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Category : Current Affairs
Since my blog post on Wednesday, there have been several new developments in the battle between Amazon and Hachette…
1. After delaying orders on Hachette titles, refusing to discount them as they have other publishers’ titles, and sometimes not even listing the ebook version on their site, Amazon is now using a new tactic: Halting all pre-orders of Hachette titles. That prevents authors from getting out of the gate fast with a big first-day hit — and it effectively will keep some titles from hitting the bestseller lists.
2. Amazon then released a statement in which it defended its tactics (http://tinyurl.com/k4ax3wd). If you take a look, it will strike you as odd, since they argue they’re doing to “on behalf of customers,” and they propose some sort of “author pool” to help authors hit hard by their tactics. Um… I don’t mean to sound like I’m taking sides here, but if Amazon is delaying books or not making them available at all, how is that working on behalf of customers? And Amazon is worried about authors losing royalties? I don’t know if that’s EVER been on their list concerns in the past. Anyway…
3. Hachette then responded by rejecting that idea and sniffing that Amazon treats books as just another commodity, like everything else they sell on their site. You can read the response here: http://tinyurl.com/ljslu4n .
4. Talk show host Stephen Colbert, who is a Hachette author, chimed in by telling viewers he had a “little package” for Amazon (he opened a box, stuck his hand into it, and flipped them off), then told readers how they could get a free sticker from his website that reads “I didn’t buy it on Amazon.” And, try as I might, I can’t seem to import that sticker into this blog post. Sorry. But you can watch the clip here: http://thecolbertreport.cc.com/videos/ukf9gv/amazon-vs–hachette
5. The debate has largely put authors into two camps
Just got back from a week in New York, seeing all the books and publishers and figuring out what direction the industry is moving. There was a great spirit at Book Expo this year — none of the angst and worry that has dogged the show the past few years. They tried something new this time at the Javits Center — opened up the floor to the public on Saturday, sold tickets at $20 a pop, publicized a ton of author signings, and watched 10,000 people buy their way into the show. (For the record, it was apparently all teen girls, looking to get their YA and romance novels signed, or to catch a glimpse of a celebrity like Cary Elwes signing copies of his latest tome.) But the biggest topic of conversation? The dispute between Amazon and Hachette. No question.
You may or may not be familiar with the issues, so let me offer an outsiders perspective…
1. There is some bad blood between Amazon and Big Six publishers. On the one hand, the publishers know that Amazon is their biggest account, so they want to keep the relationship healthy. On the other hand, the publishers know that Amazon is predatory, and is on record as having said that they could live in a world without publishers. So while they’d like things to continue, the relationship is not without some problems.
2. If you’re an author who doesn’t pay much attention to the news, the Big Six publishers were all taken to court last year for using an agency model (and, in essence, for looking suspiciously like they were colluding to keep ebook prices high). The Department of Justice sided with Amazon, the publishers all paid big fines, and agreed to modify the way they do business.
3. Each of the Big Six publishers have some sort of term contract with Amazon, that clarifies things like discount rates, returns,
First, big news about an author we represent: thriller Maegan Beaumont’s Carved in Darkness won the IPPY Award Gold Medal in the Suspense/Thriller category. If you haven’t read it, you owe it to yourself to read her gripping, moody novel about a homicide investigator who begins looking into a crime and finding echoes of her own past. Congratulations, Maegan!
Second, novelist Holly Lorincz took the IPPY bronze medal in the General Fiction category for Smart Mouth — quite an achievement when you consider there were more than 5000 entrants. I have said numerous times that Smart Mouth was one of the best debut novels I’ve ever represented, and I love her story of a shy first-year teacher having to deal with the contemporary problems of small town high schoolers, all while balancing her own relationships and being coerced into coaching the speech and debate team. You can find her book on Amazon, and I guarantee you’ll enjoy it. Congrats to Holly (who works here part-time, by the way).
Third, several people have asked me what I think are the best conferences and workshops available. In my view, there are too many to count these days. I just got back from a wonderful Blue Ridge writer’s conference, and I think it has morphed into the best CBA conference for writers. There are a number of smaller writing conferences going on this summer, and many will be good — Breadloaf, Willamette, MidWest Writers Workshop, Thrillerfest. I’ll be at the Willamette conference, as well as at Western Writers of America. Of course, I tend to think RWA and ACFW are simply the two best “big” conferences on the planet. A great place to meet other writers, get introduced to the industry, and learn from experienced writers, editors, and agents.
Fourth, bestselling author Janice Thompson (Weddings by Design, Weddings by Bella, Texas Weddings, etc) is now teaching some online writing courses. If you
A handful of leftover questions from our month of “sitting down with a literary agent” series…
Can a person who does not aspire to fame be a successful writer?
Of course. Some writers are looking for fame, but in my experience most get into writing because they have a story to tell. By the same token, some writers embrace the “fame” aspect of getting published, and love the attention it creates, while others hate it, and just want to write and maintain their privacy. There are plenty of examples of both. Perhaps this is getting skewed today because of social media, which can sometimes make it seem like every author is required to be an extrovert. But my feeling is that there are a lot of introverted writers, who don’t seek to be everywhere, all the time, commenting on everything.
If I have a really well-written book, how can I meet literary agents?
You can go to conferences and meet some agents face to face. You can go to a book show or industry event and get in touch with agents. You can talk to published authors about their current agent. You can look at Chuck Sambucino’s Guide to Literary Agents, or Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents. You can go to the Association of Author Representatives website, or to AgentResearch.com. You can find out who the busiest agents are, or which agents tend to work in your genre by joining Publishers Marketplace and researching their database. Or I suppose you could do it the old fashioned way and try to get a face-to-face meeting by sending them a fabulous proposal and showing up to talk. No matter what you do, spend some time researching the agent to make sure he or she is a fit, what they require in a proposal, and how they work with authors. You can also go to Predators & Editors
We’ve been taking the month of April and inviting writers to send in the questions they’d like to ask a literary agent. So if you could sit down one night, over a nite-cap, and ask a literary agent anything at all, what would you ask? These are the questions I’ve received recently…
How important is it for my agent to be knowledgeable about the specific genre I write in? If he or she have the same contacts at publishing houses as most other agents, is it important to find an agent with genre-specific connections? For example, let’s say I typically write women’s fiction, but want to do a New Adult series, and my agent says she knows nothing about NA. Should I be concerned my proposal won’t get the right treatment from editors?
Agents tend to work in certain genres. So we make connections with editors who work in those genres, and develop great relationships with people and publishers. So yes, it’s nice if you can work with an agent who has relationships with editors in the genres in which you write. That said, most agents are also willing to grow their business. So if you came to me with a really good proposal for a genre I’ve not worked before, I would admit that to you, and either say, “You might want to find another agent to do this one,” OR I might say, “You know, this isn’t a field I’ve done much work in, but I love this proposal — let me do some research, make some calls, and I’ll come back to you so we can develop a plan.”
I noticed you were highly critical of agents who sell services to authors. I approached an agent I met at a conference to discuss my book. He rejected it for representation, but said they had an editor who could work on it, and I paid about $700 to
Okay, so all month I’ve been having readers send in questions they would ask if they could just sit down and be face to face with a literary agent. Here’s the most recent batch of questions I’ve received…
Is it standard for most debut authors to have their manuscripts read by an outside copy-editor before submitting to a publisher? I’ve heard this is now common practice, but with the low advances publishers are now paying, it seems unfair to insist on the author funding the cost of an outside edit.
I think it’s an exaggeration to say publishers “insist” on an outside copyedit. The author is best protected when a manuscript comes in clean, since they’re not relying on some minimum wage, entry-level person to do the edit. And as the business has gotten harder, publishers seem to be doing less editing, and they love having their costs cut by having manuscripts come in as clean as possible. But I don’t believe we can say that’s any sort of official standard, except perhaps with mom-and-pop ebook publishers who can’t afford a good copy editor.
When it comes to book proposals, should a narrative non-fiction proposal follow the rules for a novel, or for a nonfiction book?
It’s a nonfiction book, so it should basically follow a nonfiction proposal format. But this is a great question, since narrative nonfiction is really a blend of the two. Still, you’ll find the core of a narrative book is telling a nonfiction story, so stick with the nonfiction proposal model.
I’ve seen contradicting opinions on using blog content in books… If I write a blog, does a publisher consider all content “published,” and therefore unusable in a future book?
If you write a blog post and stick it on your website, it has, in fact, been “published.” But no, that doesn’t preclude you from using that material in a future book, assuming you own
Imagine this: You get to sit down to have dinner with the literary agent of your choosing. You can ask anything you want? So… what would you ask? I’ve been taking the entire month of April to let people send in the questions they’ve always wanted to ask a literary agent. Recent questions include…
A friend of mine in our writers’ group asked me if she can be sued if she uses the name of a real town — i.e., Witch Hazel, Oregon, in her novel. Is that true?
Okay– I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not giving you legal advice. If you need legal advice, go talk to an attorney. What you’re getting is my take as an agent… Sued? For what? No. You can be sued for defaming or libeling someone, but you can’t be sued for simply using the name of a town. Does she think she can’t say, “The plane flew to New York”? (But thanks for the call-out to my hometown of Witch Hazel!)
It’s my understanding that publishers will often pay higher royalties for hardcover than softcover. Why is this?
It’s true. The standard book contracts pays 10% of the retail price on the first 5000 hardcopies sold, 12.5% on the next 5000 copies, and 15% thereafter. A trade paper pays a flat 7.5%. The cost of the hardcover is higher, the production costs are a bit higher, people are willing to pay more, so there is more money to divide. Thus the royalties are higher. (By the way, most CBA publishers pay on net contracts, so it’s a bit different.)
I’d like to know what goes on in a Pub Board meeting, and why does it sometimes take so long for them to make a decision on a book?
The pub board is where a decision is made to publish or not publish a book. Usually it includes the editor presenting the project,
Okay, so this month I’ve invited writers to send in the question they’d love to ask a literary agent, if only they could sit down over, say, a martini. Pretend the two of you are face to face. Relax. Take a deep breath. What would you ask? Here are several of the questions people sent…
When a contract with a publisher expires, I assume the rights to the book revert back to the author. Does the author then have to get a new cover, ISBN number, etc, to put the book out as an e-book or POD? And is that something usually covered in a contract?
Great question. First, with most publishing contracts these days, the rights do NOT automatically revert to the author when the book goes out of print. Instead, the book stays with that publisher as an e-book, and they’ll want to keep it as long as it’s selling some copies and making money. Even when it’s not, you’ll have to write and request your rights back. So let’s say the publisher does indeed revert rights — all that gets reverted to you is your text. You’ll need to create a new cover (unless it’s the rare instance where you own the cover art or can buy it from the publisher), get a new ISBN (since this is a new edition of the book), probably re-edit the book (to make it clean and up to date), then load it to Amazon, Smashwords, etc. And no, your current publishing contract won’t say much of anything about this process, other than to offer some confusing, multi-step process to try and get your rights back.
Is there any chance of getting an agent when you DON’T have a platform? And if I’m just starting, how long do you feel it will take for me to build a platform?
Sure there is. It’s just easier when you have a platform —
I’m taking the month of April and letting people send in ANY question they have about writing and publishing. If you could sit down for an hour over a beer with a literary agent, and ask him anything you wanted, what would you want to know? Here are questions I’ve been sent recently…
If I am offered a contract, should I then get an agent?
That depends on the situation. Although I’m a longtime literary agent, I’m not an agent-evangelist, insisting everyone needs an agent. So think about the big picture here — your agent didn’t discuss the idea with you, or help you sharpen your proposal, or introduce you to editors, or send it out to publishers, or offer career advice. Once you’re offered a contract, the agent is going to step into it and earn a commission. So here’s my thinking… IF the agent can bring value, in terms of doing a great negotiation, and improving the contract & terms, and getting involved in the marketing, and stepping in to help with dramatic and foreign rights, and offering advice for your future, then it might be worthwhile to have an agent step in. But if all he’s going to do is say “yes” to the offer, it may not be worth paying him 15%. Consider talking with a good contract evaluation service, which might only charge a couple hundred dollars. (Or you might talk with an attorney, but be careful — they tend to charge by the six-minute increment and want to keep the clock running, so it can be expensive. Maybe consider this option if you’ve got something complex, such as a series offer or a movie deal.) But don’t sign with someone just so you can have the honor of saying, “I have an agent!”
If my novel is women’s fiction, is it best to target a female agent?
It’s best to target an agent who
This month I’m trying to get to all the questions people say they’d like to ask an agent, if they could just sit down with him or her for a few minutes and talk privately. Here are questions that people have asked recently…
Are the low costs of e-books costing authors money?
Sure. I mean, if a retailer sells a book for $20, the royalty is higher than if he sells it for $10. The average e-book is way down — many below $5, and often you’ll see specials where the books are 99 cents. That doesn’t leave much for an author. The argument is made that people want a deal, and the low prices build readership by finding readers who will spend a dollar or two without even thinking about it. And I think that’s true, to a point… but at some point, we have educated readers that they only need to spend a buck or two on a book, and that means the only people really making money are the bestselling authors.
I’m thinking of setting up my own publishing company. Do I need to trademark or copyright the company? Is there a contract template for doing that?
If you’re just doing it to keep the words “Amazon Publishing” off your title page, then create a business name, do a search to make sure the name & domain are available and not a copyright infringement, and start a bank account in the name of the company. In some states you’ll have to register the company name, so check your local laws, or talk with an attorney if you have greater legal questions. (For the record, I’m not an attorney, nor am I giving you legal advice.) You can find people willing to sell you all sorts of business-planning materials, but most authors who start their own companies simply start them online with a domain name and a bank