I am suddenly awash in questions, so let me jump in with a couple of recent requests…
1. Tina wants to know, "What steps would you say are important for an author to try and study the market? (I'm trying to match a project to a particular publisher, and I'm not sure how to go about doing that.)"
If you want to get to know the market, read frequently, and read outside your genre. If you're trying to target a particular publisher, by all means get their catalog or study their website, figure out which books they do well with, and read several of those titles. Study the bestseller lists (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, your local paper, etc) and take a close look at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. com to see what's working in the market. Make sure to pay close attention to who publishes the type of books you like to read, and who does a good job getting books onto the bestseller lists, since all publishers are not created equal. Stay on top of Publishers Weekly and the online Publishers Lunch (and, if you're interested in CBA, take a look at Christian Retailing Magazine) to find out the most recent news in the industry. Keep tabs on the economic climate in publishing and bookselling (right now it can be summed up: "stinko"). Many pubishers produce a style guide — ask for one and follow it carefully before submitting. And by all means talk to some people who know what they're doing, so that you don't get steered in the wrong direction.
You raise a good point: It's important to study a publisher before sending them a proposal. HarperOne may be a great place for your memoir, but it's a probably all wrong for your YA novel. Harvest House may love your gift book about dogs, but they're all wrong for that commentary on Habakkuk. So go to web sites, check the catalogues, and talk it over with some professionals before you send out that next great novel.
I state very clearly on my business site that I don't represent certain genres (children's books, gift books, porn), but I routinely get wannabes who have done no research sending me projects with a note that says, "I think you'll love my new children's book about Fluffy the Bunny and his adventures in the World of Wookies." Um…no, I wouldn't. I could care less about Fluffy. I'm a MacGregor — it was my grandpa who stuffed Peter Rabbit's father into a stew. In today's email I have one person telling me that her "full-color art book about the history of cupcakes will be a huge bestseller," and another who is peddling a book entitled "Trixie and Bubbles and Me" — and you'll have to trust me with the fact that I'm barely old enough to read the first chapter. So do your homework before approaching someone with your brilliant idea.
2. Debbie wrote to say, "I've been asked to consider a work-for-hire book project with a reputable group. Most of my writing has been for shorter works: articles, curriculum, etc. What is fair payment for a book project?"
Every year Writer's Digest produces the Writer's Market compendium, which includes up-to-date information on payment for book writing, script writing, business reports, editing work, and the like. Last year the average fee to create an "as told to" book was about $23,000. The average fee for ghosting the same was a bit more than $36,000. The range of fees paid is huge — from as little as $5000 to as high as $100,000, depending on the project. The average collaborative writer got $25,000 for completing a book; the average re-writer was paid just under $15,000. Three factors that weigh into your fee will be (a) how much do they have done already, (b) how fast do they want it, and (c) where do you live (I hate to say it, but the Far West and the Deep South just don't seem to pay as well as the rest of the country).
Let me offer you a method for coming up with fair payment. First, figure out what you feel you should be making per year from your writing — $25,000? $50,000? $75,000? If you divide the first two digits in half, that will tell you the hourly rate you're expecting — so a writer trying to earn $50,000 per year will basically charge $25 per hour. Another way to view it is to determine how much you need to make per month — so if your goal is $50,000 per year, you'll want to earn a little more than $4000 per month, or $1000 per week. Next, talk to the people about the project, and see if you can gauge how many weeks or months it will take you to write. (Experienced collaborative writers will be able to do this quickly, since they know how many words per day they can expect to create. Generally speaking, most collaborators are aiming for somewhere in the 2000-to-3000 words per day, plus they've got to add in editing and revision time.) Once you have those two numbers, you can quickly figure out what to charge. If you need to make $4000 per month, and it looks like a book is going to take you three months, that's $12,000. You probably add in a little bit to cover potential problems, and you ask for $15,000. Or maybe you ask for $20,000 and negotiate downward. But being able to tie your time to a number is important to make this work.
3. Speaking of bestseller lists, I've got a book on the New York Times bestseller list! I represented Lynne Spears (mother of Britney and Jamie-Lyn), and her book Through the Storm is #5 on the NYT, as well as being #5 on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list Woo-hoo!
4. My good friend Steve Laube sent me a note today — apparently Academy Chicago Publishers revealed that a bookkeeper, sick of looking at all those bad proposals people were sending in, took it upon herself to reject a bunch of manuscripts. Poets and Writers revealed that she admitted to sending out the rejections on her own, without the approval of the publisher. Good girl!