Pub Rants

Category: Agents/Agenting

Pub Horror Stories—Just In Time For Halloween

STATUS: I was a submission demon today. Two projects went out to many an excited editor. And I’ll know tomorrow whether I’ll be setting up an auction for a project already out and about.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MOONLIGHT LADY by Julio Iglesias (man, that is one sexy voice)

I have to send you over to Rachel’s blog today. She literally summed up my last couple of weeks on the job (except she doesn’t have the fabulous Sara to help her but sounds like she could use a Sara-clone.) Are we living parallel lives?

And you know what’s even stranger? I, too, wear a size 6 ½ in footwear so we can literally walk in each other’s shoes.

Watch your closet Rachel! The Midnight Shoe Snatcher might be on the loose.

And the savvy Bella Stander is blogging about publicity horror stories on her blog—just in time for Halloween.

How perfect is that?

I wish I had a horror story of my own to share but besides the person calling and leaving a query pitch on the voicemail today (despite the fact the recording clearly says no phone queries), there’s nothing very horrific going on. I have no horror clients. I’m not even sure I have an editor horror story to share.

Wait I have one.

I once had to hang up on an editor because she was screaming so loud during a phone negotiation that I had to hold the phone a foot away from my ear. I interrupted and asked her to call back when she felt more able to discuss the terms and I hung up.

Hasn’t ever happened since because now I won’t submit to her. Problem solved!

And check the blog early tomorrow. You are in a for a super Halloween treat.


Scammers That Scam Together…

STATUS: TGIF! The week ended way better than it started. I have one project that’s garnering lots of editor attention. Love that.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FASCINATION STREET by The Cure

Of course I had to go and research David Kuzminski’s cryptic comment in yesterday’s comment thread to click here if I wanted a good laugh.

But nothing prepared me for the sheer hilarity of scammers and fee-charging agents banding together to pretend they’re legitimate.

I even love their new organizational title: The International Independent Literary Association and yet not one of the agencies listed there is international. Perhaps they are just being optimistic for new members?

But my favorite part? The link that says Retainer Fee—To Pay or Not to Pay.

There they clearly spell out that it is a common misconception that reputable agents do not charge fees.

Eyebrow raise.

But it gets even better, they admit that reading and evaluation fees are still a big NO but retainer fees are the new black. After all, you’d expect to pay one when hiring an attorney, so why not for hiring an agent? In fact, according to them, this is now the case for literary agents.

News to me!

They even outright say that it’s okay as long as the retainer fee is for a reasonable amount.

Right. I’d like to know what constitutes a reasonable amount.

Folks. Repeat after me. Legitimate agents sell books to make money. To publishers who pay advances and royalties for the privilege.

They don’t charge money upfront (call it retainer, reading, submission, evaluation or whatever).

Why? Because if you actually sell books, you make money. There’s no need to charge fees.

And I also want you to go to the Association of Authors’s Representatives web page right now (of which I am a member). Give it a good look.

Now click on the Canon of Ethics. A set of ethical guidelines agents must adhere to in order to be a member.

See item 8? It clearly states that charging clients is subject to serious abuse that reflects adversely on our profession. Now, the problem is that the AAR only highlights fees for reading and evaluating literary works.

Scammers and pseudo-agents are manipulating language by now calling it a retainer. See it’s not really a reading or evaluation fee (even though we don’t seem to have a sales record), honest.

Folks. A fee is a fee is a fee is a fee.

Although Your Work Sounds Intriguing…

STATUS: This Monday was crazy but productive. We had to play catch up from the power outage on Friday. I did call and offer representation to an author for her really awesome YA project. She has a couple of other agent’s interested so now I have to wait and see if she chooses me. Choose me!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BAD, BAD LEROY BROWN by Jim Croce

For those of you who love agent blogs, I’ve stumbled on a couple of more that might be worth a read.

The Rejecter is an anonymous blog from an assistant at an agency. Definitely somebody with a perspective from the query trenches.

The other is from, in their own words, “the opinionated folks” at the Dystel & Goderich Agency.

Might be worth checking out.

Now on to my rant. Agents take a lot of drubbing for their standard query rejection letters. We have to say something and as y’all know, I prefer to be polite.

So what does it mean when I say, in my form query rejection letter, “although your work sounds intriguing…”

In means exactly that. It very well might be intriguing but it’s not right for me. Queries fall into five basic categories:

1. The obvious NOs because the query is for genres we don’t represent or something similar.
2. The other obvious NOs for well-done queries for projects we don’t represent.
3. The NOs for queries for projects we do represent but the query itself is poorly written
4. the NOs for well-done queries for projects that could fit for my agency, are intriguing, but I would never pick up that book in a bookstore so it’s not right for me. I can totally see another agent digging it.

For the most part, it’s for the Queries of number 4 that we include the standard phrase of “although your work sounds intriguing…” because this biz is so subjective. It really might sound intriguing for another agent who will then ask for sample pages, maybe a full, and then go on to rep this writer. Commenters on this blog alone have mentioned being rejected by me in the query phase but have then landed representation elsewhere.

It means their work was intriguing—but just not to me.

5. Well-done queries that knock our socks off so we ask for sample pages. These folks get the “request for pages” email letter.
To sum up? One agent’s “so intriguing I must see sample pages” is another agent’s “ho-hum and not right for me.”

So don’t get in a stew about the wording. It’s a NO. Tweak if you need to (especially if all your responses are NOs—that could signal the query letter/pitch hook being at fault) and then move on. Your agent might be around the next email query corner.

Technology Woes

STATUS: Network nightmares. You don’t want to talk to me right now. Despite being nice, I might actually snap at you.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? Ray Charles piped in over the speaker. Can’t tell you the title of the song though. He’s awesome regardless of which song.

Sorry folks. It’s not going to be a real blog today. My office computer network went down this morning and it’s still not fixed. Of course that drives me insane since everything happens by email. Almost everything. I did actually pick up the phone today. Gasp. How old-fashioned.

Just kidding.

So you’re probably wondering how I’m making this entry happen? Via my happy local Starbucks. I actually wanted to use the free wifi on the 16th street mall in downtown Denver but my computer was being ornery and wouldn’t connect to that network.

As to what happens to editors over the age of 35? Lots of things.

Publishing is tough. Long hours. Low pay. Tons of reading, which can strain the eyes. Editors really have to be passionate to stick with it.

Lots leave after a couple of years in the trenches. Many are promoted to positions where acquiring still happens (such as an Editorial Director) but mostly the job entails management.

Some editors leave to flip over to the dark side known as agenting.

Big smile here.

Some become editors-at-large so they can take more control over their projects and their lives.

Some move into other aspects of publishing.

Some actually retire after many fab years in the business.

Don’t worry. We don’t put them down after 35.

Young Turks

STATUS: I’m super excited about a new submission that’s going out this week.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? DECEMBER 1963 (OH WHAT A NIGHT) by Frankie Vallie and the Four Seasons

I wanted to do a shout-out to a new, non-anonymous blogger in the agenting world. I probably should amend that. She’s probably not new but I’ve newly discovered her and that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The new blog is Lit Soup by Jenny Rappaport at the L. Perkins agency.

And from what I can tell, she’s taking a lot of drubbing for being honest on her blog. I can see the lure of being anonymous…

One of her comments struck me though. I haven’t read the whole string of commentary (simply out of time today) but she does take a moment to highlight that being young in this industry is not necessarily a liability.

Ah, the age factor must have come up and that made me want to share a little fact with my blog readers. I’m not sure if writers realize just how young the workers in this industry are. I certainly don’t have hard statistics at my fingertips (so take this with some grains of salt) but I wouldn’t be amiss by suggesting that over 60% of the editors who work in publishing (and are actively acquiring and buying books) are under the age of 35.

It’s an industry of young’uns. Brash, intelligent, and savvy Young Turks.

In fact, Jason Kaufman, the editor of that little known book called THE DA VINCI CODE, wasn’t even 30 when he acquired that novel.

And this isn’t unusual.

And as much as it pains me to not be included in those young ranks (ahem, cough, sigh), it did make me want to bring up that fact. There’s a saying that with age comes wisdom. True. Sometimes. But there are lots of folks who have age but somehow missed out on that second part.

So, in the world of publishing, it’s better to not practice ageism.

(I know; I’ll get a whole slew of comments on maturity vs. age etc. Big smile here.)

Agenting 101: Conclusion

STATUS: Had a great lunch with my author Jana DeLeon this afternoon. Her RUMBLE ON THE BAYOU is coming out this October. If you love Stephanie Bond type stuff—romantic comedy mystery, then bookmark Jana’s website since her book will be right up your alley.

I mean, look at this terrific cover?

What song is playing on the iPod right now? It’s a clock radio in the hotel room and I can’t quite bring myself to turn it on and look for a station.

Basically I want to finish up Agenting 101 before too much time elapses between entries. There are just a few more housekeeping details to share with you folks about negotiating a contract.

So here there are:

1. If an editor is asking for more than one book (so a two or three book offer), it’s really important to ask that that the books be accounted separately. We call that no joint accounting.

What’s the issue? Well, if they are jointly accounted, that means that you, as the author, would have to earn out the first book completely in order to see royalties for the second book and so on.

The monies are linked. What happens if the first book bombs, second one is stronger but the sales of the second book have to be accounted with the first until the first one earns out before the author sees any money for book 2.

See the issue? Books should be accounted separately and should stand or fall on their own merits. Let book 2 do the same.

The next two housekeeping issues aren’t really contract-related items (although one will have a tie-in to the contract) but should be questions you should ask before doing the contract negotiation.

Question 1 (to ask the offering editor): What editorial changes do you see as necessary?

And if you can get in writing, all the better. Simply, you want to make sure that the editor’s vision for the work matches with yours and you’d be amazed on how opinions can differ.

I just sold a book in the last couple of months and editor responses to this question really differed. We had a choice of editors so we made sure that the editor’s editorial comments wouldn’t suddenly make the novel leap off into a different direction.

Question 2: What is the potential pub date?

And the contract important factor is to make sure that the publisher must publish within 12, 18 (or worst case scenario) 24 months and if they don’t (barring force majeure—acts of God), they are in breach of contract and rights revert.

You don’t want your project hanging out in publishing limbo forever without some recourse if the publisher doesn’t get on the ball.

That’s it. Now you can negotiate like the pros.

No, I don’t really believe that but at least you will be less clueless if you decide to go it alone.

Good luck.

Agenting 101: Part Eight: Option Clause

STATUS: Yep, another late night. And gosh darn it’s hot in New York City. I realize it’s hot everywhere right now but 100 degrees in NYC is not the same as 100 degrees in Denver—not by a long shot. I think the word “sweatball” comes to mind.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? Nada. Not even the telly is on at the moment

So, I promised to talk about option clauses. As I mentioned before, Publishers want the broadest language possible and agents want the narrowest language possible.

For example, Publishers will ask for “the option on the author’s next work” or some such similar language.

Well, duh, of course they do but that’s way too wide open. Next work could mean anything—from nonfiction to the next literary novel to the next romance or what have you. Any next work from the author.

Agents always limit the option to specifically what the author is writing and the more specific, the better.

For example, if the author writes historical romances, then you can limit it to that. Better, is to even designate what type of historical (ie. Next historical erotic romance, next historical paranormal romance, next regency-set historical romance).

Specifics is key.

In fantasy, you can have the option be “for the next fantasy work in this series.” Next epic fantasy. Next Urban fantasy, next dark horror fantasy.

Get creative.

For nonfiction, you can limit it to the next self-help nonfiction work appropriate for XYZ line.

Another good thing to remember is to put the word “adult” in front of certain unclear categories such as “adult chick lit.”

This is super important if you have an author that’s branching out into young adult, middle-grade, or children’s and as an agent, you need to manage both sides of the career.

You can also add “writing under the author’s own name” or “XYZ pseudonym.”

Limited option clauses are imperative for authors who want to write for several houses, in different genres, or for two different markets—like adult vs. children’s.

Another tricky clause to be on the look out for is the non-compete clause.

Publishing houses like to insert that little bad boy in there and often it will read something like this: “this work will be the next published work by the author and the author will not allow any other work to be published until six months after publication of the final book in this contract.”

And this is a loose paraphrase since I don’t have a contract in front of me.

Well, that can get darn complicated if the author is writing in various genres for various houses.

An important clause to really dig in and change.

Okay. My brain is done for the day.

Agenting 101: Bonus Clarification

STATUS: I have to say that the next two weeks are going to be silly hectic—with my trip to New York and then RWA in Atlanta back to back, blogging might be sporadic or really late at night.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? LEVON by Elton John

I just realized (after reading the comments section a couple posts back) that I actually never defined what a bonus was. I just listed the types that are common in publishing contracts and explained the two points of view about them.

Yep, a good example of knowing my topic so well that I’ve forgotten that others probably have no idea what I’m talking about.

And yes, sad but true, I was a college teacher back in the mid-90s and should know better.

My excuse is that I’ve been out of the classroom (except for the workshops I give at conferences etc.) for a good ten-plus years.

So let me define what a bonus clause is for an author.

A bonus is an outlined stipulation for the Publisher to pay the author an advance sum beyond the original advance negotiated when certain parameters have been triggered.

A general world example: you’ve heard of athletes getting a “signing bonus” when the contract is signed and if Colorado is like other states, the nursing shortage often means that nurses get a “signing bonus” when coming aboard. Also, athletes can get a “performance bonus” if they throw X number of touchdowns in a year or reach a certain RBI level (and folks, I have no clue what the bonuses are in the sports world so I’m just making this up but you get the picture).

Well, authors don’t really get a signing bonus but a performance bonus is definitely a similar idea.

An author might have a $15,000 advance for one book, original trade paperback. Then there can be a clause in the contract that if the work ships more than 25,000 copies in a 12-month period, the publisher will pay the author an extra advance of $5000.00 (or whatever).

This is 5k above and beyond the original 15k that was negotiated (and before the account has “earned out” in royalties the $15,000 that the publisher has already paid).

It’s an extra advance that the author will now earn out but is likely to because if the bonus clause was triggered, the book is doing well.


Probably not but I’ll keep muddling along. Have a great weekend.

Agenting 101: Part Seven: Bonus

STATUS: Spent a lot of time on the phone talking with editors today. That’s always fun. In fact, chatted via email with fellow Blogger and Random House editor Jason Pinter.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? FUNKY COLD MEDINA by Tone-Loc

Finally, a controversial topic! Bonuses are controversial? How so you say.

Well, there are two schools of thought where bonuses are concerned and I have to say that I fall somewhere in the middle between the two points of view.

Side 1
This side perceives bonuses as ghost money. A carrot in front of the author for performance but the actual bonus clause isn’t tied to a result the author can control.

Therefore, it becomes unlikely for the author ever to reach said bonus stipulation and makes the money included in the bonus a moot point.

Side 2
This side perceives bonuses as a failsafe. In the event a novel (or project) does extremely well out of nowhere, excellent sales numbers (or whatever—depending on how the clause is structured) can trigger bonus clauses which would result in additional advance money for the author before a project has earned out.

As I mentioned, I walk the line. I do believe that bonus clauses are ghost money. I NEVER figure them as value when negotiating for the advance.

I include them only when it’s very clear to me that the deal points aren’t moving anywhere else and I might as well include a back-end fail safe in the event a book does well.

On the other hand, included bonus clauses can be a detriment in later rounds of negotiations for future projects. Publishers might want to play the game of weighting the advance monies toward these bonus clauses that may or may not ever be triggered.

As an agent, you really have to stand tough against that.

And, if the author has a strong opinion about whether to include them or not, I always acquiesce to the author’s wishes because I can see the value of both sides.

Bonus clauses can come in all sizes or shapes. Common ones include these:
Net copies sold
Copies shipped
Bestseller list appearances
Hardcover bonus

And every bonus clause has different aspects to them such as what would be a reasonable amount for net copies sold in 12 months, or the amount of copies shipped, or a time frame for when the movie is in production, or what position on the NYT or USA Today bestseller list and which award. Does being a finalist count?

Oh yes, a loaded question those bonus clauses.

Agenting 101: Part Six Cont.: Royalties Some More

STATUS: Busy. Busy. And then I was busy. I’m trying to get submissions out and finalize everything for my trip to New York next week.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? TIME The Alan Parsons Project

I’m talking about royalties, right?

Okay. Dig right in. I’m not going to go into details on these but you will have royalty clauses in your contract for all kinds of specialty things—like on copies sold for export to third parties. Mail order and direct response. Special discount sales. Copies sold to book clubs. Remainder-in-Place.

And then there is a whole clause on when the Publisher won’t give you a royalty such as on damaged copies or for the blind or for promotional use.

Royalties based on Cover price will look like this:

From yesterday, Hardcover:
10% to 5000
12.5% 5001-10,000
15% thereafter

Unless you are Stephen, Nora, or John. Chances are good you’ll have some better royalty percentages.

Trade Paperback is usually 7.5% flat rate but if you can get an escalation to 10% after 25,000 or 30,000 copies, great!

Mass Market
8% to 150,000 copies
10% thereafter

There are still some houses trying to squeeze a 6% royalty (and I’ve even heard of lower) but that’s so not standard so don’t let them convince you otherwise.

Standard Subsidiary rights splits:
They are usually 50/50 with these exceptions:
90/10 first serial (and, for clarification, the first number before the slash is to the author)
80/20 UK
75/25 Translation
66 2/3 Canadian

But as I mentioned before, I’ve seen all kinds of other splits and usually with the small or independent houses.

As you can tell, in contract negotiation, there is a lot of attention to detail. Random House also just revised their boilerplate contract and want to stick in a bunch of new clauses that aren’t particularly favorable to authors.

That’s why my contracts manager can be so valuable.