Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

Category: publishing

Indie & Agent Partners: Thought 1

On Thursday I’m flying to New York City to give a presentation at the Writers Digest Conference on Friday morning. My topic is why a successful indie self-publishing author might want to partner with an agent.

If you are an indie author that doesn’t see the value in having an agent, I’m not really going to change your mind so there really is no purpose in reading my next several blog posts where I share my thoughts. However, if you are curious, I’m happy to share several reasons on why they do. Now of course I can only speak to why several indie authors have decided to partner with me. It’s going to vary depending on the author and the agent.  But I represent several and they find our relationship invaluable.

Thought 1: People are complaining about the archaic nature of publishing and why doesn’t it change.

Okey dokey. Let’s quit complaining and start having conversations to instigate change because how do you think change happens?

In May of 2012, I had Hugh Howey fly out to New York to sit-down with publishers. I thought it was important for them to meet him in-person just so they could see for themselves what a reasonable, personable, and forward-thinking author he was. He was not, and has never been, anti-traditional publisher. In fact, he’s fairly pro-publisher. But a partnership has to make sense and there is a lot of stuff from traditional publishing that doesn’t make sense.

Before Hugh got on the plane, we both knew that it was very unlikely that the meetings would result in an offer that we’d be willing to take.  Yet, WE DID IT ANYWAY. Why? And this might be kind of silly but both of us felt kind of strongly that having in-person conversations with publishers about our sticking points (ebook royalty rate, sales thresholds in out of print clauses, and non-compete clauses) was necessary in order to facilitate possible change in the future. In other words, we weren’t going to see the benefit of it but maybe a future indie publishing author would because we had started the conversation.

And these conversations could only occur via a reasonable author partnering with a reasonable agent who were meeting with affable and reasonable publishers and editors and having frank, smart, and intelligent conversations with them about current contractual sticking points.

For Hugh, it resulted in a very unexpected print-rights only offer five months later (much to our surprise). That was way sooner than either of us had ever thought to hope.

I imagine that in the not-so-distant-future other indie authors (and who might be unagented) might be thanking Hugh for having partnered with an agent (way) back in 2012 so as to have these meetings. Just as they might be thanking Bella Andre and her agent for pulling off one of the first print-rights only deals (that was publicly announced -there might be others I’m unaware of).

 

 



Because The First Thing That Comes To Mind Is The Size Of The Advance – Not.

STATUS: With New York Publishing shut down, I’m working on a UK contract and catching up on email. I think it’s going to be this way for most of the week.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now?  HOPE I DON’T FALL IN LOVE WITH YOU by Tom Waits

Obviously the Random House – Penguin merger is all the news in the publishing world right now. It’s a big deal. But I read this article in Publishers Weekly and pretty much snorted my tea.

PW makes it sound like an agent’s biggest concern might be the reduction in advance amounts paid for books.

I’m concerned about MANY things that might come about because of the merger but smaller advances is not one of them. It’s not even on my top 10 list of things to be concerned about.

Publishing saw the consolidation of publishing houses into smaller and smaller numbers in the early 90s. That evolved into what had been known as the “Big 6” of the last decade.

It’s now down to the “Big 5” and quite honestly, I don’t see NewsCorp (which owns HarperCollins) settling for the status quo. Wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the “Big 5” become “4” with two more houses merging in the not-so-distant-future.

Of course this all has to pass anti-trust rulings, etc.

What does fewer publishing houses mean for authors?

That answer is pretty simple. Fewer choices. Less competition. More uniformity of royalty rates (like that hasn’t happened already because houses are already more interested in status quo among themselves rather than actual competition). Narrowed vision of what is the market and what should sell (and they already have tunnel vision as any number of digitally self-published successes have recently proven). More emphasis on commercial blockbusters and less building authors from the mid list.

Getting the picture? Smaller advances? Not a main issue on my radar.


Talking NLA’S DLP

STATUS: This morning I thought I had a mild day in front of me. After the third fire before 10 a.m., I gave up that notion.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? REMINISCING by Little River Band

So yesterday’s announcement is not the be all end all of this topic. I’m happy to chat some more about our new Digital Platform.

As I said yesterday, we developed our model in conversation with our clients. In fact, their input modeled it. I went to them and said, “If an agent was going to offer a supported environment for self publishing, what would make sense to you? What would be of concern? What would make it worth an agent’s commission?”

And they told me. They also were gracious enough to review various model outlines and the DLP agreement that any author interested in using the DLP would need to click “I Agree” to use it.

And their help was absolutely invaluable and I feel quite comfortable that what we’ve created is the right approach–that we have not created something that will be a conflict of interest in representing clients and is a very ethical way for an agent to provide yet another facet of services to our authors.

My client Courtney Milan was gracious enough to post a blog entry on the topic today if you’d like some insight from an author who is currently self pubbing happily and successfully and not through our DLP–which by the way, bothers me not at all. I support her choice. Another client plans to do a guest entry on why she is using the full-service option and why she has been over-the-moon to do so.

Just wait until you see her totally kick-a** cover–something I don’t think she would have gotten on her own. It’s stunning.

I imagine that if a writer believes that all an agent does is sell books to publishers, there might be questioning on why an author would bother using an agency’s DLP. After all, a writer can certainly write the book, convert the efiles (or pay someone to), and put the titles up on Amazon, BN, Smashwords, Apple, what have you.

But you see, my authors know I do so much more than that.

And as an agent, I have relationships with folks that most writers can’t even imagine. Will all of them be valuable? No. Have some already proven to be? Yep.

But let’s talk DLP stuff.

1) First a correction. In yesterday’s entry, I realized that I typed “term of license.” Oi! In our DLP agreement, it’s a “term of liaison.” Not quite the same thing in a rather big way. So my apologies. For our full-service option, NLA foots all the upfront costs–which is why we specify a 2 year term of liaison. Could you imagine plunking down the money and have the author pull it a month later and we are simply out of luck? Quite frankly, my authors are awesome and I can’t imagine any one of them doing that but as an agent, I still have to be smart about it.

In short, for full-service, it needs to be on our DLP for 2 years and that’s it. After that, authors are free to do as they please and we will even give them their files. After all, they own it. They didn’t grant rights to us.

If we haven’t recouped in 2 and they take it, are we screwed? Yep. But I’m betting that it’s so worthwhile, that they are happy to keep it there. Nothing is in perpetuity. Why would an author do that?

For distribution only venue, an author can come and go as they please. All we are providing is access to venues they can’t access. It’s our standard 15% commission. For anyone who doesn’t think that’s worth it, they obviously have not wrestled with google’s very unfriendly platform. Not to mention, we have venues that authors individually do not have access to. And let me tell you, having been there and done that, it’s probably not worth the headache for an author. Amazon and BN have designed it to be easy. Not all venues have done the same.

2) Now remember, the author is in full control of their work. In the full-service option, they have access to a rather in-depth list of resources for cover artists, copyeditors, proofreaders, developmental editors, publicists, web designers, etc. They choose; we pay. The only exception is the developmental editor. The only reason for that is because we have no say in the revision process and I could see an author running up a rather big tab on the agency’s dime by doing endless revisions for months on end. Probably unlikely but once again, we need to be smart about things.

Now, keep in mind, as many of my clients can attest to (for good or for bad *grin*), I’m an agent who edits–probably to the level of a developmental editor.

3) On our full service, we rep the subrights–foreign, film, etc.

One commenter asked “It seems an inherent conflict–the agent has a vested interest in the author NOT publishing with a publishing house else, but instead self-publishing using services NLA benefits from financially.”

Actually no. The author client is self-publishing so it’s not even a choice for me. I have no say on whether they are on the DLP or not. If they are looking for an agent, my assumption is it’s because they want a finger in all pies and are looking for a print/ebook deal with a “traditional” publisher (for lack of a better word). I’m not taking on writers who just want to use our DLP.

That is not the point of offering this service.

Hopefully I’ve answered all questions. It’s after 8 p.m. and all I really want to do is go home and eat dinner.


The Rapidly Evolving Role of Agent

STATUS: What a way to start the day. Our ISP had a huge network outage that lasted for 45 minutes. No emails coming in or going out. It’s a Monday!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? UPSIDE DOWN by Jack Johnson

Last Thursday I highlighted that the AAR has made some observations on the role of agents in ePublishing. If an agent is both an agent and ePublisher, well, that’s pretty much a conflict of interest. If the agent has a biz interest stake in a client’s decision, it rather eliminates our disinterested and objective viewpoint when giving guidance to a client.

But the digital landscape is shifting so rapidly and the agent’s role is evolving so quickly, what is an agent to do if clients want assistance making backlist titles available in eFormat?

Well, I can tell you what NLA is doing. And because I believe in involving greater minds than my own, I used the best resource of all–our own clients. Working in partnership with them, we developed NLA’s Digital Liaison Platform. My lawyer was also a big help but he simply formulated the agreement language once we had nailed down the model.

So what exactly are we doing?

We created a platform where NLA clients can self-publish their content within a supported environment. This is not a publishing house.

Before you say, “isn’t this a matter of semantics?” The answer is no. In a publishing house model, the author grants her rights to the publisher and cedes control in that grant.
That is not what we are doing. In our model, our clients maintain full control of their titles. They are not granting them to us. They have full say on covers, editing, pricing, etc. The program is voluntary so if they want to participate on our DLP, they can, but they are also welcome to handle their backlist themselves.

We offer two different options. The first is full service where we hook the client up with cover artists, copyeditors, publicists, and we do the file conversion and make it available on all the electronic distribution venues. We use our individual leverage with all the venues to promote. The second is a distribution-only venue. In this option, the author handles all the details of self-pubbing and conversions themselves but simply want access to venues they can’t reach on their own. Overdrive (main source for libraries) would be an example of a venue that individual authors can’t reach but we can.

If they are on our full-service DLP, we ask them to commit to a two-year term of license [correction: it’s a two year term of liaison, not license. My apologies for not proofreading more thoroughly. There is quite the difference between the two!] since we undergo all the expense and that would be rather uncool for a client to let us do that and then pull the title a month later.

Our agency commission split is the same as it’s always been.

Indie Booksellers–we are also on Google eBookstore and Ingram but if you have your own dedicated eBookstore, feel free to contact us directly as we are happy to add your venue to our platform.

Our Launch Title:

SKATER BOY by Mari Mancusi $3.99
The first novel in the sweet, tween-oriented First Kiss Club series.

Amazon
BN
Google
Apple – access through iTunes


The AAR Makes ‘Observations’ On Agent Roles & ePublishing

STATUS: I need to go home and eat dinner.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? HOT HOT HOT by Buster Poindexter

Just last week, The Association of Authors’ Representatives sent out an email alert to all its members highlighting that the Board has been discussing the current AAR Canon of Ethics as it relates to agent members helping clients with ePublishing.

To sum up, the AAR realizes that the role of literary agent is changing and that many author clients will be asking their agents for assistance in making backlist titles available in electronic form.

For full disclosure, I am a member of the AAR and will continue to be in 2012.

As of this January, the AAR is not making any changes to the current Canon of Ethics but the organization is, however, sharing these observations which I’ll paraphrase here:

1) An AAR member may receive compensation only from the client for the agent’s services. Agents may not separately engage in business, ie. electronic publication, where they receive compensation from exploiting the client’s work. In short, Agents can’t be publishers and still be AAR members.

So for example, Agent Richard Curtis has a separate ePublishing company called eReads. He is not a member of AAR. And please, do not take this as any personal commentary on Richard. This is just an example.

2) Agent is obligated to inform client of all the financial implications of any ePublisher and the agent can’t take action to put his own biz interest above the interest of the client.

In other words, it pretty much is a conflict of interest for agents to be both an agent and an ePublisher as they may want their clients to publish with them instead of with some other ePublisher.

And yet, the role of agent is evolving rapidly. So what do agents do with clients who are interested in making their reverted backlist titles available on electronic platforms?

Well, I can’t speak for all agents but I can finally tell you what NLA will be doing as we launched our Digital Liaison Platform in November of 2011. And last week I did ring up the AAR lawyer to discuss our current model and whether that would be in conflict with the AAR Canon or its current observations.

It is not. In fact, he asked me to share the details of our model so as to share with the AAR board. They are reviewing any number of approaches that agents are pursuing.

And starting tomorrow, I’ll be sharing our model with y’all.


Importance Of Specifying Format Of Initial Edition

STATUS: Auction tomorrow. Always fun.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? FADE INTO YOU by Mazzy Star

Here’s a contract tip that is both simple and yet can have a large consequence if not done.

As an agency, it’s been a long-time policy for our deals that publisher must specify initial publication format in the contract. For example, if a publisher wins a book at auction and part of them winning was a commitment to doing the book as a hardcover (for example), then when it comes time for publication, we don’t suddenly want the publisher to do the book as a trade paperback original instead.

One reason for this has to do with the author’s ability to earn out an advance. If a publisher paid a solid six-figures for something, the author is going to need the hardcover sales (with the higher price point) to earn out. Not to mention, with a hardcover initial edition, the author gets two publishing shots toward earn-out as the publisher, as a general rule, will publish the trade pb edition about a year later.

Makes sense.

Here’s another reason for specifying format of initial edition. As agents, we want to ensure that a publisher will do both a print AND electronic edition and not just publish a digital-only edition if that was not the original intent for accepting deal/contract. (Sidenote: Obviously, if an agent is selling a title to a digital-only publisher, then ebook only as initial format is understood.)

In this rapidly changing publishing landscape, and the rise of ebook sales, it is conceivable that a publisher buys a book with the intention of doing both formats and then decides later to not do the print edition and publish it only as an ebook.

I have not heard of this happening–yet. But why chance it?

Part of our job is to anticipate possible issues.


December–The Slow Month?

STATUS: If I hear that “I want a hippopotamus for Christmas” song one more time…

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? ANOTHER YEAR HAS GONE BY by Celine Dion

Traditionally, December is the month where publishing starts to quiet down as editors get ready to be away for the holidays. Kind of like how August tends to be an unofficial slow down period that then picks up after Labor Day.

If it’s true this December, I certainly can’t tell yet. We close next week but we are working like there is no holiday around the corner. Sara just wrapped up a deal earlier in the week. I’m announcing on Pub Lunch a deal I closed recently. I’m in the middle of two other negotiations–one of which was out of the blue from a publisher who couldn’t offer earlier in the year but now is.

Love that!

And lots of agents are obviously hard at work during this month as some fulls we’ve requested have gotten offers of representation–literally only days after receiving the actual manuscript.

So I would say it’s kind of like business as usual and probably will be right up until we close a week from tomorrow.


Not Quite The American Export I’d Hope For

STATUS: TGIF! I haven’t seen a good funny (that I could share on the blog anyway) in ages. I need to rally the troops to send some my way again.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? YOU WERE MEANT FOR ME by Jewel

I was reading Publishing Perspectives this morning and came across an article that just made me groan. Of course there are scam artists all around the world but in general, the whole shady practice of pretending to be a literary agent and charging reading fees has been a pretty American concept.

Alas, not anymore.

Great. One of the things I’d prefer not to be an American export…. Not to mention, there are SO many more resources available online here in The States to help writers avoid the publishing-money-scam pitfall. I can’t imagine the same holds true in India. Perhaps I have some intrepid blog readers there who might help spread the word by posting links to the article or starting chats on the subject.


Hard Wired For Conflict Equanimity?

STATUS: I’m feeling this strange desire to belt out Men At Work songs. Wait, that’s because I’m jet lagged and actually in Australia!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? ENGLISHMAN IN NEW YORK by Sting

Last Thursday, Angie and I got a chance to do informational interviews at the Denver Publishing Institute. As 2002 grads (and I can’t believe it’s been that long!), we were happy to give back by chatting with the graduating students looking for careers in publishing and specifically those who were interested in agenting.

I did about 15 interviews and during the day, I have to say that something completely crystalized for me.

Q: What does it take to be a good literary agent?

A: The ability to handle conflict.

Q: What does it take be a happy literary agent?

A: The ability to be sanguine about all the conflict you deal with on a daily basis.

I know. This should have been obvious but I had never boiled it down to the above. Ninety percent of agenting is troubleshooting and doing conflict resolution.

And I’m not exaggerating.

An agent’s job is to be the author’s advocate. Plain and simple. And that means it’s the agent’s job to sometimes be the “bad guy” so the author can have a warm and fuzzy relationship with his/her editor and publisher.

The agent is the person who says the tough things when they need to be said.

So if you are by nature, a conflict avoider, then being a literary agent is not going to be a happy job for you. It’s not like anyone loves conflict (or maybe some folks do!) but some folks are more hard wired to deal with it with equanimity.

Definitely something to keep in mind if you want to pursue this particular career.


Denver Skyline Photo © Nathan Forget [Creative Commons] | Site built by Todd Jackson