Ask The Editor

May 26, 2009

If you’ve been turned down by publishers, should you beome a publisher yourself?

We live in interesting times.

Advances are half or even a third of what they were a year or two ago. I’ve heard reports from colleagues who are accustomed to high five-figure advances for their non-fiction narratives and how-to books getting offers in the mid or even low four figures. And that’s if an author can even get an offer.

Fiction seems to be particularly difficult to sell at any price right now.

Filmmaker John Sayles’ agent failed to get a single offer on his latest novel.  Sayles has previously published acclaimed novels and is among Hollywood’s most accomplished directors and screenwriters.

The rejection of his latest manuscript drives home just how depressed the market is.

“This is really astonishing,” says Ron Hogan, senior editor of Galleycat.com, a website devoted to publishing news. “I mean, this is John Sayles! You’d think there would be some editor who’d be proud to say, ‘I brought the new John Sayles novel to this house.’ “

Anthony Arnove, Sayles’ literary agent, sent the novel out on a first round of submissions last fall, and recently sent it to another group of editors. His goal is to land a deal with a deep-pockets publisher who can promote the sprawling, epic tale about racism and the dawn of U.S. imperialism.

Sayles’ 1977 novel, “Union Dues,” was nominated for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. “The Anarchists’ Convention,” his comic short story about aging Jewish lefties, has become an American classic.

But Sayles’ earlier novels weren’t bestsellers and traditional publishers are looking for sure things. Nevermind that, as anyone who has ever browsed a remainder table knows, the sure thing doesn’t exist.

So, what should an author who has a good manuscript do? In my opinion, as traditional publishing opportunities shrink, and non-traditional opportunities expand, the best thing an author who is willing to bet on his or her own prose can do is become a publisher. I don’t mean that authors should send their manuscripts off to iUniverse or Lulu, pay a few hundred bucks, and keep their fingers crossed. That may seem an inexpensive option but it’s probably going to get you exactly nowhere. The cheap solution is actually an expensive one if nobody knows your book exists or wants to buy it.

Become a real publisher, if you have the time, money, marketing understanding, and willingness to work as you never have before for your book’s success.

More on what this means in terms of budget, planning, and everything else, in subsequent posts.

- Anita Bartholomew

April 13, 2009

Where to get a better deal than the Google Settlement? From Google.

Several writers I know have responded privately to my posts about the Authors Guild’s settlement with Google saying that they will stay in because they believe that the future of the book is electronic. And they want their books to be part of that future.

They’ve been misled into believing that those are their only choices: take the deal or have your work erased from cyberspace.

Wrong.

You can make a better deal. Google has one that’s ready-made for you, outside the settlement.

First, opt out of the settlement. Then, if you want to make your book accessible via Google, on the web, join the Google Books Partner Program.

Your books will appear where they would have appeared if you opted in to the settlement. But this way, you keep all your rights. And you can even add a “buy this book” button to the display page of your book if you offer the book for sale at your own site.

Remember: Google wants to scan your books. Just because the class action attorneys gave Google all sorts of extra rights (taken from you), doesn’t mean you have to roll over and play dead. Turn down the bad deal. Take the better one offered by the Google Books Partner Program.

“The Google Books Partner Program is a free marketing program that enables publishers and authors to promote their books online, through Google Book Search. By submitting a digital or physical copy of your book to be displayed online, you’ll make it discoverable to Google users from around the world.”

And yes, you can earn income from this –  Google shares the majority of its ad revenue with you –  and it’s probably more than you would get through the settlement. That’s because, in the Partner Program,  you deal directly with Google,  instead of with the Books Registry being set up to administer payments from future revenues via the settlement.

Use this form to sign up. You’ll need to mail a copy of your book for scanning but you can cancel your account at any time.

Here are some of the benefits of the Google Books Partner Program vs the Google Books Settlement:

  1. You send your book to Google and request that Google scan and display the book but, unlike opting in to the settlement, you can withdraw from your relationship with Google at any time.
  2. You get the majority of the revenue from ads appearing on the same page as your book. Contrast that with the settlement where, although you get 63% of the profit, that may be less than you believe. Some experts, including literary agent Lynn Chu, speculate that as much as half the revenues will be used for administrative costs of the registry before you see your share.
  3. You can include a “buy this book” link as long as it links back to your site, not that of a third party, for purchase. So,  if a preview hooks a reader’s interest, you get to sell the physical copies of your book.
  4. In the Google Books Partner Program, you don’t give up any of the rights, written into copyright law, that you now have.
  5. Unlike the settlement, you are not locked in for the life of the copyright.
  6. If something goes sour with Google, you aren’t forced into binding arbitration. You retain all your rights to sue in court.


- Anita Bartholomew

April 11, 2009

Google settlement, part 3: Authors Guild’s false information

My friend Pat McNees runs a website with good information for writers and editors. She recently posted links to various opinions about the Google settlement. I have one quibble with her section on this topic: she implies that you can trust the word of Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild.

“If you were alarmed by Lynn Chu’s piece in the Wall Street Journal (Google’s Book Settlement Is a Ripoff for Authors: ‘Why allow a single publisher to throw out a functioning copyright system?’ ) be sure to read this letter to the editor from Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild: The Google Book Deal Will Help, Not Hurt, Authors, which points out essential errors in Chu’s piece.”

Most authors, editors, and agents I know, like Pat, are willing to trust Aiken’s word. If they had studied the settlement with skeptics’ eyes, and consulted with attorneys, they more likely would trust Chu.

First, let’s deal with Aiken’s whopper:


“Ms. Chu likes the marketplace of in-print books that authors and publishers depend on. So do we: The settlement leaves it alone. Authors and publishers of in-print books will be able to participate in the settlement’s programs, but only with rightsholders’ express permission.”

I can’t imagine why Aiken would make such a patently false statement about a central issue. It’s too long to be a typo. What on earth was he thinking?

“Express permission” means “explicitly stated permission.” Any author reading Aiken’s words is likely to accept those words at face value and assume that, without his or her explicitly stated permission, he or she will not be subject to the provisions of the settlement.

Wrong.

Here’s how you get to “participate in the settlement’s programs.” Do nothing. Bam! You’re in. That’s not “express permission.” That’s license by default.

But it’s worse than that because, although the Google settlement gives authors some control over display and other incidentals, if you do nothing, and allow yourself to be lulled by Aiken’s reassurances, you’ve also agreed, by default, to mandatory arbitration (a huge issue that Chu brought up in her op ed but that Aiken never addressed).

Here’s the gist of what you need to know about arbitration: mega corporations love it because they almost always win in any dispute:

“The fine print associated with service agreements from credit card, wireless phone, Internet access, and other service contracts is increasingly likely to include a clause that removes contract disputes from the legal system, subjecting them instead to binding arbitration. Superficially, arbitration sounds like a great way to settle disagreements while avoiding the fees and animosity associated with legal action; arbitrators ostensibly offer an impartial decision quickly and painlessly. But a report issued by the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen portrays the process as heavily slanted towards business, and a Kafkaesque nightmare for individuals.” [emphasis mine - Anita Bartholomew]


March 10, 2009

What’s worse than a rejection letter? A public rejection “tweet.”

As if it weren’t stressful enough to send out that manuscript you worked on for years and then wait for an agent’s or editor’s reply. Now some authors have to fear public shaming. A couple of literary agents, Lauren E. MacLeod and Colleen Lindsay,  have been mocking the pitch letters of aspiring authors on Twitter.

Okay, so not every pitch is a hit. But, c’mon guys, play nice. This is the author’s baby you’re ridiculing. It may seem like a hoot to you but put yourself in the writer’s place.

Meanwhile, authors, make certain that you follow an agent’s guidelines to avoid incurring wrath and ridicule.

“I know writing and querying are hard,” MacLeod tweeted. “So my queryfails have been chosen from people who did not follow submission guidelines.”

December 22, 2008

Tips for succeeding in a tough market from top literary agent Adam Chromy

Adam Chromy heads up Artists & Artisans, Inc., a literary agency and management company that’s enjoying unusual success in a difficult publishing climate. Chromy’s iconoclastic, strategic approach allows him to look at the changes the industry is undergoing not just as challenges but as opportunities. Read what he had to say during our recent interview. I believe you’ll find it refreshing and eye-opening.

ANITA B: The publishing trades are full of doom and gloom. Yet, you mentioned, when we last spoke, that you’re having your best year since becoming a literary agent. Tell me to what you attribute that success.

ADAM CHROMY: Thanks for asking, Anita.  Mostly it’s just a matter of timing.  I have heard that it takes at least five to 10 years for an agent to build a substantial client list – and that is after the agent has usually spent many years as an editor or an assistant to an agent.  I came to this industry six years ago without any experience in publishing and started right up as an agent selling books – but it has only really been this year that my client list has caught up to my ambition. So the overall industry may be down and I will do less than I would have in a healthy environment but my growth this year over the last has been great.

And I also have to credit my awesome clients – many of them are selling their second or third book, and I have even had some clients whose first books failed to sell come through with big books for me to sell this year.

We also have a great agent working with me now named Jamie Brenner – she is building a great list of literary fiction and nonfiction and commercial women’s fiction.  Having someone as good as her to work with has really helped our company take off.

Finally, this year we transitioned from being a literary agency to a management company.  So we are actively engaging Hollywood contacts to get our clients’ books adapted to film and TV projects. This will be great for the clients, their books as well as us.  And we just got our first green light for a show in October!

ANITA B: Tell me a bit about one or two of your better-known projects.

ADAM CHROMY: We had a good year for literary fiction:  James Howard Kunstler’s novel, WORLD MADE BY HAND (Grove/Atlantic), was chosen by NPR’s Alan Cheuse as one of the best 5 novels of 2008. And Michael Hogan’s BURIAL OF THE DEAD received universally glowing reviews. We also had a nonfiction hit with Andrea Lavinthal and Jessica Rozler’s FRIEND OR FRENEMY which is also on the way to being adapted for a TV series. And we should have several big books coming out in 2009.

ANITA B: What are the most important changes affecting book publishing now and what changes do you see coming in the future?

ADAM CHROMY: Everyone seems to be talking about publishers publishing fewer books and paying smaller advances. But we are ready for that. In business school (yes, I have a business degree from NYU not a lit degree from an ivy league school) we learned that the railroads went out of business because they thought they were in the railroad business. They held on to railroads as the world moved on to trucks, planes, etc. They would have survived if they realized they were in the transportation business and changed with the times. That lesson will always stick with me. So I never say we are in the book business. We manage storytellers and experts with valuable knowledge. We are ready to advise them in the professional distribution of their material in books, film/TV, the Internet and any other media that will benefit them. So if the publishers go the way of the record companies and railroads we are ready and will survive because people have consumed stories since Homer and always will.

ANITA B
: What advice do you have for authors hoping to find agents and, ultimately, get publishing contracts?

ADAM CHROMY: I advise authors to build audience.  Authors who want publishers to publish their books and build an audience for them are misguided.  Publishers will publish the books of people who have already built an audience.  Blog, publish short stories, win a contest – do something to build audience.  Or write a phenomenal novel.  But the more audience you have the greater the tolerance for the quality of your writing.

ANITA B: What would you recommend published authors do to help their books stand out?

ADAM CHROMY: See above and keep doing it – half your job as an author is to keep building audience.

ANITA B: Are there particular types of books that acquisitions editors tell you they’re looking for right now  – and is this any different from what they were looking for in previous years?

ADAM CHROMY: Everyone is saying they want books from celebrities and established authors – they want safe bets.  If it’s a debut is should be a marketable high concept with exceptional quality and polished execution.

ANITA B: Anything else you want to add that you believe is important for authors and aspiring authors to know?

ADAM CHROMY: Successful story tellers and promoters will be rewarded more than ever in this new climate, but there will be less midlist and lower level spots.  So authors should be prepared to work hard and hope for a big score.  The low level authors will be mostly relegated to offering their books free online or in POD. So if you want to make a living as a writer, you need to be prepared to work hard, catch some breaks, and make sure you have great management (like us).

Good luck.

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