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|Random House in the Hot Seat (iBrotha Flickr.com)|
I'm not sure if you've been following the controversy over Random House's new digital-only lines: Hydra, Alibi, Loveswept, and Flirt. Writers have been up in arms because no advance was being offered on these books, like with Random House print authors, and also because copies and other miscellaneous expenses were going to be taken out of the author's royalties. When I first heard about it, I was reading a discussion on the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) listserve I belong to, and the argument was mostly with Hydra and whether or not a book published with this imprint would qualify a writer to belong to the SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America). It turns out the way the Hydra contract was originally written an author was not eligible for SFWA membership.
The good news is that Random House has buckled under the pressure from the writers (YAY!), and they have revised the contract. They didn't give in 100 percent, but they now offer two different models of payment, and one of these offers an advance.
Authors and others in the publishing world who were up in arms seem to be happy with Random House's changes and have said so on blogs and Twitter. To read fully everything that has been going on, you should visit Writer Beware.
What I was hoping to discuss with Muffin readers today is this whole notion of having to get an advance in order to be considered "professional" enough to belong to a writing association. And in some of the blogs I read about this issue, they said that authors weren't taking themselves seriously if they didn't demand an advance. John Scalzi, an author with a popular blog
, even said that we should question publishers that can't offer advances and wonder if we will ever get paid our royalties.
So, I'm sitting at my computer in St. Louis, thinking, Well, golly gee, I have three books under contract and am not going to get advances on any of them.
I was super excited to get royalties and someone wanting to publish them. I think it helps me with my writing goals of doing school visits, teacher workshops, and teaching online classes. Plus, I like small and regional publishers, and I think they often don't offer advances to an author the first time they work with her or him. And I take myself and my work seriously. What do you all think about this? If you have a book, did you get an advance? Was it hard to meet your advance? Did you feel pressure? If you aren't published yet, will take a contract without an advance? Would love to hear from you on this issue! Margo Dill is the author of Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg (White Mane Kids, 2012) and writes a blog at http://margodill.com/blog/. She teaches online classes for WOW! See her classes here.
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Some time last year, Erica Wagner, Publisher at Allen and Unwin, is reported as having said that there was a lot to be gained by having a text already illustrated [not that Allen & Unwin published picture books]. This is seemingly a change in direction.
Some writers/illustrators I know have recently signed contracts for ‘print ready’ books. This is not self-publishing, but submission to a royalty paying publisher of a book that is ‘ready to go’ in publishing terms.
What constitutes a ‘print ready’ book? It is a book that has been -
- professionally edited,
- proofread, has been
- designed to industry standards,
- professionally designed cover and,
- if illustrated, has all images appropriately set.
This is a great way to go for authors who are able to pay illustrators and book designers up front. Most authors are not able to do this. This then means all creators involved in a book project agreeing to royalty share and working between paid projects to collaborate on their book.
What have I gleaned about such ‘print ready’ deals? One company, smaller and reasonably new, offered a small advance and a good contract, by industry standards, with higher than regular royalty share for creators. An offer of help with promotion was also part of the deal. Another company, medium sized and established, offered no advance but better than average royalty shares for creators and help with promotion and marketing of the book.
How does this stack up against what is generally on offer now?
- Small and middle range publishers, in general, do not offer advances.
- Larger publishers offer advances depending on the book, depending on the author, and depending on the agent involved.
- Smaller and middle range publishers often [there are exceptions] expect the author to do it all in relation to promotion, even requiring the submission of a marketing plan.
- Larger publishers vary greatly as to how much promotion they will give a book.
- Generally, publishers will submit copies of their publishing output for major awards, such as the CBCA, and to a selection of leading review outlets.
What’s the down side for author, illustrator, book designer, [often the illustrator], to go down the ‘print ready’ publishing path?
- It IS a lot of extra work for all creators involved to ensure the book is ‘professional’ standard even before it is submitted.
- There is no money upfront.
Are the rewards worth the effort?
- If you love collaborative work, it is a big plus.
- Creators have much more project control to create the book they have collaboratively envisaged.
- A quality product, ‘print ready’, is a major bargaining point for creators/agents. ‘Print ready’ saves the publisher heaps!
The first company mentioned does small print runs, sells out their print runs, reprints and even sells out reprints and so it seems to be gradually snowballing.
It is too early to know in the second instance. [I’ll keep you posted!]
My feeling is that, if Erica Wagner was sensing a ‘trend’ and if these companies make a success of it, we will see more such deals. It’s something to think about!
To be launched end of June – “Toofs!” a collaboration between J.R. and Estelle A.Poulter an illustrators Monica Rondino and Andrea Pucci. More to come on what was a ‘print ready’ deal.
TOOFS by J.R.Poulter & Estelle A. Poulter, illustrated by Monica Rondino & Andrea Pucci
By: Maryann Yin,
Blog: Galley Cat (Mediabistro)
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In The Atlantic, PublicAffairs Books founder Peter Osnos wrote an essay about working as a young nonfiction editor 1984–shedding light on how advances used to work.
The article spotlighted bestselling Random House authors Dr. Seuss and James Michener: “Neither author took advances. Their revenues were so large and steady that they had a permanent drawing account and relied on the publisher and their financial advisers to see that the money was properly invested.”
When former-vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro auctioned her manuscript, it sold for $1 million; prior to auction, Osnos was told to offer $50,000. One year later, Osnos paid $1 million to publish politician Tip O’Neill’s memoir Man of the House. Now politicians and celebrities enjoy much larger advances. (via Jose Alfonso Furtado)
New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.
I am having a lot of trouble finding information on what type of advance one might expect for a fictional work that has been previously published in another country but not the United States. The work was originally published a few years ago in England by one of the big publishers. What sort of offer might be expected if it's accepted for publication by another of the big publishers in the States?
You’re having trouble finding the information because there’s no answer. How well did the book sell in England? What is its marketability in the U.S. (just because a book is successful in one country doesn’t mean it will work in another)? These are just a couple of questions that will come into play when a publisher considers whether or not to even offer on a new book, let alone how much to pay.
When it comes to how much of an advance an author can expect, whether it’s for a foreign rights sale or a first sale, there are no answers. How much a publisher offers is going to come down to your background as an author (previous sales numbers), the marketability of the book, the timing of the market, and generally how much passion people feel about the book.
STATUS: Blogging a bit late tonight. Busy day.
What’s playing on the iPod right now? MR. JONES by Counting Crows
The answer is yes.
The answer is no.
The size of the advance paid can increase the likelihood of success as the publisher is more likely to commit significant resources toward a title that a large advance was paid for.
However, the size of the advance is not a guarantee of success for any specific title.
I remember reading an article in Publishers Weekly last year (and I wish I had saved it). The article outlined two thriller titles being released by two different publishers. Both thrillers were in hardcover and the lead titles for their specific imprints. Both titles had a solid six-figure advance. Both titles had significant resources allocated for the marketing and promotional push. Both titles were from debut authors.
One title hit the New York Times Bestseller list. The other title had, in the publisher’s own words, “disappointing sales.”
So what happened?
Quite simply, no amount of money can force a public to want and buy a book. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t. If the publishers knew what created that ground swell to catapult a title onto bestseller lists and a million copy sell-thru, they’d do it for every book.
It’s a dangerous to assume that the size of the advance paid is the only indicator of possible success. (Or that a publisher who has paid a large advance will always pay attention to that title rather than embrace a newly bought title that might sell even better.)
And every agent I know has a story of a little book that could. The book that was a hard sell, that didn’t have a big advance, that had almost no marketing or promotional budget attached and yet defied all the odds.
A great success story that exemplifies this exactly is agent Deidre Knight’s 90 Minutes in Heaven—a book that was not sold for a lot of money and certainly wasn’t released with a lot of hoopla. Initial print run was by no means huge. The hardcover sold modestly well but then when the paperback version released, an explosion happened. The book kept gaining traction. Word of mouth. The ground swell that money can’t purchase started to happen. In the end, I don’t know exactly how long the title stayed on the bestseller list but I do know that it was for more than a year. This book has now sold millions of copies.
So does a large advance equal large success?
The answer is yes and the answer is no. All the stars ultimately have to align.
I read somewhere that romance authors are some of the lowest paid, and $30,000 per book was the example given. But to me, that is a lot of money. I'm sure the pay varies greatly between authors, but is there a certain range for solid authors who develop a decent following?
I have to admit that I had to read this carefully a second time to make sure you were saying $30,000 and not $3,000, which is what I was expecting. While there are certainly surveys and reports out there on how much authors make, I would look at it all with a bit of skepticism. Have you ever seen the Publishers Weekly report on salaries? I don’t know about you, but from my first day in this business I always wanted to know where those people were working, because for some reason or another I never managed to be making as much as PW said I was. When salaries are reported, like anything else, they tend to be inflated. How much can you reasonably expect in this business? It’s so hard to say. Are you selling a debut novel or your 20th book? Are you writing in romance, mystery, or YA? Is it such a brilliant idea that publishers will go to auction for it or one that one publisher alone makes an offer for? Or how about this twist on things: Is the $30,000 quoted an advance or the total earnings on a book, subrights, and royalties included?
Advances for a debut author in genre fiction can range from $3,000 to $300,000, and sometimes less and sometimes more. The important thing isn’t so much the advance, in my mind, but how well the book does following publication and how much you’re making then. A $300,000 advance isn’t going to do you any good if you only earn out $10,000, while a $3,000 advance might be the smartest decision made when later you’re getting royalty checks totaling over $50,000 every year.
The range of an advance depends on your numbers, on how many copies of your book are selling. That’s what publishers will look at, that’s what your agent will look at, and that’s what you should be considering. If you want to be making $30,000 a year in either trade paperback or hardcover, you need to be selling (and this is by no means a true mathematical figure) roughly 30,000 copies a year. If you’re looking at mass market, plan on selling about 50,000 copies a year. These are definitely rough estimates, but it does give you something to shoot for.
Let's say you have a client who has published a handful of novels, all of which failed to earn out. The client's working on a new project. Do you recommend that she finish the new novel on spec, and submit the whole thing? Or do a handful of chapters/outline? Do you tend to get more/better offers for full manuscripts than partials, all else being equal?
Honestly there is no way to answer this question since it’s going to be different for each and every client. If all of your novels failed to earn out and you are working on a new project, I’m going to assume that you aren’t going back to your previous publisher with the book or that your publisher has already passed on your option material. It means that you are starting from scratch, except that you have those numbers dragging you down.
What this author doesn’t say, but I want to make clear, is that earning out isn’t necessarily the sign of an author who's a good or bad risk. Earning out your advance only matters to the publisher who paid the advance. What others are going to be interested in is your sales track record. Let’s say you were paid an advance in the mid-six figures, your advance didn’t earn out because the publisher only got orders for 50,000 copies of your book. However, you sold 40,000 copies. That’s not bad at all. Well, it is to the publisher who isn’t recouping the advance, but to other publishers those are pretty decent numbers, and if they like your next book it’s likely they’ll snap you up and pay an advance comparable to those 40,000 copies you sold.
Now that’s the good news. Based on your question, my guess is you got a smallish advance (say $10,000), and not earning out $10,000 means not a lot of copies were sold, essentially stalling your career. So do you need to write the full book or would a partial work? The problem isn’t going to be what you submit, it’s going to be overcoming those numbers. If I were your agent it would depend on what you’re writing. If it’s in the same vein as your previous books I don’t think you’d need a full manuscript. You might however need a pseudonym. If you’re writing something completely different (going from mystery to women’s fiction, for example) you’d probably need to complete the full manuscript, not because of your numbers, but because you are making a dramatic shift in style and editors will want to see that you can do that successfully.
The only person who can really answer this question is your agent, and the answer is going to depend on the agent, the work and you as the author.
An author whose mystery I considered received an offer from a smaller press and had some questions for me before accepting the offer . . .
What are your thoughts on my pursuing this route? Is it worth doing in hopes of landing a big-time agent and/or publisher? Is it better to keep editing and approaching big-time agents? On average, what is a fair advance for a first-time mystery/suspense author w/a large publisher (what's too low?) and how many hardcover units do most first-time authors sell?
Of course the answer to these questions are going to vary widely, but I’ll see what I can do.
Whether or not you go with a small publisher depends greatly on your goals for your book. I’ve often said the same about those who choose to self-publish. Is your goal simply to get published or is your goal to be published with a big house? Certainly there are plenty of stories of authors who started out with smaller presses and moved on to big success with agents and larger houses. One thing that I think I’ve failed to address when this issue comes up, however, is not just how few and far between those successes are, but the time in which those successes happened. Sure, many of you will point to a bestselling author today and remind me that she did it that way, but did any of you consider that she launched her career 20 years ago? Publishing has changed dramatically in the past year, which means it’s difficult to look at something that happened 3, 4 or especially 5 to 10 years ago and use that as your guide.
A small press, heck a large press, does not give you an easy in to landing an agent or publisher. In fact, most often I see it hurting the author. An unpublished author only has to overcome the market and her own writing, a published author has to overcome the sales numbers of any previously published book. Those sales numbers, if low, are going to be a much higher hurdle to jump than any market shifts or agent subjectivity. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. Bookstores place orders based on sales numbers of previously published books. If your last book only sold 5,000 copies in paperback, they are only going to order 5,000 copies of your book in paperback, and even fewer in hardcover (not that you would likely get a hardcover deal if your numbers were that low). Again, there are always exceptions, but this is the norm and this is what agents and editors will need to consider with any new project. And by the way, 5,000 copies is not enough to please a publisher.
How fair is an advance? There’s not a clear-cut answer to that because it depends on what you’re writing. Since you said mystery/suspense my question would be is it mystery or suspense? In all honesty, there aren’t that many publishers actively looking for new mystery authors. There are more looking for new suspense authors, but they are only looking for a few. Unlike romance, you don’t see many mystery/suspense-only editors these days. It’s a tough market. And how low is too low? Whatever the market supports. A lot of mysteries are published first in paperback; those that are published in hardcover receive higher advances. As to how many copies most first-time authors sell? That number could range from 1,000 to 100,000. The crazy thing about this business is that the extremes are great and so are the variables. A cozy mystery differs greatly from a thriller, etc.
So there’s essentially a list of non-answers for you, but maybe some of my published mystery/suspense readers would be willing to share their experiences, advances, sales numbers. Anonymously, of course.
STATUS: I was “this close” to getting to everything on my TO DO list today.
What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? MY WAY by Frank Sinatra and Willie Nelson
Last year, a fellow agent friend and I gave a workshop on doing a single-book contract versus a multi-book contract. I was a little surprised at how many writers showed up for it. Hey, maybe these would make a few good blog entries.
First Q: When is doing a single-book contract ideal and when is a multi-book contract best?
Answering this question takes into consideration a lot of different factors. Let’s start with the obvious. If you write genre fiction, it’s almost always to an author’s advantage to do a multi-book contract.
For example, if you write fantasy and the first book being sold is the first in an envisioned trilogy, well, it would be better to have the publisher commit to three books. That way the entire series has a shot of being published. It often takes several books for a series to pick up momentum. What’s important is the publisher commitment—even if in the end a series does well and it was “undersold” initially in terms of the advance.
More common case is that a series has to build over time with the subsequent books and then the books start to earn out. Besides, who wants to sell book 1 in a trilogy only to be left in a lurch if the publisher doesn’t pick up the other books? It’s not easy (read "nearly impossible) to sell books 2 & 3 to another house. If sales are sluggish, it’s really unlikely another house will pick it up.
For another genre such as romance, careers build best if an author can release books within 6 to 8 months from each other. That means really tight schedules/deadlines for the author to make that work so doing multi-book contracts make sense. It’s also best to do multi if the stories are “linked” (as in they stand alone but have characters that might have been introduced in first novel).
Is there an advantage or disadvantage for doing 2 books vs. 3 or 4? Sure. Lots of agents differ on their opinion of this so I can only speak for myself. In general for me, the number of books sold at one time depends on the author (how fast he/she can write), on the project (how many books envisioned) and whether I think the author was undervalued. What I mean by that is if the offer was initially too low for a 3 or 4 book deal or if I thought the monies should have been higher in the auction and I don’t want to lock the author in for too many books at the lower rate. Obviously, reverse is true. If the monies are good, then why not lock in for more books as the commitment is strong from the publisher.
As you can see, lots of factors at play. How does an agent know? We’ve been doing this long enough that we pretty much use our gut sense of what feels right as the offer unfolds. I’ve yet to be wrong.
I’ll talk about single-book contract tomorrow.
STATUS: A nice and productive day. I think I want summer hours though. Leave by 1. Play in the sunshine. I know Chutney is all for it.
What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? DO YOU SLEEP by Lisa Loeb
Today let’s tackle the single book contract. What are the advantages and disadvantages to doing just a one-book deal? Considering what we discussed yesterday, it seems ludicrous to sell just one book!
Well, not really. Most one-book deals are for literary fiction and occasionally for what we would call the “big” commercial literary fiction. Commercial literary fiction is really just literary fiction that has a commercial hook or slant. For example, WATER FOR ELEPHANTS is a good example of commercial literary. Or TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE. Or HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET.
Does this make sense?
And there are lots of reasons to do a one-book deal.
1. Literary fiction takes longer to write. Sometimes it’s not feasible to write a second book on a prescribed deadline so authors will contract one book at a time. Wally Lamb (SHE COMES UNDONE) is kind of known for never selling a book until it’s written and then he sells that one book only.
2. A one-book contract can alleviate the pressure on the author. The sophomore effort can be a tricky thing. I know from experience that every author hits a stumbling block with that second novel and it really doesn’t matter the genre you write in.
3. Literary fiction—especially those that lean commercial—often get undersold initially and then break out big later. If there is a sense that that could happen, why lock the author in for a certain amount of money?
4. The author might not have a second novel to propose and he/she just doesn’t want to throw ideas at the wall and see what sticks. And the author might take 10 years to write next literary novel. It happens.
5. If the author’s editor leaves and there is just a one-book contract, it can make it cleaner for the author to follow his/her editor to a new house. One’s editor tends to be really important in literary fiction. There is a certain trust that can be very beneficial to the literary writer.
Now having mentioned these things, you can kind of see the flipside to the argument.
1. A two-book contract might be preferred if there is a lot of hype and a book sells for a lot of money and then doesn’t perform. How nice would it be to have a commitment to two books already lined up if that’s the case? A chance of redemption or getting those numbers back up.
2. A Publisher may delay acquisition of a future book until they have sales figures for the first book. Since books easily take 18 months to publish, it’s a long time to wait to get a new contract—especially if the author is trying to earn a living here.
By: Lynne Chapman
Blog: An Illustrator's Life For Me!
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Here is the 2nd part of the interview I did recently about illustrating picture books.
In this film I talk about how I plan a book and I look in detail at some of the specific challenges presented by my latest picture book, Bears on the Stairs. I also talk about how I am paid, explaining what 'advances' are and how they work.
(if you missed the first half of the interview, click here)
If you found this video interesting or helpful, there are two further filmed interviews coming up, about how I became an illustrator and about keeping a sketchbook.
If you are interested in becoming a children's book illustrator yourself, my post about how to create the best folio of work should help.
If you would like more hot tips on drawing, you might like this, about sketching people.
If you are a published illustrator looking for tips on doing school visits, try this.
April is a busy month for us, we have four birthdays to celebrate now (including mine) and of course Easter. For my birthday Bradley took me to Montreal for a lovely long weekend staying at the same B&B as we did before. The weather was gorgeous this time, so we had a great time walking around and I had some handmade coupons from Bradley for both a ribbon spree (see above) and a button spree (see below).
Another one of my other Bradley presents that I loved was the blue floral fabric I used to whip up this large messenger bag before going away. I used some dark brownish khaki twill for the exterior and used pale blue twill to line the inside, and the floral for the outer flap, and to line the pockets and strap. This bag turned out to be exactly what I needed, light enough to carry around all day but big enough to stuff full of extra things on the way home. The fabric is Denyse Schmidt's "flea market fancy" and comes in a variety of colours.
Other than crafts shopping we also did some geo caching (Bradley's current passion) and ended up hiking around on some nice trails on the mountain. We also saw a very inspiring show at the Beaux Arts museum, about Disney and the artists that inspired Disney. I had the thrill of seeing some of Beatrix Potter's artwork in person, including a sample illustration for Alice in Wonderland that she made to send to publishers. Why on earth she wasn't commissioned to illustrate more books before publishing her own is beyond me.
The other highlight of our trip was finally meeting my extra-talented fellow illustrator, Susan Mitchell. I'm planning to post more birthday and Susan goodies in my next post!
And finally, before leaving I was commissioned to illustrate a book for Scholastic, and so that's been keeping me busy since then. It's a wonderful story (with a lovable dog in it) and it's been a real treat to work on it. Of course I'll be sharing the artwork for that in the next little while.
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There's a little village not too far away that I love to visit. It's a brilliant place to go and draw. Every house is different and they're all about two hundred years old - some are even older. Some are so tiny you can't imagine how people actually stand up in them. I collected all the items for this drawing from the churchyard in this village. It also has one of the best tea rooms in the whole of the Peak district. Yes, I believe I visited them all.
There is also a little charity shop there which I've never seen open, until last week. It's just a tiny room in a very old stone building. FULL to the brim of stuff. Like some other such shops in this area it has the oddest of opening times - something like every second Tuesday after a full moon from about 9:45 to 11:15am. So I was really excited to finally find it open.
There was enough room for two customers and the lovely old lady that runs it. She told me how she'd raised £95,000 for the charity since she'd started it. How the row of shops had belonged to her family for generations. How her grandparents and great grandparents used to be a butchers and bakers in the village. How that had all changed since supermarkets had taken over the world. How all the old shops were now all being turned into luxury apartments. After about an hour I had to be on my way. I couldn't leave without buying something but there was nothing really calling out to me. I was looking for something to draw but even though I was surrounded by so much stuff I was feeling uninspired. Of course, that was nothing a rummage through an old rusty tin of buttons couldn't fix...
Bear with me guys while I get these buttons out of my system. Although I think I'm done with them now. I wanted to rework them for an idea I have - tell you more about that some other time.
As well as being a piece of sewing equipment, in the north of England the word 'bobbins' is also used for something that's a bit rubbish. So you could say "that's bobbins, that is" about something you don't like. I hope you don't say it about my drawing though!! Ha!
You are my sister, and I love you.
I've got about seven minutes to blog something of world-wide and lifelong importance.
....I'm drawing a blank.
I just joined a writing group - our first meeting is in January and I'm already worried about it. I think writing groups are amazingly wonderful things and suggest that writers join them. I actually prescribe to the same rules that Orson Scott Card set out for us: Stay in your writers group for a year, then find new people... people will get used to your writing and will stop being those fresh eyes that you need to make your work better.
Of course, he said it in a much more polished manner -- but hell, he's been a writer forever and I can still barely wrap my head around the fact that a book has to be entirely in one tense.
Erm, for those of you who don't know... I wrote a book. I sent it to my editor (Stephen Barbara at the Donald Maass sold it for me), and the first thing she said was: do you know that some of this is written in past tense and some in present? Do you know which you'd like the book in? Which is amusing, because about seven years ago I was in an online writers group and that's the same comment they'd always make. I think I might be tense-disabled because no matter how much I understand it when it is explained to me, I can't seem to pick out the difference in a manuscript. I will be sending flowers to my copyeditor.
I've never heard of MY clients having this sort of problem, so obviously it's a "slow" thing and not a "common" thing (boo hiss on me)... and it's really embarrassing. I'm used to people saying things like, "Nadia, YOU are a literary agent?" When I get really nervous I start speaking really, really fast and jumble up all my words. I like to think this is a pathological thing rather than a developmental thing... but if there is a way (or a dysfunction) that would allow me to blame this on my mother... please let me know. And usually I can tell when a person is like, "Really -- you work in books?" Yes, but I can edit emails. As long as you don't expect them all in the same tense, that is.
Anyway, I joined my first writers group since...forever... and it's all publishing people, which will either be amazingly awesome or scary. Right now it's two agents and two editors. Which feels a little bit high stress to me, but I'll let you know how that goes.
The reason for a writers group is because... well, because most agents/editors are unable to do the same job they were able to do thirty years ago (if they ever did it), which is to develop their author, work really closely with them and... well, be their first and best reader. So, now we suggest writers groups (hope you find a good one!) that will suffice instead. That kind of sucks.
I'm not sure if it's because... No, I know why it is: ok, here's my theory: there are more and more agents out there. There are more and more books being published that seem to sustain a certain amount of agent-industry growth... but agents aren't being trained/educated outside their own companies (it's still largely an apprentice industry, I actually just wrote NYU about this very thing... Hm... ), but the book market is polarizing between big books and small books. New agents fight over these books and these clients... and, in theory, make 15% of the already (probably) pitiful earnings their non-bestseller clients make. So, to compensate, we sign more and more clients. because 15% of one pitiful advance is really pitiful but one hundred times pitiful is less pitiful... it's... moreiful. (Just kidding, I wouldn't actually make up a word like that... Plus, I'd just tense it wrong).
So here, again, are our options: EGO & MONEY control everything... Are we good enough to pick less projects and work harder on those few projects than we could possible work on 50 clients or so? Yeah, I know a ton of agents who are this good. Ok, a dozen.
Can we afford it? Can our companies afford to pay us to make one HUGE deal a year (which can be fraught with "Oops, that fell through!")? Do we have the money and the ego to sustain us through the, "Oh shit...what if this doesn't work out?"
See what I mean? Yikes.
I think I need to think on this some more. I'm sorry I called your advance pitiful. I wasn't really talking about YOUR advance. I was talking about advances in general (charming smile).
Last night I went out for drinks with my favorite agent (well my favorite agent that doesn't work at Firebrand, wink wink, nudge nudge) and the coolest editor I know and another really cool magazine editor. But it was supposed to be a social thing.
Which didn't happen. We, of course, spent 85% of our time talking about work. and 15% of our time (haha pitiful time) talking about things that are too inappropriate to write here. But we got into a fun heated discussion about Option Clauses. And the amount of risk that agents/authors are taking vs the amount of risk that editors/publishing houses are taking.... and how limited an option clause can/should be.
We eventually got tired and slipped into the inappropriate conversation which was easier to handle and less charged. But I feel like my opinion of option clauses has changed slightly... but that's another post entirely as it'll be a long rant.
Ok, It's late, I need to work and respond to emails that seem to be breeding in my inbox like bunnies (really, where do they all come from?)
Look Mom, I posted twice in one week!
(My Mom doesn't actually read this blog. If she did, she'd be emailing me every day saying things like, "Did you use the word 'Shit'? Is that the kind of daughter you want people to know I raised?" or "Why do you make Mom jokes all the time? I don't get it?"... and that would ruin some of the humor, don't you think?)
(Just a side note... My mom got all serious over thanksgiving and asked if I had written her into my story...she asked if the mother in my book was really horrible or really nice, and she looked really, really nervous about it. I told her not to worry. My character's mother was dead...She was not pleased.)
Further to yesterday’s post: the size of your advance says nothing about your capabilities as a writer. It speaks only to your publisher’s assessment of your market value. They can get it wrong. How a book does is very often a crapshoot.
Several NYT bestselling authors I know of received tiny advances for those insanely huge selling books. I also know some first-time novelists who got six-figure advances, who not only didn’t earn out, but didn’t sell 10% of what they needed to in order to earn out.
In all cases the books were EXCELLENT.
It’s luck and chance and forces beyond your control.
For those who don’t know what an advance is or what earning out means go here.
$7 million advances for celebrity books. GalleyCat, you know I love you, but how dearly I hope your source was wrong about this.
Huge advances like this will never earn out, ever. And this is money blown that might have been spent on any number of other things that you and I talk about here each day. It's like we're talking about the smart things to do, and no one's hearing us.
I have to run to an appointment, so I don't get to sit here and bore you with my top ten reasons about why huge advances for famous people suck. But does anyone disagree with me? Except maybe Sarah Silverman's agent?
STATUS: I’m starting to, gasp, feel normal. Surely this is the end of bad cold?
What’s playing on the iPod right now? YOU BELONG TO ME by Anita Baker
I just read on Galley Cat that Audrey Niffenegger, author of the very wonderful TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE, just sold her next novel for 4.8 million.
Sources close to the negotiation say….
This cracks me up. If the publisher or the agent really didn’t want the public to know what a book sold for, trust me, the word would not get out. Unless a leak happened of course. (There are many tales of editorial assistants being bribed for info but I have to say, I never could confirm any of these tales. And I imagine all the EAs out there are wondering how to get that gig!) Regardless, either a leak happened or the parties involved wanted it to be known.
Now my blog is not about whether Audrey deserves said advance. That’s really not the point. Her first novel did well; based on sales numbers alone I’d say that advance is commensurate* with performance. Now it didn’t state this in the article but I’m sensing this was a complete manuscript she sold (as it’s been six years since the release of her prior novel).
[side story: I was at the 2003 BEA in LA when I happened by the MacAdam/Cage booth to talk to an editor friend of mine. She mentioned this debut author of hers so I wanted to stop in and lend support. There in the booth was the editor, the author, a large stack of galleys, and not too much traffic. I sat down and had a cup of tea and some lively conversation. I took a plain blue cover galley home with me. Yep, you guessed it. I have an original galley of THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE—which I read and loved.]
But that’s off topic. Basically, and here’s the point to my blog entry, wait for it, I want to say that I think Audrey was smart. She wrote her next novel and then sold it. Actually this is all speculation as I certainly don’t know if that’s what she did but it sounds like it from the article.
Talk about significantly alleviating the pressure of performance for a sophomore effort.
We don’t talk about it much in publishing but I do think it can be rough on an author to do really well with book 1, do a big deal for a next book, and then have the pressure on for the writing of said second novel.
I know what you’re thinking. Cry me a river. You’d like to have such a problem.
[*thanks for the typo catch! I laughed when I reread my entry this morning.]
Thanks to Lauren Barnholt for linking to this post on John Green's blog about author advances. This is a question I get asked just about everywhere I speak - even high school kids care more about HOW an author gets paid than HOW much, which I've always found sort of fascinating.
Had a great chat with my agent this morning (which is typical - George is always making me laugh, recommending obscure films he thinks I'll enjoy, or telling me about articles he's read recently that he wants me to check out, too). One thing that boggled my mind was what he said about how different BEA was from years past. I haven't exactly been vigilant about keepin up with the blogosphere, but he mentioned how some publishers, instead of distributing galleys, were offering stick drives with up to seven books on them in PDF form. My first thought was that this is brilliant in terms of controlling cost. My second was, "Oh, god - how are they going to be able to protect the manuscripts from being passed around the Internet?" This is something we authors haven't really had to deal with on a large level, besides the Google Books fiasco and the difficulty controlling the distribution of audiobooks through the same sites where people illegally download mp3, games, and programs.
I think we're only really starting to get an understanding of how the recession will effect the book biz. Harold Underdown's article, "Working in Children's Books and the Recession of 2008-09" really hit me hard yesterday, because even it ends on a hopeful note, it wasn't until I saw the "who's moving where" link that I realized how bad things are for the publishers. I mean, in a lot of cases, you often feel like you're outside the publisher, because no matter how much you love your editor or house, there's still that slight tinge of bitterness that everyone else makes a comfortable living off your books except you (unless you're a superstar, or crazy prolific (I'm looking at you, Elizabeth Scott!), in which case, this may not apply).
[Tangent: in his article, Harold recommends reading Leonard Marcus's MINDERS OF MAKE-BELIEVE, about the history of children's book publishing, which I second. George sent it to me to read while I was recovering from surgery, and it's amazing. This is definitely a case of not judging a book by its less-than-fantastic cover.]
Back to the galley-on-stick-drive thing: one thing George mentioned that never crossed my mind is how this system of distributing paperless books pre-pub is going to have a profound effect on librarians. Thoughts on this, librarians?
Last, George made a point about teling me that I needed to read Elizabeth Bluemle's recent PW blog about the do's and don'ts of promotional e-mailing. One thing I want to add to her incredibly informative list is that when you're sending promotional emails to fellow authors, make sure that they either A) asked to be on your mailing list or B) have the option of unsubscribing without having to tell you WHY you're unsubscribing. I recently got an email blast from someone I can't even remember ever meeting, who doesn't write in my genre, and who sends out blasts every two to three weeks. I responded to one "Unsubscribe," thinking that was enough, but no, she demanded to know my name and the reason why. She had my e-mail address, obviously, so why pressure me into telling her that I think her books sound lame and that I'm not interested in learning that she had a mini-interview in her small-town's coupon clipper (okay, that last part is totally made up).
I'm even more excited to get this advice from a bookseller's perspective, as I'm in the final stages of my PR prep for THE SWEET LIFE OF STELLA MADISON, which is out in just over two weeks. Also coming soon is the long-promised website overhaul I'm working on with Little Willow - the delays in merging Lola's site with Lara's have been entirely mine, as I always have about 50 things going on at the same time. She's been so patient with me, though, and a total sweetheart - I definitely recommend her work to any of you soon-to-be first-time authors seeking a web designer who does good, clean work and makes it fun at the same time.
Tomorrow: a post I keep delaying about changes in the laws regarding repayment of student loans (it's all good news, so yay!).
I'm back from the long holiday & birthday weekend... thanks for all the great birthday comments yesterday and thanks for the 181 responses to my Guest Blog Challenge! It's going to take some time to get through them, so please be patient. Hope your holiday was terrific!
Today I'm going to discuss the cold, hard reality of the finances of being a published author. Many writers have an ultimate goal of quitting the "day job" and writing full time. Your ability to do that will depend on numerous factors, not the least of which is the amount of income your lifestyle requires and how many people you're supporting. As you think ahead to the time when you're making money from writing books, you may need a clearer picture of what it might look like. Lucky for you, I can help.
Advances are paid in two, three, or even four installments, over a period of time that could be a few months to two years or more. The agent's 15% will come off the top. And you have to remember that no taxes are taken from advance checks like they are when you're employed, so you'll probably want to be setting aside another 20% or so from each advance check to pay the IRS when the time comes. Let's run some numbers:
Example: a $10,000 advance
After agent commission: $8,500 to author
Paid in halves: You will get two checks, several months apart, for $4,250 each. If you set aside 20% for taxes, that leaves you about $3,400 to spend.
Paid in thirds: You will get three checks, several months apart, for $2,833. If you set aside 20% for taxes, that means you'll have $2,266 to spend. Perhaps it will cover the rent or mortgage payment for a month or two. But it's not exactly a kitchen remodel.
Example: a $50,000 advance
After agent commission: $42,500 to author
Paid in halves: You will get two checks, several months apart, for $21,250 each. If you set aside 20% for taxes, that leaves you $17,000 from each check.
Paid in thirds: You will get three checks, several months apart, for $14,166. If you set aside 20% for taxes, that means you'll have $11,333 from each check.
Your contract specifies whether your advance will be paid in halves, thirds, or quarters. Typical payouts occur as follows:
Halves: You'll get your first payment a month after signing the contract, and your second payment a month after the publisher has declared your manuscript "acceptable" which is usually after you've delivered it and gone through the entire editorial process.
Thirds: You'll get your first payment a month after signing the contract; your second payment a month after the publisher has declared your manuscript acceptable; and your final payment upon publication of your book (which, as you know, can be a year or more after you signed the contract).
Quarters: You'll get your first payment a month after signing the contract; your second payment a month after the publisher has declared your manuscript acceptable; your third payment upon publication of your book; and your last payment a year after publication (that could mean the last quarter of your advance doesn't get paid until two years after you signed the contract).
One of the things a good agent will do for you is negotiate not only the size of the advance, but also the best possible payout terms. However, something to be aware of is that a couple of the larger publishers have mandated that for advances over a certain amount (usually six figures), payouts are in quarters, no exceptions, and they're not negotiating on this point. With smaller advances, most pubs are still paying in halves or occasionally thirds.
Any questions about advance payments?
By: Kristin Nelson,
Blog: Pub Rants
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STATUS: Typical Denver. 75 degrees one day. 45 degrees the next. I actually wore gloves this evening while walking home from the office.
What’s playing on the iPod right now? RAIN by George Winston
Generally speaking, the statistics are rather grim when it comes to authors earning out their initial advances. Of course I don’t have actual numbers at my fingertips, so what I can safely say is this: the percentage of books that never earn out is high—over 50% of the books sold (and probably reality is more like 80% but without actual numbers, why be more depressing?).
Beyond the statistics, there are actual several factors involved with an author potentially earning out.
1. The level of the advance. After all, it’s a lot easier to sell-thru and earn out if you only received $5000 as an advance for your book than if you received $150,000.
2. The format of the book. Hardcovers have a higher price tag so an author can sell fewer books but make a higher royalty percentage and thus earn out faster than authors who are publishing initially in let’s say mass market format. (Although mass markets have a better price point and thus have more potential to sell more copies in general but I think you guys get the picture.)
3. Royalty structure. The higher your percentages are for the royalties, the easier it will be to earn out.
4. How long your book stays in print. Often authors can earn out their advance over time so long as the book(s) stay in print.
For example, just this week, I received a royalty statement for an author who just earned out the first advance for a book that was published originally in 2005. The author is solidly midlist and has consistently sold steady over the last 4 years. The advance was a nice five figures and since the book sold well over time and the title never went out of print, the author is now earning royalties.
Ah, this is how publishing is supposed to work. An advance that is representative of how much a book will sell and then grow from there. It was hugely exciting to cut the check for royalties earned and I imagine that the author was even more excited to receive it!