Pub Rants

Category: deals

5 In 4 Weeks

STATUS: Feeling a bit better today. The next day is always the real test with this cold.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? CONSTANT CRAVING by k.d. lang

At the beginning of the year, I think most of us in publishing, especially agents, were assuming there was going to be a big slow down in the deals done, books bought, new authors breaking in etc. At the very least, one assumed that any submission might take a few more weeks or a few more months to place.

And all of the above may be end up being true but here’s some good news. In the last four weeks, we’ve done 5 book deals.

For the stats, four of those deals were for already established clients but one of the deals was for a spanking new writer. A debut.

So hey, if you’ve been feeling the pinch, sensing the negativity in the air, worried about whether you’ve got a shot at getting your dang novel published, I’m here to say that business is happening.

And on top of that, I signed a new client last week. Never-before-published writer and
this new novel is brilliant. I can’t wait to shop it.

I’m feeling very optimistic and so should you.

Let There Be Light

STATUS: Working very late to finish up a contract.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LINUS & LUCY by Vince Guaraldi Trio

Firings at HMH. Layoffs at Simon & Schuster yesterday, layoffs at Scholastic a month or so ago, huge structural changes at Random House announced yesterday, HarperCollins delaying pay raises until next summer, and Macmillan CEO outlining that not everyone might have a job going forward

And yet, Michael Cader at Publishers Marketplace had this to say:

“Meanwhile, despite all the attention for the books HMH isn’t buying, our deal reports continue to show steady activity in the marketplace. (Over 90 deals in the past three days; 700 reports since November 1; 1375 since October 1.”

I like that ray of light!

Perfect Timing

STATUS: Starbuck’s eggnog Chai is back! This is a dangerous thing.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS YOU by Mariah Carey

Today I was reading Deal Lunch (a daily email from Publishers Marketplace that lists announced deals) and I noticed a sale for a manuscript that I had passed on earlier in the year and I bet that blog readers wonder how that makes an agent feel. Do we instantly regret the lost sale that we passed on?

To be honest, I have to say it really just depends on how we felt when we read those sample pages.

For example, for the deal I saw today, I simply looked up my notes on the manuscript and I had written a specific message to the author outlining how I saw the talent in the manuscript but felt like it was just over the top for my taste but that I could really see another agent digging it.

Guess what? I was right. Another agent did dig it and found the right home for the author. In this instance, I only felt pleasure for the writer as the deal posting wasn’t a surprise to me.

But that’s not always the case. In fact, just this summer I was swamped and we received sample pages from an author who was looking for an agent after selling the first book on her own.

I read the sample pages and thought the writing was really good but I had reservations on the story line. I kept vacillating on whether I had time to read a full when I had a niggling doubt. I finally decided that I was just too swamped at that moment to ask for a full. A month or so later, I kept thinking about the samples pages and I knew that I was probably going to regret passing. Sure enough…

Several months later, I heard that an agent friend had signed the writer and had just closed a six figure deal. Yep, there was some regret there (although I was also really delighted for my agent friend because she really is the crème de la crème and I love seeing her succeed). We went to dinner and toasted her obvious good taste.

Being snowed under is never a good reason to pass on manuscript but sometimes, that’s the literal truth which brings me to the point of this blog entry. In publishing, landing an agent or selling a project is sometimes about timing. I know. It sucks to hear that.

My dad used to say that to me when talking about love and finding that perfect partner. I just rolled my eyes but darn, he was right. When the timing in my life was right, I did indeed meet my husband. I’m not sure I would have “seen” the great person he is at an earlier point in my life. The timing had to be right.

Sometimes the same is true about publishing. The right project with the right agent/editor at the right time.

Still Room For The Debut

STATUS: Ack! A radio station in Denver is playing Holiday music 24/7. It’s not even Thanksgiving folks! That’s just wrong.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ANNIE’S SONG by John Denver

So tonight, I had great intentions of going through my notes and highlighting all the other bits of information about what editors are looking for.

Guess where I left my notes? At the office. Guess where I’m sitting right now? In my living room at home. Yep, just another moment of brilliance….

But this I can say without any notes. Every editor I talked to this past week (and I was at all the major houses) spotlighted a debut author on their 2009 list. All these editors were excited about these new authors and I don’t think that sentiment has disappeared.

Every person I know in publishing lives for that moment when we dive into a requested full manuscript and we realize we are reading something special.

In fact, despite account orders being generally down across the board, I have a debut author launching in 2009 and orders were actually up from the projections for that title.

So I wouldn’t spend time lamenting the current condition of the publishing industry (although there is a lot of grim news).

I would be concentrating on writing the best freaking novel you are capable of writing because lots of debuts astound the market. Just ask David Wroblewski.

Big In Slovenia!

STATUS: What craziness. Sara just got her wallet stolen and since of course she’s got the company credit card, we had to do some quick phone calling. Lucky for us, the thief was not able to act quickly enough to use the card.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? IF NOT NOW by Tracy Chapman

Okay, this is terribly embarrassing story. Yesterday, we sold one of our client books to be translated into Slovene.

Yeah, I had to look up Slovenia on google maps.

I had guessed former Yugoslavia but the fact that I couldn’t say for sure, well, that shows a bit of shortcoming on my part. Bad agent! If I’m going to sell a translation right, I really ought to know to which country and where it is on the globe…

But hey, maybe we’ll be big in Slovenia! May this be the first of many.

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.

Payment Schedules

STATUS: All six contracts are almost complete. I’ll so drink to that!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ELENORE by The Turtles

Over the weekend I realized my whole Friday entry was a bit cryptic if one didn’t know anything about payment schedules in publishing contracts. I’m pretty certain I’ve covered this in one of my prior entries (check out the Agenting 101 blogs) but what the heck, it doesn’t hurt to repeat it.

When a publisher buys a book, they don’t pay out the advance all at once (and probably none of you suffer from that assumption that they did, but I’ll state the basics just in case). No, when a publisher buys a book, they will stipulate a certain amount for the advance and then the payments are attached to what I call triggers—as in something contractually happens and a portion of the advance is paid.

Typical triggers can be these:

1. on signing of the contract

2. on d&a (delivery and acceptance) of a detailed outline
Side note: this happens often when a publisher is buying new books from one of their already established authors and they are buying on spec—as in nothing has been put on paper yet.

3. on d&a of the final manuscript

4. on publication of the work

5. on publication of a paperback edition

My favorite payouts are, of course, ½ on signing and ½ on d&a. Personally, when the monies are small, I really don’t see the sense in doing it otherwise. Now, I can understand when the advance pops into the six figures etc. but I don’t have to like it and I will certainly use all leverage possible to eliminate it. That’s my job after all—to get the best payout structure possible amongst other things.

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of emphasis from Publishers to have payment in thirds rather than halves.

Of course I don’t lean that way either but I’m okay with it for the most part—if I can avoid the upon publ pym.

I’m sure y’all are sensing a mantra here. I’m not always successful and I imagine as Publishers dig in on this topic, it will be harder and harder to get.

Now as to Friday’s entry, what I meant by weighting forward is this.

What if the advance is 30k for one book. Payouts can look any number of ways.

If it’s in halves, that’s easy:
15k on signing
15k on d&a

If in thirds:
10k on signing
10k on d&a of outline
10k on d&a of full manuscript

Now let’s say you have to have the pym on publication and I can’t budge the Publisher on it. My job is to weight the payments forward.

Instead of equal thirds like this:
10k on signing
10k on d&a of full manuscript
10k on pub

I’ll try to weight monies forward:
12.5k on signing
12.5k on d&a full manuscript
5k on publication

And this can have a myriad of variations. I just did what was easy math.

Clear as mud?

Payments on Pub

STATUS: TGIF! I’m going to be so happy when all these contracts complete. That’s my new definition of happiness. That way I can get back to reading—which is the more fun part of the job.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? YOU LEARN by Alanis Morissette

I wish this issue would go the way of the dinosaur. I was talking with a few agent friends today and this topic came up—as it often does. Unfortunately, I’m convinced this one is stuck here for good so what to do about it.

Certain publishers are demanding payments on pub no matter what the advance is. (Cough—a publisher that begins with a “P” comes to mind). Other houses are more relaxed until the money gets into the six figures, then the upon pub payment rears its head.

Unless there is an auction going on. Then the agent can get the publisher off it because they want the book enough to be in an auction so will often be flexible where payout is concerned so as not to lose the auction.

If an author is big enough or established enough, well, anything is possible right? Not just no payments on pub.

But if you can’t get rid of it, what do you do? Well, we weight the money forward so as little money as possible will be paid on pub.

One agent did point out another factor I hadn’t really considered which is that an on pub payment allocates money in a different year as other monies in the contract (as publication more often than not happens in a year other than the contract). This can be better for authors in terms of paying taxes. This is true but it seems to me that taxes can be managed properly and most people would prefer the monies earlier.

I’m out.

Redux: To Deal Or Not Deal Lunch?

STATUS: Soon (she says hopefully) the accounting upgrade will finish and life will be happier.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? CARUSO by Paul Potts

Someone in the comments section was nice enough to provide a link to my former post on this topic. When I took a look at it, I realized there were a couple of other reasons why an agent might not want to post sale news on deal lunch that I hadn’t included.

So, other reasons to keep the news on the down low (so to speak).

1. An author may be concluding a contract with one publisher but has already sold and established a new contract with a new publisher for future books. In order not to lose support from the current publisher, the author might prefer that the new sales information is not shared.

2. An agent has just sold a timely book project on a hot topic that might have competing titles in the works. The sale is kept under hat so as not to tip off the competition. The point is to hopefully have this title release before the others do. (This is more of an issue with nonfiction than fiction.)

If I think of other reasons, I’ll share.

Top Dealmaker?

STATUS: What a way to kick off 2008! First I get an offer for a project I have on submission which is how I always like to start the year. Then I get the big, big news. Ally Carter’s I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU lands on the New York Times paperback bestseller list at #4 and CROSS MY HEART AND HOPE TO SPY, which has already spent 5 weeks on the NYT hardcover list, is back on coming in at #9. Woohoo!!!!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I ALONE by Live

Thank you all for all your lovely blog comments on my last entry of 2007. I did have to chuckle though. Selling 22 books over the course of one year is not actually a lot. I have many agent friends who sell double or triple that number (although I have to add here that they’ve all been in the biz for a lot longer than I have).

It’s not a high volume and I have to admit that I don’t see myself as ever being a high volume agent. I don’t take on that many clients or that many projects in a given year so there’s a limited quantity of projects to sell. I don’t want to say quality over quantity because that’s not necessarily the case. I have many agent friends doing a quantity of high quality projects and deals. I imagine as my clients grow their careers, the number will increase over the years just on repeat deals alone.

But here’s what’s interesting and why I bring this up. Publishers Marketplace has a new feature called Top Dealmakers on their website. Let me tell you, this has caused some interesting consternation amongst agent friends and here’s why. Our agent reputations are the key to getting future good clients; we want to be known as top dealmakers! Publishers Marketplace can only rank top dealmakers on quantifiable criteria. In other words, they can’t verify that deals actually sold for the money highlighted by the editor or agent (or by the authors themselves) in the announced deal. The only criteria they can use for rating top dealmakers is based on the number of total sales in a given period (and that is, of course, only if the deals are reported). Many agents don’t report deals for a variety of reasons.

I like to think that might be the reason why Michael Cader implemented this new feature to begin with—to encourage deal reporting. Very smart on his part.

But it also means, quite sadly I have to say, that I’ll probably never be a top dealmaker on Pub Marketplace. Right now, I come in at #40 for Fiction as a whole, #26 for women’s/romance, #15 for children’s (that ain’t shabby I guess!), #8 for young adult.

You get the picture. And I have to admit, this entry is solely self-serving. Big smile here. I might not sell a lot of books in any given year but because that is true, I also have to sell what I take on for more money and that’s not captured in the Top Dealmaker ranking.

Is it better for an agent to sell many projects (but all in nice deals) or just a few projects in good, significant, or major deals—in Deal Lunch terms? And the answer to this is purely subjective because it really depends on how each individual sees it.

Unfortunately, Top Dealmaker on Pub Marketplace can’t use that criterion for obvious reasons (although when I was chatting with Michael before the break, we did talk about it).

Maybe that needs to be my 2008 goal. More deals and all for a lot more money. I’m sure my clients wouldn’t say no to that!