A Message from Kristin Nelson
An Anatomy of A Query Rejection
This June, I taught a query workshop at Lighthouse Writers Workshop’s Lit Fest. Afterward, one participant approached and asked me to read a response letter she had received (not from me). She wanted to know if it was a “standard” rejection letter. I read it aloud and was a little chagrined to discover just how similar it was to the letter I had been using for years. I told her that yes, this was not a personal letter but a standard rejection. Two days later, I was chastised by an aspiring writer who said it was time for us to change our standard rejection letter. Obviously that poor person had received our letter multiple times.
But I took the chastisement to heart. It was time for a change. So I’m going to share with you, my newsletter readers, our standard rejection letter and explain why I chose the verbiage I did.
Dear INSERT WRITER’S NAME:
KN: I actually do input the writer’s name. This business is so impersonal (some agents don’t even respond at all if they aren’t interested in a query), but I always want writers to be acknowledged as human beings. Even though it takes longer to respond to queries.
Thank you so much for thinking of me for your query. I wish I could offer a more personalized response but on average, I receive 500+ email query letters a week.
KN: This is true. In fact, I receive way more than 500 queries a week. Recently I’ve been averaging about 100 to 150 email query letters a day. Don’t let these stats daunt you. If you are serious about your career, you’ll persevere. Know the odds, but give them only the weight of a side note. I have signed many a client after finding them in our query inbox.
Do know that every query letter and sample page is read, and even though your project is not right for me, it might be right for another agent so don’t give up!
KN: This is true. I actually read a lot of my own queries on a daily basis. However, when I travel or have a crazy day, Angie, Jamie, and Karrie jump in to help out. They have to. After just two days, the inbox grows unwieldy. I also really do mean the last line. I’ve passed on any number of queries for projects that weren’t right for me but that other agents loved and went on to represent and even sell. I can only champion what I feel passionate about. Not everything will be a good fit for me.
I’m also sorry I have no agent recommendations to offer.
KN: I had to include this. We were receiving so many reply emails asking for a recommendation that it was taking too long to respond to every query twice. We had to preemptively make it clear that we could offer no more information.
Good luck with all your publishing endeavors.
KN: Absolutely. My rejection letter to your query is only one little bump on your journey to becoming a published author.
Pub Rants University
Royalty Statements Auditing Workshop – 2015-07-30
Thursday, July 30
at 6:00 PM - 8:30 PM MT
Chances are, your agent is not auditing your royalty statements. And chances are, accounting mistakes are being made. So if you’re not auditing your royalty statements, you could be missing out on significant income!
Class Limit: 20
Requirement: Although primarily intended as an intensive presentation, attendees wishing to speak during the Webinar must use a phone for audio to call in and actively participate.
What You’ll Learn:
In this Webinar, Nelson Literary Agency’s contracts and royalties manager, Angie Hodapp, will walk you through the basics of royalties reporting and teach you how to read and audit your own royalty statements. Using statements from several big and mid-sized publishers as examples, Angie will explain how various publishers express returns, reserves, royalty-rate escalators, subrights income, bonus income, and more, and illustrate how everything adds up to affect your bottom line.
Finally, Angie will walk you through how to set up an Excel spreadsheet you can use each reporting period to track cumulative units sold and total earnings for each book you’ve had published. This valuable tool will also help you track your payments and find accounting errors!
- Attendees are welcome to ask questions during the presentation.
- Attendees will have access to the recorded video of the presentation for six months.
Even if you are not yet published or receiving royalty statements, this Webinar will present valuable information about the inner workings of the publishing industry’s numbers game. Join us!
Think Like an Agent
Because Agents Are Human Too
Just as the title suggests, because agents are also human beings, they are going to embody both good and bad traits found in human nature. No one is perfect. And as some authors have discovered, some agents are more imperfect than others!
Your job as an author is to objectively recognize those human attributes or failings in your agent and decide whether they impact your career. Hopefully they don’t.
To this end, Karen Dionne of Backspace and I have put together a whole list of topics to tackle for “Because Agents Are Human Too.”
Topic 1: Because they are human, good agents keep their client lists small and manageable.
The trick is to define what is considered small and manageable. This question is asked at conferences all the time, and the truth is that the answer is going to vary widely depending on the agent and the agent’s situation.
Some things to keep in mind:
*Is the agent part of a larger organization/agency that supplies a lot of support staff in terms of auditing royalty statements, reviewing contracts, accounting, etc.? Or, if he or she is with a smaller, less corporate agency, how many non-agent personnel does the agency employ?
Many agencies employ a lot of agents but very few support staff. It’s typical in this industry that agents are one-man bands. They handle all the business elements listed above, and even if they’re associated with a larger agency, they still operate as the sole proprietors of their client lists. To be blunt, doing agenting well requires far more work than one person can handle in an eight- or ten-hour day—which means a lot of agents aren’t doing things like auditing royalty statements and thoroughly negotiating contracts.
More support staff = more clients an individual agent can manage successfully.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: If your agent has a lot of support in place, a larger client roster is not really a concern. If they don’t, then know that a larger client list is pretty difficult to manage, and more than likely, some business aspects are going to fall through the cracks.
Some possible red flags:
*Some agents operate on what we call the “shotgun” approach. They take on a bunch of clients, throw a lot of stuff out on submission, and see what sticks. These agents will have a lot of clients on their rosters.
*A high number of small- or no-advance deals could indicate that an agent is operating on the shotgun approach.
*Agents who are already established (five+ years as an agent) should have developed strong financial security with their current client roster. Be on the lookout for agents who suddenly take on a lot of clients all at once or during a short period of time. It could mean their current client list isn’t supporting their business.
*Be aware of agents who have high rate of client turnover, or who do a lot of one-time deals for authors but few subsequent deals.
For me, a small client list means fewer than 50 clients. My list is currently at 32.
Other agents may easily have a comfort level at 60 or 70 clients.
The real question here is, as an author, what is your comfort level regarding how many other clients your agent represents?
Kristin's Book Club
Summer Time Picks for your Reading List
The summer slow-down is upon us! Our reading lists aren’t the problem—finding a time to meet is! And I must admit, my rather relentless travel schedule this spring has played a large role in this.
Next up, as I’ve been previewing for the last two months, is a collection of essays called BAD FEMINIST by Roxane Gay. Not in the mood for nonfiction? Maybe add these titles to your reading pile:
THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir
IN A DARK DARK WOOD by Ruth Ware
BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALF-TIME WALK by Ben Fountain
STATION 11 by Emily St. John Mandel
THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH by Ali Benjamin
GEORGE by Alex Gino
BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson
WONDER by R.J. Palacio
Missing Royalties: Do You Know Where Your Money Is?
Angie Hodapp is the contracts and royalties manager at Nelson Literary Agency.
Every six months, you get an envelope from your agent. You tear it open, take out the enclosed check and royalty statement, and glance at the numbers on both. You shrug and mutter, “Guess that looks about right.” Then you toss the statement on your to-be-filed pile at the back of your closet, endorse the check, and head to the bank.
I can’t even begin to tell you how many published authors I’ve talked to at conferences who don’t give their royalty statements much of a glance. Why? Because they don’t know what they’re looking at. “Dammit, Jim, I’m a writer, not an accountant,” they say (or something along those lines). “Besides, isn’t that what I pay my agent to manage for me?”
News flash! Like you, many agents consider themselves word people—not numbers people—and your royalty statements are just as baffling to them as they are to you.
This means that the buck, quite literally, stops with you. Have a conversation with your agent about the level of support he or she is providing when it comes to combing through your statements and making sure you’re getting paid everything you’re owed.
More importantly, educate yourself. Learn how to audit your own statements.
Every year, we at Nelson Literary Agency recover thousands—sometimes tens of thousands—of unpaid dollars on behalf of our clients, simply because we audit their royalty statements.
Does this mean that publishers are nefarious, knowingly cheating authors out of a few bucks here and there to improve their own bottom lines? In our experience, no. (In fact, not all errors we find are made in the publisher’s favor!) Every error we’ve called to a publisher’s attention has immediately resulted in the issuing of a corrected statement and, when called for, a check covering the difference.
Without naming names, here are some examples of errors we’ve recently found on our clients’ royalty statements:
1. Unpaid royalties of approximately $5,000 because the publisher had applied a $10,000 advance against the author’s earnings when the actual contracted and paid advance had been only $5,000. This means the author had actually earned out—though the statement said otherwise—and was now owed nearly $5,000 in earned royalties.
2. Unpaid royalties of approximately $4,200 because the publisher’s accounting department missed the fact the author’s contract contained a royalties escalator. What’s that? A royalties escalator increases the author’s royalty rate in steps, based on units sold. For instance, a contract might specify that the author will earn 10% for the first 5,000 copies sold, 12.5% for the next 5,000 copies sold, and 15% for all copies sold thereafter. In this case, the author had sold about 12,500 copies of a hardcover edition priced at $16.99, but she had earned only 10% for all of those copies. Not one, but two escalators had been missed.
3. Unpaid royalties of approximately $7,300 because the publisher sold nearly 6,500 copies of a $17.99 hardcover edition at “high discount,” even though Agent Kristin had ensured that the author’s contract limited the number of copies the publisher was allowed to sell at high discount. What does that mean? When publishers sell copies of your book at higher-than-usual discounts, it’s common that the author’s contract will specify that she will earn “one-half the prevailing royalty rate” on those copies. Because Agent Kristin had limited the publisher’s high-discount sales, this author should have earned 12.5% on those particular 6,500 copies, but she earned only 6.25%, and we were able to recover the difference. (By the way, does your agent understand this and negotiate your contract’s high-discount clause in your favor?)
Dear Authors, the only way to protect your assets is to do the math. Join me July 30, from 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm, for my Royalty Statements Auditing Workshop, a live webinar sponsored by Nelson Literary Agency. Hope to see you then!