Agents

2019 Publishing Predictions from Agent Laurie McLean

31 December 2018

From Anne Allen’s Blog:

By Laurie McLean, Founding Partner of Fuse Literary Agency

. . . .

Diversity Continues its Dominance

One of the unforeseen yet marvelous results of the democratization of publishing is the emergence of #ownvoices authors and the increasing desire for marginalized voices to be heard and read. Top Ten and Best Books of the Year lists are crammed with nearly unpronounceable author names and stories about people and places foreign to most readers.

Publishing is slowly becoming more reflective of our society as a whole and that is a very good thing. We Need Diverse Books. In 2017 only 9% of children’s books featured African or African-America characters. We obviously have a large upside to explore.

Editors and agents are hungry for well-written books written by non-Caucasian authors. And I think that trend will accelerate in 2019.

Resurgence of Indie Bookstores as Destinations

When Borders Books went bankrupt and consumers began buying more and more of their books (and everything) from Amazon, things looked bleak for publishing’s beloved retail channel.

But something wonderful has happened. Indie bookstores, whose demise has often been predicted but has not happened, began to flourish. They added complementary items to their stores. They added cafes or partnered with good ones. Some added the capability to print books instantly through technology.

But the heart of indie bookstores was what really saved them. They are filled with book lovers as staff who can help you find the exact book you want for yourself or as a gift. Bookstores, with their bestselling author visits, workshops and conferences, classes, parties and other events, have finally become the destination book lovers craved.

Through smart expense management, good solid marketing, and really knowing their customers, indie bookstores are thriving across America. Let’s hope this trend continues (and it will if you buy books there!)

. . . .

Audiobooks and Podcasts are More Popular Than Ever

The sales numbers continue to accelerate. More people are listening to podcasts and books in commute traffic, at home while relaxing, pretty much anywhere they have a mobile phone or mp3 audio system. And it doesn’t look like they’re going to put the brakes on anytime soon.

Because they’re so popular (and profitable) audiobooks have joined ebooks and print books as “must have” rights traditional publishers won’t do a deal without. Audible continues to innovate in this space with subscription-based services, original audio stories, and “all you can absorb” genre titles (romance for now) for a monthly fee.

Podcasts are getting more and more professional and interesting. If you haven’t listened to a podcast ever, there’s a new year’s resolution you’ll be happy you made.

Link to the rest at Anne Allen’s Blog

With due respect to the author of the OP, if Barnes & Noble goes under during 2019 (PG says that’s a 90% certainty), indie bookstores will experience increased sales from people who formerly shopped at BN and Amazon will experience increased book sales from the same source.

However, after this false economic dawn, indie bookstores will continue their long decline.

For one thing, with BN gone, big publishers will not order printed books in quantities that allow book printers to put their presses on cruise control whenever a big new book is released. Printing costs will increase. Some printers will get out of the book business to focus on more profitable printing markets.

Will traditional publishers eat the increased production costs of printed books to help keep sales up?

As PG has mentioned here before, in a former life, he had extensive business dealings with large European publishers (which own all but one of the big US trade publishers). Based upon that and some other experiences, PG predicts the European publishers will increase prices for printed books in order to maintain profitability. There is also a possibility that large publishers will squeeze advances and author royalties to help make ends meet.

If PG is correct, Big Publishing will bestow yet another growth stimulus upon Amazon.

Amazon can afford to cut book prices to maintain or increase sales volume and gross revenues much, much more easily than any indie bookstore can. Amazon will need to be careful about violating U.S. antitrust laws because of its increasing market power, but, in another of PG’s personal experiences, Amazon employs some very smart and savvy lawyers. So long as management listens to legal counsel, Amazon should be able to avoid any encounters with the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Is smart money going into the bookstore business any more? Is a big investment in a chain of bookstores going to generate a better return than buying and holding yet more Amazon stock or buying Facebook or Apple stock on the dip?

Donadio & Olson Files for Bankruptcy

20 December 2018

From Publishers Weekly:

The Donadio & Olson literary agency filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy December 3 following years of embezzlement by its former bookkeeper, Darin Webb, who was sentenced December 17 to two years in jail for his crimes.

The agency filed for Chapter 7 in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, listing assets of $47,241.90 and liabilities of $186,613.90. The agency’s authors are owed a total of $2.7 million in royalty payments. The firm has already begun liquidation proceedings.

The two principals in the firm, Edward Hibbert and Neil Olson, explained how the embezzlement led to the downfall of D&O in separate letters to the judge made public at the time of Webb’s sentencing. Olson provided the more complete explanation of what took place, saying that Webb had been the agency’s bookkeeper for about 20 years and, during that time, had taken over most of the agency’s back office functions. What looked like dedication to the job, Olson wrote, was really part of Webb’s scheme to steal $3.4 million.

According to Olson, Webb, over time, stole an “ever larger portion of our and our client’s money. His means of doing this were complex—hidden bank accounts, fraudulent reports, gently squeezing out a part-time assistant who asked too many questions.”

When Webb confessed to the theft, it became clear, Olson wrote, that he did not “have the means to repair what he has ruined, and we do not have the means to continue.” As a result, Olson wrote, the agency “will cease to exist within weeks.” (The letter was dated October 21, 2018.)

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to Kris for the tip.

PG wonders how much money the principals of the agency, including Edward Hibbert and Neil Olson, have received from the agency during the last year or so.

He asks because US bankruptcy laws include what are sometimes called “clawback” rights of creditors for any Preferential Transfers by the bankrupt entity or person.

Here’s one description of preferential transfers:

A preferential transfer occurs when a debtor, prior to filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, pays off a particular creditor or group of creditors and by doing so, causes other creditors to get less in the bankruptcy. For example, a debtor may wish to repay a debt to a friend or family member, to make sure that person gets paid in full (and shield the money used to repay the debt, which would instead be divided among all of the debtor’s creditors).

. . . .

Only transfers made within a certain amount of time before you file for bankruptcy count as preferences. The rules depend on your relationship to the creditor:

  • During the year before you file for bankruptcy, any payment of more than $600 to an “insider” creditor — typically, a friend, family member, or business associate — counts as a preference, subject to the clawback.
  • During the 90-day days before you file, any aggregate payment of more than $600 to a regular creditor (someone other than an insider).

The problem with preferential transfers (also called preferences) is that it benefits one creditor at the expense of the rest. Rather than having their debts tossed into the bankruptcy hopper and receiving pennies on the dollar from the bankruptcy trustee (if that), creditors who receive preference payments are paid in full (which leaves that much less money to be distributed to other creditors).

If the agency is a corporation (the Donadio & Olson website identifies the entity as “Donadio & Olson, Inc.”) and the corporation has filed the Chapter 7 petition, it is possible that payments to corporate officers, directors, shareholders or other insiders during the year prior to the bankruptcy filing date or during the 90 days prior to the filing date could be subject to clawback proceedings as described above.

It has been a very long time since PG has worked on any bankruptcy matters, so he’s not current on bankruptcy law, but authors who haven’t received royalty payments the agency collected and spent on salaries and bonuses (if any) for corporate insiders may wish to consult competent bankruptcy counsel to see if they might be able to collect at least some of that money.

It would not be unusual for a single attorney or law firm to represent a class of creditors who are similarly situated rather than each creditor hiring his/her own counsel.

Dreams

24 October 2018

From Rachel Gardner, Literary Agent:

Whenever I (or other bloggers) write about marketplace realities in publishing, there are always a wide variety of responses, ranging from pragmatic acceptance to mournful disappointment to angry lament. My observation – and I could be wrong – is that the sad and mad responses are from writers whose passion for being published burns hot and bright, and whose publishing dreams have not yet been fulfilled. This is completely understandable, and I feel for you.

Many writers ache with the desire to hold a book in their hands that has their name beautifully printed across the cover. Many of you are nursing life-long visions of walking into Barnes & Noble and seeing your book on the front table. This business is all about our dreams, isn’t it?

I understand that. I am an absolute book-lover from childhood. I love books and bookstores, I love talking about books, I love spending Saturday afternoons reading books (not that I’ve been able to do that lately). I’ve written several published books, and edited many more. But what I don’t have – what I’ve never had – is a burning desire to see my name on the cover of a book. And I guess that’s why it’s easier for me to see publishing as a business.

. . . .

Publishing professionals – those who run publishing companies, those who edit and acquire books, those who represent authors – are on your side. By recognizing this as a business, they are not somehow evil, they are not somehow taking away from the beauty and purity of your art. They are, in fact, rooting for you, wanting you to show up with a wonderful book that others will enjoy reading. They have to look at the marketplace realities make decisions accordingly. They have to separate themselves from the emotion of it all and make plans and choices they hope will ensure the ongoing health and success of the publishing and bookselling industry.

We want to help your dreams come true. And everything I say here, everything I write on this blog, is with that goal in mind. All of the editors and agents who share their thoughts online are doing it with the same intent: to have dialogue, to keep communication open, to de-mystify publishing, to help educate and enlighten writers, to encourage them.

Link to the rest at Rachel Gardner, Literary Agent

PG has posted a few items from Rachel Gardner before and added some pungent comments.

This particular post makes him a little sad. While he definitely disagrees with some of her characterizations in the OP as he has with her previous posts, he thinks Ms. Gardner would be a perfectly pleasant person with whom to have a conversation on a topic other than the book business.

When she says she wants to help writers’ dreams to come true, he is persuaded that she really believes this is an important part of her work.

However, a great many authors with whom PG is acquainted want to earn a living as a writer. That’s a core part of their dream, far more important than visiting their books in a book store. And these authors are not living family estates, attending balls at neighborhood great houses and riding to hounds.

Many of the authors I’m thinking about want to earn a living from their writing and some would like to quit their day jobs so they can spend more time writing, working hard writing. They have no problems recognizing they are in a business and want to be very good at their business.

While these authors want to write very good books and feel the satisfaction of a job well done. Perhaps PG runs in very different authorical circles, but none of the very good authors with whom he is acquainted wake up in the morning wanting to savor the “beauty and purity” of their art.

Further, these authors do not want to “separate themselves from the emotion of it all,” because their professional emotions are characterized by grit and determination and a refusal allow anything to interfere with their desire to write very good books that will appeal to a significant audience and to keep on writing them as their life’s work.

A growing transfer of funds into their business accounts every month is an important part of their dreams. Writing is not a hobby and writing books that others are happy to buy and enjoy is completely compatible with quitting their day job and being able to hire others to help them pursue their passion more effectively. They want to hold onto the steering wheel and decide how fast they want to go and where.

Emotionally and rationally, a great many authors PG knows don’t want to wait for somebody else to get their books in front of readers and decide what the cover will look like and set a price higher than they know many of their readers will want to pay.

Fortunately, Ms. Gardner avoided the n-word. Every time, PG hears about a publisher or an agent nurturing an author and her career, he wants to barf.

PG would rather be nurtured by an honest coal miner than by some condescending twit in New York.

That term and the attitude behind it is a gross insult to the indie authors PG knows and, in PG’s gargantuanly humble opinion should be chopped up and carted off to the same social destination where the other n-word has gone.

If any readers of this post, “ache with the desire to hold a book in their hands that has their name beautifully printed across the cover,” PG is sorry for your pain and prescribes Kindle Direct Publishing to alleviate your anguish. You could even buy a couple of cartons of KDP books with your name printed on the cover and writhe around on the floor with them for awhile.

This Startup Aims To Democratize Book Publishing

12 October 2018

From Forbes:

Time was, the publishing industry could claim a stable existence, safe within its leather-bound borders. If a publishing business was held and run by competent hands, it could typically expect a nice payoff from those gilded-edge pages. Over the past decade (or more), however, sales numbers have become increasingly unpredictable.

The merging of some traditional publishers and the shutting of doors by others has made becoming a debut author perceptibly less likely. Literary agents have more methods than ever for heaving even the most adventurous and resolute new author out the door — particularly if the author doesn’t arrive on the agent’s doorstep with an existing base of eager readers. What new and unaided author can show up with the needed number of followers in tow? I would guess the number may amount to about zero.

Traditional publishers want relevant authors but have a massive challenge in finding them, especially with the scale filtering methods used today. The whole author-agent-publisher convoy has become a woefully ineffective method for discovering and nurturing high-quality literature and new titles.

But recent developments in the publishing world have allowed for a possible future. New platforms such as Publishizer, a crowdfunding literary agency, are stepping forward and connecting authors and publishers through preorders and data. This seems like a safer haven for newbie authors.

. . . .

1. No more rejection of new book ideas.

Constantine mentioned that in the U.S. every year, more than 1 million book proposals get turned down — that’s a rejection rate of about 96 percent. Not that this widespread rejection is just making an appearance now — it’s something that has gone on for decades. Certainly, it’s no secret that agents and their publisher counterparts are subjective in their choices of material to present.

We have all heard horror stories like Tim Ferris being rejected numerous times for his New York Times bestselling book The 4-Hour Work Week. And who wouldn’t want to shake some sense into those who received J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter manuscript — and rejected it more than 10 times? The world-famous Harry Potter series nearly didn’t get published, and Rowling was told not to “quit her day job.” The number of good books that might never see the sunlight of publication is staggering.

Crowdsourcing can eradicate these traditional roadblocks and inefficiencies by validating book ideas with readers who preorder copies after reviewing an author’s proposal, which Publishizer helps create according to industry standards. Authors then get matched to publishers based on the specific interests of acquisitions editors — before any of the book is written. So rather than being painfully rejected dozens of times over months or years, authors can be quickly connected with interested publishers.

. . . .

Crowdfunding may single-handedly bring about an era that we have not seen before in publishing, helping us find works that would otherwise languish in a literary graveyard somewhere. I believe that crowdfunding will uncover books that will delight future generations — and bring a bright new unfolding of freedom to people who have not known where to strike that power pose before.

Link to the rest at Forbes

Cheap Grace

21 September 2018

From Books & Such Literary Management:

I’ve been back and forth more times than the airport shuttle on whether I should comment on this topic. We, as Christians and especially as women, are taught to forgive and smooth things over, especially things that make us deeply uncomfortable. I’ve come to the conclusion that to keep quiet is akin to being complicit. So here goes. . . hopefully short and anything but sweet.

What am I talking about? Christian publishing’s own version of Me Too. #metoo.

. . . .

You may have seen the article in Publishers Weekly or the one in World magazine. The articles were carefully written, uncovering a troubling situation that had been going on for years in our writers conferences. Ever since word came out, naming four serial offenders, there’s been silence among industry professionals. I spoke to one person involved in a large writers conference, and she said they had known for a long time and handled the situation quietly but swiftly.

. . . .

There are women, mostly very young women, who have largely been ignored in this frenzy of forgiveness. I know for a fact there are those who felt called to a writing career who have left, feeling disillusioned and defeated. Others are still moving forward, but it has been years since they felt comfortable gathering with other writers. One of those men accused of multiple inappropriate acts said he “took the high road” and quit before being fired from his position. The high road? That is cheap grace. Women have had their lives changed forever. That is not hyperbole.

. . . .

Some of those named were johnny-on-the-spot to come out and ask forgiveness as soon as they heard that articles were in the works. Many of these men had been quietly banned from writers conferences for years– why didn’t they come out then and confess and ask forgiveness? Or even before? One wise commenter hit the nail on the head when he called it “preemptive confession.” Writers by the hundreds came gushing onto those blogs posted on Facebook to tell the abuser how much they admired him for his courage. Seriously? All the while the victims are being traumatized over and over by those very comments. I cringe to read them.

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

Agent Danielle Smith’s Former Clients Speak Out

25 August 2018

From Publishers Weekly:

The children’s book publishing world has been roiling for the past week over the disclosure that Danielle Smith, the principal of Lupine Grove Creative, an agency specializing in children’s and YA authors, acted more like a literary grifter than a literary agent. Since Smith emailed a letter to her clients on July 24, confessing that recently she had “not handled a situation as well as I should have” and thus was dissolving the agency effective immediately, 19 former clients have reached out to PW, sharing tales of a pattern of malfeasance that has shaken their confidence and adversely affected their careers.

According to some former clients, she claimed to have had offers in hand that didn’t exist, such as, one author requesting anonymity disclosed, a $50,000 two-book deal. She informed others that editors had expressed interest in their submissions, but subsequently told them that either the editors had then lost interest or had outright rejected those submissions. Clients also complained about Smith’s refusal to communicate with them honestly and in a timely fashion, as well as the lack of transparency, including a reluctance to render submission lists to them upon request. Several clients allege that she even forged emails from editors and passed this correspondence along to them.

“Since this began, I and others have kept asking why, and looking for some rational explanation,” a well-known author who is knowledgeable about the situation told PW. “As more and more levels of deception are uncovered, you think, wouldn’t it have been easier to just to do the work? And of course it would have been. And the more you learn, the more all rational explanations fall away. So then I’m left wondering if the deception itself wasn’t the end game. Just the sheer thrill of getting away with it.”

The negative experiences with Smith, according to these sources, go as far back as five years, when Smith was a newly minted agent at Foreword Literary. She moved to Red Fox Literary in 2014. Smith, who was named a PW Star Watch Honoree in 2016, launched Lupine Grove in Shell Beach (San Luis Obispo County), Calif., in January 2017. Agent Jennie Kendrick joined Smith at Lupine Grove this past January.

After complaints about her surfaced on social media in the wake of that letter, Smith shut down the Lupine Grove website and deleted her social media accounts. PW has reached out to Smith for comment on the allegations, but has not received a response.

More than 60 writers whom Smith has represented at some point between 2013 and 2018 have joined a private Facebook group, where they are sharing information and commiserating with one another. While there is much speculation as to why Smith treated her clients the way she did, and the extent of the deceptions, nobody really has any answers—including Kendrick, who worked remotely from San Francisco. Kendrick says she was taken completely by surprise by Smith’s letter and has spent her time since “finding a new home for my clients.” She added, “As far as my working relationship with Danielle goes, it was professional and helpful, and she was always responsive to me and my clients, so this was just a shock all around.”

According to the former client who is referred to in Smith’s July 24 letter, who spoke with PW on condition of anonymity, Smith represented her for two years, until June. Almost a year ago, Smith claimed that she had scored at auction a lucrative two-book deal with a major house for this debut author of a middle-grade novel. “I never heard from the editor after [I] accepted the offer,” she said. “Danielle always had excuses. Eight months passed, and I saw a lawyer.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

No, you probably don’t have a book in you

28 July 2018

From The Outline:

Has anyone ever said you should write a book? Maybe extraordinary things have happened to you, and they say you should write a memoir. Or you have an extremely vivid imagination, and they say you should write a novel. Maybe your kids are endlessly entertained at bedtime, and they say you should write a children’s book. Perhaps you just know how everything should be and imagine your essay collection will set the world straight.

Everyone has a book in them, right?

I hate to break it to you but everyone does not, in fact, have a book in them.

. . . .

I am a literary agent. It is my full-time job to find new books and help them get published. When people talk about “having a book in them,” or when people tell others they should write a book (which is basically my nightmare), what they really mean is I bet someone, but probably not me because I already heard it, would pay money to hear this story. When people say “you should write a book,” they aren’t thinking of a physical thing, with a cover, that a human person edited, copyedited, designed, marketed, sold, shipped, and stocked on a shelf. Those well-meaning and supportive people rarely know how a story becomes printed words on a page. Here’s what they don’t know, and what most beginner writers might not realize, either.

Every story is not a book.

. . . .

A book may also be things that happened or that we wished happened, embellished for interest, but it’s also so much more. It’s a story told artfully on the page, tailored to the reader. A book has a beginning, middle, and an end that keeps the reader invested for the five, six, ten hours it can take to read a book, because if it gets boring in the middle, most people stop reading. A book, when published by a traditional publisher to be sold in stores, has a defined market, a reader in mind, and that reader is one who usually buys books, not just some hypothetical person the publisher hopes to catch off the street.

You can tell a story to anyone who’s willing to listen. But writing a book that people will pay money for or take a trip to the library to read, requires an awareness few storytellers have. It is not performance, not a one-person show. It’s a relationship with the reader, who’s often got one foot out the door.

. . . .

Remember writing papers in school? Remember trying to eke out 1,000 words or three pages or whatever seemingly arbitrary number a teacher set? Remember making the font bigger and the margins wider? You can’t do that to a book. I ‘m often sent stories that are way too long or too short for the publishing industry, and that makes them bad candidates for books. The average novel, for adults or children, is at least 50,000 words. That’s 50 three-page papers. Shorter books are not cheaper for the publisher to make, for many reasons too boring to get into here, and no, it’s not just cheaper to do ebooks, either. (No, really, it’s not.) If you’re an epic writer and think breaking up your 500,000-word fantasy series into five books is the key, you’re wrong there, too. A publisher doesn’t really want book two until they see how book number one is selling. And if your story doesn’t wrap up until book five, then you’re going to have nothing but disappointed readers. Writing — just getting the words on the page — is hard, period. Writing artfully so that someone enjoys what you’re writing is even harder.

Publishing is a retail industry, not a meritocracy.

Writing is an art form, books are art, but they exist in a system that relies on readers to exchange money for goods. That money pays a publisher’s rent and electric bill, and the salaries of the often hundreds if not thousands of people they employ to make the books readers buy. And if a book doesn’t make money, it’s very hard to pay those salaries. Publishers take a financial risk on a book, because no one knows how a book is going to sell until it’s on shelves, and very successful authors (your JK Rowlings and James Pattersons) help pay the bills for the less successful books. Publishers certainly publish books they know are not going to make a lot (or any) money, and they do this for the sake of art or history or prestige, or a dozen other reasons. But they can’t do it that often. So, you may have an amazing story, but if there isn’t sufficient evidence that readers will flock to it, you’re not likely to be published. No one deserves to be published just because they completed a book. It’s not “if you write it, they will come.”

Link to the rest at The Outline

Or you could write a book, click on the KDP Publish button and let JK and James pay all those salaries and bills on their own.

And never have to deal with a literary agent. Or pay anyone but yourself.

I Am Not a Gatekeeper

1 July 2018

From literary agent Rachelle Gardner:

People in and around this business have long used the word “gatekeeper” when referring to those in publishing tasked with choosing which books to publish or represent.

Since the rise of self-publishing, it has become a debate—often heated:

Down with the gatekeepers!

Hooray for the gatekeepers!

BUT GATEKEEPERS ARE NOT WHAT YOU THINK.

There is nobody in publishing whose job is to “keep you out.” Are we watching the gate? Yes!—to identify authors we’d like to see published.

Each person who has a so-called “gatekeeping” role is tasked with finding authors to bring in, not authors to keep out. Anyone who acquires authors for an agency or for a publisher is totally 100% focused on bringing in books they believe they can sell.

That’s IT.

You wouldn’t call the women’s wear buyer at Nordstrom a gatekeeper, because you know her job is to bring in clothes she believes her customers will like. Her job is not to keep out the bad, but to bring in the good.

Some publishers, librarians, agents, and acquisitions editors call themselves gatekeepers. Maybe they relish that role because they feel it gives them power. But regardless of what they say or how they refer to themselves, they’re not gatekeepers. They’re selectors. Choosers. They’re salespeople. They’re looking for books they can sell. Period.

Link to the rest at Rachelle Gardner

PG checked the almost-always helpful Wikipedia for definitions:

A gatekeeper is a person who controls access to something, for example via a city gate. In the late 20th century the term came into metaphorical use, referring to individuals who decide whether a given message will be distributed by a mass medium.

. . . .

Gatekeepers serve in various roles including academic admissions, financial advising, and news editing. An academic admissions officer might review students’ qualifications based on criteria like test scores, race, social class, grades, family connections, and even athletic ability. Where this internal gatekeeping role is unwanted, open admissions can externalize it.

Various gatekeeping organizations administer professional certifications to protect clients from fraud and unqualified advice, for example for financial advisers.

A news editor selects stories for publication based on his or her organization’s specific criteria, e.g., importance and relevance to their readership. For example, a presidential resignation would be on the front page of a newspaper but likely not a celebrity break-up (unless the paper was of the gossip variety).

Other people gatekeeping roles are in mental health service, clergy, police, hairdressers, and bartenders because of their extensive contact with the public.

And a quick quote about gatekeepers:

I sat with myself one day and asked, ‘Who is in those prestigious literary circles? Do they represent me? Do they appreciate the topics I write about and the style in which I write? Do those gatekeepers let a demographic like mine through the door?’ And the answer was no.

Rupi Kaur

PG will note that a gatekeeper’s continued existence requires that a lot of people want what is behind the gate.

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