Talking To Writers

30 October 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I just got back from MileHiCon in Denver. Not only did the con committee and the attendees treat me well, I had an absolute blast. I met a lot of people—readers, fans, wannabe writers, published writers—and I saw a lot of old friends.

. . . .

I have no idea how to talk to a room full of writers any more.

I know that sounds weird. I talk to writers all the time. Just before I went to MileHiCon, I helped Dean teach the first four days of the week-long Master Class for professional writers that we hold here on the coast.

. . . .

It used to be that everyone on the panel would give the same answer to basic questions. On the basic how-to-get published questions, there was only one answer, and it was the same for writer after writer after writer.

In fact, those of us on the panel were interchangeable. It didn’t matter if I sat there or another writer sat there or a relatively new writer sat there, we all gave the same answer. So did editor after editor, agent after agent.

Everyone who had the smallest bit of writing experience stopped attending publishing panels at cons because those writers had the basics down.

Now, the basics differ depending on who you talk to. We all agree on craft issues. To sell, whether traditionally or direct to readers, writers have to tell a good story. A good story includes all elements of craft—good plot, memorable characters, a clearly defined setting, and so on and so forth. Writers need to learn all of that, and never stop learning. We all can improve our craft and we should work at it, day after day after day after day.


When we move to how to get published, writing panels actually get contentious now. When Dean and I spoke at a writers conference in Idaho in May, we debated whether or not we would say what we really believed. Because if we said what we believed, we would anger half the room. And (bonus!) we would piss off every agent in the place.

I have a lot of trouble fudging my answers if I believe someone will get hurt if I don’t speak up. And on the topic of agents, my beliefs have shifted strongly. I believe (and have seen) most writers get seriously harmed by having an agent.

I can’t, in good conscience, recommend a writer have an agent for any reason.

Before I accept a writers conference request, I always explain that I will anger every agent and book doctor who shows up. I anger agents because I think they’re no longer useful. Some agents I’ve met at writers conferences are not only no longer useful, they are actively harming writers. I know this, because I’ve seen it or experienced it.

. . . .

The book doctors who show up at mainstream writers conferences fall into two categories. Those book doctors are either scammers who want to make money off writers who don’t believe in their own work or the book doctors are well-intentioned souls who have never sold a book of their own yet somehow believe they can make a book marketable.

Both types are complete and utter waste of money. There are real book doctors who work in traditional publishing. They’re hired (for a minimum of five figures—usually more like six) by a traditional publishing house to either improve a manuscript or to write it from scratch. Generally, those book doctors work on guaranteed bestsellers, whether they are written (or should I say bylined) by a celebrity like Snooki or whether they are written by a former bestselling writer who has gotten ill or has writer’s block or a wide variety of other problems.

If a publishing house has spent millions on a project and that project suuuuuuucks, then a book doctor gets brought in to make the project acceptable so that it can recoup its investment. If it wasn’t fixed, the project wouldn’t last longer than a day or two on the bestseller list before word-of-mouth put the book out of its misery.

Those book doctors never show up at writers conferences.

. . . .

I sigh, and say that with all honesty, I can’t recommend any agent. I mention the fact that it’s illegal in all 50 states to practice law without a license, which most agents are doing, and I mention that you just don’t need them for anything, and on and on, trying to keep my answer relatively short.

The woman who worked for the agency was incredibly cool. We agreed on most things. She’s bright and is a writer herself, and handled me with aplomb. Of course, she rebutted some of what I said, but not all of it (turns out, I learned after two panels with her, we agreed more than we disagreed), and she ended her statement with a sentence that I hate.

I’m sure Kris can do these things because she’s Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

Hell, no. I can do these things because there’s this thing called “the internet” and writers I know who do not have the credentials that I do have done the same things and more because they have a “contact” button on their website. Good books are good books, and foreign rights offers as well as movie/TV offers follow the good work, not the big names.

. . . .

The 1995 answers don’t really work any more. It’s a shark tank in the traditional publishing world, and if a minnow enters, it will become chum within the first five seconds of its attempted tenure in the tank.

So many writers are minnows with no desire to swim with the sharks. And the problem is that in today’s publishing environment, the writers have to be able to swim with the sharks comfortably and easily to survive.

Writers who’ve gotten their feet wet in the publishing industry, writers who’ve finished more than one book, who’ve submitted more than one short story, who are driven and work hard, know this. They’re coming to panels and conferences to learn how to become sharks—at least when it comes to business.

But the minnows, they don’t want to learn anything except how to be sell that one project. And the poor things, they’re going to get screwed.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

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A Literary Agency’s Future Is Uncertain After Its Founder’s Death

6 October 2015

From The New York Times:

Carmen Balcells, the literary agent who helped create the politically charged boom in Latin American letters in the 1960s and ’70s, was a larger-than-life figure. Her death last month, at 85, has plunged her agency — which represents the estate of Gabriel García Márquez, one of its pillars — into uncertainty, setting the stage for a land grab involving some of the biggest personalities in world publishing.

At the time of her death, Ms. Balcells was in talks to sell the Agencia Carmen Balcells, which she opened in 1956 in Barcelona, Spain. In 2014, she had signed a letter of intent to begin merger talks with the powerful New York literary agent Andrew Wylie, but those talks appeared to have foundered, and in recent weeks she had been negotiating with at least one other set of buyers, according to those potential buyers and other people familiar with the talks who requested anonymity out of respect for Ms. Balcells’s family.

Ms. Balcells’s son, Lluís Miquel Palomares Balcells, 51, inherits the agency, and last week said he would assume its management. Mr. Palomares declined to comment for this article beyond a statement issued by the agency last week in which he said that “my mother leaves a huge professional legacy, and it is my decision — shared by the whole team of the agency — to carry on with her task, in order to continue to serve our authors professionally, and providing the personal support that has always been our trademark.”

Although many of her most devoted authors, including the Chilean-American novelist Isabel Allende, said they would stay with the agency, Ms. Balcells’s death inevitably leaves her writers in limbo. They cannot decide whether to remain until it becomes clear who will manage the agency in the longer term, should Mr. Palomares decide to continue with his mother’s plans to sell. And yet the agency’s sale value depends on the authors it represents.

. . . .

 “Once more in her life she managed to do what she wanted: to stay in the agency until the last minute,” said Riccardo Cavallero, a former head of the publishing house Mondadori in Spain and Italy, who, along with the London literary agent Andrew Nurnberg, had been in talks with Ms. Balcells as recently as August to buy out her agency. “She wanted to sell without selling,” Mr. Cavallero said. “It was her creature, and she didn’t want to leave it. It was her second son.”

. . . .

 The Balcells agency represents about 300 authors, including the estates of Pablo Neruda and Carlos Fuentes, but only a dozen or so have wider readerships outside the Spanish-language world. Ms. Balcells changed Spanish publishing by ending a system in which authors signed contracts directly with publishers.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

One of the business dangers for authors who deal with agents is what we see here. What happens when the person who attracted you to the agency is no longer there?

What happens to your royalties? What happens to pending negotiations? Will the heirs run the place into the ground?

PG has no knowledge of Ms. Balcells or her agency, but when millions of dollars in royalties flow through rickety business structures, serious problems can arise.

UPDATE: If you think this is a problem limited to Spanish agents, see this post.

Lawsuit: ‘Most Interesting Man’ is ‘least honorable’

5 October 2015


From USA Today:

Jonathan Goldsmith doesn’t always get sued but when he does, it can get nasty.

The actor best known for portraying the “Most Interesting Man in the World” in Dos Equis ads is being sued for breach of contract by his former talent agency, which claims he has stopped paying commission on the roughly $1 million a year he makes from the ads, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

. . . .

Goldsmith’s former manager at Jordan Lee, Inc. says Goldsmith, who got the Dos Equis job in 2006 stopped paying the 10% commission a year ago because he felt he had paid “enough,” TMZ reports. The lawsuit says the actor’s relationship with the agency changed after the agent who got him the role — and is now his wife — left the company, per the Reporter.

Link to the rest at USA Today and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

How to talk about a self-published novel in a query

15 September 2015

From Janet Reid, Literary Agent

“You’ve said that a self-published novel is not considered a valid credit when approaching a publisher or agent, but then I was wondering what you’d write at all if you happened to have one?…. Is admitting I self-published a previous book bad because I’m admitting my last attempt was too poor to sell? Should I not mention it at all as a relevant credit? Or should I just avoid self-publishing as long as I’m trying for commercial publishing?”


The reason self-published books aren’t a writing credit is there was no independent selection process. You wrote the book, then you, yourself and ewe edited, copy edited, fact checked, sent it off to the typesetting elves, and presto, one ISBN later, it’s a book.


Now, as to whether you SHOULD self publish your novel, I will simply say this: the most common thing I hear from writers who query me again after a period of a year or more, and query for a new book is they now realize they queried too soon with that first novel.

I well understand your impatience with the glacial pace of publishing and the idea that getting the book out there is better than not, but that’s impatience and inexperience talking. And lo! I have heard their siren song myself and always to my detriment I must confess.

Self publishing your first novel is a whole different kettle of fish than publishing a novel AFTER you’ve had several published already.

Link to the rest here.

From Guest Blogger Randall

Why does everyone want to be published?

27 August 2015

From MacGregor Literary:

I thought you’d like to see this question someone sent me: “I’ve been writing for several months now, and I’m trying to figure out what my motivation is. Can you help me understand WHY so many writers want to become published authors?”

A fascinating question. Okay, this may surprise you, but I believe most new writers basically want to get published so that they’ll be famous. They want that thrill of holding up a book with their name emblazoned on the cover, show it to their friends, leave it on their coffee table, maybe peruse a copy at the bookstore and casually mention to someone in the aisle, “You know… I wrote this.” I think most new writers are seeking fame and encouragement, that they believe validity and meaning will arrive out of publication. They see fame as offering a measurable amount of worth and competence.

That’s not to say most new writers don’t also have something they want to say — they do. It’s just that many newer writers struggle with having a worthwhile story. Think about it — we all know it takes a while for a writer to become competent. Rarely do you see a novelist get her first completed work contracted. The industry average is five complete books before landing a deal… in other words, if you’re starting out, it will probably be your fifth completed novel before you get a contract.That’s why so many writers give up after one or two — it takes persistence to complete five novels before a publisher will pay attention to your work.

. . . .

Yet most writers who have achieved some level of fame fairly quickly eschew it in favor of craft. They may still enjoy the warmth associated with being recognized, or having someone come up and praise their words, but most successful authors discover that fame is not only fleeting, it doesn’t make us better people or better writers.

Link to the rest at MacGregor Literary

What I Learned Sending My Novel Out Under a Male Name

5 August 2015

From Jezebel:

The plan made me feel dishonest and creepy, so it took me a long time to send my novel out under a man’s name. But each time I read a study about unconscious bias, I got a little closer to trying it.

I set up a new e-mail address under a name—let’s say it was George Leyer, though it wasn’t—and left it empty. Weeks went by without word from the agents who had my work. I read another study about how people rate job applicants they believe are female and how much better they like those they believe are male.

The thing I was thinking of doing was absolutely against the rules, the opposite of all the advice writers get, but I wasn’t feeling like a writer, and I hadn’t written in weeks. Until last winter, I had never faced a serious bout of writer’s block or any meaningful unwillingness to work.

. . . .

 So, on a dim Saturday morning, I copy-pasted my cover letter and the opening pages of my novel from my regular e-mail into George’s account. I put in the address of one of the agents I’d intended to query under my own name. I didn’t expect to hear back for a few weeks, if at all. It would only be a few queries and then I’d close out my experiment. I began preparing another query, checking the submission requirements on the agency web site. When I clicked back, there was already a new message, the first one in the empty inbox. Mr. Leyer. Delighted. Excited. Please send the manuscript.

. . . .

I sent the six queries I had planned to send that day. Within 24 hours George had five responses—three manuscript requests and two warm rejections praising his exciting project. For contrast, under my own name, the same letter and pages sent 50 times had netted me a total of two manuscript requests. The responses gave me a little frisson of delight at being called “Mr.” and then I got mad. Three manuscript requests on a Saturday, not even during business hours! The judgments about my work that had seemed as solid as the walls of my house had turned out to be meaningless. My novel wasn’t the problem, it was me—Catherine.

I wanted to know more of how the Georges of the world live, so I sent more. Total data: George sent out 50 queries, and had his manuscript requested 17 times.

. . . .

[W]hen George came to life . . . I imagined him as a sort of reptilian Michael Fassbender-looking guy, drinking whiskey and walking around train yards at night while I did the work. Most of the agents only heard from one or the other of us, but I did overlap a little. One who sent me a form rejection as Catherine not only wanted to read George’s book, but instead of rejecting it asked if he could send it along to a more senior agent. Even George’s rejections were polite and warm on a level that would have meant everything to me, except that they weren’t to the real me. George’s work was “clever,” it’s “well-constructed” and “exciting.” No one mentioned his sentences being lyrical or whether his main characters were feisty. A few of people sent deeply generous and thoughtful critiques, which made me both grateful and queasy for my dishonesty.

. . . .

 Third: with my name, maybe my novel was taken for “Women’s Fiction”—a dislikable name for a respectable genre—but not what I was writing. If an agent was expecting that, I’m not surprised he or she would turn away after the first page or two. A George wasn’t expected to be writing Women’s Fiction, so he was taken on his own terms.

Link to the rest at Jezebel and thanks to Amy and several others for the tip.

Good Agents Audit Royalty Statements

5 June 2015

From agent Kristin Nelson:

Over the last decade, I really wish I had tracked how much money NLA has recovered by carefully auditing our royalty statements every accounting period. Because of some big errors found a couple of years ago, it’s probably to the tune of over $600,000 recovered at this point, and it wouldn’t surprise me if that total was actually more. Even now, nary an accounting period goes by that we don’t recover at least $500 to $3,000 owed to a client.

On rare occasions, we have even found errors in the Publisher’s favor—and yes, we do notify them to highlight the correction. Luckily, those have only amounted to several hundred dollars at any given time.

. . . .

Most errors we catch are human errors. In other words, the Publisher’s in-house royalty management staff simply keyed incorrect information into their accounting system. Also, “accounting departments” at some mid-sized publishers and small presses are staffed by English majors. Mistakes will be made.

These mistakes need to be found and corrected and the monies paid to the author client. Here is the jaw-dropping fact: A good percentage of agents do not audit their clients’ royalty statements.

Let me repeat that. Even though authors hire literary agents to guide their careers and most importantly, manage their business publishing interests (royalties being a huge component of this), many agents do not actively audit or even read client royalty statements. This leaves authors to fend for themselves regarding reading and understanding their statements.

. . . .

When I was newer to this business, I did the time-consuming auditing and analysis myself, every accounting period, and shared my comments with my client. Every accounting period. I even hired a professional book royalty auditor to mentor and read behind me to assess my competence and capability. Then I hired and trained our amazing Contracts & Royalties Manager Angie Hodapp to handle this at NLA.

And Angie took it to a level that leaves me in awe every accounting period. I imagine our clients are often in awe as well when every six months, she sends a detailed letter with my comments as well as her analysis of the statement and what questions we had to track down and if extra monies are owed.

Link to the rest at Kristin Nelson

PG agrees with Kristin that every agent should do this for every royalty report.

However, he observes, if most of the mistakes on royalty reports are human error, one would expect errors to the publisher’s disadvantage would make up about 50% of the errors instead of occurring only on “rare occasions.”

Considering the very wide range of digital change topics that should be candidates for discussion at DBW 2016

28 May 2015

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

The challenge for the book business for the past decade has been rapid and less-than-predictable changes in the ecosystem because of digital. There are two underlying shifts that fundamentally alter the ecosystem: people substituting ebook consumption for print book consumption and people substituting online purchase of printed books for buying them in stores.

. . . .

1. Data. This is a wide-ranging topic. We look for original data about what’s going on in the ecosystem wherever we can find it and we have done sessions in the past (and could again) about “Big Data” and what publishers need to understand about it. With pricing of ebooks becoming an increasingly important financial consideration for publishers and data being such a crucial component of doing that well, this is bound to remain a top-of-mind subject.

. . . .

4. Authors and self-publishing. Authors didn’t used to have much alternative to publishers; now they do. As a result, authors have developed marketing capabilities and support services have grown up to help them. This all raises a host of issues for publishers. They have to learn how to capitalize effectively on what authors can do on their own, but they also need to provide great marketing support to authors and be seen as collaborative and as adding real marketing value.

. . . .

8. Agents and editors, how they relate in a mutually-supportive way. They share ownership of each author’s personal loyalty, they both might shape the book editorially, and they both will hear the author’s career ambitions and influence him or her about self-publishing and their publishers’ efforts. If publishers are going to start collaborating meaningfully with authors about marketing, that suggests agents and editors are going to be working together differently.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

Is Self-Publishing a Viable Option for Literary Fiction Writers?

27 May 2015

From  Sangeeta Mehta via Jane Friedman:

Even though it’s become quite easy for writers to use Amazon KDP or other platforms to publish an e-book—and use print-on-demand technology to create a professional-looking print book—it’s still rare for literary fiction writers to self-publish.

I asked literary agents Vicky Bijur and Ayesha Pande if and when literary writers should consider this option, how it might affect their long-term careers, and what digital trends we might see in terms of marketing literary fiction.

Sangeeta Mehta: Sales of self-published literary fiction are anemic compared to that of genre fiction, but is this a reflection of the industry as a whole—or because the success of literary writing depends on established, traditional systems that aren’t accessible to self-published writers?

Vicky Bijur: One theory: Genre fiction is read in digital form to a greater degree than literary fiction. That is, readers of genre fiction are used to reading e-books; literary fiction readers a bit less so. Also, there may be many more online blogs/websites, etc., devoted to genre fiction; it may be harder for a reader to find out about literary fiction that is available only digitally. Literary fiction is still review-driven; even though the traditional review media are shrinking, it is still really important to catch the attention of traditional critics, and I think it’s very hard for e-book originals to do that. As recently as 2008 or so a self-published author might still have been selling books to independent bookstores out of the trunk of her car. With the severe reduction in the number of independent bookstores, it much harder to get traction even if your book is in print form.

Ayesha Pande: My response here is based purely on anecdotal evidence: It seems readers of literary fiction have a bias for print books; many readers tell me they want to keep the books, put them on their shelves, read them again and share them with others—none of which is possible with an e-book. In addition, sales of literary fiction still do depend on reviews and self-published books don’t tend to be reviewed by book reviewers, mainly because there are simply too many of them.

. . . .

Many agents won’t consider representing a self-published work unless sales are in the high five- or six figures. However, very few works of literary fiction achieve such lofty sales, even with the marketing muscle of a large publisher. Do you have a sales number in mind when considering self-published works? Or would a positive review (from Kirkus or PW, both of which accept self-published books), or an award be more likely to sway you in one direction or the other?

AP: A writer having self-published their work, especially a first novel, wouldn’t necessarily deter me from considering her for representation. I would read the book and assess the merit of the work and make my decision based on that. Many excellent novels do not find publishers and there are many promising authors out there whose work deserves to be published and read. In fact I represent an author who successfully self-published his first two novels.

VB: When Lisa Genova approached me with Still Alice in 2008, which she had self-published, I didn’t care about how many copies she had sold. Here’s what I cared about: I couldn’t put down the book; my twenty-three year-old assistant couldn’t put down the book; I thought Lisa’s background as a neuroscientist with a Ph.D. from Harvard University provided her with an instant platform; she had the savvy and the sophistication to have hired a PR firm for her self-published book; she was writing about a topic that had a huge audience; she had already made deep connections within the Alzheimer’s community. That is, the book was spectacular, and it was clear the author was a superstar.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG suspects many sales of literary novels in printed form occur to support status-signaling on the bookshelf.

The Top Five Dumbest Business Practices in Publishing

11 May 2015

From Dean Wesley Smith:

From the real world perspective, publishing is really, really, really known for its head-shakingly stupid business practices. But inside of publishing, these practices have become so common and set in “the way things are done” as to be defended by otherwise sane business people.

So I figured I would honor Dave Letterman’s departure with a quick top five list.

I’ll give the real world equivalent of the publishing practice, then the actual publishing practice, working down to the most stupid publishing practice of them all.

. . . .

Real World: You walk up to a neighbor’s house you don’t really know, but at a neighborhood block party you met them. You ask the neighbor to give you legal advice about a legal contract you have been offered. The neighbor teaches English at the local high school and is not an attorney. Plus it is against the law in your state (and all states) for someone without a law degree to give legal advice. But since the neighbor on his last trip stayed at Holiday Inn Express (remember those commercials?) he agrees to give you advice on the contract and negotiate it for you. Would you ever do that? Of course not. You would go to a lawyer who knows the area of contracts you have been offered.

Publishing: Recent graduates of college with a bachelors in English who have a business card that says “agent” think nothing of giving legal advice to writers and negotiating the contract for them. And writers let them without a second thought. Apply common business sense and hire an IP attorney to handle your contract and negotiations. Duh.

. . . .

Real World: You hire a gardener to mow your lawn when it needs it. In exchange for that simple task, you offer your gardener 15% of your property for the life of the property, plus seventy years past your death. That means the gardener’s grandkids would be getting money from your grandkids because the gardener mowed your lawn once or twice. Would you do that? Of course not. You would simply pay your gardener by the hour or the project.

Publishing: Every agency agreement, both from agents and inside of publishing contracts, gives an agent on a project 15% of the property (remember, copyright is property) for the life of the copyright which is 70 years past your death. And often the agent gets this for a couple hours work one day and a phone call. Apply common sense. If an agent won’t work for a set fee per property, then hire an IP attorney who is licensed and who can do all the same things an agent would do, only legally. And you only pay one set fee or hourly rate. Duh.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith and thanks to Ava for the tip.

Here’s a link to Dean Wesley Smith’s books

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