may need to rethink its business model in the not so distant future. Returns haven’t made sense for a long time and I’m still flabbergasted at how long it can take to publish a book (up to a year and sometimes more).

Heck, I’m still surprised when editors hand-mark a paper manuscript. It just seems so old-fashioned (and a lot of copy editors do the same). So changes are imminent and probably necessary—especially with the economic downturn driving tight bottom lines.

But here’s another interesting take on how the economy might be impacting authors and the world of publishing. An agent friend visited her local B&N, Borders, and Books-A-Million earlier this week to check out her April releases. [Yes, agents are guilty of shelf elving to turn our clients’ books face out etc. You’d think it would be beneath us but I must admit I do the same thing always if I find myself in a bookstore.]

So my agent friend visited three stores and not one of them had her April releases on the shelves. Of course she talked to the store managers at each location. All of them cited the economy—they’ve had to cut staff and don’t have the people to get the books onto the shelves in a timely fashion. It could be as late as April 10th before the books hit their real estate.

One manager took her to the storeroom where she was greeted with boxes from floor to ceiling—some of which contained March releases.

Now I don’t want to cause a nation-wide panic as this might be a localized event for this specific area of the country (rather than a national trend) but it does highlight how an economic downturn can impact the success of an author’s book in all kinds of un-thought of ways.

Hard to get good initial sales numbers when your book hasn’t even made it to the shelf yet!

Implications Beyond The Obvious

STATUS: Hey, I’m not blogging after 10 o’clock at night. This means it’s a good day!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? TIN MAN by America

I read this article with dread. Despite how one might personally feel about buying from chain bookstores versus supporting independents (and that’s a whole separate debate I don’t plan to get into with this entry), Borders possibly going out of business is not good news.

Why? Because the general public doesn’t know that the decision about buying books for the chains, which ones, and in what quantities, is in the hands of a very few people who wield significant amounts of power. B&N has A non-genre fiction buyer. Yes, you read that correctly. A decision to carry a book (or not) by that one person can make or break a book.

If Borders is taken out of the mix (or bought by B&N), the decision-making powers about what books will be featured or given shelf space in the store at all will have just consolidated yet again.
This is not good news.

There have been many instances of Borders supporting a book that B&N hasn’t and that making all the difference (vice versa is also true as I’ve seen B&N support a book that Borders took forever to get on board with –Carter’s I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU comes to mind). A Borders closing is particular hurtful news for genre fiction as things like romance and SF&F are often more supported at the Borders store and bought in greater numbers by readers through that outlet.

If Borders goes, so do their buyers. And with the ringing death knells of so many independent stores in the news lately, the future isn’t looking bright—as the independents, as a collective force, could create a balance to this.

So lots of implications beyond the obvious.

Mail, Mail, Where Can You Be?

STATUS: TGIF! I concluded a negotiation today which always feels good. The author is, of course, thrilled.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? AIN’T NOBODY BUT ME by Supertramp

This isn’t a publishing rant per se but it’s rather indirectly related. On Monday, the office lobby floor was retiled. In order to do that, the workers moved our mailbox center.

Let’s just say it was resting sideways on the stairs when I came in on Tuesday morning. I thought it a little odd but I certainly wasn’t able to move it so there it stayed. Well, Tuesday afternoon, the mail person comes to deliver the mail (and with MLK in there, more than the usual stack). He was in a huff because he had to come to each office instead of putting mail in the box like normal. Just to clarify, my office building isn’t large. On the second floor, there are only 8 suites—several of which are currently empty and awaiting new tenants. I understand that it was an inconvenience and outside of what a mail person would normally have to do to deliver the mail but it wasn’t a big deal either and probably took all of 8 minutes to do.

But I guess it was because since then, I haven’t received another piece of mail all week—even though the mailbox center was put back.

Now, I know we do everything electronically here but seriously, not a day goes by where we don’t get a piece of mail. And we are expecting royalty statements and checks.

We had to call today and find out why mail hasn’t been delivered. I guess I’ll have to tell my clients that it was circumstances beyond my control on why their monies are late!

Foiled by Tech Issues

STATUS: Need to go home and pack because I’m leaving for New York City and BEA tomorrow.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BOYS AND GIRLS by Bryan Ferry

This is definitely a blog light and for that I apologize.

Most of my day was spent transitioning my website and email over to a new company and server.

Remember all those email issues I was having? Well, they weren’t getting solved so I had to move on. I don’t even want to think about how many people never received a response to their query letters because of all the trouble we were having and all the emails that weren’t delivered.

If you never received a reply from us, you might want to resend that email query just to be safe.
The transition has happened but there could still be glitches. If you visit our website and your cache hasn’t been emptied or your web browser hasn’t refreshed, you might still be seeing the old site on the old server or you might get an error page. Don’t worry. You don’t have to do anything extra and it will shake out in the next 3 days or so.

Consider yourself forewarned.

Ps. The electronic submissions database is fine. Everything transferred without a problem.