Agents

Alternative paths to publishing proliferate but the path for authors most likely to be lucrative is still the oldest one

24 February 2015

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

The Guardian reports that Big Five British publishers are aggressively courting authors to come directly to them rather than through agents. The specifics cited make this sound more like “toes in the water” than “a change in the value chain”.The Tinder Press division of Hachette is holding an “open submissions fortnight”. The editorial director of Random House imprint Jonathan Cape tweeted a request for submissions one time and got 5,000 of them. And HarperCollins’s new Borough Press imprint is holding its second annual “open submission”. They got a single publication out of 400 submissions last year.

The same story also acknowledges that agents are changing their processes too (and have been, as we’ve noted, back in 2011), specifically pointing to a creative writing program operated by the Curtis Brown agency which has “found 15 debut novelists” (presumably meaning they got them publishing deals) “in two and a half years”. It is also true that many self-publishing successes, including Hugh Howey, use literary agents to help them reach publishers outside their home market or language.

. . . .

The publishers quoted in the story, not surprisingly, indicated that their interest was in getting to promising talent that the agents might be weeding out. But with one of the houses working its way through 5,000 submissions (“three have real promise”, the publisher says, and I have no idea if they see the irony in that statement that I do) and another repeating the exercise when last year they published one out of 400, the data suggests that the curation the agents are doing is a valuable service for the publishers.

Of course, there is a compensating financial element for publishers who do the work to find unagented books worth publishing. They can almost certainly make a more advantageous deal than they’d make with an agent. Not only can they almost certainly secure the book for a smaller advance (a point amply made in the piece), they are also more likely to get world rights.

. . . .

An unagented author is not without cost and complication to a publisher, who would have to take on the agent’s function of explaining the lengthy and sometimes complex process of publishing to the author every step of the way.

. . . .

But even if a house would process its “slush pile” (the long-standing term for the unagented and unsolicited submissions) efficiently, and few, if any, do, it couldn’t be a big winner for the publisher to spend much time with it.

Nothing in the Guardian piece suggests to me that my advice to aspiring authors should change. I always tell them to get an agent if they possibly can. (And I also tell them to use the deal database in Publishers Marketplace to find the right agent.) No agent works with odds as long as 1 in 400 or 3 in 5000 with their submissions. Some of the submissions that got lost in those numbers might have been looked at differently if they’d come from an established agent. It is also extremely likely that those submissions that were agented would have been improved somewhat by the agent before submission. Agents don’t just curate. They also edit.

Even the lead author in the Guardian story doesn’t prove the case. Yes, she got a deal with HarperCollins after having had a few agents reject her. But might another handful of agent submissions have gotten her representation that would have resulted in a better deal than the one she got? Or, put another way, what are the chances that a competent agent would have failed to submit to HarperCollins? And then, what are the chances that as an agented author she would have gotten a better offer than what she got?

. . . .

But even an exponential increase in the number of self-publishing successes or, now, in the number of authors going directly to publishers without an agent, doesn’t change the realities of book publishing. The big money almost always goes to the agented author whose work is sold to a big house. The rest of it is, from an overall industry perspective, still a sideshow.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files and thanks to Andrew for the tip.

Publishers bypass literary agents to discover bestseller talent

23 February 2015

From The Guardian:

Publishers are playing literary agents at their own game, seeking out new talent for themselves and cutting out the industry’s powerful middlemen.

Executives within HarperCollins, Jonathan Cape, Little, Brown, and Tinder Press are inviting “un-agented submissions”, marking a dramatic cultural shift for an industry having to readjust to developments such as self-publishing, as well as the often huge advances demanded by agents for coveted titles.

Next month Tinder Press, Headline publishing group’s literary imprint with authors such as Andrea Levy and Patrick Gale, is holding an “open submission” fortnight. Although its publisher, Mary-Anne Harrington, said the company was not abandoning agents, she added: “It could be that, between us, we’re perhaps drowning out other fresher voices.”

Acknowledging that publishers have suddenly become proactive, she added: “We all feel that it’s incumbent on us not just to sit waiting for agents to send us things. We have to take the initiative.”

. . . .

Katie Espiner, publisher of HarperCollins’s new imprint, Borough Press, held an open submission after wondering why she was allowing other people to make decisions for her: “I wouldn’t do that in any other part of my life.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Best-Sellers Initially Rejected

5 February 2015

From Literary Rejections:

Some writers continually submit the same manuscript until it is accepted. Others chose to do a more polished draft before sending it out again. A select few learn from the lessons ofsubmissions, to write a completely new book.

What they all have in common is a persistence to never give up on their dream; a dream that has elevated them from writer, to best-selling author.

They have written some of the most critically praised and commercially successful books of all time. In some cases their enormous sales were so consistent that they even kept their publishers afloat.

Yet in spite of this phenomenal success, every single one of these best-selling authors was initially rejected.

. . . .

After 5 years of continual rejection, the writer finally lands a publishing deal: Agatha Christie. Her book sales are now in excess of $2 billion. Only William Shakespeare has sold more.

. . . .

Louis L’Amour received 200 rejections before Bantam took a chance on him. He is now their best ever selling author with 330 million sales.

“Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.” A rejection letter sent to Dr Seuss. 300 million sales and the 9th best-selling fiction author of all time.

. . . .

“It is so badly written.” The author tries Doubleday instead and his little book makes an impression. The Da Vinci Code sells 80 million.

. . . .

5 publishers reject L.M. Montgomery‘s debut novel. Two years after this rejection, she removes it from a hat box and resubmits. L.C. Page & Company agree to publish Anne of Green Gables and it goes on to sell 50 million copies.

Link to the rest at Literary Rejections and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Sure, I Trust You

29 January 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Here’s the one sentence response that I expected to last week’s post  and didn’t receive:

I know some writers have had troubles, but my agent [editor/publisher] would never do something like that.

Am I optimistic enough to believe that writers—traditional and indie—are finally getting the message that they’re business people? And, as business people, they should operate under the trust-but-verify model?

Or have I simply trained the people who respond to my blog not to put that sentence on here? (And if that’s the answer, then how come I didn’t see that sentence in the comment threads on other sites?)

In the past, I’d put up a post challenging the numbers coming out of traditional publishing and half a dozen writers would defend traditional publishing, their agents, or their editors.

But so far, no one has—at least in the venues I’ve seen.

Does that finally mean that events of the last few years have proven to writers that traditional publishing does not hold a writer’s best interest at heart?

. . . .

It doesn’t matter how much you trust your editor or your agent, they’re not the ones handling every aspect of your career. You are. You are responsible for your career. And as such, you need to trust but verify.

In other words, you need to run your business as a business.

When I negotiate contracts, I always imagine that I’m negotiating with someone worse than the person I’m actually negotiating with. The easiest way to do this is to imagine that the person handling the other side’s negotiation gets fired or dies or moves to a better job, and gets replaced by a savvy spawn of Satan. That spawn of Satan will take every innocently drafted clause of the contract and twist it to his advantage.

My job, if I do it correctly, is to make certain that the clauses can only be interpreted as written.

. . . .

But there’s more to trusting and verifying than audit clauses or even a fiduciary responsibility.

There’s an attitude.

When I started in the publishing business, long-time professional writers told me that my relationship with my agent would be like a marriage. I was startled, because at that point, I had just come out of a divorce, and frankly, I didn’t want another. What I didn’t realize was that about six years hence, I would fire my then-agent and the experience would be lots worse than the divorce.

. . . .

Your editor might be nice, but the publishing company she works for is a corporation attached to a large international conglomerate. Whose attitudes do you think will triumph inside the corporation when it comes to dealing with your business relationship? Your nice, salaried editor’s or the corporate legal department’s? Your editor may be on the communication end of the contract negotiation, but you can bet cash money that she’s checking with legal before responding to your requests. She has to, or she’ll lose her job.

So, if something goes awry, your editor will not be able to help you. A lot of editors go dark when things go badly, and forward emails and paper communications directly to legal. Some editors try to maintain the relationship with their authors, only to lose their jobs in the process.

When it comes down to it, the business decision for the editor is pretty simple: Do I defend my author or do I keep the job that pays for my home and feeds my children?

. . . .

Imagining that these powerful people are protecting us is quite parental, isn’t it? And it’s flattering to think that our talent is so great that important people will do things for us so that we can concentrate on “what we’re good at.”

Only…they’re not doing these jobs for us. They’re doing the job for money. Agents get more than 15% for the work they do. Agents are only as powerful as their clients, so if they have powerful clients, the business grows. And many agents work hand in glove with publishers.

Agents run their own businesses, and again, that trumps anything they do for you. Given a choice between the good of the agency and the good of a single writer, they’ll choose the agency every time. (And so would you, if you were an agent.)

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to Bruce for the tip.

Here’s a link to Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s books

Your Publisher Is Your New Best Friend. Not!

19 January 2015

From agent Janet Grant:

I’ve been thinking about an author’s relationship with his or her publisher recently, and it occurred to me that some of my clients have learned how to successfully maintain that relationship the hard way. So, to save some of you from those faux paus, lean in and listen (er, read) carefully.

. . . .

Here are five assumptions and behaviors to avoid since your publisher is not your new best friend.

1) Do not assume that what you say to one person stays with that person. (This is not Las Vegas.) Everyone at the publisher’s works daily with everyone else. Okay, that seems obvious, but think about the repercussions of, say, complaining to your editor that the person who wrote your back cover copy is lame-brained. Why, that  might be the individual the editor has lunch with almost every day. Hmm, your editor might not view you quite as favorably as she did a few minutes ago.

. . . .

3) Do not confess that you don’t read any books in the genre or category you’re writing in. You have just proclaimed that you’re writing with blinders on. That you don’t even particularly like your genre. Especially if you admit this to your editor, red flags will start snapping in the wind for her. Oh-oh, you don’t know the “rules” for your genre; how can you produce the best manuscript? Just how much work will she have to do to pull you from the brink of disaster?

. . . .

5) Do not divulge that your party-laden weekend left you debilitated on Monday and unable to work. Sure, you noticed the person you’re talking to on the phone or writing an email to has an active social life on the weekends. But your job still requires you to be working on your edits. You accepted certain responsibilities when you signed the contract, and the publisher handed money over to you to further motivate you to do your work.

Link to the rest at Books & Such

Polarization of Authors?

13 January 2015

From agent Kristin Nelson:

NINC is a terrific conference that caters to authors who are already multi-published. After attending last week, it’s clear to me that this conference is leaning more and more toward supporting authors who are exploring the indie-publishing route.

There was a decidedly anti-traditional-publisher sentiment in a lot of the panels that I both participated in and attended. This is not a commentary on the conference, by the way. It’s merely my observation. I think a lot of attendees would probably agree with my assessment.

But this is what worries me. I sense a widening division between authors who traditionally publish and authors who self-publish. And there’s no need for that. This is not an either/or question, nor is there only one right path to publication. (By the way, for what it’s worth, editors from “traditional” publishers much prefer the term “commercial” publisher.)

The conference vibe seemed to rest on a few assumptions:

1) That authors who stay with traditional publishers are stupid for doing so (not necessarily true) and that they can’t make a living/career by solely writing while partnering with a commercial publisher.

. . . .

2) That indie publishing is the only route for an author who wants to be in control of his/her career (not necessarily true, as agents negotiate a lot of things in contracts).

Link to the rest at Pub Rants and thanks to Al for the tip.

UPDATE: As of 10:00 AM US Eastern time, the Pub Rants site appeared to be down.

SECOND UPDATE: As of 4:30 US Eastern time, the Pub Rants site was back up.

Top 3 Reasons Why Fiction Manuscripts Get Rejected

11 January 2015

From Authors Publish:

My number is 28, what’s yours?  You know, the number of times a Literary Agent or Publishing House sent you the “Thank you, but no” letter.

As writers we research the best possible way to write a query letter; how to manipulate our 350 page manuscript into a one page synopsis. We review all possible avenues for our baby to grow into an adult.  Yet we are no closer to that elusive yes.

Haven’t you ever wanted to simply hit reply and ask why?  Well, I did, and you might be surprised to learn the answers.

A Literary Agent, an Editor, and a Published Author walk into a bar…

Sam Hiyate, Literary Agent – The Rights Factory

When asked what his top 3 reasons for rejecting fiction manuscripts were, Sam replied, “Three?  I only have one, but I can give you three examples.”

1)     I can’t sell it.

a.     I can’t get excited about it: When I get something in, it’s my job to get excited about the manuscript and to find people who will get just as energized.  I need a reason to read past the query, and a desire to absorb what I’m offered.

b.     The writing itself: All stories need to start sharply and carry on at a good pace.  They need to have a compelling plot or character we like or like to hate.  The best writers take you to a place you cannot even comprehend.  I need a reason to turn the page.

c.     The genre:  Every agent specializes.  There are certain genres we follow and have built relationships with publishers around those genres, and there are those we haven’t.  I won’t read a manuscript if it’s a poor fit for me, or it’s obvious the author hasn’t done their research.   People need to listen to what we represent – it’s those kinds of books we understand.

. . . .

Wendy Lawrance, Editor – Great War Literature Publishing

When asked what her top 3 reasons for rejecting fiction manuscripts for GWL were, Wendy said, “What, only three?”  After settling on 6 reasons we worked through how each directly related to the publishing arena and came up with the following as her top 3.

1)     Self-Publishing: This entity has become the bane of many traditional publishers’ lives.  Self-publishing is great in allowing first-time and unknown authors to get their work out there.  However, when a book has already been published, the traditional publisher has to think very hard about how much time and money they are willing to invest in a book which may give them several legal issues, may have already run its course (in terms of sales), or may have caused irreparable damage to the author’s reputation (if the book happened to suffer from poor editing and/or presentation).

. . . .

3)     Arrogance: This is a belief in the author that their book is better than anyone else’s, that it will be an automatic bestseller, and that they will be approached by multiple film studios for the movie rights.  Accompanying this is the belief that the publisher essentially owes them a contract with a hefty advance and immense royalty rates.  It’s good to have confidence in what you’ve written, but this can be taken too far.

. . . .

When I asked Wendy about the insurgence of self-publishing and its impact on traditional publishing, she not only focused on the importance of the issues mentioned above but the expectations of authors:

I would never say don’t self-publish, but if, having tried this, you decide it’s not for you and that you want to pursue traditional publishing, then, by all means, go ahead. However, I’d recommend doing it with a different book to the one you’ve produced yourself – although preferably not a sequel!

Those who anticipate that, if they self-publish, a traditional publisher will come along and snap them up, are being unrealistic.  This happens on only a very few occasions, when the publisher is certain they will get a return on their investment.  This also assumes that traditional publishers read self-published books all the time, which, bearing in mind how many new books are self-published every day, is impractical.

Link to the rest at Authors Publish and thanks to Catherine for the tip.

Why the Self-Published Ebook is No Longer the “New Query”

5 January 2015

From author Anne R. Allen:

A few years ago, soon after the debut of the Kindle e-reader, the world was buzzing with talk of self-published “Kindle Millionaires” like Amanda Hocking and John Locke, and big publishers were beating a path to the doors of all the newly successful self-published ebook writers.

Even modestly successful self-publishers were being approached by agents with offers of representation. Agents were actually urging authors to self-publish, as in this quote from agent Jenny Bent from Sept 7, 2011, which I gleefully quoted on this blog.

“Unpublished authors, do you have a great book but can’t find an agent? There’s no excuse not to get that book out there independently and prove to yourself and to the world that there is an audience for your writing.”

Soon after, as Ms. Bent said in an interview a few years later, an “industry” grew up of agents and publishers who approached Amazon bestsellers and offered them contracts. Some were more ethical than others, but many did get lucrative deals for their formerly self-pubbed clients.

. . . .

2) Ebooks provide higher profits than print, and the ebook market for your title may be tapped out.

An ebook doesn’t have to be printed, shipped or displayed in brick and mortar bookstores, and electrons don’t cost a thing. That means the profit to be made with an ebook is a much higher percentage than for a hard copy.

An indie title that has sold millions in ebook form has probably raked in the biggest profits already.

Even if sales can be expected to be brisk in print, the bottom line isn’t big enough to be worth the trouble for most publishers. Executives at the Big Five are loathe to put money into a print run for a book whose profits have peaked.

As agent Kristin Nelson said in November, “a St. Martin’s editor was willing to go on record to explain exactly why her house will no longer buy indie authors who have self-published ebooks that have gone on to be wildly successful. St. Martin’s claims their data shows that the ebook sales have already tapped out the market.”

This hasn’t always proved true, as in the case of Nelson’s client Hugh Howey and his Sci-Fi novel Wool, which went on to sell millions in hard copy after his phenomenal self-publishing debut. But Howey is the exception rather than the rule.

Since super-agent Nelson is well known for getting some of the biggest traditional deals for former self-publishers, her words have weight. If she no longer can get the Big Five to look at self-pubbed titles, it’s unlikely that other agents will be willing to try.

3) Some chain bookstores refuse to promote formerly self-published books

Nelson also says bookstores often refuse to promote former indies, even with an enticing “co-op” deal (that’s when publishers pay to rent the real estate in the front of a store to promote certain titles. )

Nelson was quoted in the Digital Reader, saying, “…even if a publisher buys a successful indie title intending to publish a trade paperback edition, and even if they’re willing to pay bookstore co-op, booksellers are reluctant to grant that title the physical retail space. They are simply turning down the co-op offer.”

I don’t know exactly why this is, but I have some theories.

By “chain bookstores” she may have meant Barnes and Noble specifically. B & N is a rival of Amazon, and they may see giving space to former indies as promoting Amazon, since indies generally make the majority of their sales on Amazon.

. . . .

5) Amazon is no longer the indie playground it used to be

Amazon’s algorithms no longer treat indies as equals with the same “also-boughts” and advantages they give their own growing list of imprints, so becoming a bestseller is a whole lot harder if you self-publish or go with a small press.

The Zon also requires that you stay exclusive with them in order to offer freebie runs and countdowns, plus the borrows everybody used to get with Amazon Prime. Plus borrows pay a lot less than they used to since Kindle Unlimited debuted last summer.

. . . .

But if your ultimate goal is a Big 5 contract…

Self-publishing is not the best path for authors who hope to have a “hybrid” career. If you want some of your titles to be traditionally published, you’ll have to go with the trads first, which means starting by querying agents.

Some YA agents say they still do check Wattpad for superstars with an eye to signing them as clients. But Wattpad is a social network where people give away chapters of their books for free, not a self-publishing platform.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog and thanks to Suzie for the tip.

Here’s a link to Anne R. Allen’s books

PG found the information about tradpub concluding that successful indie ebooks have already tapped out the market for those books most interesting. If this is the case, PG suggests this is more evidence that tradpub doesn’t really give many authors a significant boost in the ebook world.

Wouldn’t you love an agent like this one?

4 January 2015

From The Book Deal:

Kimberley Cameron is a great example of how one innovative agent is dealing with the stonewalling risk-averse attitude these days of many mainstream commercial book publishers.

“Traditional publishers are rejecting so many quality books we’re submitting, by both debut authors and those with a solid track record of successful titles,” Kimberly told me recently. “We’re convinced these books have a market, so we started a new in-house imprint called Reputation books, with the tag Books we stand behind.

We’re publishing new titles and rights-reverted backlist books, and releasing them as eBooks, print-on-demand paperbacks, and even hardcover.”

Kimberly Cameron has been a player in the book world for more than twenty years. Writer’s Digest calls her a superstar agent.

. . . .

What percentage of writers who get in touch with you do you take on? And how many are debut authors?

We get thousands of submissions every year, mostly through email query letters, some through attending writers conferences, and take on less than one percent. About 80 percent of them are debut. I personally have about 50 to 100 authors at various stages of development, submission, publication and marketing. I wish I could clone myself and represent more.

What kind of advances are you getting these days?

Advances have gotten lower as the industry has changed, so sometimes I’m content with a few thousand for an unproven author. But I made a two-book $85,000 deal recently for a debut author. It was so satisfying to make that call to let her know. We’ve also made deals for more than $100,000 but not for first-time authors.

Why did you start Reputation Books?

We continue to sell books to the various big conglomerate imprints. For example, I recently sold a new author’s first thriller to Minotaur at St. Martin’s for a solid advance. But we also spend countless hours sending out manuscripts we love and believe in without finding a home for them. It can get frustrating to wait and wait and then be rejected. It’s not only a question of time, though, but an instinct, a feeling that we’ve exhausted all the old possibilities. So I believe that agents have to adapt to myriad transformations in publishing. Our role is constantly changing. It makes sense to step in and rescue those books that might never be published, and I like being a publisher.

Link to the rest at The Book Deal and thanks to Deb for the tip.

Update from a Slightly Less Terrified Author

29 November 2014

From author Heather Hill:

For those that have been following my progress, I have news. About a month ago I left my agent – a most amicable parting – and decided to go it alone again. I won’t go into my reasons here, but will just say that there were other avenues for me to explore and as she was in the progress of moving to another company, I decided not to go too.

. . . .

Publication of The New Mrs D was agent-assisted under Amazon KDP’s White Glove Program. For those who don’t know what this is, it is a self publication platform only available to agented authors. Your book is promoted on three Amazon pages in rotation with other White Glove Program books for a period of thirty days. In return, Amazon KDP requires a 6-month or a 12-month period of exclusivity. Some authors see a spike in sales during that 30-day period, while others see little, if any, difference.  In order to benefit from this 30 days of promotion, you must sign 15% of your royalties away to your agent. I decided to give it a go.

The New Mrs D hit the UK humour best-sellers list within a day of becoming available for pre-sale. And not long afterwards, it was chosen for a Kindle Daily Deal promotion on the Australian Amazon site. For one day only it appeared on the Kindle Daily Deal home page and subsequently sold 857 copies in that day, rocketing it to no1 bestseller over all.

. . . .

This afforded me a steady income, good enough to fund more advertising, giveaways and keep me writing. So when my agent and I parted ways, I asked what would happen to my eBook rights, currently held by her previous agency, if I took them back. The answer was ‘nothing, it’s fine. They have agreed to transfer the rights to you and you won’t lose any of your reviews or sales rankings.’ ‘Happy days,’ said I. ‘Let’s do it.’
For two whole weeks I continued to plug my book, putting links in everything I wrote and even began planning a few free days on KDP. I contacted over 40 free ebook websites telling them of the dates of my promotion. Then, I tried to see my sales reports, which were originally held by the agency so I could only see them if I asked for them. Assuming they were now moved to me, I had a peek and found: NOTHING. Not one sale. Despite my novel appearing to still sitting comfortably in the Amazon Australia Humour Top 100.

I contacted Amazon, who then pointed out that I now in fact had TWO ebooks on there. The original one, still with my old agency, and a newly published one which was the one I was looking at that had no sales. I wasn’t seeing sales reports because the original sales were still going to the agency. The one I had was only visible to me. I hadn’t noticed the new ASIN number.

I contacted my ex-agent agent, who came back to me the very next day to say it was all sorted out now and very sorry for the confusion. The rights were now mine. I still had my reviews and sales rankings. Brilliant! Except… I didn’t.

The agency unpublished the original eBook (without telling me or my agent) and it crashed out of the charts, leaving me with a newly published copy that couldn’t be seen or found by anyone. I’d gone from making a modest income, which in truth was like oxygen to us, to none – at the click of a button. I telephoned the agency, naturally, to be told, ‘we’re very sorry. It can’t be undone.’

Link to the rest at @Hill4Heather.com and thanks to Margaret for the tip.

Here’s a link to Heather Hill’s book

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