Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Changes in the Business and Working from Home

I'm having a lot of work done on my home, which in it's own way, is impacting on my office, because I work from home. But if I didn't work from home, I'd have to take time off and work from home as best I could, to supervise the work in my apartment.

I've been an agent for 20 years, and a lot has changed in the way we do business over those two decades. When I started in 1987, there were only a handful of people who could type well enough to finish a 300-page manuscript, so there were so many fewer query letters. Now, everyone with a computer thinks they can type a book. We used to get 2000 to 3000 query letters a year. Now, we get 30,000 (this is a true amout - half via emai and half via snail mail).

With the advent of the internet, I've seen the business tranformed from a paper business to an electronic one. Where once I had entire bookcases of finished manuscripts littering my office (I just cleaned out the last of them), now I just have discs.

A recent correspondence with an editor made me realize just how much things have changed.

I have just submitted an exciting two-novel series, which is well over 600 papges. I'm pretty sure I've got something really special and expect it to sell quickly (I'm actually surprised I have't sold it already, but it does take editors time to read, and then they have to have their colleagues read for approval). There's an editor I've done a lot of business with, whom I'm particularly fond of, at this one publishing company, so I assumed she'd want to see the books, but it turns out she's just not that fond of one of the books' elements, so she recommended another editor. I don't know her, but I know of her, so I called and left a message about the novels. She called back and said she wanted to see them, but that she didn't accept electronic submissions.

That gave me pause. The books were already being read at the other houses. I hadn't printed out mansucripts and made copies in years. When I did, I made it the author's responsibility, but my author was out of the country. It would be days before the copied masnucripts arrived on the editor's desk. I called her back and explained that I understood her position, but that I no longer submit manuscripts via snail mail. And I sent the book electronically to another editor at that house.

In this day and age, when you're selling at least 100 books a year, it is truly a waste of time, money and paper to do things the old-fashinoned way.

I can hear you now. What about agents who insist upon full manuscripts? I think most of us are moving toward the electonic age, but you have to be the judge of how badly you want that agent to read the ms. Weigh it like I did. For me, I'm established and there are many other editors who could read that book at that house.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

More Marketing Strategies

It's late and I'm having my office painted, which means everything is out of place and it takes much longer to finish anything. That's why I'm still here after midnight, having finished most of the paperwork for the annual 1099's, and then reading a proposal for a book that I came up with for one of my favorite clients. We're hoping it's his break-out book.

Anyway, one more marketing question, and then we can retire this subject for a week or two?

Question: Do you think that you or Ms. Donovan could expound on the practical logistics of throwing that kind of party? How did she find the restaurant and approach negotiations? Did she have a contract? Thanks M

In New York City, a new restaurant opens every hour. They need traffic and press, so if you can find one, they wil be happy to host a party if you can promise them anywhere from 50 to 100 people. They are hoping that your guests will like the place and come back with their corporate lunches and dinners and spend more money. In this case, my client did sign a contract. She knew the restaurant owner (most sucessful restaurants are owned by people who are opening more restaurants).

If you have a favorite place, you can ask them to close for two hours (or give you a room) and see what that would cost you. You can have your guests pay for their own drinks.

There are p.r. agencies for restaurants, but I haven't a clue how to find them. I imagine you call a restaurant you're fond of and ask who does their p.r. Occassionally they'll tie your event into a vodka promotion, so your guests can get those free drinks.

But, here again, it takes effort and coordination, and a few hundred bucks, but it shouldn't cost more than that, even in NYC. One client had her pub party in a pub and just ordered a few pizzas cut into bite-sized squares.

Monday, January 22, 2007

To Market, Pt. 4

Question: If publisher grants a budget to market a book (the author came up with the original marketing plan), can the marketing methods be predetermined and negotiated in the publishing agreement? For example: If it a regional book, can the author hire a local P.R. firm to implement said marketing plan, thereby eliminating publisher's in-house beaurocracy? Or will the author be sent straight to hell?

What part of it's their money are you having a hard time with? They set the budget and they spend it. You have suggestions that cost money, then you spend your money, unless you are a three time NY-Times best-selling author (positions 1-15) and the p.r. agency you want to use already has a track record with them. You can go through the motions of making suggestions, but they are never taken.

I suppose this is where a lot of author frustration comes in, but once you give in to your higher power (their money), you'll feel a lot better about things.

Bottom line here is that p.r. can be very expensive, and unless you really can show that you have done this before with books, publishers aren't going to give you thousands of dollars to prove yourself.

They might be talked into paying for postcards, or bookmarks, or postage for a mailing, but, in general, you are on your own for any creative marketing you might come up with.

But, as I've said too many times before, if it's such a good idea, and you really believe in your book, why don't you invest in yourself? Make up your own postcards, send out your books, give out your own bookmarks at that genre convention.

Most successful guerilla marketers have made the break-out through inexpensive innovative concepts. That's really what it takes.

I just came from a productive and innovative publishing party this evening for a book that my author had waited most of her professional life to see come to print.(visit HIT HIM WHERE IT HURTS on or The only p.r. the publisher provided was copies of the book sent to reviewers.

But the author wanted a publishing party to celebrate this life event, and to make a professional announcement. So through her own connections, she found a new New York restaurant that was anxious to announce it was open for business and found a time when they were less than busy (early Monday night). She negotiated appetizers for her attendees, and had a cash bar. She paid for postcards to be printed up and emailed an invite to over 1000 media, legal and publishing professionals (personal as well). The party was a resounding sucesss with at least 100 people attending and she was happy to have a crowd of friends, colleagues and media present to mark this important occassion.

Even though only a tenth of the people attended, more than half will remember the book, and many of the publishing professionals will remember her book when I send out the proposal for the next one.

Note: The publisher paid nothing for this party, even though her editor attended and spoke.

Friday, January 19, 2007

To Market, Pt. 3

"So unless an author spends their whole advance on P.R. or has enough disposable income to do their own nationwide blitz, they're screwed?"

Where did this come from?. Let me make it clear. You have to do the work or very little will happen because no one cares as much about your book as you do. Unless you don't care about actually selling copies of your book. Then you can sit on your hands (or your ass).

No one can sell your book as well as you can. You can, of course, hire "professionals" (not like agents - we work on commision, unlike any other professional in publishing other than authors, who work on spec at the beginning) who you can pay, but they won't go the extra mile or make the extra call. If you write the personal letter to the reviewer and it actually gets to them, you might get a call and an interview. If you call the bookstore ("I'm a local author and I shop there all the time..."), you might get a reading. Otherwise, the books will be mailed to names on a list and they will compete with every other first novel and how-to book published in the same month, and you just won't break out.

I know. My first book, which I sat on my hands for expecting my NY publisher to do their job, was featured in Family Circle, Woman's Day, USA Today and even The Wall Street Journal, and it sold less than 2000 copies (and I think a quarter of them was from signings I arranged myself). If I had gotten some quotes, had a blog, was in a network, etc., it would have sold at least 5 times that amount.

My second book, for which I did a number of conferences, got great reviews, asked people to write Amazon reviews for, ect., has sold over 13,000 copies.

You also have to get your own quotes. Your editor and your agent are too busy doing other things for you to advance you career. You have to set up your own website - we're not going to do it for you or pay for you to get someone else to do it. Same thing for your blog.

Nowhere in my list of what an author has to do did I say anyting about hiring a P.R. agency. In my experience, unless you really have extra money, you'd be better to come up with your own P.R. plan or hire college students to make the calls for you. The book publisher's p.r. department kind of runs on automatic. But you have to put aside the time, make the commitment and follow-through.

The only reason to hire a big P.R. firm is to get on national TV (Oprah and Larry King) and in national magazines. They have the contacts and you don't. But if your book doesn't have a snow ball's chance in hell of actually getting on one of those shows, you are wasting your money. Be realistic. No amount of money spent on p.r. is going to make an Oprah book out of a sow's ear.

The average book can get more coverage and reviews with the work and networking you can do than anything a professional p.r. agency or the publishers' p.r. agency is going to do for you.

Have a great weekend.

I expect to continue this train of thought next week, as I've received a ton of comments and questions.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

To Market, Pt. 2 or Publishers Behaving Badly

A lot of authors think that they may have to market themselves at the beginning of their careers, when they are unknown, but once they have a few books under their Amazon listing, and larger advances, things will change. They dream of book tours, publishing parties and readings at the 92nd Street Y.

It's a dream. Wake up!

This is unfortunately a true story, that really taught me that writers have to do everything themselves, if they care.

I had an author who had collaborated on nine books, some of which had gone into multiple printings and foreign editions. This was the first book she was going to do on her own, and it was an awesome, commercial idea. We got a sizable advance. The publisher agreed to match the advance with an equal publicity budget. We thought we had it made. We were so wrong.

We met with the publicity department where we were made to feel that they knew what they were doing and our contacts (even though my author had been published and interviewed for over a decade) were meaningless. We were told not to interfere.

My client had an in at a nightclub that was willing to throw her a party to tie in with the book. We kept on asking if they wanted to do something. First we were told that publishing parties were a waste of time and money - that nothing ever comes of them and that they were just a means to massage the author's ego. Then, suddenly, the party was on! Invites were printed so quickly that we couldn't invite any of the publishing professionals who knew her work. We were told it wasn't really up to us. The good news: We got articles in the New York Times Style section and Cosmopolitan out of the party, and had a great time. The bad news: between food, drinks and invitations, they spent a quarter of the p.r. budget.

Suddenly more bad news: The assistant who was in charge of sending out the galleys (bound copies of the typeset manuscript without a real cover that are sent to reviewers) was fired because a closet stuffed full of said galleys were found two weeks after she said they went out. The galleys were sent out very late.

My author was sent on a five-city author tour. Some events were grand, some no one showed up to. They flew her around the coutnry and booked her into $500 suites for the night. The p.r. budget was gone in less than two weeks.

My author was told by the p.r. department that she was not to book her own event on the big day that tied into her book. She had been featured at events on this annual day for the past five years. Two weeks before the big day, she called to tell me they had been unable to book an event and now she would have to play catch-up to take advantage of this opportunity. I asked what she wanted to do that night. She said she wanted to do a book signing at a big store. I called them. They knew who she was and had a display of her books in their window, and said she could have the night before. I called the P.R. honcho to inform her of this, and she asked me how I managed to get the reading. I told her I called the store. She said,"Well, you must not be a very successful agent, if you have the time to book readings for your authors." She eventually got fired.

But the publishing company considered my client's book a failure, because even though it earned out it's advance, they had spent so much money on publicity, they didn't see it as profitable.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

To market, to market.....

An author I recently met at a writer's conference (again, that's a future post - why agents go to writer's conferences - it's not what you think), asked if I could give some pointers on marketing. Honestly, I could write a book on this one, but the bottom line is that in today's book world, the author has to do most of the marketing, even if s/he gets a six figure advance.

Before you've even finished the book, you should join the professional writer's organization of your genre (every genre has one from sci-fi to children's books to the American Society of Journalists and Authors). If they don't take associate memebers, lurk. Read their websites; see if you can join chats. Learn about your genre.

Start a blog. Write about what you are writing. Be part of a commmunity. Do this by reading other writers who are writing what you are writing. Read their blogs and comment. If they're published, and you like their work, leave a review on Amazon.

What comes around goes around in the writing world, so if you are not part of a community, you will not be included when you think it's your turn.

When you've sold your book, really become as active a member of said genre organization as you can. You will be taping published authors further up in the food chain for quotes and information. You can also get quotes from authors whose work you admire by emailing them on their sites and/or leaving comments on Amazon. You need quotes. You will have to pay back, when the time comes.

Start getting quotes about your work from published authors in your genre. Get them at least four months before publication.

Put together a list of the local media - newspapers, radio and TV (meaning cable), your alumnae newsletter - and write your own press release about your book. Try to come up with a hook - something that will make it stand out beyond LOCAL WRITER PENS NOVEL (unless, of course, the novel takes place in your locality).

Visit every book store in the area and tell them you will do a reading/signing or even a how-to-get published (you just tell your story) presentation on any day they want you.

Also (unless you are writing very graphic or explicit material) call the local school board and see if they want you to speak. Libraries usually want speakers too. Local Church, rotary, Lions, ect. clubs often will let you speak too. If you get a few speaking engagements outside of a book store, it might be worth your while to order a box of your books from the publisher at the author's discount (usually 40-50% off) and sell signed copies at the gig.

Keep writing that blog. Link to every author and writing-related site you can. Get your own website.

Your publisher will only send your book out for reviews to a list of reviewers they will not share with you. If you are obsessed about make sure you get a copy to The New York Times, Associated Press, USA Today, ect., call, get the name of the book reviewer for your genre and send it yourself (USPS has a great media rate to keep the cost down) with a personal note about why you want them to see this. Make sure you include your cell phone number and email address.

Get your friends to give you good reviews on Amazon and Barnes and Nobles.

If your book relates in any way to a current event (it's a horror novel, Halloween is coming and it recalls your teen years in said county), write an op ed piece or a letter to the editor where you can a) mention the book (with your blog or website) or sign your letter b) Jill Smith, author of WHEN HEAVEN WAS HELL.

That's the basics.

There's much more, but let's get some feedback and suggestions from your peers. Perhaps we'll have a part 2?

Oh, and by the way, don't expect your agent to do this work for you. Her job is to sell your book and guide your career, not to do your p.r. Even if s/he represents the god in your genre, get your own quote (but tell said god that you have the same agent, which should help).

Friday, January 12, 2007

Series vs. One-Off

Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans.

I started this blog vowing to write in the morning, but my mornings have gotten away from me all week, which is something writers have to learn about agents. We have lives. And the older we are - the more complicated those lives are.

I lost my writing time on Wednesday because I gave that hour to a good friend who is about half-way through her mid-life crisis. The next day, I had breakfast (which was supposed to take place before work) with another friend who is also knee-deep in mid-life crisis (and she was an hour late, which meant I lost most of the morning). Lucky for you, I am done with my mid-life crisis (got rid of the first husband, ended an unequal business partnership, learned to drive, started teaching and wrote 4 books), but that's why so many of my friends are calling me for advice.

This post is not the promised Day in the Life. I'll do that soon, when I'm feeling that my days are more on track.

But I do want to anwser your questions, so I'm going to address the one about book series.

"I came over here via Jenny's blog and I hope you'll be answering some questions on your posts because this comment caught my eye: ... If they see it as a chance to get in on a wonderful once-in-a-decade series... As a reader and writer I love series books and I'm wondering is it harder for a newer or non "brand name" author to get series interest especially when looking for an agent? How would you respond when you show interest in a project (not necessarily an offer of representation but say a request for a full) and the author says "As it happens I have W, X and Y, related books completed and I'm working on book Z now." Does it come across that the author is stuck in their own ficitonal universe or does it show that they're thinking ahead and will be ready should the initial project interest you enough to take it on?"

First and foremost, the novel has to stand on its own. So you had better make that first novel (or the first one you send me) the absolute tightest, well-written thing you have ever created.

Only if it is wonderful will I care if there are other books in the series.

So, worrying about other books in the series, or writing them, is definitely putting the horse before the cart. With that said, there are certain genres that do lend themselves to series (fantasy, mysteries, young adult fiction, some science fiction, even some nonfiction - I represent a series that evolved from the idea of THE SCIENCE OF....} You and I, and any agent worth their commission, will know whether or not there's series possibilitly in your work.

If I get a query letter telling me you have a 10 book series about the erotic life of biomorphic plants (don't laugh - I met this author at the Maui Writers conference, and there's a great story about authors being blind to possibility that goes with this, so remind me to share it at some point), I will tell you that a) it's not for me (I don't do plants - sorry) and b)sell the first one and see if there's enough interest in the sexlife of biomorphic plants to warrant 9 more volumes.

If you are lucky enough to find an agent who does plants and s/he loves your work, your agent and editor should be able to help you develop the series and make it even stronger, so having another 9 novels in the trunk is certainly an exercise in self-entertainment. Although Anne Rice had all the characters from her vampire universe in her head from her adolescence, she didn't write the books until she had an audience, and contracts.

As far as first novelists versus established writers are concerned, no agent gives a damn about your status if the work is great. The novelist I just took on is a newbie. I read the first novel and asked if there was more. She had a second manuscript, which was great (which is why I'm asking for a 2 book deal), but we've come up with what I sincerely hope will be the third novel in the series together, the plot of which could change according to the editor.

Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I am off. I hope you are too, and I sincerely hope you can take a minute out of your day to remember why we have this holiday.

Those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Author/Agent contracts

I was prepared to give you a whole list of topics from a Day in the Life to how I sort through query letters, when you took me by surprise. Three of you wanted to know why I would work on a handshake.

"Hey, welcome to the blogging world! ...I knew deals with publishers were usually sealed with handshakes, but I didn't realize there were agents expecting the same from authors. I can't imagine going into any business relationship without a written contract. What happens if the author insists on one? They can't be faulted for that, can they?"

As someone who has worked in the business for 20 years, I can't imagine a writer who would want otherwise, but I think it really depends on what stage you are at in this business.

So, I guess one of the things I'm wondering is what writers think a writer/agent contract involves? You can't force someone to work for you, sell your book or even do a good job for you (there is no regulatory agency that covers this like the Bar or the AMA), but an agent can tie up your book or all your work without ever selling anything for as long as the contract lasts.

The reason I don't use a contract is that I once worked for an agent who used one requring a writer to give the agent exclusive rights to all their written sales for a year, and if a sale was made, the option book from that sale. This agent interpreted that contract to mean any sale the writer made during the year under contract, so the agent took a 15% commission on every short story, magazine article and reprint deal any author made, even if the agent wasn't involved in it. The agent spent a lot of time suing authors and chasing down the missing 15%. I resolved that I did not want to represent someone who didn't want me to represent them, and I could put that energy into selling someone else.

While working for that agent, I had a client for whom I had gotten a six figure book deal. Unbeknownest to my boss, my client had had a drinking problem, and after selling his work, he went back to his drinking problem. When drunk at 4:00 a.m., he found it necessary to call our office and make disparaging remarks about my boss' ethnic origins. I recognized his voice, but thankfully no one else at the office did. When I informed my boss that I no longer wanted to represent him, my boss went ballistic. "Do you realize you're going to let $15,000 walk out of this door? (this is not true. The deal stayed at the agency. It was the imagined future deals my boss was referring too, and, as a now raging alcoholic, it turned out there were no future deals)." My answer was yes. "If I can find one hundred thousand dollar novel, I can certainly find another," and that's why I don't want to sign a contract. Occassionaly, agents let clients go too. Not often, but sometimes it's just not right and neither one of us should be bound by a piece of meaningless, albiet well-intentioned paper.

Publishers do not work on a handshake. The deal points are negotiated (by your agent) and then followed up with a long and detailed contract. In it, there is an agency clause that binds the book to the agency for the life of the contract. This is where I tie myself to your work, but you are only bound to me (and my agency), if I do my job and actually get you a deal. I think that's really fair.

For those of you who don't know this, I've written a book on being an agent, THE INSIDER'S GUIDE TO GETTING AN AGENT (Writer's Digest). There's a sample writer/agent contract in there, which I'll use if someone is desperate for a contract.

Most agents do use contracts. I just would rather sell you than sue you.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

New writer questions

I have just taken on a novelist. She sent me a few questions about our relationship, and I thought I would share our correspondence.

1. To whom will you submit my work?

The 7 major New York publishers, and some of the minor NY publishers who do innovative fiction. At most, 15.

2. What timetable? Does it go out to only one at a

I hope to go out with this on the 17th to about 10 houses simultaneously.

3. Will you keep me updated on what happens?

Sort of. What I mean by that is that I'll let you know when someone has passed, but if their reason is not really relevant to your writing, I won't forward you the rejection letter. I just find it's not helpful to an author's ego to get a lot of rejection. All you need is one publisher to say yes, so who really cares what the nay-sayers say?

4. When will I get the Author/Agent contract, and how?

I work on a handshake.

5. Which rights typically go to the publisher and
for how long? Which rights does the author typically retain?

If they give you a low offer, we will try to keep the foreign rights. I have agents in 14 foreign counties. You always keep the film and merchandising rights. I have film agents I work with in LA. Audio and ebook rights usually go to the publisher with a request for reversion should they be unable to sell them after a reasonable period of time.

6. How flexible do you find those? Depends on the advance.

7. Will you be asking for a two-book deal? Yes.

8. What is the typical advance for work like mine?

If only one publisher is interested, and they see this as mass market or trade, you can expect an advance between $5000 and $12,500. If they see it as a chance to get in on a wonderful once-in-a-decade series, 10 to 20 times that, especially if more than one house sees it that way. But set your expectations on the low end and you won't be disappointed.

9. Do you charge 15%?

Yes. If we retain the foreign rights, the precentage goes to 20% because I share the agency fee with my foreign agents.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

New Year's Resolution

I've been reading blogs, and selling blog authors, for at least the last three years. Every year I promise I'll start one and then never get around to it.

But this year I mean it. So here I am.

Why did I start this blog? Certainly I have more than enough to read, and hundreds of emails to answer to every day.

But I've kept a journal since I was 17, and daily writing is something I'm used to (I'm a former newspaper writer and editor too).

Most of the blogs by literary agents are by those starting out in the business, and I'm so glad to read them. But not all agents are the same, and I'm afraid that the public face of agents on the internet is skewered to the new (my associate, Jenny Rappaport,, has a blog) and I think it's important for writers (and editors and even other agents) to get a feel for what an agent in mid-career might be looking for and thinking. So here I am.

Here is what you can expect from me:.

I will try to write every work-day, most likely in the morning, and will let you know when I'm heading out of town, and not posting.

I will not write over the weekend.

I will not write about the details of my clients' deals, but I will share their experiences in general.

I will be commenting on things that happen in the publishing industry and/or New York City.

I am not taking queries on this blog. Email them to

You can ask me questions about the business, my experiences, and my opinions.