Pub Rants

Category: UK

In today’s global digital publishing environment, negotiating a UK contract has now become equally as important as the home-court US contract. So if you want to think like an agent, spend as much time reviewing your UK contract as you do your US one.

Now that used to be easy. UK contracts traditionally have topped out at twelve or thirteen pages. A veritable reading breeze in comparison to the 25+ page marathons you get from US Publishers.

Not so any longer, from what I can tell. I’ve negotiated several UK contracts that are giving the US a run for its money in terms of length.

In fact, one UK contract’s out-of-print clause (a.k.a. the OOP) recently made me burst out laughing. The clause stated that a book would not be deemed out of print until earnings for that title, in all formats, added up to less than 75 pounds in two accounting periods.

Seventy-five pounds during a one-year period.

That is laughable, but I don’t think this publisher’s intent was to be funny.

Depending on the price point of the title (and let’s just say the average price in the UK is ten pounds), that would be the equivalent of selling something like eight copies, in any format (which would include high discount, special sales, premiums, book club, audio etc.) in one year.

Sheesh. I think a publisher would really be messing something up if they can’t sell eight copies of a particular book in a twelve-month period. Typical UK contracts set an out-of-print threshold of several hundred copies, so if you were going to do an earnings equivalent instead, it would need to be around fifteen-hundred pounds to be reasonable.

Definitely not a number you want to overlook!

UK–How Stubborn You Are

STATUS: Have to run out the door in 15 minutes.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? HARD TIMES by David Newman

Not to put too fine a point on it. The book selling market in the UK is between a rock and a hard place. Booksellers in trouble. Publishers selling half the books sold at high discount levels, etc. Consequently, UK publishers aren’t buying that much. As of late, it’s one of the hardest territories to sell into unless a title sold for a lot of moolah in the US.

We are struggling to land a licenses there.

In fact, it’s probably why a lot of UK booksellers are buying US stock wholesale and offering it for sale there (and this would maybe show on a royalty statement as an export sale). It would be hard to track down.

So when we sell North American rights only and then request that the US publisher pull down their edition from the UK market, we aren’t looking to screw UK readers. It’s simply that the author might not get legitimately paid for those copies. If it’s not in the grant of rights and not showing up on any royalty statement…

But authors who haven’t sold into the UK are getting creative. In fact, some authors are taking matters into their own hands and are making their titles available electronically through the different ebook venues in the UK.

So even though the physical version might be a hard to find, titles can still reach UK readers.

In The Spring An Agent’s Fancy Turns To…

STATUS: Yesterday Angie and I were reviewing one client’s statement and to sum it up. What a hot mess.

What’s playing on the iPod or the XM radio right now? SWAY by Dean Martin

Love of royalty statements.

Yep, it’s that time of year again. April and October are NLA’s biggest royalty periods which means that the month of May and November are consumed by hours reviewing those statements.

So, in an effort to empower authors about their statements (because I promise you that a lot of agents don’t spend nearly the time they should on reviewing them), here’s another tidbit to file away in your knowledge bank.

If your publisher holds World rights and is selling your titles abroad, it’s important to track where the projects are sold to and when they will be released.

Why? Because if you don’t know that info, how do you know when the monies are supposed to appear on your royalty statements? Also, do you have a copy of the licensing agreement and the latest foreign royalty statement from the territory in question?

Most agents insert a clause in the contract allowing the author to receive such info—usually upon request. Without it, it’s impossible to review a statement for accuracy. What? You gonna just take the Publisher’s word for it?

Considering the number of errors we see in EVERY royalty period, that’s a lot to take on faith.

And there’s another facet to this. If Publisher has World, did they sell UK rights to separate publisher or was it done by a sister house in England? If a sister house, then UK royalties are specified in the US contract and should show on the US statement.

You don’t want to know how many times this information has just been plain missing from the statement or just wrong.

Knowledge is power and as an author, you have a right to a copy of those licensing agreements so ask for them. I would say that in the last several years, NLA has recovered well over $100,000 in missing royalties—money clients would never have received if we hadn’t pestered Publishers about info missing from the statements. In fact just last week, a client got $8000 because we argued that the wrong royalty rate was being used to calculate certain sales listed on the statement. And per the contract, we were right and they paid up. But if we hadn’t pointed it out…

Well, that’s a lot of money to leave on the table.

The Slow Build

Status: Winter finally decided to show up in Denver. Eight inches of snow and boy is it cold.

What’s Playing on the XM or iPod right now? 1983 by Neon Trees

One of the things I love the most about repping titles in the children’s world is the very different expectation children’s editors have for a debut author.

In the adult world, sometimes a new writer is treated via the spaghetti test. Let’s throw it out there and see if it sticks. If it doesn’t, time to move on.

In the Children’s realm especially for middle grade, there is an expectation that most successful mg titles will be through a slow build. With this in mind, the publisher expects to support the title for the long run. Now it’s not to say there aren’t successful titles straight out of the gate. There are and trust me, editors are excited and happy about that.

The difference is that they understand that an instant success is the exception to the rule rather than the norm. And this is what makes today’s news so cool.

A year and a half after initial publication, Janice Hardy’s first book in the Healing Wars series is now starting to get recognition.

Finally we can share some big news out of the UK. THE PAIN MERCHANTS (the US title is The Shifter) has been shortlisted for the 2011 Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize. This is a big deal. We’ve known for 2 months but couldn’t say anything until today.
We also found out that in the U.S., THE SHIFTER is a nominee for the 2011-2012 Truman Readers Award for the state of Missouri.

The coveted state reading lists—landing on one is usually a sign that a title/series is starting to penetrate the reading market—especially for teachers and librarians.

So huge news—and coming quite a bit of time after initial publication. I’m thinking this spaghetti strand is definitely going to stick!

More Neon Trees music on iLike

Brenda Novak Auction to Start and Final London Wrap Up

STATUS: Getting ready to head out the office door. I do plan to do reading tonight from home.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LUSH LIFE by Natalie Cole

It’s that time of year again! Time for the Annual Online Auction to Benefit Diabetes Research by the indomitable force of nature and wonderful author, Brenda Novak.

And I’m here to highlight that Nelson Literary Agency really stepped up to the plate this year and is offering a WHOLE page of items to be auctioned off.

Just to whet your appetite, I’m giving away breakfast with me at RWA and a writing critique with a 24-hour turnaround time. I will spend several hours on this critique—editing it just like I would a client’s manuscript.

Sara is offering a query-free submission.

NYT Bestselling author Jamie Ford is answering 10 Questions.

Sherry Thomas, query writer extraordinaire, is offering to help you whip your query into shape.

Mari Mancusi and Courtney Milan are offering opening chapters critiques.

Hank Ryan has her own page of good stuff!

And that’s just a brief glimpse of what is available. You might want to check it out.

But back to my London list as promised. I’m skimming through my notes and typing up what I see.

Looking for upmarket commercial fiction—not too literary
Crime fiction
Exotic and/or generational saga
Boy meets Girl with a literary voice
Commercial historical fiction

Finland Children’s
Literary fic as the market is strong
Science fiction is working

Chick lit
Historical romance
Historical fiction

Romantic comedy with lit voice
Jackie Collins type novel
Literary vampires—like the Abraham Lincoln Vampire hunter or literary zombies
Books good for reading groups
Commercial women’s fiction
Mystery that is slightly cozy but has a dark edge
Urban fantasy
Paranormal romance
Horror (must be sophisticated)
Big historical fiction
Literary thriller

That’s all else she wrote.

Wrapping Up The London Book Fair

STATUS: I can’t say I’m completely recovered from jet lag but it’s definitely getting better.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? TROUBLE SLEEPING by Corinne Bailey Rae

So here’s the wrap up from London. First off, I had dinner with a good agent friend Jennifer Jackson while I was there and she had some huge news to share with me and since it’s so big, I have to blog about it.

I mean, it’s not every day that one of your clients hits the New York Times Bestseller list. And you know what? It’s not every day that the client nabs the #1 spot. This deserves a special shout out.

So CONGRATS Jennifer!!! (And maybe I should say congrats to Jim as well. After all, the author probably had something to do with it… Grin)

#1 NYT Bestseller TURN COAT

But back to talking about LBF. In browsing through Waterstone’s and Borders, it was very clear to me that the UK publishers definitely have a focus on literary fiction. There large book stalls that featured the classics. (I mean when is the last time you saw Thomas Hardy prominently featured in a book store?) Also, a good majority of the floor space was dedicated to contemporary literary fiction. Titles such as Aravind Adiga’s THE WHITE TIGER and Steig Larsson’s GIRL WITH A DRAGON TATTOO were prominently displayed.

Although quite popular here in the states, I really didn’t see any Edgar Sawtelles out and about on floor displays.

I talked with editors from the UK, Finland, Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy, Brazil, China and Japan. Every single one of them asked about literary fiction that could have broad appeal. In fact, in several of the foreign territories, literary fiction sales were up. In talking with the editors, it was clear that it has a strong market abroad—in a lot of ways, much stronger than here in the States were lit fic can do well but lit fic with a commercial bent can be blockbuster. Some commercial literary titles like MEMORY KEEPER’S DAUGHTER did well across the seas but WATER FOR ELEPHANTS was stronger here at home.

Just interesting.

In Asian territories, literary/commercial historical fiction doesn’t work at all. The editors won’t even look at it. However, UK and European editors say bring it on–they’d love to look.

I may add more to this blog tomorrow as my notes are at the office (where Julie is typing them up!). I headed home early because the weather was bad and Chut is fundamentally opposed to walking in the rain. I’ll glance through them and see if I can come up with a few more “this is what they are buying” lists because I know how much my readers like it.

Jackie Collins Anyone?

STATUS: Last day of the fair. It might be 1:00 a.m. Denver time but I’m up and at ‘em to tackle the last round of meetings.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LIES by Glen Hansard

As I mentioned last week, one of the first things I did when coming to London was to check out the area bookstores. In looking at my notes from my Waterstone’s visit, the most interesting thing that sticks out for me is how popular sophisticated urban contemporary women’s fiction is.

Oh, you read that right. I just wasn’t using the term we called it over here in the States.

Chick lit.

This is a genre that actually still works across the pond. In fact, I even had a French editor ask me if I had any shopping in the city with martinis and twenty-somethings. Didn’t even have to be front list. She was happy to consider back list titles for publication in France.

Could have knocked me over with a feather because unless you are already established in the US (Sophie Kinsella anyone?), it’s not something editors say they are actually looking for.

On the shelves of Waterstones, I saw many titles by Marian Keyes prominently displayed. An editor of an imprint at Random House mentioned that Jessica Brody (The Fidelity Files) was working quite well for them.

Check out the cover. Classic chick lit if I’ve ever seen one.

Another popular author is Susy McPhee for the older set (Husband & Lies and The Runaway Wife). The editor even called it hen lit.

So interesting. But here’s what floored me. I visited all the major houses in UK and every editor mentioned that escapist fiction was working for them (well, no surprise given the economy) but what they were looking for was the big epic dishy and glamorous titles I have always associated with the 80s and Jackie Collins. Think Tasmina Perry’s Daddy’s Girls.

One house had high hopes for Immodesty Blaize’s soon-to-be-released Tease.

I can’t say I’ve had any editors in the US ask for the same. There was some excitement two years or so ago for Tilly Bagshawe (sister of the well established UK author Louise) and her debut called Adored but I don’t think it did as well as they had hoped over on this side of the pond.

I’ll be heading to New York for Book Expo next month. We’ll see what the US editors have to say then. Tomorrow I’ll be on a plane most of the day heading back to Denver so probably won’t be blogging. But don’t worry, women’s lit and shopping weren’t all that the UK editors were looking for. Literary fiction and upmarket commercial fiction is high on their lists as well. I’ll look through my notes and blog, hopefully, on Friday.

Have a happy Wednesday!

What UK Children’s Editors Want

STATUS: Spent the day being a lovely tourist instead of working. And sorry for the tiny covers of yesterday. My computer or Blogger was not cooperating and despite efforts, I couldn’t get the pics to upload bigger and I didn’t have time to fiddle.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ACCIDENTALLY IN LOVE by Counting Crows

To kick off the blog entry, here is a lovely shot of Blenheim Palace from the gardens.

Alas, Colin Firth did not emerge dripping wet from any neighboring lakes or ponds—much to Sarah Rees Brennan and my great disappointment.

Now that I’m back at the flat, I’m flipping through my little notebook of scribbled writings. From what I can decipher (as my handwriting is not always the best), here are some things UK children’s editors are looking for. In no particular order and a nice sum up of what several editors spotlighted:

–More boy adventure books (although one publisher specifically said their list is full in this arena so not as high on their list)
–YA historical
–would love a prize-winning new teen voice along the lines of HOW I LIVE NOW
–Funny with beautiful writing (so a blend of literary with a really fun story line)
–a modern Anne of Green Gables
–middle grade fantasy that is a girl-driven narrative
–humorous girl stuff that is more than just boys and relationships but is warm, and character driven. Not necessarily issue driven
–high concept middle grade with a really original voice so it can stand out.
–anything that can crossover solidly to the adult market (ie. THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF A DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME)
–a contemporary author with a literary, classic voice. (hum.. that seems to tie in with the modern Anne of Green Gables example above)

Different houses did have different feelings on the market. One house thought that Meg Cabot and her popularity was in the past and another thought she was still burning strong.

I got a sense that all the editors would be open to anything romantic. No surprise there.

And even though I know my blog readers love my lists, it basically comes down to this. Editors want an original story well told.

In that sense, the US and the UK are the same.

US vs. UK

STATUS: It’s been some late nights this week and trust me, my proofreading skills are abominable when I’m blogging regularly, just imagine what it would be like if I were blogging at 1 a.m. London time.

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

And no, this isn’t the Battle of the Titans. What I’m learning is just how different these two markets actually are. Intellectually I know this (and have always known this) but I also think we like to lump it all together and say, hey, we all speak the same language (although the Brits might argue that point) so if we share the lingo, shouldn’t we share the taste? For some books, yes, this will align and match up but for a slew of other books, we couldn’t be further apart even if the ocean was wider between us.

To get a sense of the retail environment, I decided to check out the Borders at Oxford Circus, the Waterstone’s at Piccadilly Circus and then I popped by a Books etc. at Hammersmith. I’m not saying that this is fair representation of all the stores in town; it’s just the ones I managed to visit while I was here.

I took some notes on my observations and then shared it with all the editors I’ve been meeting with this week on both the children’s and the adult side of publishing. If I covered everything in one entry, this would be one heck of a long blog so I’m going to start on the children’s side. I’ll also try and do a couple of entries over the weekend to make up for my general radio silence this past week. Starting on Monday, it’s back to full days and spotty blogging.

So what is clear to me:
1. Boy adventure books are prime time in the UK. Eoin Colfer’s AIRMAN and the young James Bond books. It’s not to say those didn’t do well in the US, they did; however, shelf space, front table displays, etc. is all about the boy adventure books here in the UK. I wouldn’t say it’s getting equal time in the US. And another interesting tidbit. Sometimes wild success in the US does not translate completely over to the same success in the UK.

For example, Robert Muchamore and the Cherub series is big, big, big in the UK. They did do a US version and it hasn’t taken off as much as they hoped. In reverse, Riordan’s Percy Jackson & The Olympians series is big, big, big in US and although it’s seems to be growing in popularity in the UK, it hasn’t been quite the phenom it has been stateside.

39 Clues. Not making a dent in the UK market.

2. Some books nail both sides of the pond with equal success. Can you guess at the two titles with matched overwhelming success? One primarily has female readers; the other mainly male readers.

Oh, I’m sure you guessed one right off the top of your head and you’d be right. TWILIGHT series is equally popular in the US and UK. Interestingly enough, so is DIARY OF A WIMPY KID.

Rather cool, wouldn’t you say?

3. Another interesting observation at the UK bookstores that I wish they’d do more of in the US. All three of the UK stores I visited, did crossover shelving in the children’s and adult areas. Here are three titles that were shelved in both sections:
a. Twilight
b. Graceling
c. Harry Potter

The Harry Potter books even had different, adult covers. There might have been more titles but those were just three that I managed to glimpse while browsing the book stalls. I love that. I don’t think I’ve seen a teen book shelved in the adult section of a US Borders, BN, or even at the Tattered Cover. I could be wrong as I just might need to pay closer attention but it looked like it was rather common practice here in England.

And last but not least for this entry, US and UK covers couldn’t be more different if you tried. For example, I was showing editors my upcoming titles that will be releasing in the UK this fall. I had both the US cover and the UK in my portfolio for people to see, pick up, look at cover copy etc.

For Helen Stringer’s SPELLBINDER, all the editors said, “ah, yes, that’s a totally US approach. That wouldn’t work over here.

And then when I showed the UK cover, all their faces lit up and they really oohed and ahhed over it. They couldn’t help themselves and had to pick it up.

That was absolutely fascinating to me! These two covers, the titles, the approaches are radically different as you can see.

Let’s hope that both sides of the pond are right in what kids will reach for when the book hits shelves.