Pub Rants

Category: deals

(Just a note, this article was featured in our November 2019 Newsletter. Some references may not correspond with recent events. To receive our articles first, you can subscribe to our newsletter here.)

It seems like yesterday that I launched my agency, but it has actually been seventeen years. I could write a whole article about how much has changed in the last two decades (the rise of ebooks, anyone?). But there has been another tectonic shift in an unexpected arena in the last two years—one that has been consuming an incredible amount of agent hours in the day. Still, authors should be rejoicing. This is THE time to be a content creator, and I’ll explain why.

I used to be pretty dang proud of the fact that in my first fifteen years of agenting, I did more than thirty film/TV deals. It was hard to land an option, and I was averaging two a year. Stellar numbers! Now I laugh as I write this article.

Why? Because with the advent of streaming (Netflix, Disney+, Apple, Amazon Prime, and the list goes on), all these platforms want content, content, content. The result? Film/TV options coming from every which way.

In the last two years, I’ve done fifteen film/TV deals, and I have another two coming down the pike in just a few weeks. That is a stunning number of option deals. So yay for clients! But as an agent, working through film/TV deals right (terms are getting onerous, and Hollywood is trying to make a grab for a lot of rights), any negotiation can take five to eight months to complete—with numerous rounds on potentially deal-killing issues. My fave? When a producer or studio insists on “novelization rights” when they are buying an existing novel on which to base their movie. Yep, you read that correctly. Needless to say, any insistence on that point will kill the option deal outright.

In good news, we almost always manage to find common ground so the deal can happen. But it can take a lot of phone conferences, emails, and conversations to make it so.

A lot of agenting hours in the day dedicated to something other than selling an actual book to a publisher.

Creative Commons Credit: Tri Nguyen

Money, so they say, is a taboo subject, so don’t expect fellow writers to spill financial details.

Until now. Hats off to Heather Demetrios for pulling back the curtain and being brave enough to share her mistakes in the article “How to Lose a Third of a Million Dollars Without Really Trying.” It’s considered gauche to talk about money in this industry, yet it’s probably one of the most important topics authors should be discussing.

Agents are often in a weird position when it comes to talking to our clients about money management. On one hand, we are the author’s business partner; on the other hand, we aren’t their parent. We don’t want to make assumptions about an author’s financial responsibility (or irresponsibility).

Over the years, when I have a debut author who has landed a big advance, I have asked for permission to put on my mom hat and give counsel. If the author says yes, I offer these four pieces of advice:

  1. When the advance comes in, don’t wait. Cut a check for 25% of the total that has come in and mail that check to the IRS right then and there. I’ve heard too many horror stories of authors finding themselves in real trouble when April 15 rolled around and the money was already spent.
  2. Ever heard of the adage “pay yourself first”? Most people don’t know exactly what that means. Well, in investing terms, it means immediately placing the maximum percentage allowed by the IRS for that particular tax year into a retirement account (i.e., a Roth IRA, IRA, Vanguard S&P 500 fund, or similar).
  3. If you have a mortgage your advance can pay down (or, better yet, pay off), that is worth considering. Owning your home outright can create a lot of financial freedom. If you have student loans or other debts, consider eliminating them.
  4. Connect with a financial advisor who only charges by the hour rather than taking a percentage of your investments. This is a way to gain expert advice on reasonable terms—especially for authors who feel lost in the weeds about this whole investing and saving-for-retirement thing. Garrett Planning Network is a good resource that can hook you up with a fee-only certified financial planner.

In the end, the best way to think about your advance is to take that amount and divide it by, say, three years. What would the author’s annual salary then be? For example, if an author is lucky enough to get a $150,000 as an advance (sounds fab, right?), that’s $150,000 minus 25% in taxes, which equals only $37,500 a year for three years. If that’s your sole income for those three years, that might be a bit sobering.

My client Courtney Milan once told me that a blog article I wrote a lifetime ago on authors and retirement really made a difference in how she managed her money. I wish I could find that original blog post, but chances are good the info would be outdated anyway. For more up-to-date info, here are my recommendations for retirement planning:

So thank you, Heather, for getting the ball rolling for authors to talk about money. Mentorship tends to be a key factor for success in publishing. So let’s not be shy about discussing this topic.

 

Creative Commons Credit: Ben Taylor

Emily Easton at Crown Books for Young Readers has won, at auction, Scott Reintgen’s debut science fiction young adult trilogy beginning with THE BLACK HOLE OF BROKEN THINGS. In the novel, a Detroit teen accepts an interstellar space contract only to realize the promised millions must be won in a brutal competition where winners face the ultimate choice—take the money and become pawns in the corporation’s sinister plans or find a way to fight that won’t forever compromise their humanity. Publication is scheduled for 2017. Kristin Nelson at Nelson Literary Agency brokered the mid-six figure deal for North American rights.

To celebrate Scott’s awesome news, I’m delighted to share with my blog readers Scott’s original query letter that landed me as his agent and resulted in an auction for a mid-6 figure young adult book deal.

Date: July 1, 2015 at 1:58:01 AM MDT

To: [email protected]

Ms. Nelson:

I have the highest respect for you and how you represent your clients. After looking through your submission guidelines, I felt that my novel might be a good fit for your list. Thank you for your time and consideration.

THE BABEL FILES [title was changed for the actual submission to editors] is a completed, YA science fiction book of 83,000 words. Readers familiar with Pierce Brown’s Red Rising or Fonda Lee’s Zeroboxer will find similar elements in my work. I do feel one of the most important features of this novel is the focus it has on a main character who is a PoC. Having worked in urban schools my entire career, I so often find my students have little to no representation in these types of books. I was hoping to give them an opportunity to see themselves, vibrant and on the page and victorious. To this end, I followed advice I received from author Mary Anne Mohanraj at the World Fantasy Convention. She suggested I seek readers of a diverse background in the beta process. I did just that and was incredibly pleased at the response to Emmett’s authenticity and relevance.

Emmett Atwater isn’t just leaving Detroit; he’s leaving Earth. Why Babel recruited him is a mystery, but the number of zeroes on their contract has him boarding their lightship and hoping to return to Earth with enough money to take care of his family, forever.

As he and nine other teenagers wormhole their way through space, Emmett discovers the promised millions aren’t a guarantee. Each recruit must earn the right to travel down to Eden. There, Babel will use them to mine a substance that’s quietly become the most valuable in the world. Emmett’s year-long flight will act as a competition. Every training session is measured, every point matters, and Emmett will do anything to win. But Babel’s ship is full of secrets. Secrets about the volatile substance they’re hoping to mine, about the reclusive humanoids already living on Eden, and about their true intentions for the kids that don’t win their competition. As Emmett uncovers the truth, he realizes he’s not fighting for wealth or glory, he’s fighting for his life.

I am a 10th grade English and Creative Writing teacher who has spent years sharing my favorite science fiction and fantasy novels with my students, and I’ve started writing stories with them in mind. THE BABEL FILES is my third completed novel, and the first in a science fiction trilogy. I have included sample pages below for your consideration. I look forward to your response.

All best,

Scott Reintgen

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.

 

 

 

 

When Trendy Trumps Publishing Sense

STATUS: Wearing Halloween tights! Of course I’m having a great day.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? SKYFALL by Adele

Don’t ask because I won’t reveal the title as this post is a true rant. *grin*

Last year I saw a YA manuscript on submission. The author had gotten an offer pretty quickly so I had to read right away. I read to the end (which is rare for me) and ultimately I decided to pass. The story had a lot of promise but for me, there was a bit of an ick factor and I thought it needed a ton of work. It also had a bit of a bizarre ending that I couldn’t fathom.  The title went on to sell for big money at auction.

I remember just being astonished. Such a quick sale meant that very little work had been done before submission. In my mind, editors were willing to pay big money for a concept. Well, that’s not the first time that has happened. And it’s definitely not going to be the last.

Maybe I just had sour grapes as I had passed. There’s probably some truth in that. From what I can tell though, the book was published in 2012 and it didn’t do as expected.

Just recently it happened again with another YA title I saw on submission and passed on because I honestly did not think it was young adult novel despite its trendy concept.

I’m so so ready for something new and for editors to get excited about something wildly different!

Got Epic Fantasy?

STATUS: I’m still buried under a ton of emails and whatnot as I try and catch up post BEA and New York. I have high hopes of resuming Fridays With Kristin next week!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? DRIVE ALL NIGHT by Need To Breathe

Because every SF&F editor I talked to said they were open to seeing it. Which made me extra sad when I saw the six-figure deal on Publishers Lunch for an epic fantasy by an author we offered rep to.

Sigh. But can’t win them all.

Then on Monday I spotted the “major” deal for a YA fantasy I offered rep to as well. ARRRGGGHHHH!

Paper cut with lemon poured on it!

Hey, at least I know my gut instinct is still working.

But back to fantasy. If you are working on an urban fantasy, you might be out of luck. Every SF&F editor I chatted with while in New York was being inundated by urban fantasy submissions and with some rare exceptions, were not buying them.

In good news, SF&F editors were being leery about looking at science fiction stuff and now that is turning. They mentioned actively looking for it now and since I just put an SF on submission, I’m thrilled with the reception it’s getting. 

What Editors Have Bought Recently – Women’s Fic and Literary

STATUS: It’s BEA time! Oh crazy schedule

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? Nothing at the moment.

Obviously I’m not just talking to children’s editors while in New York. So here’s a little snippet of what editors have been buying in the adult realm:

1) Literary novels with some sort of magical element (i.e The Night Circus)
2) Multi-cultural literary novels by non-American writers
3) Voice-driven literary novels that shed light on the contemporary modern landscape for protagonists in their 20s or 30s.

In women’s fiction and romance
1) contemporary stories with small town settings
2) southern contemporary women’s fix
3) looking or romantic comedies in romance (haven’t heard that desire in a while!)

Off to the Javits Center!

What Editors Have Bought Recently – Young Adult and Middle Grade

STATUS: I have often said on this blog, Thank God It’s Friday. Today, I really really mean it. What a crazy week. But all good stuff.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? IF YOU DON’T KNOW ME BY NOW by Simply Red

So editors have been seeing a lot of crap but they’ve also been buying stuff. So instead of answering the question: What is an editor looking for? I thought I’d delve into what they’ve bought recently.

Here you go!

1) A young adult thriller
2) Gothic retelling of a classic–in this case, The Island of Dr. Moreau
3 young adult straight fantasy (as opposed to a bent one! *grin* In other words, a traditional not contemporary fantasy)
4) a time travel young adult novel
5) realistic contemporary young adult
6) animal character middle grade fantasy

Editors have not seen a lot in middle grade (it’s the hardest content to find) but what they have seen included science fiction for the younger reader and Aliens in space or similar that target boy readers.

I’m out. Literally. Like I’m now going to sleep….

The Criterion For Evaluating An Agent

STATUS: Gorgeous day! Must. Leave. Early. Chutney seconds that.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? TAKE MY BREATHE AWAY by Berlin

This week, Blogger decided to completely reformat their dashboard. I honestly cannot find anything or tweak the colors. Took me five minutes to find my previous postings so I could do my after-posting editing for Friday’s entry. LOL. I should never blog in a hurry but sometimes, I have to do it on the fly or it’s just not going to happen.

I want to expand a little on Friday’s post. I think the most important criterion to evaluate before querying an agent is that agent’s record of sales. Agents should be agenting and therefore selling stuff on a fairly regular basis. And they should be selling stuff that is in the genre of the work you are pursuing representation for.

If an agent is fairly new but at an established house, they should still have a track record of sales since they are using the agency’s reputation when approaching editors. Their stuff will get looked at and since they usually read in front of an established agent and have “training” so to speak; they have honed their eye and will know what will sell.

How can you find out what agents have sold and recent deals? Well, Publishers Marketplace is an excellent resource. Keep in mind, however, that not all agents list their sales there. So that’s not the end all be all. I’ve actually not been announcing a lot of stuff lately for a variety of reasons.

Still, a lot of agents will have pages on Publishers Marketplace or dedicated websites which will show covers of recent releases etc.

If an agent has been “agenting” for awhile (such as 3 years or more) but doesn’t have a lot of sales and to the major publishers, well, I’d take that as negative indicator of their agenting ability.

Also, just in general, agenting is a full-time job. I’d also be hesitant about agents who have been established for a long time but are doing a variety of other jobs on top of agenting.