Reflections On Things Heard At RWA 2014

1 August 2014

From agent Scott Eagan:

“Struggles with marketing and sales.” It didn’t matter who I spoke with and the approach they took with publishing, I think we are all feeling it. This is a tough market now and honestly, no one has the right answer. This is a business of needing readers to survive. This is also a business of needing a place for those books to be available to readers. The difficulties in sales is not due to a battle between self-publishing and traditional publishing. This is simply an issue of the buying population isn’t buying.

. . . .

We have to remember the entire world has not gone digital. There are still a ton of people out there who are not going to go “online” to buy a print book and then wait for it to show up. This same population is also not going to go online and “download” a book.

And it isn’t just the sales. I heard it over and over again of writers, agents, and editors struggling to find the right approach to getting the news out about their books.

. . . .

I think the one thing I walked away with was the idea that we simply cannot place the blame on struggles with marketing and sales on one thing.

. . . .

 “So tell me why I need an agent.” I heard this one a lot and not just from writers but other agents who had the same question asked of them. What was interesting is that several of those agents voice what I think was going on in all of our heads. “Why do we have to defend ourselves?” I had one author ask me just that question so I told her all of the things we do for the author. For her, she then launched into how she was really loving doing everything self-published, and then followed that with the same question that started the conversation, “So why do I need an agent?” My answer was simple. “It sounds like you don’t want an agent.”

. . . .

 Agents on the outside This wasn’t really a single comment but feelings and thoughts that came from several agents I heard and spoke to. There was this sense that agents were not really needed at the conference. For some, it was the heavy emphasis of workshops, presentations and guest speakers proclaiming things such as “Agents are far from necessary” to one comment by an author, “Fire your agent!” I do understand that RWA needs to present a range of workshops and sessions for the authors based on the current needs and desires, but we have to remember that, like I said earlier, there are a range of approaches to publishing. There are those authors out there that wanted the traditional approach and they too felt as if they were missing something. I spoke to one group of authors at a meal and they said they were frustrated that many of the workshops they went to on craft or the industry only pushed for the self-publishing model.

Link to the rest at Babbles from Scott Eagan and thanks to Sharyn for the tip.

The Truth About Patience

31 July 2014

From agent Sarah LaPolla:

Hey everyone. I don’t usually blog about my specific clients or deals I’ve made because, as is stated on the side panel of this blog, Glass Cases is a personal blog I run for writers and is not affiliated with my agency. That said, The Truth About Alice by my client Jennifer Mathieu, was recently published and I wanted to share this particular publication journey.

. . . .

A timeline, if you will:

  • 2009: Curtis Brown agent Nathan Bransford signs a client named Jennifer Mathieu and sends out her smart, funny coming-of-age YA novel. And gets many “nice” rejections. Editors loved the voice, loved the story, and hated to say no, but… the rejections started piling up. Realistic YA was still considered “impossible” to sell in the post-Twilight paranormal craze that led into the post-Hunger Games dystopian craze.
  • 2010: With Jennifer’s novel on yet another round of submissions, Nathan breaks the hearts of every aspiring author – and his fellow agents at Curtis Brown – and announces he’s leaving publishing.
  • Mid-2010: I start building a client list of my own. With three clients to my name, Nathan tells me he has a client whose voice I will love. I read Jennifer’s book and the voice blows me away. Like, laugh-out-loud, miss-two-subway-stops kind of love. I speak with Jennifer and we click immediately and I take on a brand new client. Everything is happy until Nathan sends me a very long list of editors who already rejected Jennifer book and a very short list of editors who “probably” will look at another revision. As a new agent with hardly any contacts of my own, I silently curse Nathan’s name.
  • 2010-2011: I work with Jennifer on a revision of that first novel and put it on submission to a small group of editors. Identical rejections from 2009. Jennifer works on a standalone companion novel, which I also put on submission. More “nice” rejections that think the novel is “too quiet.”
  • Mid-2011: Jennifer tells me about an idea she’s outlining that involves multi-POV versions of rumors about a teenage girl. I tell her to explore that idea and we shelve her other project after receiving a particularly painful rejection. (Not because it was mean, but because it was so overwhelming positive and full of regret. Yes, editors get rejected too.)
  • 2012: Jennifer finishes her new novel, now called The Truth About Alice Franklin. After some tinkering, I put it on submission right before June.
  • July 2012: We receive four offers on The Truth About Alice Franklin from major publishers, with a few more bringing it to acquisitions. I hold my first ever auction as an agent (and try not to have a heart attack in the process). After a very close auction, we accept a two-book offer from Roaring Brook Press, where it becomes The Truth About Alice.
  • September 2012: After two agents and almost four years of being on submission, Jennifer holds her book contract in her hands.
  • May 2013: I decide Jennifer hasn’t had enough drama and leave Curtis Brown for a new agency. I’m overjoyed that Jennifer moves with me to Bradford Literary Agency!
  • September 2013: Jennifer’s editor, Nancy Mercado, also decides the drama factor wasn’t quite high enough and leaves Roaring Brook Press to join Scholastic. We panic until Jennifer is paired with new-to-us editor Katherine Jacobs, who we immediately love and who is an enthusiastic champion for Jennifer’s career.
  • April 2014: With The Truth About Alice not yet published and the “Book 2″ of that two-book deal still being revised, Roaring Brook Press buys what will be Jennifer’s third standalone contemporary YA novel.
  • June 3, 2014: The Truth About Alice is published and Jennifer officially begins her career as an author. Not only that, but the book has become an Indie Next Pick for Summer 2014, an Amazon Best Book of the Month in Teen/YA, and has been featured in Entertainment Weekly, Bustle, and The Daily Beast, to name a few.

Link to the rest at Glass Cases and thanks to Sharyn for the tip.

The Great Agent Hunt

28 July 2014

From author and screenwriter Alexandra Sokoloff:

The “How Do I Get An Agent?” question is coming at me from all directions this week and I figured I’d better put the answer all in one place so I can just refer people here.

So you’ve finished your first novel and now you face the dreaded question: What do I do now?

. . . .

If you’re planning to go right into indie publishing, great! You don’t need an agent. Skip this step and go straight on to a whole other set of scary issues. :)

. . . .

A good literary agent lives in New York (that’s CITY). An agent’s job is pretty much to go out to breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, and drinks with every good editor in the city, and know what those editors are looking for, so that when you hand your agent your new book or proposal, your agent will know exactly which editor is looking for what kind of a book – know each editor’s taste intimately, so that your agent can submit to exactly the right editor at each publishing company and put you and your book in the position of making the best possible deal available on the planet at that moment.

. . . .

When your agent submits your book, s/he will most likely submit it to 8-10 of the top publishers in New York simultaneously.

. . . .

An agent also is or functions as a contracts lawyer (or a good agency will have a department of contracts lawyers) who will, after the sale of a book, negotiate a contract that is far better for the author than the boilerplate (basic contract) – such as retaining rights in other media and other countries, reversion of e rights, and other critical bargaining points.

Writers without representation or with less than ideal representation might realize just how unfavorable the contract is only when it’s much too late.

Link to the rest at Alexandra Sokoloff and thanks to Bill for the tip.

Here’s a link to Alexandra Sokoloff ‘s books

PG was going to comment, but he needs to get to work for a client whose agent completely screwed up the publishing contract.

Self-Publishing and Author-Agent Agreements: The Need for Change

27 July 2014

From Writer Beware:

Earlier this week, I ran across a blog post by best-selling author Claire King about the process by which she decided to become a hybrid author, ditching her high-powered agency in the process. It’s an interesting story–but what really caught my eye was this:

And then one day on the phone my agent informed me that in order to continue to be represented by this mighty agency, I would have to turn over 15% of the proceeds of my about-to-be self-published book to said agency. Not only that, but I would have to publish it exclusively through Amazon, because the agency had a system in place with Amazon where I could check a box and their 15% would go straight to them, no muss, no fuss.

I’ve warned in the past about interminable agency clauses in author-agent agreements (language through which an agency claims the right to remain the agent of record not just for the duration of any contracts it negotiates for your book, but for the life of the book’s copyright). One of the many concerns raised by such language is what happens if you want to self-publish backlist books that the agency originally sold for you. With an interminable agency clause, might your agency feel entitled to a share of your self-publishing income?

. . . .

Contract language often lags behind technological innovation. For instance, years after the advent of digital publishing, many publishing contracts still don’t include adequate rights reversion language (I’ve written here about why that’s a problem).

The same is true for author-agent agreements, many–if not most–of which don’t address self-publishing at all. Right now, I’m sure that most self-publishing questions are dealt with amicably one-on-one between author and agent. But with more and more writers choosing to become hybrid authors, and more and more agencies branching out into publishing and self-publishing-related activities, those kinds of informal resolutions aren’t enough. For the protection of both author and agent, author-agent agreements need to explicitly address what happens (or doesn’t happen) when clients self-publish, either on their own or through the agency.

Link to the rest at Writer Beware and thanks to Sandra for the tip.

PG says the contractual solution for this is simple. Agency agreements should be terminable by the author at any time.

If the agent has already made a sale for the author, the agent should be entitled to commissions on that sale. If the author has signed a life-of-copyright publishing contract the agent has procured, then the agent’s commissions will continue for the length of the publishing contract (another very good reason to insist on split checks – who knows what kind of people will be running the agency in 50 years).

In PG’s everlastingly humble opinion, a trip to the courthouse would end most agency agreements that purport to tie the author to the agent when the author no longer desires the agent’s services.

Literary Agent to Re-Publish Author’s 2004 Novel

25 July 2014

From Publishers Weekly:

Literary agent Marly Rusoff is re-releasing, through her publishing imprint Maiden Lane Press, a debut novel by Jonathan Odell. Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League will be out on February 4, to coincide with the 102nd birthday of Rosa Parks.

The novel, originally titled The View from Delphi, was first published by Macadam/Cage in 2004 to strong reviews, but tepid sales. The Maiden Lane edition, Odell said, has been trimmed by 100 pages to “make it more succinct and more pertinent to what’s going on now.”

“So many things go wrong in publishing, and it has nothing to do with the author; I see it all the time,” Rusoff told PW. “There’s something special about a first novel, and this is a book that deserves better.” Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League will be released in trade paper and e-book, but hardcover editions will also be released for, Rusoff says, “libraries and book signings.” An initial print run has not yet been determined.

. . . .

Sales of The View from Delphi were, Odell recalls, somewhere between 7,000-10,000 copies. “I came in the wake of The Time Traveler’s Wife (2003),” he explained, referencing the timing of his book at Macadam/Cage, which had one of its biggest hits in Audrey Niffenegger’s novel. “There was nobody [at Macadam/Cage] to help me,” Odell continued. “A secretary was doing the marketing.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Agents vs editors

3 June 2014

From The Bookseller:

Back in Ye Olde Days, when the pickings were rich for agents (and authors) and six-figure advances were commonplace, publishers used regularly to complain that agents had too much power. Uber-agents strode the publishing landscape filled with a sense of their own importance. When they rang, junior editors stood up to take their calls. Even the senior ones sat up a little bit straighter.

How the mighty have fallen. These same colossi have been royally humbled by the events of the last five years, and the twin squeeze of recession and structural change. Books—and authors—they would once have waltzed into deals for significant sums of money, they are now struggling to sell at all (I say “they”; I mean “we”). Those they do sell are, on the whole, sold for greatly reduced advances.

As the balance of power has shifted, so standards of behaviour have shifted. It was once important for editors to stay on the good side of agents (or else they wouldn’t send you their best stuff); now calls go unreturned, submissions languish unread. It isn’t just a question of the move from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market, there is also more than a whiff of the boot being on the other foot now. Or should that be neck?

. . . .

Agents are merely proxies for authors: and authors do matter. So while we all understand that times are tough, here is my list of suggestions for editors:

  • Just say no. If you’ve had something for a month and you can’t make up your mind, that is a no: put the poor author out of their misery and say so. The best, most successful and most senior editors say no quickly—they are on top of their reading and they know their own minds.
  • Be efficient. The number of examples I have of editors rejecting the same thing twice is depressing. I have one priceless instance of an editor buying a project they had rejected six months earlier, without any memory of having done so.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Agenting Mega-merger as Carmen Balcells Joins Andrew Wylie

2 June 2014

From Publishing Perspectives:

Consolidations among the world’s biggest publishing companies has become commonplace, with Penguin joining Random House two years ago and Random House absorbing Spain’s Santillana’s trade divisions earlier this year. Now, the literary agenting world has it’s own mega-merger, as Barcelona-based literary agent Carmen Balcells — the super agent of the Spanish-language literary world — has announced a memorandum of understanding to merge her agency with that of Andrew “The Jackal” Wylie. Together the agencies will represent more than 1,000 writers and will represent 13 Nobel Prize winners between them.

. . . .

Balcells and Wylie have fought over authors in the past, most recently Robert Bolano, sometimes coming to blows in the press.

Yesterday, it was all kisses and roses. “We have followed and admired each other for years, and we want to work closely from now. Our goal is to give greater strength, scope and duration to the representation of clients, and we are excited and fully committed to the opportunities before us,” said the two agents in a joint statement.

“The impact of the merger will be to empower the top authors, who will need powerful representation to maintain their status with the increasingly powerful global companies that influence publishing and bookselling decisions,” Spanish publishing consultant Javier Celaya told Publishing Perspectives.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives


Amazon: Hypocrite. Customer is not Always King

24 May 2014

From agent Kristin Nelson at Pub Rants:

I could tell Hachette and the editors that my authors and I were firmly on their side and hugely supportive of what they were having to face.

Amazon – I have been very appreciative of the many changes you’ve already created in publishing but now you are just being a big old fat hypocrite.

Because your motto is customer first, always.

Well, this kind of hardball in no way serves your customers.

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

PG wonders what Hachette buys from Amazon.

Hachette is a supplier, not a customer. Amazon is Hachette’s customer, not the other way around.

To be more specific, Hachette is a supplier that is also a self-confessed price-fixer who wanted to illegally increase the price that readers (also known as customers at Amazon) pay for ebooks much higher than it would have been otherwise.

PG tried to think of a suitable analogy. The best he could come up with is that Hachette is like a bank robber who gets out of prison, then walks into the same bank and complains because the reception is a little chilly.

Amazon is a little like those companies who hire ex-cons to help them get back on their feet.

PG is sure that visitors to TPV can create much better Amazon and Hachette analogies than he did. Have at it in the comments.


“I am against Amazon because they are a monopoly,” says Andrew Wylie

10 May 2014

From Melville House:

Andrew Wylie is traveling to foreign countries to warn them about Amazon. Not too long ago, he waswarning the Germans that they ought to “pick the plague” over Amazon’s new German publishing program. This week he was in Argentina attending the Buenos Aires Book Fair andtalking with reporters about Amazon’s role in the DoJ case.

In an interview withAndrew Graham-Yooll for the Buenos Aires Herald, Wylie says flat-out that Jeff Bezos “encouraged a U.S. Department of Justice suit against the publishing industry.” He explains how difficult it was for publishers to fight these accusations:

“The nature that was relevant in the law was that the government did not have to prove conspiracy between publishers, they only had to prove the possibility. So publishers who had dinner together could be faced with allegations that they were conspiring to set prices. And the guilty would be so for hundreds of millions of dollars because of the possibility.”

He says without a trace of doubt that Amazon was behind the whole thing:

“The DoJ was fed by Amazon. They offered documents, evidence, and they had so many lobbyists that the DoJ became Amazon’s toadie. So I am against Amazon because they are a monopoly, they have the government’s support, and unlike the music business, I think that if you destroy publishing, you destroy culture.”

. . . .

We can only hope Wylie has other pithy monologues planned for his next trip. This reporter seemed very impressed with his delivery. “He has a crisp voice and a no nonsense manner, a precision handed down perhaps through the bankers on his mother’s side of the family…. Agent Wylie may be all that is attributed to him, but he comes across as affable, informative and very pleasant, ready to answer any question.”

. . . .

Later, Wylie admitted he wants his ghost to linger in the industry a while longer than he does.

Link to the rest at Melville House and thanks to Randall for the tip.

Are Literary Agents Really Worth Their Commission?

7 May 2014

From Digital Book World:

I compare the gross income authors reported from their latest publication projects for authors with and without agents. The 2014 Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Author Survey asked 2,834 published authors about their views of agents as well as their income from their most recently published books. While the voluntary survey sample may not be representative of the experiences of all published authors, it does provide us with a large number of interviews and a potential comparison of the experiences of authors with and without representation from a literary agent.

The survey asked authors how much they had earned on their latest traditionally published book and on their latest self-published book. Authors with a traditional publication were also asked whether they had received an advance and how much. In addition, authors were asked about their annual writing income, which might differ from the overall earnings on a specific book. For purposes of this analysis, we have excluded the responses of authors who elected not to report their earnings by indicating “rather not say” on the survey.

The results indicate that the greatest advantage from having an agent may accrue to authors when they traditionally publish. Authors who only traditionally published and hybrid authors both saw substantially higher median advances and total earnings on their most recent traditionally published books when they had agent representation.

. . . .

 In contrast to the results for traditionally published books, there was no advantage for authors who were only indie-published from having an agent, while hybrid authors saw higher median earnings on their most recent self-published books but not by the same margin. In terms of annual writing income, agented authors reported higher annual writing income, only if their publishing history included traditionally published works, either alone or in concert with self-published ones.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

Another survey based upon a non-random and, thus, non-scientific and almost-certainly non-representative sample from DBW, so PG says take the results with a grain of salt.

PG likes the idea that DBW is doing research on these topics, but suggests they’re doing it on the cheap and not producing the quality information that they could by spending the money to do it right.

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