Wednesday, October 31, 2012

When Trendy Trumps Publishing Sense

STATUS: Wearing Halloween tights! Of course I'm having a great day.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? SKYFALL by Adele

Don't ask because I won't reveal the title as this post is a true rant. *grin*

Last year I saw a YA manuscript on submission. The author had gotten an offer pretty quickly so I had to read right away. I read to the end (which is rare for me) and ultimately I decided to pass. The story had a lot of promise but for me, there was a bit of an ick factor and I thought it needed a ton of work. It also had a bit of a bizarre ending that I couldn't fathom.  The title went on to sell for big money at auction.

I remember just being astonished. Such a quick sale meant that very little work had been done before submission. In my mind, editors were willing to pay big money for a concept. Well, that's not the first time that has happened. And it's definitely not going to be the last.

Maybe I just had sour grapes as I had passed. There's probably some truth in that. From what I can tell though, the book was published in 2012 and it didn't do as expected.

Just recently it happened again with another YA title I saw on submission and passed on because I honestly did not think it was young adult novel despite its trendy concept.

I'm so so ready for something new and for editors to get excited about something wildly different!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

And Speaking Of Money - Our Next Webinar - The Anatomy of Money In A Book Contract

STATUS: Not much has changed from last post….

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now?  CRASH INTO ME By Stevie Nicks

And since we are speaking of money and concerns over the possibly shrinking advances, LOL, this leads right into my very next webinar that's taking place on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012 from 6 to 8 pm Mountain time. It's called SHOW ME THE MONEY: The Anatomy of $ In A Book Deal.

I'm literally doing a 2-hour workshop that walks writers through a publishing contract and the anatomy of money in it. I'm using actual contract clauses to illustrate how and what earns a writer money in a publishing agreement.

I'm pretty sure this will be the best tutorial you'll have without actually having a book deal and your own agent walking you through your brand spankin' new contract.

"A little learning is a dangerous thing" as Alexander Pope says but I'm of the philosophy that you can't learn less.  I like to be as thoroughly educated as I possibly can before being confronted with something.

Stuff you'll learn:

1) What can a writer earn in terms of advances for different genres?
2) What are the standard royalties? Royalty escalators?
3) What is "high discount" and how can it impact what you earn?
4) Bonus clauses. What are they? What types can be built into a contract?
5) What subsidiary rights can be sold and what are typical monies involved.
6) Clauses that don't immediately seem to be about money but can impact what you earn anyway.

Sound like something you might want to know? Then I'll see you there.

Because The First Thing That Comes To Mind Is The Size Of The Advance - Not.

STATUS: With New York Publishing shut down, I'm working on a UK contract and catching up on email. I think it's going to be this way for most of the week.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now?  HOPE I DON'T FALL IN LOVE WITH YOU by Tom Waits

Obviously the Random House - Penguin merger is all the news in the publishing world right now. It's a big deal. But I read this article in Publishers Weekly and pretty much snorted my tea.

PW makes it sound like an agent's biggest concern might be the reduction in advance amounts paid for books.

I'm concerned about MANY things that might come about because of the merger but smaller advances is not one of them. It's not even on my top 10 list of things to be concerned about.

Publishing saw the consolidation of publishing houses into smaller and smaller numbers in the early 90s. That evolved into what had been known as the "Big 6" of the last decade.

It's now down to the "Big 5" and quite honestly, I don't see NewsCorp (which owns HarperCollins) settling for the status quo. Wouldn't surprise me at all to see the "Big 5" become "4" with two more houses merging in the not-so-distant-future.

Of course this all has to pass anti-trust rulings, etc.

What does fewer publishing houses mean for authors?

That answer is pretty simple. Fewer choices. Less competition. More uniformity of royalty rates (like that hasn't happened already because houses are already more interested in status quo among themselves rather than actual competition). Narrowed vision of what is the market and what should sell (and they already have tunnel vision as any number of digitally self-published successes have recently proven). More emphasis on commercial blockbusters and less building authors from the mid list.

Getting the picture? Smaller advances? Not a main issue on my radar.

Friday, October 26, 2012

30 Queries in 30 Minutes

STATUS: Today I took a reading day at home and voila, queries done.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? BENT by Matchbox Twenty

I actually didn't time it but it sounded catchy. Not to mention I can't type up everything I saw.

I asked for sample pages:

1) a YA cyberpunk novel set in India
2) a coming of age literary novel
3) and 2 wildly different YA novels that were both inspired by The Scarlet Pimpernel (the latest trend?)
4) A YA novel set in a zoo
5) an SF novel with a very cool premise

I passed on:
1) a literary novel about a disillusioned man in his 40s as there didn't seem to be a clear plot. (You need plot to make it commercially driven.)

2) a multicultural middle grade novel (which I always like to see!) but had a plot where four characters inexplicably find themselves in another world. Actually there were several MG novels with portals. This only works if the portals actually mean something to the story. They aren't solely a door to another world. In other words, it can't just be a vehicle that starts the novel--not original enough.

3) a mystery that was based on someone's life (by the way, I tend to pass on queries that highlight the "based on my life" fact. I'm just suspicious that the author could really fictionalize it. It's fine to have a story based off of a real occurrence or series of events. No need to highlight that in your query letter. Let your writing speak for itself.)

4) A dystopian YA or SF that actually sounded more like an adult novel than anything YA. It also had "memory" as a key component and we've actually seen a lot of that lately.

5) Several romances under 50,000 words (which is category length and not something we'd really represent).

6) A novel that had a lot of mysticism at the core of the story. Not really my thing.

7) Several YA novels that begin or hinge around a brutal murder. Hum… a bit dark for me.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

If You Remember One Thing, It Should Be This: Never Sign An Unnegotiated Boilerplate Contract With Any Publisher

STATUS: I feel like I need to flex my brain muscles to get back into shape for daily blogging. 

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now?  DANCE HALL DAYS by Wang Chung

I recently talked to a writer who had signed a small publisher's boilerplate contract.

Shudders.

Let me start by saying that the signed contract was with an established and reputable small publisher. Still I shudder.

Let me highlight here that I wouldn't want a writer to sign the boilerplate contract with any publisher -be it a small one or a big six publisher. All boilerplates are terrible. That's why agents negotiate the heck out of them.

Pitfalls of Boilerplate Contracts

1) Every publishing boilerplate I've seen grants the publisher all rights. Oh boy. Honestly folks, you never want to grant rights to a publisher for things they won't exploit effectively such as dramatic rights (film/tv), merchandizing, theme park rights etc. The rights will just sit there. And you can't earn money unless those rights are sold.

2) Boilerplates have no recourse if the publisher fails to publish. Then writers are stuck in limbo forever! They can't contractually demand the rights back for failure to publish. Writer is stuck. Not good.

3) Boilerplates often have no out of print clauses. I recently derailed a deal because I could not get the small publisher to insert one. They would have had the rights into perpetuity with the author having no way to ever get the rights back unless the publisher felt like it. Uh, no.

4) I've seen boilerplates that have a never-ending option clauses. If the publisher doesn't take the writer's next book, they still get to see the one after that and the one after that….. Yep, that author will never successfully be placed at a new home if that is the case as the new publisher would want an option for next work at the very least. That can't be granted if the above is the case.

5) Boilerplate contracts don't allow the author to see copies of sublicense deals. If that is the case, how can an author know what was sold and on what terms to verify the royalty statements? Good point, right?

And I could go on and on.

Monday, October 22, 2012

New Website Going Live On Nov. 12 or Nov. 19

STATUS: I'll be a much saner person then. Hey, I'm an optimist!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now?  YOU by Bonnie Raitt

Thanks for all the comments and feedback on FB versus blogging. Quite frankly, I had been sensing that blogging in general was becoming a bit passé. But it sounds like there is still a lot of interest in educational posts being delivered through the longer blog medium. Well, I hear you. I'm still debating on how practical it will be given my overwhelming workload. It's much easier to throw up some insightful posts on Facebook. But I also get that a lot of folks aren't on FB and have no interest in joining. And to be honest, I'm too verbose for twitter. *grin*

When I think of our new redesigned website going live, I start bouncing in my seat. It's amazing. But it's also good fodder for a blog entry.

Here are some of the things I've learned and some tips to share:

1) If you haven't updated your website in the last 3 to 5 years, it's time to take a look at your site and evaluate its effectiveness. I know from our site, it wasn't highlighting all the different ways folks could learn or follow us via social media. Given how much has changed in the last couple years, our site was looking tired, old, and dated. None of that stuff was linked together. That's not effective.

As an author, you can't afford for fans to think the same of your site. They expect more. Is it fair, no, but there you have it.

2) Big question you must answer: who is your audience and what do you want them to learn from the site? The answer might be simple and then evolve into something more complex. For example, a simple answer for our site is this: our audience is writers looking for representation who might be interested in our agency.

So our site has to answer some basic questions - like how to submit to us, etc.  Well, that's obvious.

But our site shouldn't stop there. Writers who look at our website might also be enthusiastic readers (or at least I hope so!). So our site should also be a non-obtrusive advertisement for our client books in the sense that visitors to our site might also want to buy the books they stumble upon there.

Of course we "knew" that for our original site but we were not exploring the full potential there. The new site is going to be great for that without us coming across as used car sales people (or at least I hope that's the case!).

So how does this apply to you as a writer? Well, I see any number of writer sites that don't really answer this question well. How does it appeal to folks who are already fans of your work and then how might it rope in the possible new fan? I honestly don't see writers doing a lot for that second question. If you've seen some good sites that handle it well, include the links in the comments. We can use those examples as learning tools.

3) For our new site, we are adding a "how they came to us" under each client so aspiring writers can literally see who sent us a query (and we found them that way) versus who was a referral or a current client recommend. I imagine including stories like this will keep visitors engaged in our site and may be motivated to click around more and spend more time with us.

As a writer, what have you got that might create that for your visitors? I see so many writer sites that tend to be a plug for the book or books and not much else. If that's the case for your website, it's not doing the right job for you.

4) Clean design - I'm a huge proponent of this. I see so many wordpress websites that have good intentions but as a visitor, I'm completely overwhelmed by the amount of links, buttons, images, or what have you. It may just be me but I can actually feel my heart rate speeding up when I'm confronted with too much info on a web page. It's stressful.

So I can't wait to show you the new site. And yes, I'm getting back to blogging even though that means more entries to migrate over to the new site. I pity our web designer.