Thursday, May 11, 2006

Totally Biased Response (Don't say we didn't warn you...)

What’s your take on authors who find publishers on their own, then go looking for an agent to help with contract negotiations or contract review?

In the past, some authors who have found a publisher on their own have asked us to work the contract for them. This concept would work fine, except in most cases the publisher found was usually PublishAmerica or some other similar entity. If some of you aren’t familiar with PublishAmerica, let me just say this: If you are turned down by them, you must have done something to make them angry, because, otherwise, you would be published. The advance for this venture would get these writers a check of $1.00, and our take for working their contract would be a whopping 15 cents. Oh, did I forget the royalties? Darn. There’s probably a couple of bucks there, too, if the writer has a huge family and a large circle of indulgent friends.

So the concept of finding a publisher and thereby securing an agent works only if you find a legitimate, royalty and advance-paying publisher. Hence, nothing beats the old-fashioned way of writing something that’s saleable and then finding an agent who can successfully represent it.

If you have done the hardest part - getting a house to take your novel on - why do you need an agent? Agents do more than just sell the work, but without their love behind the pages, they are going to be limited. I'd say get a literary lawyer to help with the contracts and rights on this novel, and seek an agent for your next work.

First of all, the hardest part isn't getting a publisher. There are a lot of hard parts in the process no one really talks about because it seems like to most writers that just getting a contract on a book is the end all, so this presents an interesting question: Why do you need an agent?

Why not just find a publisher on your own, hire a lawyer to work your contract, and pocket that outrageous 15 % agents get for whatever it is they do? While you’re at it, to be extra safe, the writer with a publisher’s contract in hand should probably hire a lawyer who works in intellectual properties law. Since lawyers will want a retainer before they will even look at your contract, be sure to have your checkbook handy as retainers usually run upwards of $500. Lawyers are not like agents. They don’t work on commission but by the hour. So there might be a possibility that your initial retainer won’t cover the entire cost of reading and analyzing a publishing contract of possibly twenty pages or more. Most lawyers are great negotiators, so they will also do that for you—by the contact hour. Cha-ching!

Many publishers who don’t accept unsolicited submissions are medium in size. There is nothing wrong with these folks. They produce wonderful books and generate sales that range from decent to outstanding. However, they generally don’t pay very high advances—usually in the thousand to two thousand dollar range. So if I do the math, let’s see, that would be a $150 to $300 in commission savings. That will help nicely in payment toward your $500-plus lawyer bill.

Agents do more than work on contracts, however. They review your manuscript and help you fix minor mistakes prior to sending it to an editor. They offer assistance on preparing your submission package. They then take care of preparing and sending your work to one of their many contact editors who handle books like yours. While your book is being circulated, your agent becomes your career manager, working on your future writing career by reading and/or commenting on completed works or those you are contemplating writing in the future. Later, when your contract is signed, your agent reads and helps with your bio, consults with you about covers and titles when the opportunity arises and is there for you through the long, often arduous process of bringing a completed book to fruition. Your agent is also your money manager, reminding the bean counters that your royalty check is late, then depositing it in a special clients-only account until the publisher’s check clears the bank. An agent is your advocate, advisor and usually, as it works out most of the time, a trusted confidant.

We are biased, of course, because we are agents.:) It is important to keep in mind that agents and lawyers are two different sets of professionals and work in different ways, and it is up to what the writer wants or needs as to whether he chooses to seek out one or the other.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Really Real Reality Rejection

Sent May 5, 2006

It begins to tell how Marty and his two friends, Jake and Phil, move to Schenectady from a small town in Pennsylvania and mett Phyllis Miller, a woman with a past, and a son, Miley.

Yes, there are a couple of things wrong here. First of all, as you can see, everything runs together. We assume that this writer is either in a hurry or just doesn’t care. Either way, I’m sorry to say, we cannot take a chance on clients like this. There is too much of a risk here.

So, my question to writers is this: Would this sentence make you want to see more of this work? This should be the question you ask yourself as you write your query letters. Would this make an agent want to see more?

Sent May 5, 2006

Ever read anything this interesting?

A rather nice way to start a query, don’t you think? I’m only kidding. I can picture this person applying for a job. Ever seen anyone as talented as me? Would you hire him or her?

Sent May 7, 2006

Attn. Rober Brown:

Believe it or not I got two of these yesterday. Maybe they are trying to tell me something.

Sent May 7, 2006

(Blank—Blank—Blank) is 40,735 words (11 chapters) of wholesome chick lit.

Wholesome, maybe. Chick lit? I don’t think so, unless chick lit comes in a novella format.

Sent May 5, 2006

At 63,000 words, (Blank—Blank—Blank) is paced for a quick-and-easy read.
I’ve been writing for most of my life starting when I was ten writing short plays for my class. After a few high school works in the theater, I moved to more traditional work with short stories and now novels. (Blank—Blank) is currently in pre production at my publisher, but at the bottom of this email is my ISBN. If you are taking new writers, I do hope you will allow me to submit further material for review.

I chopped a few sentences out of this query because there are many things wrong here, and this makes a great example of things I think are important for writers to realize. First of all, the one issue in this passage—again--is the word count of the project. I think the reason behind this problem shows up in the second sentence—ten short plays—more traditional short stories and now novels. As most senior novelists will tell you, it’s quite a leap from a short story to a novel, and many short story writers run out of plot before they have a sufficient word count. I’ve noticed that many times when a short word count crops up, the querying writer wrote short stories before he attempted long fiction.

Also, notice how meaning is lost in the second sentence. This does not give an agent much confidence in this writer’s ability.

Although this is not the case with this particular query, I’d like to make the point that once a book is already published, it’s a little late to be looking for an agent. This is happening more and more, as writers either self-publish or publish with small presses. If a writer needs an agent to shop his sub-rights, research should tell him that most agents deal only with original, unpublished works unless they are from a very large agency with a sub-rights specialist on staff. Also, in most cases, unless the book sells very well, the sub-rights are not that valuable, at least not valuable enough to be shopped extensively. Finally, if your book is already published and sells well, you don’t need anyone to shop rights for you…other publishers will be contacting you, your agent, or your publisher.