Pub Rants

Category: Publishing Deals & Contracts


STATUS: Such is the joy of January that the processing of Client 1099s with my bookkeeper is fast upon us.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SO WHAT by Pink
(and man has this title been stuck in my head all day!)

It’s been awhile since I did a real rant on my blog so what better way to kick off the new year then to treat my reading audience to one?

Agents fight the good fight to get a little clause into author contracts that states that the author will have consultation on the cover and the cover copy (be it flap copy, back copy, or what have you).

For the most part, this isn’t too hard to do and is usually established in the agency’s boilerplate with the publisher.

Great right? Cover consultation means that the author will be consulted on what the final cover will look like. One would assume that it would mean that the author might have some input into what the final cover will look like. And all parties understand that given a disagreement on the cover, the publisher will have final say. [Cover Approval stated in contracts being reserved for the Nora’s, Stephenie’s, Neil’s, Stephen’s, and JK’s of the world.]

Good. Everyone is agreed.

And here comes the rant. But what constitutes “consultation” varies widely from publisher to publisher.

Some publishers send the final cover that can no longer be changed, and say you’ve been consulted. Grrrr. If the cover stinks, I’ve got a big fight on my hands. All of which could have been avoided had we just been really consulted—as the contract states.

Some publishers make you work for the consultation. Grrrr. This means you have to call the editor, email the editor, and harass the editor until you get the cover. It’s frustrating and exhausting and let me tell you, if I have a choice between publishers, I’ll consider this aspect when looking at the two deals on the table.

I do want to state here, in general, most editors really do want their authors to be happy with the cover and so will work with you but the above happens enough to make me want to pull my hair out.

Last week I was chatting with an editor (a big and powerful editor whom I just adore) who has included the author and me on every step of the cover process. From the first conception draft to the “final” draft that went to sales (who then rejected it and then we had to start all over and tackle second draft concepts etc.). And when I was talking to this editor on the phone, I paused and took a moment to thank her for really consulting with us on every step of the process. Not just paying lip service to the clause in the contract but really consulting us. And this for a debut author to boot! [Agents expect this with established authors]. Talk about a sheer joy this has been!

She was startled and said, “Why wouldn’t I? You two have been great.” How I long for every editor to handle it this way. Now please keep in mind this: both the author and I were sane, objective, reasonable, and actually offered good suggestions and because of that, all input was taken seriously. Thus the editor trusted us to work on the cover with her—not against her. This plays a big part in this whole consultation game.

But what I wouldn’t give for the cover process to be just like this for every book I sold. I will make sure that during this process, my author and I are sane, reasonable, and offering good suggestions. Just simply give us the chance.

Doom & Gloom & Google

STATUS: Four more hours until I can go home and vote!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BOBBY JEAN by Bruce Springsteen

Oh my. I’m reading all my daily news feeds this afternoon and I have to say that even I was stunned at the Media Bistro headlines.

Get a load of this:

Time Inc. plans 600 layoffs

Christian Science Monitor to go Web-only (not bad news per se but certainly sign of the times I think!)

Gannett will Cut Ten Percent of Newspaper Jobs

McGraw Hill Cuts 270 Jobs


In other big, big news, from Wall Street Journal Google settles lawsuit [link from the AP] regarding book scanning and book search. And yes, it means one more thing to talk about during deal negotiations as this is yet another revenue stream. Luckily, my contracts manager and I already have discussed Google revenue and where it falls in many of our contracts.

Publishers Marketplace has several key stories regarding the news. [Click here and here] You may or may not have to subscribe to see the full story. And if you want to read the 141 page settlement, you certainly can by clicking here. I suggest, at the very least, reading Attachment A: Author-Publisher Procedures. Also, here’s the settlement administration link.

One of the big questions being kicked around is the difference between commercial availability and “in print.” Does the presence of a book in Google’s book search program constitute a work being in print? There’s a lovely explanation of the two tests to determine so in the Author-Publisher procedure. And, according to the Author’s Guild, the answer is no as the OOP clause in the contract still prevails and that should contain a sales threshold that defines whether a book is in print. From what I’ve read of the settlement, that is indeed correct.

But it’s still tricky. What happens when a book is considered OOP (and the rights have reverted to the author) but Google still makes the text searchable on their book search site (and is potentially generating revenue for that)?

Good question. And this too is addressed. Will Google then send statements (and checks) to the authors who hold the rights? Yes, they should (as that is covered under the Author-controlled Section 4.1 of Author-Publisher Procedures Attachment) but the onus is solely on the author and there are a lot of steps outlined! [Payment is detailed in 6.2]

And authors and agents thought it was hard enough extracting information from publishers regarding their royalty statements. This could take revenue tracking to a whole new level.

It’s a brave new world, isn’t it? Happy reading.

Speaking of eBook Royalty Rates…

STATUS: Monday madness! Sounds like a new game show. I can’t believe it’s 5 pm already. Lots of phone calls and prep work for my NYC trip in two weeks.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HEARTS AND BONES by Paul Simon

Which I blogged about a couple of weeks ago, I just received a letter in the mail today from Random House stating that as of Dec. 1, 2008, they’ll be changing their eBook royalty rate policy.

Sigh. Here we go. RH used to have one of the nicer royalty rates in the industry (of the big NYC Houses that is. I think a lot of the smaller, ePublishing houses have more aggressive standard rates from what comment posters have mentioned.)

RH’s standard royalty rate was 25% of retail (as opposed to 15% of retail that most houses use).

Now they are moving to 25% of net amount received. A big difference. Now it’s still on par with what industry “standard” tends to be in New York but I’m still disappointed.

From the letter: “The new rates are very much in line with the ebook and digital audio rates being offered today by our major competitors. Previously, Random House’s digital royalties represented a considerable premium over the digital royalties offered by other publishers. As the economics of publishing in digital formats come into clearer focus, we realize we can no longer afford to offer such a rich premium if these businesses are going to mature and become profitable.”

I was tempted to add some commentary in there but refrained. For me, RH’s generous eBook rate gave them a bit of an edge if all other factors were equal. Well, that’s going the way of the dinosaur.

If you are a new author, chances are good you are going to get the industry standard in your first contract (barring crazy auction and publishers throwing around huge pots of money that is). And if you are an established author (with a solid track record that’s building), well then, all royalty rates are negotiable, aren’t they? eBook being just one of the factors to play with in the deal points negotiation.

Why You Have Bankruptcy Clauses In Contracts

STATUS: TGIF! I really enjoy writing that every Friday. I finished one contract and got ready to dive into another but alas, too many interruptions. Will have to tackle on Monday.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? GAUCHO by Steely Dan

This week I read in Publishers Weekly that Sports Publishing, LLC has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Well, lately, just about every day I read a tidbit in Media Bistro or Shelf Awareness about a newspaper, magazine, bookstore, or what have you calling it quits.

In fact, I received an email today from a wonderful editor at Rager Media (a small independent literary house out of Ohio). He was writing to tell me that they were closing the doors.

That’s very sad news as they were doing some powerful books over there.

But all this got me thinking about bankruptcy clauses. When I heard about Sports Publishing, I immediately got out the contract file for one of my early books—CHAIR SHOTS by Bobby Heenan and Steve Anderson. This was way back in the day when I was foolish enough to take on nonfiction projects before I realized that my expertise was much more focused on fiction and the occasional memoir.

There it was on page 6—a nice bankruptcy clause highlighting how rights will revert. Today I wrote a formal letter requesting the reversion and final accounting so I have it in writing. I’m glad it’s there in black and white on the contract page–which is why we have this clause in all our contracts.

But my contracts manager recently told me that she’s seeing some push-back from publishing houses wanting to eliminate the clause. (I’d have to dig a little to find out what the rationale is behind that.) Now I’m also not a corporate bankruptcy attorney so I really can’t detail the vagaries of how corporate bankruptcy unfolds. All I know is that I’d rather have the clause in that contract so rights revert—even if the courts don’t allow that to happen automatically. Good thing I have an intellectual property attorney and his firm on retainer. Looks like I’m about to learn how it works.

From RITA Nomination To Hollywood

STATUS: You know you are having a busy day when your stomach starts telling you that you need to eat lunch. You swear you’ll get to it after just one more thing and the next time you look up, it’s 3 in the afternoon.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BEVERLY HILLS by Weezer

I don’t often cross reference to another blog post of mine but this story I shared on Romancing the Blog last Friday is too good not to repeat here.

The post obviously hits the target reading audience for that Blog but it’s a good lesson to put here as well. If an award is prestigious or important enough, it’s worth the time and money to enter. You might just win or it might open another door you hadn’t even thought of. Just ask my author Kelly Parra.

From my Oct. 17, 2008 post—and here’s the link.

Have you been thinking about entering your novel into the RITA awards? Have you been waffling because you’re crunched for time? Let me remind you that the deadline is fast approaching (Dec. 1!) and regardless of how little spare time you have, this is a contest you don’t want to miss.

Why? Because I can tell you first-hand the power of a RITA nomination. It can land you in Hollywood.

I just closed a major motion picture option deal for my author Kelly Parra because of the double RITA-nomination for her young adult novel GRAFFITI GIRL. Yep, you heard that right. My author didn’t even win this year’s 2008 RITA but she’s winning in a whole different way (although she was very sad not to take home that beautiful statue).

This past July, several movie producers decided to check out Romance Writers Of America’s National Conference. Obviously, they gave special attention to any work nominated for the prestigious RITA award. Several weeks later, this producer got in touch with us. One call to my film co-agent and a week later, we had spanking new film option. This in turn is generating new excitement by foreign publishers in Frankfurt (as I write this).

All a year-plus after initial publication of the novel. And to top off the good news, Kelly’s new novel INVISIBLE TOUCH is releasing this month and this film interest is igniting excitement for her second novel. In fact, you should check out her cyber launch on The Secret Fates Blog.

So let me ask this question again. Have you been thinking about entering your novel into the RITAs?

Why are you waiting? Hop to it.

eBook Royalties

STATUS: Finished up a contract today. Oh man, that always feels so good to get the final draft out to the author to sign. Contracts are by far the most time-consuming part of an agent’s job.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? PROUD MARY by Tina Turner

As agents, we are constantly learning. Even old veterans had to learn the ins and outs of eBook royalties over the last decade.

And even still they are tricky. Every publisher has their own structure (which is a bit annoying) but there you have it. Also, there are two basic ways to pay e-royalties.

Some publishers do a straight percentage of retail price of the work (standard is 15%). But some publishers do the royalty based on net amount received. Not quite the same thing. Standard for net amount is 25%.

So you have to check the language. You might look at a contract and see 15% and think it’s all groovy. But 15% of net amount received is not the industry standard.

See what I mean?

Then there are some publishers who refuse to do “standard.” You have to know who they are and take it into consideration before granting a book. Sure, the percentage of
e-royalties is miniscule compared to overall sales of a book in print formats but who knows what the future might bring so you have to at least think about it.

Some publishers allow language that if the industry e-royalty rates go up in the coming years, you can go back and re-negotiate it in the contract. I’m all about that and get it in my contracts whenever I can.

Right now, after looking at my incoming royalty statements, it’s very clear to me that the best sales for eBooks are still in SF&F. No surprise there as SF&F readers tend to be tech savvy and early adapters.

It will be very interesting to see how this sales percentage grows over the next decade when tech savvy young’uns start becoming book buyers (or so we hope they do!).

Getting Ready For Frankfurt

STATUS: I need a good neck stretch or back massage. But TGIF!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHAT’D I SAY by Ray Charles

I spent the day working on getting my foreign rights co-agent ready for Frankfurt (which is just a few weeks away).

So what have we been doing? Well, first we establish the list of the clients/titles that will be shopped there. Basically we just make sure that any project we hold World rights for is on the list. We also make a list of projects that the publisher holds World for. We’ll certainly field interest for those clients so we make sure we have the Publishing House’s contact person so we can share with interested parties at Frankfurt.

But the rest of getting ready is making sure that our co-agent has all current info in hand.

On the checklist:

1. Final cover and final flap or back cover copy of any featured title.

2. Final manuscript—in page proof PDF if we have it yet but most often it’s the Word document—final sans copy edits.

3. All reviews, praise, and latest news for any client title. This is the most time consuming. Sara has been putting that together all week but there were literally events happening as of this week—like a film deal I just concluded for one of my YA authors.

I needed to make sure that info had been disseminated.

4. Confirmed release dates for all upcoming titles.

5. Made a list of foreign rights already sold for each title.

6. Made sure the marketing plans for all titles had been forwarded on as well.

There’s probably something more that I’m forgetting but that pretty much sums it up.

Frankfurt here we come.

If You’ve Ever Wondered About “The Call”

STATUS: Manic Monday. I should be playing the Bangles.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? RESPECT by Aretha Franklin

Ever wondered about “the Call” or how it all works? My author Kristina Riggle shares the moment she heard her book was going to sell and she has given me permission to share the story.

I’d dreamed of The Call, as I suppose all aspiring writers do. I programmed into my mobile phone the office and cell phone numbers of my agent (the very talented Kristin Nelson), and gave those numbers their very own ringtone. I was sure that’s how the call would come. I’d be out and about somewhere, and I’d hear that special ring, and I’d know right then my dream had come true.

As with every step on my publishing path, reality had little to do with my fantasy. In this case, however, it was even better.

“The Call” turned out to be a series of calls and e-mails. First, there was the innocuous subject line in my e-mail from Kristin inquiring about my next project. No big deal, right? Then I opened the e-mail. She was asking so she could prepare for a potential two-book deal, because the book was already being passed around for “second reads” at one publishing house. This was six days after the book went on submission.

The next “Call” was Kristin telling me…

Have I got you hooked? Then click on the link for The Debutante Ball blog to hear the rest of the story.


Parlez-Vous Olympics?

STATUS: I have to admit, I’m definitely being distracted by the 2008 Olympics. Last night instead of reading queries, sample pages, or doing the editing I was supposed to, I watched Michael Phelps nail the 200m butterfly gold. Folks, I swam swim team my whole life until I was in college (breast stroke and freestyle (aka. front crawl) if you want to know). The butterfly is one dang hard stroke and to do it in that many seconds for 200 meters. Holy cow! The Men’s Gymnastics team bronze wasn’t half bad either.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? The Olympics on TV, duh.

Here’s a thought from the query slush pile. Even if your novel is based on events from your life or were inspired by what you’ve experienced, I still think it’s best to leave that info out of the query itself. For some reason, writers simply cannot relate those details without lapsing into hyperbole.

I do think it’s a pertinent discussion once an agent or editor has expressed interest in the full manuscript after reading sample pages. After all, if spun right in the editorial letter, it can be a plus but writers themselves rarely manage to capture that appropriate balance (maybe because it’s different when an agent says it to the editor versus when writers are talking about themselves).

And when you finally do share that personal detail, keep the narration short and concise. It’s really just on a “need to know” basis. Too many writers are seduced by the melodrama and include every single detail. And even though writing the novel itself might be cathartic, no agent really wants to know that the writing was therapy (if that makes sense).

And in an aside, good agent friend Janet Reid is talking on her blog about going contracts alone. The ten things you need to know (above and beyond everything I talk about in my Agenting 101 entries).

Shades Of The S&S Out Of Print Debacle

STATUS: Heading out tomorrow morning for RWA in San Francisco. To be honest, I don’t know how much time I will have to blog but if I can, I’ll try and send reports from the floor.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? APOLOGIZE by OneRepublic

Hey it didn’t work all that effectively for S&S in the United States but who says it won’t fly across the pond?

The agents over there of course. Since I do have an international reading base, this is for you Brits out there. It’s Random House UK’s turn to see if they can play with the Out of Print clause in this digital age.

Here’s the story. Haven’t heard any news about whether RH USA will be follow suit but I imagine we Yanks will be watching closely.