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May 29th, 2011, 12:33 PM #136
I've never thought the Big Six were conspiring, but rather that the similar entities, especially ones with a lot of crossbreeding, tend to develop group mindset, which is only logical because they all need similar things to happen, and with conglomeration comes and even more powerful drive toward highest possible quarterly profit in order for the executives to get their bonuses. If you're in charge and you know you won't be in five years, why would your goal be to develop talent for the future? Seems more logical you'll want to exploit talent and opportunities now for maximum profit Ė like the banks did Ė and leave the mess for someone else to clean up.
You're response thrills me but also aggravated me because it leaves me convinced I'm being bamboozled in one regard. Having gone to writer's conferences, read umpteen blogs and articles from agents and publishers, the greatest sin you can commit is to simultaneously submit (unless the agent/publisher says they are fine with that) they imply you will be blackballed, reputation, tarred and feathered, ruined etc. if you don't let them have you're manuscript exclusively for 6 weeks to 6 months.
However, as you just stated so eloquently, and as I suspected, that's all BS. The chances they would ever find out you did that (unless you did it to agents or editors at the same organization) are exceedingly slim, and even if they did, there is no blackballing, bridge burning conspiracies afoot among the Big Six or the publishing industry as whole. So, unless I've missed something, the whole deal with exclusivity is to provide the comfort to an agent or editor that on the very slim chance they want your work, they won't have is snatched from under them.
Which is great for them, but terrible for the author to have to twiddle her thumbs (I know she should be working on other projects) for 3 months at a time waiting for rejections, so after a year you could easily only have had three or four full reads. And that's just from agents, then you go through the whole thing with editors.
So, if you're an author, it seems there's nothing to lose by simultaneous submission. Am I missing something? Sure it may be rude, but business is business. It's not like it really takes them six months to read and decide on your manuscript, they are just busy people who want you to wait until they get around to you. Which I don't begrudge them, I just don't want to accede. And it troubles me that I have seen a concerted effort to get aspiring authors to believe something that isn't true.
May 29th, 2011, 12:34 PM #137
Another few questions: How does the agent's 15% (I knew it was agents not editors that get 15% I just wasn’t' clear) work if the author already has a publisher lined up? Is it negotiable since part of the work is done?
Also: What are the royalty price ranges authors receive on print (I've heard 6% to 15%) and e–book (I've heard 10% to 50%)?
Lastly: Would it be more than theoretically possible to cut a deal for print but keep e-book rights?
May 29th, 2011, 01:19 PM #138
Actually six months is fast. From my agent reading the first 50 pages of my manuscript until I signed the contract was nearly 12 months.
May 29th, 2011, 02:00 PM #139
What Kat made clear is that there is no such thing as "blackballing" among agents, editors, publishers. However, almost all of them state very clearly that they want exclusive reads and imply at conferences and in Blogs, and interviews that you shall be shunned in some never clearly defined way if you violate this sacrosanct arrangement.
My question is: why should I grant them exclusives if there are no reprecussions if I don't? If three agents request fulls and all want exclusive, why should I accept rules that actively injure my livlihood (or rather attempt at it) and are designed solely to benefit them? Why not just send it to all three simultaneously? They aren't going to refuse to accept submissions from other authors until they decide on my submission, so why should they get to keep their options open while demanding I close mine?
I certainly wouldn't feel right lying and saying they had it exclusively if they didn't. I just can't be that dishonest. But where do they get the right to imply there will be dire consequnces if I do, when there won't be? That's just as dishonest as it would be for me to imply they had it exclusivley when they didn't, isn't it? So if I did mislead them(which I won't-stupid conscience!), didn't the Bard say, 'Turnabout is fairplay.'
Does this make sense to anyone else, or am I the only one who finds this arrangement strange? As if it's one of those "I've got what you want to I make the rules, fair or unfair, things" If it were just signing away an exclusive for a month or so, I could understand, but months? A year?
May 29th, 2011, 02:06 PM #140
May 29th, 2011, 02:33 PM #141
The three agents at once thing was just an example of a fantasy I once had. A man can dream.
The question I have is, why do they imply there are consequences for something there are no consequnces for?
Also, when I tell them I can't grant them an exclusive, some will say don't bother.
Can I ask them for an exclusive where they will read no other submissions but mine? Having brain activity tells me that's a non-starter.
So, why not tell them, or let them think, they have an exclusive when they don't? As I said, I would never do it, but what is this dire fate I have heard implied time and again if you do?
I guess I'm trying to pull a Captain Kirk and alter the rules of a game that are rigged against me.
May 29th, 2011, 02:44 PM #142
As for consequences the only one I can see is that if you don't tell an agent who requests a manuscript that others are interested and have the full manuscript, then you might get a black mark. It is professional to inform a contractor that others are bidding for the same contract or that they are on a short list, same thing applies to agents/publishers.
Last edited by Holbrook; May 29th, 2011 at 02:49 PM.
May 29th, 2011, 04:56 PM #143
Oy, you're running me ragged here. I'll try to answer some of these later tonight.
May 29th, 2011, 06:05 PM #144
There are professional standards for contractors, but if you are applying that standard, shouldn't authors be the one making the rules, and agents be the ones struggling to comply instead of vice versa? I am in business, and if we want to hire a contractor, they don't dictate to us how we may approach them and on what terms they will consider accepting our business. It's the exact opposite.
Again, the mention of the mysterious "black mark". It is omnipresent. Ever-threatening. Yet utterly inexplicable. Why is everyone certain it exists when apparently no one can explain how it works, especially when, as Kat said, these people aren't talking to each other, there's no secret cabal or conspiracy?
Last edited by Carlyle Clark; May 29th, 2011 at 06:10 PM.
May 29th, 2011, 10:58 PM #145
Okay, here you go, but you're on limited rations from here on in.
Iím not doing these in order:
1) Would it be more than theoretically possible to cut a deal for print but keep e-book rights?
Yes, these deals are happening. It depends on the situation. Larger houses really need to have the e-book rights because it is a form of book publication now like hardcover and paperback, rather than simply a sub right. There are some deals they may do because of the authorís situation where they donít have e-rights. It happens more in non-fiction than fiction. Smaller houses may not even be in a position to exploit e-rights yet, and so they may be less insistent about keeping them. If youíve self-published electronically and itís a reprint deal, then thatís the issue Ė who is going to sell what Ė that has to be worked out. The more a publisher is investing in you up-front, the more that means theyíll want e-rights as part of the deal.
2) What are the royalty price ranges authors receive on print (I've heard 6% to 15%) and eĖbook (I've heard 10% to 50%)?
Print royalties vary within a range depending on what deal you negotiate and what format they intend to launch it in. A domestic mass market paperback royalty might start at 6%, then escalate, going to 8% after 10,000 copies sell, etc. Or it might start at 8%. Hardcover royalties usually start at 10% and then may escalate up to 20%, or they might start at 15%. Trade paperback royalties may start at 7.5%, 8% or 10%, depending. For the bigger publishers, this royalty will be based on the invoice price usually, which is the retail price minus shipping. For smaller publishers, the royalties may be based on net receipts. For books that are heavily discounted for wholesaler prices, the author may receive a reduced royalty. For remainder sales, the author usually receives a royalty like 10% of net receipts.
E-book royalties are all over the place because everyone is figuring out what systems work and negotiating new contracts and re-negotiating rights on old ones. Electronic rights used to be a sub-right included in the publisherís license automatically and very seldom if ever exploited for sub right sale, with the standard splitting of sub-licensing receipts 50-50 with the publisher if they did. But that was before publishers had to make the e-books and build a whole system rather than just sub-license. So e-book royalties are still in transition and may act like print royalties with a 10% or 20% share of the e-book price, or some other arrangement. (You should check your own contract on this point.)
3) How does the agent's 15% work if the author already has a publisher lined up? Is it negotiable since part of the work is done?
Having a publisher already have made an offer on a book is actually not an ideal situation for an agent, because it enormously limits what the agent can do to improve the terms of the sale and largely keeps the agent from seeking out other publishers to create multiple interest, book auctions, etc. Itís possible an agent might lower commission on that book alone if the deal is brought to her, but unlikely. While nothing really gets going unless the book sells, selling the book is only one part and not always the most important part of what the agent is doing for the author. The agent will still have to try to negotiate to improve the terms of the deal, negotiate the written terms of the contract, nag the publisher, sell foreign, film and sub rights in the property, manage business issues, collect your money, review your royalty statements, etc. And should you then go off with another agent for other books, the first agent remains the agent of record on the book sold and still has to handle the business aspects of that book long term. Given that you were initially concerned that an agent would not be dedicated enough to your business, and that working with an agent is a partnership, trying to dicker them around cheap on a standard commission is maybe not very strategic.
4) I've never thought the Big Six were conspiring, but rather that the similar entities, especially ones with a lot of crossbreeding, tend to develop group mindset, which is only logical because they all need similar things to happen, and with conglomeration comes and even more powerful drive toward highest possible quarterly profit in order for the executives to get their bonuses. If you're in charge and you know you won't be in five years, why would your goal be to develop talent for the future? Seems more logical you'll want to exploit talent and opportunities now for maximum profit Ė like the banks did Ė and leave the mess for someone else to clean up.
What bonuses? Again, youíre talking about a Hollywood fantasy of publishers that doesnít exist and trying to equate them with the mathematics industry of finance Ė the richest industry on the planet. Random House is not Goldman Sachs (donít they wish.) Theyíre not even Nortel. Iím not saying that the CEO of Bertelsmann media Ė a conglomerate that owns far more than book publishers; I think at one time they owned a fine British china company Ė donít have their stock options and bonuses, but that's not the same as the publishers who are just part of the vast company. The presidents and publishers of the big houses are not getting performance or non-performance bonuses for bulk sales because publishing doesnít sell by bulk sales. And the editors below them are just happy if their house can afford healthcare benefits. They are English majors who get paid peanuts for lawyersí hours.
Again, there is no massive money in book publishing. Magazines Ė an industry downshifting Ė is three times its size. There is no venture capital, no market research, no commissions, no billable hours, no bonuses, no company cars. The one perk they did used to have was that editors got to take long lunches on the company dime with agents to do business, but that got severely curtailed in the 1980ís. Yes, they are pressured by performance expectations in the uneasy marriage theyíve had with corporate life over the last several decades. But mostly the corporations just sigh and put up with their publisher holdings. And editors find talent, not manage portfolios.
Because publishersí business is not predictable, again. Even in non-fiction where estimates are easier, one title does well, the next on the same subject flops. Book publishing has incredibly narrow profit margins, enormous returns, and an average 2-3% rate of growth that would be a disaster in any other industry. Their front list loses money but is necessary to sell their backlist whose sales cover the front list losses. They canít make the estimates that other industries can, they canít use endorsements, they donít know what products will sell.
Because of this, it is imperative that the market have as much variety in product as possible, not less, especially for large houses, in order to maximize the readers it reaches. (People will tell you that Iím always saying symbiosis, browsing and variety for the fiction market.) The retail trade industry, which overlaps with education, academic, and professional book publishing, will put out everything from a reprint of Beowulf (which was an unexpected bestseller,) to manga. So there isnít group-think conformity on acquisitions because there is nothing to conform to. Yes, if a vampire book does well, you will see other vampire books to sell symbiotically and also because thatís what other authors are bringing them. Many of them wonít sell. Many other vampire novels they wonít acquire and not because they are badly written, but because they just didnít like them enough.
As I said before, profits in fiction publishing are not short-term. They are long-term investments that may or may not pay off, and most donít. An editor doesnít make any profit financially off of their authors doing well. It does, however, help their reputations in their careers to have found talent that does well, whether they acquired it for a tiny advance or a big one, and whether it took five books to get there or one. And if an editor moves from one house to the next, they may then acquire their old authors on new projects at their new house because the author likes having that editor and the editor gets the author a good deal. More to the point, an editor canít make an author a bestseller or even reliably predict one. A publisher canít make a bestseller. Most of the authors they will work with are not bestsellers. Bestsellers are a tiny, if important, part of the marketplace. But because of the variety leg of the stool, rank and file authors are also important and always have potential. Itís got nothing to do with corporate business or finance at all. They arenít making loans.
May 29th, 2011, 11:09 PM #146
5) You're response thrills me but also aggravated me because it leaves me convinced I'm being bamboozled in one regard. Having gone to writer's conferences, read umpteen blogs and articles from agents and publishers, the greatest sin you can commit is to simultaneously submit (unless the agent/publisher says they are fine with that) they imply you will be blackballed, reputation, tarred and feathered, ruined etc. if you don't let them have you're manuscript exclusively for 6 weeks to 6 months. However, as you just stated so eloquently, and as I suspected, that's all BS.
Well no, thatís not what I said. I was talking about your concern that agents were worried theyíd be blackballed by large publishers if they caused a problem in one imprint of that publisher, and so would be nice to publishers at the expense of their authors who are contracted to the publishers. I didnít say anything about authors submitting work to publishers or agents for consideration.
The issue with submissions is again one of time. If an agent or a publisher is spending time checking out your work and then attempts to go after it, only to find that you lied to them and have already given it to someone else, then theyíve wasted a large chunk of time they could have used to find other stuff and do other stuff. Publishers put up with agents doing multiple submissions again because the agent has a whole list of clients and potential future clients, so thatís the cost of doing business with agents. But one lone author demanding the same treatment and the right to pit the publisher against others for one book is something that they may or may not see as a wise investment. For a lot of the publishers, the ďbig sixĒ etc., publishers only accept agented submissions or ones they solicit, such as at a conference. Thatís easier for them than dealing with the flood of paper from thousands of different authors with staff they need for other things. In SFF, there was a long tradition of looking for authors among magazines and obscure places, so some of the big six SFF imprints still run a slush pile. But itís slow. And yes, that means that you have to spend your time too, but you are the one who is asking them to invest in you, among thousands of authors who want the same.
So the agents and publishers usually ask for an exclusive period of submission to prevent loss of time. That period is usually 6 weeks to three months for agents. Itís longer for publishers, because A) the big publishers that still take unagented, unsolicited submissions like the hunt but itís hard to have the staff so itís last on the list; and B) the smaller pubs have small staffs so it takes them time to do. If you donít want to give an agent or publisher longer than three months with a sub, you can simply withdraw the submission. Although some authors have ended up with deals on waiting on publishers. Holbrookís agent situation was complicated in that she had several different projects that her agent was reading through and the agent asked her to do revisions before offering representation. But usually agents are faster than that.
I said that agents would have to do a lot to get in big trouble with publishers, but what I meant by that was advocating for authors and arguing with editors, which is what you were asking about. Lying in making deals gets agents into a lot of trouble. You can fudge small things (say youíve got another house interested when the interest is really tepid and so on,) but being a small industry, lying and fake promises are often caught out, and an agent does not usually want that rep. Authors who are lying about submissions Ė itís a pain in the butt for them, and so because you are asking these people to invest in you, it can be a factor in their decision. If they really like your work, they may forgive you for it, or they might decide lifeís too short to deal with you. And in recent years, with the economic downturn meaning fewer acquisitions, that lifeís too short part has gotten bigger. For agents, this is very much the case, as they can only handle so many authors.
So how does an author handle the time factor? You can manage multiple submissions and it may not end up being an issue, but it could, and a lot of it depends on how you handle it, which should involve not lying as much as possible. So letís look at your dream scenario: three agents respond to your query or encounter with them and request fulls and want exclusives. Here is one way you could handle it: First thing you do is decide which one youíre most interested in. Maybe it was the agent at the conference whom you actually got to talk to. Maybe it was the agent whoís at a big shiny agency that reps a lot of authors you like, etc. Then you go to that agent and say you have a lot of interest in the work from agents. You want to give this agent the exclusive, but you really need the agent to respond within six weeks. See what they say. If they say no, then you have to decide whether you still want them to be the first agent or not. If so, you submit, exclusively. After a month, you call to politely check on your status. After six weeks, if you havenít heard, well then you could send the ms. to the next agent you second most are interested in. If one of the agents comes back with a yes, you withdraw your submission from the other. Or you could withdraw the submission from the first agent after six weeks and send it free and clear to the second. So you can give exclusives but make them shorter than demanded. Or if you have multiple projects, and multiple agents ask for them, itís technically not cheating if one gets one and the other gets the other. So you can fudge, and it probably will be okay, since the odds are long, but I canít guarantee it. It depends on what the author is comfortable doing.
The key things to remember are that your situation and the agent, publishersí one are not the same, so demanding that you and they operate by the same demands isnít going to work. When you arenít their author, publishers and agents donít have to prove anything to you, and as good as you may be, hundreds of others are good too. Publishers and agents arenít gatekeepers Ė they neither can nor particularly want to keep you out of the market. What they are, are investors looking for properties that they think will really offer something in the marketplace. They could close their doors to unsolicited submissions, and sometimes they do, but they know good things they might want lurk out there, so theyíre often willing to hunt, unlike the other arts industries. Itís a friendly business, and if they like your story, they donít care about your education, profession or who you know. But authors asking for money or the investment of a rep do need to remember that theyíre asking.
I donít know what youíre hearing at conferences or whether you are misinterpreting it. I do know that they are always trying to get authors to act in a professional and upfront manner, while often dealing with authors who are clueless or aggressive or lying and understanding that this is part of the business. They donít want to waste their time. And no, your time is not going to be valued as equally precious by them because they donít know if youíre worth anything to them yet.
6) Also, when I tell them I can't grant them an exclusive, some will say don't bother.
Well, you asked them to read your manuscript and consider investing in you. They said I only want to consider it if I donít have to compete for doing that consideration and the project. You said no, they have to compete. They decided not to enter the auction youíre running.
7) I guess I'm trying to pull a Captain Kirk and alter the rules of a game that are rigged against me.
Youíre looking at it wrong. Itís not a game and youíre not being tested. Youíre trying to find partners to invest in you. You are petitioning them.
8) There are professional standards for contractors, but if you are applying that standard, shouldn't authors be the one making the rules, and agents be the ones struggling to comply instead of vice versa? I am in business, and if we want to hire a contractor, they don't dictate to us how we may approach them and on what terms they will consider accepting our business. It's the exact opposite.
Thatís a useless analogy because agents arenít contractors and you arenít buying cement from an agent for a house. There are lots and lots of authors. They all want agents. The agents can only handle so many author clients so they pick projects they believe in that they can invest their time and efforts in, hoping for mutual benefit for both agent and author. You arenít buying something from them. And you arenít buying something from a publisher when you enter a licensing agreement. Theyíre paying you and you are providing the goods which as partners, you and the publisher will take to market. And neither publishers nor agents are doing something that can cause a public hazard.
But when it comes to contractors, actually, they do dictate how you may approach them and on what terms they will consider accepting your business. Some only take referrals. They only show up and return your calls if they chose to. They make an estimate and if you donít like that estimate, they may say no to the job. They decide what jobs theyíll do. And a lawyer decides whether or not to take a case, which is a somewhat closer analogy. With publishers, the closest is perhaps venture capitalists investing in an inventor or start-up. You are asking people to give you money and their time by which they make a living to help you so that you succeed and make money. You are the petitioner, not the customer.
9) Again, the mention of the mysterious "black mark". It is omnipresent. Ever-threatening. Yet utterly inexplicable. Why is everyone certain it exists when apparently no one can explain how it works, especially when, as Kat said, these people aren't talking to each other, there's no secret cabal or conspiracy?
Well, if an agent wants to operate by a black mark system, that agent can, because the agent gets to decide how to invest her time and effort. And it may be that some agents are unwisely scaring people, because agents do not all act as one mind. And there is an enormous amount of misinformation out there that gets shoved at people. For instance, there was apparently massive rumors about a cabal of YA authors who were ordering their editors to destroy other authors because they gave negative reviews or wouldnít give blurbs or some weird thing. And the YA authors and other authors thought this was hilarious, and then sincerely tried to explain that this was baloney. (Authors, being not directly competing and symbiotically helping each other in sales, tend to try to help each other out.) John Scalzi had the best piece:
Publishing is incredibly slow and people hate it, and that's one of the reasons that some people self-publish because they can get out there faster, if not in the same way. And there's nothing wrong with that. But if you're going to have highly sought after people and companies invest a great deal in you, expecting it to be super fast and controlled by you is unrealistic.
May 30th, 2011, 09:47 AM #147
By black mark, I mean if you annoy the hell out of an agent with the things Kat mentions in her post they might remember your name or mention it to other agents.(I have known of that happening, among UK agents for SF and F, who are a very small group and seem to know each other on a personal level as well as professional. Even then another agent would judge you on the work you had submitted and if they thought they could work with you and the book could sell, then they would use their own judgement as to if they would take you on. ) Or if you were with another agent and you gained a rep for being a right pain in the arse, not hitting your deadlines for books and said books not earning out and you being dropped by publishers for various reasons and you then approached them re changing agents they might think twice. I have seen that happen with a couple of authors. I have also seen authors part company with agents for various reasons and been snapped up by other agents.
Last edited by Holbrook; May 30th, 2011 at 09:54 AM.
May 31st, 2011, 10:39 AM #148
I also thought having a contract in hand would make it easier for an agent, not harder.
From what I've seen, when it comes to a contractor dictating terms, form what I've seen that only occurs when that contractor is in a position of power. The less power that contractor has, the more she is willing to negotiate and be flexible. So, since there are many more people who want agents than there are agents who can and will take them on. Agents exercise the prerogative of setting the ground rules that work best for them. Makes sense to me. I wasn't really demanding that they should operate by the same rules, I was wondering why they operated the way they do. Nor did I really think I could ever control the process nor would I want to as I'd have no idea what to do, what I wanted to know was if it is possible to garner a smidgeon of influence while behaving ethically, and if so, how? What I did learn from this fantastically helpful and thorough conversation is that there is, so that's the route I'll pursue with much thanks to you, Kat, for you patience and insight.
And for the record, I am not nor have I ever been interested in lying to anyone for any reason business related. It just irks me to be threatened, even if I have no intention of committing the act, it still gets my dander up, so I wanted to know if there was any substance to it. I guess I'm a bit odd like that.
Oh, and Kat rocks!
May 31st, 2011, 11:04 AM #149
KatG's last post
That last post (call it two posts) of yours equals a full essay -- like a full length New Yorker article. Good info there. I have no clue how you find the time to write that kind of post, but thanks.
May 31st, 2011, 11:07 AM #150