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May 2015
A Message from Kristin Nelson

Deal Lunch Translated: What the Subtext Really Means

Kristin Nelson

Before 2001, very little information was available about deals happening in the industry. No transparency, really, regarding what agents were selling and what editors were buying. Michael Cader and Publishers Marketplace changed all that. Now, a wealth of deal information is available to anyone via a monthly subscription and the click of a button.

The deals-search feature on the site is a powerful tool that helps agents quickly learn what editors have been buying. It also helps writers research who might be a good fit to represent or buy their novel.

At first glance, the deal-reporting system is fairly straightforward:

Nice = an advance between $1 and $49,000

Very Nice = $50,000 to $99,000

Good = $100,000 to $250,000

Significant = $251,000 to $499,000

Major = $500,000 and up

It’s clear cut, right? The advance falls within a particular range, which determines the announcement term used when posting the sale.

Reality is actually a bit murkier. Why? Because there is an ongoing discussion about whether bonus monies in the deal should be counted as part of the advance or not.

In several recent conversations with editors, most assumed that agents only counted the actual advance, nothing else in the deal. In conversations with several agents, most said “it depends.” Some agents just outright include the bonus monies in the advance when they report their deals. Others assess whether the deal is borderline and may count the bonus to pop the deal into the higher level. The higher the level in the report, the more foreign and film interest might be generated. So this is actually important stuff.

What about when a deal announcement doesn’t mention a level at all? What’s the subtext? There are only two reasons a money range won’t be included:

Reason 1: There was no advance (as is the case for a lot of ebook-only deals), or the advance was so small that it’s better not to mention it at all and leave it ambiguous for film and foreign interest.

Reason 2: The author is so big or well known that the deal is likely to be very high indeed. Perhaps the author’s privacy is being maintained.

Happy deal searching!

Pub Rants University

Query Letter Intensive – Perfecting The Pitch Paragraph For Your Novel – 2015-08-12

Wednesday, August 12 at 6:00 - 8:30 PM MT

This Webinar intensive brought to you by NLA Digital.

Class Limit: 15

Requirement: Attendees must use a phone for audio to call in and actively participate.

Please note: This Webinar is primarily a workshop and does not constitute a query letter submission for NLA to request sample pages. Also, only fiction submissions are eligible for this Webinar (no memoirs or non-fiction works, please).

Most writers will tell you that writing a good query letter is more difficult than writing the whole manuscript. How do you boil 300-plus pages of a novel into one pithy pitch paragraph? In this limited class-size intensive workshop, Agent Kristin will teach you how to create terrific and short pitch blurbs that will inspire agents to request your sample pages.

What You’ll Learn:

  • How to Structure your Query Letter – Pros and cons to different organizational approaches of query content and how to pick the best structure for your novel.
  • Identifying The Plot Catalyst and the 4 Main Approaches to building the Pitch Paragraph around it – The plot catalyst forms the base of any good query pitch. How to identify yours and write a strong pitch to showcase your novel.
  • How to Revise The Pitch – Each participant is required to submit the first draft of his or her query letter. Every participant’s pitch will be evaluated, critiqued, and if necessary, revised during the Webinar.

Previous attendees of this workshop have said “I am so glad I participated. The workshop honed in on what I needed to work on.”

Extras:

  • Kristin will be on video as well as audio.
  • Attendees are welcome to ask questions during the presentation.
  • Attendees will have access to the recorded video of the presentation for six months.

 

Who should attend?

Writers

  • Who have completed a novel and are ready to query (please note that this Webinar is not for folks writing a memoir or another work of non-fiction)
  • Who are about to begin the agent search
  • Who may be attending a conference soon where a pitch is necessary
Register Now

eSpecial Price

FREE May 4 - end of June (TBD)

           
Recent News

As announced in The Hollywood Reporter, film Rights to New York Times bestselling author Marie Lu’s THE YOUNG ELITES series, set up with Daria Cercek at 20th Century Fox Studios with Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey, and Isaac Klausner of Temple Hill Productions (Twilight Saga, Fault In Our Stars) producing.

Jamie Ford awarded The Storyteller’s Prize,  for artists, scholars and activists who have shown a dedication to celebrating the multicultural and multiracial experience in fiction.

Hugh Howey's SILO (french translation of WOOL) wins the prestigious Canadian Prix Des Libraires du Quebec Award!

Marie Lu's EVERTREE, the anticipated conclusion to Scholastic's Spirit Animals middle grade series, hits the New York Times, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal bestseller lists

Kristen Callihan's EVERNIGHT nominated for a 2015 RITA for Best Paranormal Romance.

Gail Carriger's PRUDENCE, the first book in her new Custard Protocol series, hits the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists.

Josh Malerman's BIRD BOX nominated for a 2015 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel!

Jasinda Wilder's FALLING INTO YOU is a Goodreads Top 100 Romance Titles Pick.

Think Like an Agent

Article 4: Negotiation Tactics of Good Agents

By

The genesis: In January 2015, Backspace co-founder Karen Dionne and I had a conversation in which she mentioned that writers sometimes want representation so badly they are willing to sign with an average or even a below-average agent. Trust me, not all agents are equal. I replied, “Well, writers don’t know what they don’t know.”

In that moment, a lightbulb went on for both of us. Writers don’t know what a good agent does. How could you if (1) you’ve never experienced it and (2) you’ve only ever had one agent and no way to assess just how strong he or she might be at the job?

Thus, this series of articles was born.

*********

Article 4: Negotiation Tactics of Good Agents

As featured in our April newsletter, an agent’s most important skill is the ability to negotiate well on behalf of the author client. Authors hire agents to protect their business interests in publishing. This is why a literary agent has a job.

Simply put, good agents do good deals on behalf of their authors.

So let’s discuss what I mean by “good” in terms of a deal and how that can be defined. Most writers might assume I’m talking about the level of the advance—as if how the negotiated amount is the only barometer of a decent deal. In reality I’m talking about every facet of the deal offer and the fairness and equability of the final contract the author signs.

Think of publishing as like a marriage or long-term relationship. It begins in love and happiness and for a lot of authors, the love affair lasts their whole career. But there is always the possibility of it ending in conflict and, in some cases, animosity. The point of the contract is to take the emotion out of the relationship and to clearly spell out the expectations of each party. This is why it’s imperative for an agent to negotiate a good deal and the best terms in a contract.

So just what are the negotiating tactics of good agents?

* Good Agents negotiate the advance.

A Publisher’s opening offer is not the highest advance the publisher is actually willing to give. Good agents know and understand this. It’s a bartering tool, the first give-and-take for what an agent is willing to grant and for what the publisher is willing to give in exchange. There are a ton of strategies involved here. This is just to spotlight one tactic.

* Good Agents only grant rights that are commensurate with the advance level being offered. 

If the advance is low, the agent will restrict the rights being offered to a publisher. A negotiation tool for getting a higher advance may be the willingness to offer World English or World rights in exchange for more monies up front.

Cliff notes for the types of publishing grants:

North American rights = publisher only has the grant of rights to sell the title in the US, Canada, and US territories such as the Philippines.

World English rights = publisher only has the grant of rights to sell the title in the English language around the world, including UK, Australia, New Zealand.

World rights = publisher has the grant of rights to sell the title in the English language around the world as well as to sell the licenses to have the title translated into other languages.

* Good Agents only sell World English or World rights if the subrights splits are standard. Otherwise, good agents restrict the deal to North American.

Standard splits, as defined by the Big 5 publishers, are 80% to author/20% to publisher for the UK and 75% to author/25% to publisher for translation. Some publishers (usually the smaller ones) only want to offer a 50/50 split, which is significantly less advantageous to the author than if his or her agent reserved World rights to license separately in each territory. (Remember: the author would then have to pay the agent commission on top of not receiving the standard 75% or 80% split. That’s definitely a reduction to the author’s bottom line.) I’ve also seen 60/40 (in author’s favor) offered.

* Good Agents don’t sell the publisher world translation rights or audio without reversion clauses.

If the publisher does not exploit or actively pursue the rights, the author is stuck and cannot earn money on the licensing of these potentially lucrative rights. Since part of an agent’s job is to help authors earn a living from writing, unexploited rights is untapped money potential. Publishers love “warehousing” rights just in case, but reversion clauses force publishers to actively try and license those rights or lose the ability to do so.

* Good Agents only sell rights or do deals with publishing houses that offer standard royalties or the equivalent (if royalties are based on net, which is the case for a lot of smaller publishers).

* Good Agents pre-negotiate “tricky” contract clauses in the deal memo stage so as to completely eliminate the issue at contract stage.

A favorite publishing house tactic, once the offer is accepted and contract generated, is to reply with “that should have been negotiated during the deal memo stage” as a way to say “no” to a requested change. To avoid this, actual clause language often has to be negotiated upfront with the editor during the deal negotiation. (“Tricky” clauses include the non-compete clause, the option on next book clause, the out-of-print clause, and many more).

It’s an icky strategy, as it’s not fair to the editor, who is often placed in an awkward situation. After all, they know deal points, not contract language. Sadly, this is becoming more and more standard.

* Good Agents have deal memo boilerplates that are unique to each house (and these deal memos are two, sometimes three pages long) 

Rather than use the publisher-generated deal points, which usually only cover the basics in an eight-point list and nothing else. Agency-generated deal memos cover all the tricky bits for that specific publisher, since contracts vary greatly from house to house.

* Good Agents have the editor confirm deal points memo via email before officially closing the deal.

This just came up for me recently where a deal was closed and went to contract stage, but the contracts department didn’t input the royalty escalator agreed upon during the deal negotiation. Because I had the final deal memo along with the editor’s confirmation email, it ended up being a simple non-issue, and the contract was changed. Without that confirmation, the author might have been stuck with lesser royalty structure.

Good agents could write a book on how to actively negotiate a publishing deal and contract. There are so many facets this series of articles can only touch on the highlights.

Kristin's Book Club

Book Club with Author Visit Via Skype

Because it could be interpreted as self-serving, I actually never nominate any of my own authors to be a book-club selection. That’s why I was so tickled when another gal in the club nominated Stacey Lee’s UNDER A PAINTED SKY. And even more pleased when this title was actually selected to make our 2015 reading list.

We only chose eight titles out of a pool of 30+ possible selections. It could have easily not made the cut. They voted to read it because they were so intrigued by reading a historical western…and a young-adult historical western to boot!

The verdict? Book club is in love with this page-turning novel, set on the Oregon Trail, that captures the story of friendship, perseverance, and the concept of family in the face adversity and discrimination.

During this past Sunday, Stacey was even able to squeeze in a Skype meeting between soccer practice and date night.

Questions asked:

* It’s a tough opening that might be hard for young people to read. Did the beginning of the novel change from the first draft to the final?

* How did you research to prepare writing the book?

* What influenced you to write about the Oregon Trail, specifically with a Chinese heroine?

* Did the cowboys really know that Sam and Andy were actually girls?

* Were you worried about sending the message that girls had to disguise themselves as boys to have an adventure, or is it simply a product of that time period?

* Were you surprised how well the book was received and sold out of the gate?

* What’s up next for you?

To answer that last question, it’s another historical young adult called THE UNSINKABLE MERCY WONG, and then a debut contemporary title.

But always with multicultural characters. Support #WeNeedDiverseBooks!

Guest Article

A Story of Three Authors (A Cautionary Tale)

Karen Dionne

Karen Dionne is an internationally published thriller author, co-founder of the online writers discussion forum Backspace, and organizer of the Salt Cay Writers Retreat and the Neverending Online Backspace Writers Conference.

In a perfect world, every literary agent would be a fearless negotiator, working tirelessly to get the best possible book deals for his or her clients. But the world isn’t perfect. And sometimes an author’s career goes off the rails because their agent doesn’t have the knowledge, skills, or tenacity necessary to negotiate well on the author’s behalf.

Author #1 had a six-figure offer from a major publisher for the first three books of his self-published middle-grade series. He also had no agent. The publisher recommended several, and the author signed with one. Sadly, the agent did not negotiate better contract terms. This meant the author now had to give the agent 15% of the exact same six-figure deal he’d set up himself.

The author hoped the agent would earn his commission going forward by advocating for the book during the publishing process. But in time, the author realized his agent wasn’t doing anything he wasn’t already doing himself. He terminated the relationship and negotiated the next three-book deal without an agent.

As the time neared for the next contract, this author still felt he could get a better deal if a savvy agent negotiated on his behalf. He interviewed carefully and signed with an agent with an excellent reputation who was also a fan of the author’s work. The agent soon learned what the publisher hadn’t yet told the author: sales were soft, and there wasn’t going to be a third offer.

The agent pitched a new series, but the publisher wasn’t interested. Neither were the other publishers the agent submitted to because of the author’s declining sales record. He and the agent parted ways, and the author’s dream of supporting his family with his writing was over.

This author is convinced the outcome would have been different if his first agent had been a tougher negotiator—not only in regard to the size of the advance, but also in the thousand-and-one ways his agent could have run interference with the publisher to ensure that the author’s books got the in-house attention they needed and deserved. This agent may have been afraid to rock the boat, but it was the author’s ship that sank.

Author #2 was with an agent who always sold world and film rights to the publisher. Every client, every deal, without exception. Not every agency has its own foreign-rights department, nor does every agency partner with a foreign-rights co-agent in order to fully serve their clients.

In time, the author realized they had a problem. This author’s books were doing very well in the territories where they were available, but the publisher’s foreign-rights department had only sold them into a handful, and nothing was happening with film. When the author discussed the situation with their editor, the editor recommended the author get another agent—even though this meant the editor would have to work with an agent who was a tougher negotiator.

Not only did the new agent sell the film option for the author’s latest book, but the agent also made sure it was a “complete” offer, meaning that a producer, director, and screenwriter were committed to the project before recommending the deal. Previous film offers that didn’t have all these components in place were rejected because this agent was a tough negotiator who wasn’t afraid to hold the line.

Author #3’s agent got him a two-book deal with a well-known mass-market-paperback publisher. The contract included joint accounting. If you’ve been reading Kristin’s “Think Like an Agent” article series, you know that joint accounting can have negative consequences, as this author was about to find out.

When his first book published, it sold reasonably well. Meanwhile, the author was busy writing the second. To his surprise, the publisher rejected the book. The author wrote another, which the publisher also rejected. The author wrote a third book, which the publisher rejected when the book was half finished.

Are you keeping count? Two-and-a-half books written over who knows how many years in a valiant effort to deliver the second book of his contract. Meanwhile, because these two contracted-for books were irrevocably linked due to joint accounting, even though the first book was selling well, during all that time, the author didn’t see another dime.

If you’re wondering where the author’s agent was through all of this, so was I. Why didn’t the agent run interference with the publisher? Why was this author forced to spend years writing multiple books without getting paid for them? Surely there was something a savvy agent could have done.

The author wrote a fourth book, which the publisher finally accepted, only to drop the book after Borders went bankrupt. Eventually the author got the rights back to his books and self-published these novels along with the ones his publisher had rejected. All of his books have been very well received by readers, and the author is now with a small publisher with an excellent reputation. Most important, the author feels that his career is finally on track.

Admittedly, much of what determines the success or failure of an author’s career is beyond the author’s and the agent’s control. But holding out for an agent who is a fearless negotiator can be the author’s best defense in a challenging, uncertain business.

She is represented by Jeff Kleinman of Folio Literary Management. This panel discussion along with the full Backspace Writers Conference video archives are available exclusively to Backspace subscribers and online conference registrants. 

New Releases

Legend: The Graphic Novel

by Marie Lu

Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a military prodigy. Born into the slums of the Republic’s Lake Sector, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives are not as sinister as they often they seem. One day June’s brother is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Now, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June tries desperately to avenge her brother’s death. And the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together and the lengths their country will go to in order to keep its secrets.

Buy It Here:

       

Eddie Red, Undercover: Mystery in Mayan Mexico

by Marcia Wells

Now that he has become the NYPD’s youngest crime-solving hero, Eddie Red and his best friend Jonah are ready to relax on a family vacation to Mexico. But when Eddie’s father is falsely accused of stealing, what they find is another complex mystery. Can Eddie – with his artistic talent and photographic memory – and Jonah uncover clues and catch the real crook in time? “Fast-paced, funny, and a sure pleaser for Cam Jansen Grads” (Kirkus), the Eddie Red series stars a hero worth rooting for.

Buy It Here:

       
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