Agents

Publishing’s Greatest Challenge Might Surprise You

5 December 2017

From Books & Such Literary Management:

In the October 2 issue of Publishers Weekly, the publication revealed the results of its annual salary and jobs survey. One of the questions the 442 respondents answered was, What is the #1 issue facing the industry in 2017?

. . . .

The #1 challenge publishing faces is the limited number of online retailers

Although only 5 percent of responders named this as the prime problem, PW reported,

“…A number of publishers who commented on industry issues named Amazon–in one way or another–as the greatest challenge to book publishers.”

The relationship with Amazon has been fraught from the beginning. Yes, we hate Amazon because it is monopolistic–and more so every day. But where do many (most?) readers buy their books? Uh, Amazon.

In terms of creatively finding ways to drive the price down on individual titles, no other entity can surpass Amazon. This year we had the challenge of which seller will get the sale when the buyer clicks on the buy button. Book sellers other than the publisher received a boon from Amazon when the buy button went to the lowest bidder–the seller with the lowest price. Publishers have been inventively working to hold (or regain) that prime real estate. But that’s just the most recent challenge to publishing’s well-being that Amazon has either benignly or calculatingly posed. 2018 will doubtless add to Amazon’s list of ways to create publishing mayhem. (Not that publishing is being targeted; Amazon functions in the same cutthroat manner with every industry.)

The  #1 challenge to publishing is too many books being published

Publishing looks to the Bowker Report to collect these numbers, and it takes some time for Bowker to assemble them, but this is how the stats stood in September 2016: More than 700,000 books were self-published in the U.S. in 2015, which is an increase of 375% since 2010! The number of traditionally published books climbed to over 300,000. The net effect is that the number of new books published each year in the U.S. has exploded by more than 600,000 since 2007, to well over 1 million annually. At the same time, more than 13 million previously published books are still available.

In 2016, the U.S. population was reported at 323.1 million. Think about how many avid readers would be needed to sustain the present explosion of available books. Is it any wonder that a new title has a few weeks at a retail outlet to sell through to a customer? And how is the reader supposed to ferret through this vast selection to find the books that interest him or her? The problem is staggering.

. . . .

The greatest challenge seen by publishers is flat sales

Twenty-five percent of the respondents are concerned about a publishing variable that is easy for each publisher to track–how many books sold this year? The sobering fact publishers picked this as their primary concern is that it’s core to the industry. Publishing’s function boils down to selling books. If it doesn’t succeed at this, it won’t succeed at all. And it isn’t like 2017 is the exception. No growth has occurred for five years.

As the PW article reports, “According to the Association of American Publishers’ recent StatShot report, total industry sales fell to $26.24 billon in 2016, down 5.1% from 2015. Between 2012 and 2016, sales fell every year except 2014, and over the five-year period sales dropped 5.2%. Within the trade segment, sales rose 1.5% in 2016 over 2015 and were up 1.3% in 2016 over 2012.”

Link to the rest at Books & Such Literary Management and thanks to David for the tip.

If only Amazon would just go away, everything would be so much better in the world of Books & Such.

If only Amazon would increase its prices a lot, everything would be so much better in the world of Books & Such.

If only there weren’t so many books, mostly sold from Amazon, everything would be so much better in the world of Books & Such.

If only publishers could sell more books, everything would be so much better in the world of Books & Such.

If only we could return to the good old days.

.

.

The simple fact is that the best way to make money in the book business in 2017 is to sell ebooks. All an indie author or a publisher needs to do is create an electronic book file, upload it to Amazon, etc., (or maybe just Amazon) and wait for the monthly checks to arrive.

PG suspects the math is pretty much the same for small and large publishers.

You can run a very lean publishing organization selling ebooks. (PG suspects most indie authors are a one-person publishing organization.)

No printing costs, no inventory management, no Ingram fees, no shipping fees, no returns and nobody needed to manage the whole printed book mess.

If you must have printed books, PG suspects that a print-on-demand operation like CreateSpace is probably the most profitable way of doing that if you track down the fully-loaded costs of all the various people and operations in creating, maintaining and managing an inventory of printed books.

It’s no wonder that traditional publishing is such a low-wage/low-profit business.

The underlying problem for Books & Such and a lot of other agents and publishers is that the reason authors pay them so much is that they are gatekeepers – gatekeepers to publishers who don’t want to spend time reading submissions from authors, gatekeepers to printed book sales via Barnes & Noble and other traditional bookstores.

Gatekeepers make their money by charging people who want to go through their gate. And gatekeepers in the book business don’t just charge a toll one time. The book deal that is closed to day will pay the large majority of the money the book generates to the gatekeepers that permitted the book to enter the traditional stream of book commerce.

And, to add insult to injury, the gatekeepers will continue to receive the same toll for the rest of the author’s life. Plus 70 years. The author will be dead and the agent will be dead and everybody who worked for the publisher when the book was released will be dead. But the tolls will continue.

Some time, PG needs to calculate the total payments made to gatekeepers during the hundred-odd years before the copyright expires on a book.

If the current US copyright laws had been place when Ernest Hemingway wrote, given that Hemingway died in 1961, his agent and publishers would continue to receive their gatekeeper tolls until 2031. Gatekeeping tolls in the form of agents’ fees and publisher’s share of book sales would still be payable for The Sun Also Rises, first published in 1926.

PG says fewer and fewer authors are interested in walking through those particular gates.

The simple reason is that there is an alternative and that alternative pays better than traditional publishing does for most authors. More and more writers are realizing that if they want to be professional authors and earn their living by writing, they are much more likely to reach their goal by self-publishing ebooks and selling them online.

A few facts from Author Earnings (emphasis is PG’s):

  • In 2016, two-thirds of traditionally-published fiction and non-fiction books were sold online.
  • About 75% of adult fiction and non-fiction books (including both traditional and indie published) were sold online (77% of fiction, 72% of non-fiction) in 2016.
  • In early 2017, Big Five publisher sales on Amazon were 20.8%–or barely one fifth–of all Amazon US consumer ebook purchases.
  • As far as the earnings of individual authors who have debuted in the last three years:
    • 250 Big Five authors are annually earning $25,000 or more from Amazon sales
    • 200 recent small or medium publisher authors earn $25,000 or more from their Amazon sales annually
    • Over 1,000 indie authors who debuted in the last 3 years are earning more than $25,000 per year from Amazon sales
  • Looking at earnings of debut authors from the past five years, more indie authors are now earning a $50K-or-better living wage from Amazon than all of their Big Five and Small/Medium publisher peers put together.
  • Fewer than 115 Big Five-published authors and 45 small- or medium-publisher authors who debuted in the past five years are currently earning $100K/year from Amazon sales. Among indie authors of the same tenure, more than 425 of them are now at a six-figure run rate.

PG suggests that traditional publishing’s greatest challenge is demonstrated by numbers like this.

10 Novels Agents Have Already Seen a Billion Times

9 November 2017

From Electric Lit:

As a literary agent, I receive roughly 500 queries, or book pitches, a month. After 11 years of doing this job, I have seen a lot of book ideas. Obviously I’ve noticed trends (did you know all vampires live in Seattle now?) but there are other similarities outside of pop culture or critical mass made evident by the slush pile. When an agent or editor says they are looking for something they’ve never seen before, these are the things we don’t mean.

. . . .

1. The Axe To Grind Novel

This book sure will show your stupid boss/girlfriend/teacher/parent they were an idiot for firing/dumping/failing/not loving you! Unfortunately, your personal injustices are your own, and it’s hard for the reader to generate enough sympathy for the infallible “protagonist” when everyone else is 100% horrible and wrong. If your life was The Glass Castle, then yeah, write that, but I sure hope it wasn’t.

A subcategory of The Axe To Grind Book of Non-Fiction is the Stunning Work from a Fearless Whistleblower that will Set the World of [Industry] on Fire.Maybe it will! But I usually learn about these stories from the news, as they are genuine news, and not in the query pile.

. . . .

8. Eat, Pray, Whatever

These stories of enlightenment in the face of illness/divorce/loss/grief as an important personal journey, most often written by women, are heartbreaking and profound. These issues are serious and so is the self-actualization (of women. Sorry dudes, we’ve heard enough about your self-actualization). But this formula of illness etc. leading to radical life change has crossed my desk so many times that it no longer holds any meaning. It’s a familiar jumble of medical jargon, empty white wine bottles, and taillights in the mist.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

John Grisham reveals his biggest money mistake

25 October 2017

From MarketWatch:

It’s of little surprise that the consistently best-selling John Grisham regularly lands on lists of the highest paid authors. But the feat becomes particularly impressive when you consider he probably could have earned millions more if not for an early career decision to listen to his agent instead of his instincts.

“Oh huge, huge, huge mistake,” Grisham said of the decision in a recent interview with MarketWatch on the occasion of the release of his latest book, “The Rooster Bar.”

After Grisham’s second book, “The Firm,” debuted to much acclaim in 1991, fans began searching for his first novel “A Time To Kill.” Grisham and his reps begged his small publisher at the time to print more copies, but the company was on the precipice of bankruptcy and so couldn’t afford to pump more out.

They offered to sell the rights to “A Time To Kill” back to Grisham for what he described as “almost nothing.”

. . . .

Grisham said he wanted to buy the rights, but got talked out of the decision by his agent at the time. Though that agent had consistently given him good advice, Grisham said “I knew in my gut it was not the right decision.”

His publisher, Doubleday, bought the rights instead a few months later and started printing paperback, hardback and other versions of the book, Grisham said. “They’re still printing ‘A Time To Kill,’” he said. “I don’t even want to think about how much money that cost me, but it was millions and millions.”

Link to the rest at MarketWatch and thanks to Al for the tip.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory hero ‘was originally black’

14 September 2017

From The Guardian:

Roald Dahl originally wanted the eponymous hero of his much-loved children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to be black, his widow has said.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme for Roald Dahl day on Wednesday, Liccy Dahl said: “His first Charlie that he wrote about was a little black boy.”

Asked why it was changed, she replied: “I don’t know. It’s a great pity.”

Her husband’s biographer Donald Sturrock, who was also being interviewed, said the change to a white character was driven by Dahl’s agent, who thought a black Charlie would not appeal to readers.

“I can tell you that it was his agent who thought it was a bad idea, when the book was first published, to have a black hero,” said Sturrock. “She said people would ask: ‘Why?’”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

The Broken Query System

21 August 2017

From Books & Such Literary Management:

Broken things drive me crazy. Just call me the Fix-it Fairy. If something is broken–be it an object, a person, or a system–I have trouble accepting the state of brokenness. I want it fixed.

Last week I talked about the correct way to submit queries. Today I want to vent about the query system agents currently use to screen potential clients. Here’s a news flash: the system is broken.

Let me tell you why.

Queries are not necessarily representative. Some of the finest writers are some of the worst query writers and vice versa. We’re making seat-of-the-pants decisions on a bit of promotional-type writing.

Scarcity of Slots. Truth be told, most established agents carry a very full client list. That’s not to say that we don’t take on a new client if we fall in love with the book or the writer, but I struggle to find new clients through the query system. I often wonder if it is counter-productive. So how do we find clients? Each agent is different and I know, even in our agency, some agents have found a good number of their clients through the query system. But I tend to find clients two different ways: through referrals from editors, clients or published authors; and through meeting writers in person at a conference. As I write this I’m in Minneapolis for a the Northwest Christian Writer’s Conference. I always look forward to meeting writers in the flesh. Some writers I’ll be meeting for the second or third time.

So. . . can the broken query system be fixed?

I’m not sure it can be fixed. In a dream world I would say that the tsunami of queries needs to be stemmed but no matter how many times we stress research and matching the project to the agent we can’t make a dent because query spammers never assume it applies to them. The only writers who take heed are the very writers we most like to represent– writers who invest their time in research and follow all the guidelines.

Link to the rest at Books & Such Literary Management

Curtis Brown buys Ed Victor Ltd

3 July 2017

From The Bookseller:

Curtis Brown has bought Ed Victor Ltd, following the passing of agent Ed Victor, aged 78, last month.

The shareholders of Ed Victor Ltd agreed terms to move their business to Curtis Brown and all rights will be handled by Curtis Brown from now on. Ed Victor Ltd’s client list includes former prime minister David Cameron, Andrew Marr, Nigella Lawson and Sophie Dahl, among others.

According to Ed Victor’s widow Carol Victor, the sale of the agency to Curtis Brown was Victor’s wish in such an eventuality. Victor was represented by Curtis Brown’s Jonathan Lloyd when he published The Obvious Diet with Vermilion in 2013, as Lloyd recently recalled in an obituary for The Bookseller.

Carol Victor said: “We are very pleased that Curtis Brown will assume the care of our distinguished clients and continue the work of servicing their back lists and looking after their future interests. I discussed this eventuality with Ed and it was his advice to turn to Curtis Brown, the oldest and most highly respected of agencies and the one he had chosen for himself, when he wrote his own book.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

In case you wondered what happens when your agent dies.

The Entitled Writer

2 June 2017

From agent Wendy Lawton:

We talk a lot about the kinds of writers we love to work with but when we agents get together the talk often turns to the writers we hate representing.

And there is always one standout– one writer we all cite as the writer we’d most hate to represent. The entitled writer.

This is a tough business and it takes a team to make a project work these days. It takes a hardworking writer who has a “servant attitude.” That’s a hard term to define. It doesn’t mean the writer is low man on the totem pole. Some of our greatest leaders of all time had a servant attitude. It means that you will selflessly serve others.

My own job requires a servant attitude. My place in this industry is to serve my clients and to serve the publishers. I can think of no better work.

. . . .

It’s the writer who refuses to edit, claiming his first draft was good enough. After all, what’s an editor for?

It’s the author who won’t do his share of marketing. He doesn’t have time and besides, the publisher has a whole department to do this.

It’s the wannabe writer who can’t be bothered to read publishing blogs, work on the craft, or attend conferences. He just calls an agent on the phone and says he plans to get his book published and wants to know how.

It’s the person with a story who comes up to an author at a signing and tells her that he has a great idea for a book. Can she write it? They can split the profits.

Link to the rest at Books & Such Literary Management

PG wants to nominate “a hardworking writer who has a ‘servant attitude’” for some award somewhere.

Maybe  “The Best Reason Not to Call this Agent” award or the “If the Author is the Servant, Who is the Master?” award.

Or visitors to TPV can decide if a different award is more appropriate.

Agent Sarah LaPolla on how authors can stand out, negotiating offers, and the state of publishing

20 May 2017

From Nathan Bransford:

Sarah LaPolla is an agent at Bradford Literary Agency, where she represents a mix of middle grade, young adult, and adult books, with a focus on literary fiction, science fiction, magical realism, dark/psychological mystery, literary horror, and upmarket contemporary fiction.

. . . .

NATHAN: Let’s cut to the chase. What’s the best way for an author to get your attention?

SARAH: The easy answer – by not trying. The bells and whistles are usually a turn off. When it comes to queries, the only thing that really gets my attention is a good story. That will always speak louder than gimmicks. And even if there is a particularly clever gimmick, or even if I know the author in some way, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll request a manuscript if I don’t love the story first.

The other way authors get agent attention is via Twitter – and with the popularity of pitch contests, this is just as useful in connecting with agents as querying is. I’m as introverted online as I am in real life, so I don’t speak for all agents here, but the best way to get my attention on Twitter is just be yourself.

I don’t follow or respond to everyone who replies to my tweets, but I’ve developed friendly relationships with authors over time. There are always names I recognize, and when I see those names in my query inbox they do get my attention a little more!

But replying to every single tweet or pitching your book on social media usually gets my attention in a bad way.

One of the most important element of an agent’s job is negotiating offers. How do you go about this? Do you call editors up and yell “ONE MILLION OR GO HOME” and then hang up?

Oh man, I wish! It’s generally way more civil than that, and I’m among a very email-friendly generation of agents and editors, which I am grateful for.

I might receive an initial offer on the phone, and go over basics (advance level, territory, royalties, subrights), but it all stays pretty non-committal until I can hang up and call my author. Then the bulk of negotiations are finalized via email (usually), and it’s a lot of “let’s see what I can do… OK can’t do that, but can definitely do this… and we’ll add in that, but… OK…. OK… cool cool cool” until there’s a deal! Haha. Isn’t it all so glamorous?

It’s when there are multiple offers and there’s an auction where I break into a sweat and the more Hollywood-style bargaining comes into play. At that point it’s about maintaining composure, staying honest with everyone involved, and ultimately letting my author trust their gut after I give them all of the information they need to decide what’s right for their career.

It seems like we’re in a moment in publishing where there are a handful megabestsellers and lots of other books are languishing. Have you experienced this, and has it changed how you approach your work?

This is an interesting question. I started in publishing during the “OMG what is digital?” panic and that was around the time the class divide (if you will) became more apparent in books. So by the time I started taking on my own clients, publishing had come out the other end of that.

My own approach to agenting never needed to change. The agents I interned for and assisted largely had midlist authors, and they were excellent authors who provided their agents with a livable wage (even by NYC standards!). If I were in grad school, I’d attempt a thesis comparing the declining middle class with the declining midlist!

I think what’s happening in publishing is true across all industries right now. There are A-list pop stars, and the ones finding their following on iTunes and YouTube. There are Hollywood blockbusters and reboots galore, and then there are screenwriters desperate to get their original material into festivals.
. . . .

What do you look for when you’re considering an author who has previously self-published a book or forty?

New material, mostly.

If an author is querying a book they already published, it raises questions – Why did you self-pub in the first place? What were your sales figures? What are you hoping an agent will do for you? I want all of those questions answered in the query.

Sometimes authors only self-pub because they think it’s the path to a traditional deal (it isn’t). Other authors self-pub because they didn’t feel they needed a traditional deal for that particular project, but now money is coming in and they have this new book that might be more mainstream and they need help.

I don’t begrudge anyone for self-publishing, but if they’re now approaching me for representation, I need to know the full scope of that decision and where they hope to go from there. Which comes back to “new material.” If you already self-pubbed 100 books and you’re approaching an agent, be prepared to send them a project that’s all-new, never-been-published that they will be able to send to traditional publishers while helping you manage your previously self-published backlist.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Writers, Scam Artists, Agents, And More (Sigh)

29 April 2017

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Just when I thought it was safe to get back into the water…

I’m editing a lot these days. I only edit short fiction projects. Anthologies, anthology series (Fiction River), the occasional nonfiction book, and some magazines. I’m also consulting with the fine folks at WMG Publishing, because they’ll be handling the contracts for the revival of Pulphouse next year. Dean’s vision for Pulphouse includes reprinting some of the older stories, which means we have to deal with estates.

Too often, estates mean agents.

But even some lazy-ass living writers give their agents control of everything. It took me one year—one year—to get my hands on a non-fiction reprint that I wanted for a project of mine. The centerpiece for that project was an editorial written more than 20 years ago by a writer who had forgotten they had even written it. This writer, a friend of mine, doesn’t do email, and mostly stays off-line. (I know, I know.) I didn’t know about their tech phobia when I started into this, and had sent five different emails before I asked another editor friend how to reach this writer.

The editor advised snail mail.

Before I resorted to that, though, I called. The author and I are friends, after all. On the phone, the author told me that their agent handles everything. I do mean everything. The author—one smart cookie otherwise—can’t be bothered to concern themselves with touching anything to do with business. I had no idea this author was an Artiste, but I guess I know that now.

I also know why most anthologists refuse to reprint this author’s work.

I was pretty excited about this non-fiction project when I started it. I missed the publication window because of this agent and this writer. Fortunately, my publisher pushed the deadline back. We’ve pushed it back again, and again, and again. And frankly, I’m not feeling it any more. I have completely soured on the project.

The big bad agent, by the way, negotiated a horseshit deal for the writer that essentially gave me more rights than I would ever need. I offered the usual fee, which the agent did not negotiate up (although he could have). By that point, I was too pissed to give a break to these people. The amount of money—on publication, if there’s a publication—to the agent and the author will be negligible.

. . . .

Who the hell gives over control of everything, I mean everything, to an agent?

Oh, most writers. Never mind.

Still, I expect better. And if a writer is going to give control of the business side of her work to an “expert” then the expert better be damn good at negotiating and taking care of the writer’s interests.

So far, all of the agents I’ve encountered who handle everything are the worst negotiators in the business. They let things slide, they don’t care about being paid, they don’t ask for the right kind of language in a contract, they license the wrong rights or sell those rights outright.

. . . .

On one of the many projects I worked on recently, I contacted a writer to reprint one of their stories. I wrote a standard email letter, requesting permission to reprint, and the writer wrote back that they had no idea if the rights were available. The writer said I should contact the editor who originally published the story and ask.

I was taken aback. I had never had a writer say such a thing before in all of my years of editing. I knew the editor in question, and had worked with him many times. Never once did that editor, in all his various projects, try to control all the rights to a project. It wasn’t in his standard contract, the one he used for his anthology projects. It wasn’t in his special contracts, for other projects. It hadn’t ever happened, not in years of dealing with this man.

Honestly, this is where Writer Me and Editor Me had a conflict. Writer Me decided that Editor Me should get clarification from that writer before going to the writer’s editor. You see, Writer Me figured the editor in question would be confused at best or insulted at worst by the suggestion that he controlled the rights.

I did not want to offend him—as a person, not as an editor I might work with.

So I asked for clarification from the writer on the problem and added, as I do with many writers—bestsellers and nonbestsellers alike—that I would be happy to look at the clauses or contract in question (with the pertinent information like SSN and payment blacked out) to see what rights the author had actually sold. After all, the author clearly had no idea. Frankly, I figured the author didn’t know how to read a contract, and certainly didn’t know copyright law. I’ve seen that dozens of times before.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

The Career View

5 April 2017

From Books & Such Literary Management:

What kind of things do I look for in a new client? Things like being knowledgeable and invested. And writing books that have commercial appeal. And offering fresh ideas and a fresh voice.

I also look for a writer who is realistic and prepared for the career view. When I get a query that insists I look at the “next bestseller,” I toss it in the round file. Yes, there are a number of debut books that became overnight successes. Just like there are lottery winners who recently won hundreds of millions of dollars. But does that mean if you buy a lottery ticket you’ll win millions?

We can’t plan a career around hoping for a miracle. Many fine, fine published books go virtually unnoticed every year. Reaching bestseller status is a convoluted combination of hard work, writing skill, word-of-mouth and that unpredictable  combination of events that take an author to the tipping point.

I’m looking for writers who are realistic– knowing that they are going to have to pay their dues, possibly with very little return in terms of attention and money for the first few years.

. . . .

So I’m looking for writers who are prepared financially for the long haul.  When we have clients who are desperate to make money we have a problem. This industry is not like a job. The money is sporadic and never guaranteed. A writer needs to be able to support himself while he builds his career. Or else you need a “patron of the arts,” as one writer describes her spouse.

. . . .

I also look for writers who have enough years to build a career. As agents, we pour ourselves into our clients. The first several years we may see precious little return on our investment. That’s okay, that’s our part of the financial long haul. If we believe in a writer we’ll work like crazy with absolutely no return in the early years if necessary. But if a debut writer who is seventy-five years old comes to me, I need to be positively bowled over by her book because, even if she writes for ten years, it’s barely enough time to really get a career launched. Of course that’s not to say I wouldn’t take her on if I loved that one book. I’ve done it more than once.

I look for settled writers. If a writer tells me he’s going to be moving to Sri Lanka for a period of five years I have to wonder how we can build a career with an inaccessible author.  Writers who take “writing breaks” to raise children, to care for parents, or to “find themselves” usually find themselves with a stalled career.

Link to the rest at Books & Such Literary Management and thanks to Dave for the tip.

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