Wednesday, August 20, 2008

So You Want To Get Published . . . from agent to publisher

The second entry in my series "So You Want To Get Published". For those just joining us, please also check out Part 1 - Getting An Agent.



Here's the thing.

With all of this, this whole basics of publishing thing I'm doing here, nothing is straightforward. I really hope I am getting that across. Authors get published in the most interesting and unusual fashions, at times it comes out of the blue, at others the author has been working decades before anything happens. Anything I write here is simply "typical". The usual, boring, tried and tested path. The one that works most predictably. But you must understand that this mission, should you truly choose to accept it, is weird, counter intuitive at times, at others incredibly impersonal, and at others so intimate that everyone you meet becomes your closest confidence.

Just so's ya know.


We last left off with getting an agent! Yay, we finally got an agent!! We celebrated in however manner we chose to celebrate, we called everyone we knew, posted on every writer forum we belonged to, and bought a new pair of shoes.

What next?

Next it is likely you and your agent will get together (either in person or over the phone) and discuss a game plan for your book and career. At this point (finally) you can discuss the idea of sequels, or series.*

*It is important to note that when submitting to agents, you must make sure to stress that your novel can stand on its own. There is no point for a new author to attempt to sell a series at this stage in the game. You need to prove you are capable of holding a reader's attention through one book, let alone several. Now if you do have a series I would recommend writing something like this: "My Amazing Book is a stand alone novel at 80 000 words with series potential." That's it.

Anyway . . .

Your agent may have some ideas how to pitch your work, may even use some of your query letter. She may ask for a short biography, possibly even a photograph. You may be asked to write a short snappy synopsis. Or she may feel it best to do all these things herself. At this stage you should realise that you are a team. You are allowed to give your input, ask your questions, and even disagree. But remember, your agent has been doing this a long time, you agreed to work with her. Trust is kind of important here too. But not blind trust.

Remember, always be thoughtful. That is key.

Then your agent will send your work out on submission. This is where you feel a bit like you are starting all over again. Only this time you aren't alone. This time when you get a rejection your agent gets one too. This time not only you, but your agent gets frustrated at that.

It's actually rather nice.

So . . . again . . . no two roads to publication are alike . . . there are many different paths that can be taken.

There is the nothing but rejection path. That sucks. That's where after a year or two you and your agent have a heart to heart, discuss other projects you have going on, maybe it's time to just bite the bullet and put the MS away. Maybe the agent will keep submitting it, this time to smaller houses, but thinks you should focus on the new novel.

There is the rejection from several publishers with constructive criticism path. This can be useful. If you start hearing the same stuff from all the publishers, you and your agent may decide it's time to revamp the MS. Give it a serious long look, and a serious long edit. You may stop the submission process at this point, go back to the drawing board, and then come back for round two.

Then there's the interest path. Which also has other paths off of which there are yet more.

Because when an editor shows interest, that isn't the end of it. The editor likes it. So he has to take it to the higher ups. They like it. So he has to present it at the acquisitions meeting - where not only does he have to convince the creative folks how awesome a story this is, but the marketing folks how awesome it will be to market, and the accounting folks how much money this book will make.

And each step will likely be reported back to the agent, who may (or may not) then report it to you.

So you wait.

And take each baby step. And cross your fingers.

And feel totally and utterly out of control of the situation.

And then . . . you get an offer. Chances are with this offer your agent will attempt to negotiate a better deal, things like a higher advance and an increase in royalties should you sell, say, more than 25 000 copies of your book.

There also may be other things in the contract, like which rights you retain, and which you give to them (a topic which I think deserves a blog post of its own), that will also need to be modified.

And then, finally, you have a deal! And you have a publisher!


Hold on! But that's not the only successful path my friend. Now we must rewind, go back, to the fourth path and that is . . .

The multiple interest path.

Your agent sends out your MS. Not only does one publishing house love it . . . but FOUR publishing houses love it. They love it so much that they are willing to fight each other for it. And though it would be awesome to see them duke it out in the boxing ring, trust me you want them to fight the way they fight in the publishing industry.

And that's with offers.

It is at this point that your agent will decide to hold an auction, where the publishers go a couple rounds trying to outbid each other for your work. Then you, the author, get to choose. How rare and wonderful to be in such a position !

Now you may think the choice is simple, go for more money. But it isn't just about that. The publishers will detail marketing strategies for your book as well. This is incredibly important, as I am sure you can imagine. They will also talk about their passion for your work, which, though very pleasant to hear, is also very key for an author. This is because you can tell from what caught their interest etc if they are in the same place as you with your book. If they truly "get it". Which though kind of artsy, is rather important, seeing as they will be editing your work, designing a cover for your book, and building advertising around it. You'd better hope they are as passionate about it as you are.

And then, you choose which publisher to go with.

And now you've got a publisher (whether through auction or not - still pretty cool)!

(As ever, this can be a VERY long process . . . some books take years to sell. The first Harry Potter was sent everywhere for a year before anyone was interested. Just keep that in mind.)

The money thing:

I mentioned money earlier. What do I mean by that? How does an author get paid? In the simplest terms it works as follows:

The way an author makes money is from "royalties". Royalties are a percentage of book sales. This can vary in percentage, but a typical royalty for a hardcover book ranges from 10% - 12% off the book's price. However, publishers kind of get that it takes a while for a book to come out, a year at least, and they don't really want their author to starve. So what happens is typically an author receives an advance (not always, especially if the publishing house is smaller) on royalties. Once you get this money you do not earn any more money when your book starts selling until you have made back the advance. Then you begin to earn royalties on top of the advance

So. Let's say your publisher pays you a $10 000 advance. Let's say that your books will be priced at $10 and you are getting 10% royalties. That means you would earn $1 off of every book sold. That means you have to sell 10 000 copies of your book in order to make back the $10 000 advance. Once you sell 10 000 copies of your book, you start earning money on top of that.

Now logically you would then suppose that if you didn't sell 10 000 books, you would technically owe the publisher money because they gave you the money as if you had. But you don't. The author does not have to pay back the advance.

Score! Well yes and no. Yes because the money is yours, but then things can get . . . political.

And this is where the debate over large and small advances comes in. Is it better to have a small advance, earn out, and make royalties, or is it better to get a large advance with the chance of not earning out?

The advantages of the small advance:

- more likely success rate of earning out
- if the book does really well, exceeds expectations, you will still get the money you would have got with a large advance
- earning out will impress your publisher and they will probably be very keen on your next book

The disadvantages of the small advance:

- less money
- if your book doesn't do very well, if you don't earn out your advance, you have a small sum of money and the publisher might not be that keen on your next book.

The advantages of a large advance:

- more money
- with more money invested, the publisher is likely going to put more effort into making it back. That means probably more marketing and more push to sell your book.
- you still can earn out a large advance, and then well, your publisher will love you for that and be keen on your next book
- even if you don't earn out, you've still made a lot of money

The disadvantages to a large advance:

- less potential to earn out, meaning no added income on top of the advance
- if you don't earn out, the publisher may be less keen on buying the next book from you
- depending on the size of the advance and the marketing buzz, there is a potential for being a big flop that most everyone in the industry knows about, not helping your chances at getting published with another house
- basically: the bigger they are, the harder they fall

Now keep in mind that a small advance doesn't mean you won't get marketing attention. Some houses will funnel money towards publicity that otherwise would have gone to a larger advance.

Also keep in mind that publishers do the figures expecting that most books won't earn out, so if you get the big advance and don't earn out, it isn't necessarily the end of the world.

Remember everything I am writing here are generalisations, things to keep in mind. Nothing is an absolute in the publishing industry and rules are broken every day.

And now a story:

I know an author who got an agent. Yay! Together they spent a year submitting her MS to some interest, but no luck. Then the agent met with an editor asking if the agent had a client writing in a particular genre because that was something this editor really liked and was looking for. This agent returned to the author and asked if the author had anything like that. The author thought about it, and then wrote a sample chapter and sent it to the agent. Who sent it to the editor. Who really liked it.

The editor, agent and author worked together for several months firming up the first few chapters and plot synopsis. Once the editor thought it was brilliant she took it to a meeting where everyone else thought it was brilliant too. The publishers made an offer. On three books.

The author was very happy.

The end.

Moral of the tale . . . not one step in this story (aside from the editor taking the book to a meeting) was a step I outlined above. Everything happened for this author in an unusual way. This author was unpublished and writing on spec as if she were a famous author already. If you have been published many times, you get to a point where all you have to do is submit a proposal and maybe a sample chapter and you can get a contract that way. Still, this author did just that. Even though she had never had a book deal.

So you see, there is simply no right way to get there. As I said at the beginning there is the most predictable method (which if you will read my road to publication journey, linked in the sidebar, you'll see was my method - I am dull that way, what can I say?), but sometimes things work in mysterious ways.

Even so, you'll notice how the author put in a lot of work on the MS before even signing a contract, before even knowing if the rest of the publishing house was going to be interested. And you also see how she listened to the people in the industry, took their advice, and respected their opinions (what you might not see, because I didn't tell you, was that she also found a way to make the subject her own to the point where it was no longer just writing on spec, but also writing for passion). And yes it did take a bit of luck. But we all know what the key to luck is right? You have to be prepared when it strikes. You have to be ready to grab it and run with it.

Because luck can only open the door. You're the one who's still got to make that grand entrance.

So there we have it! From agent to publisher!

Next time . . . the making of a book!


cindy said...

very informative. thank you for taking the time to share this!

Melanie Avila said...

This is wonderful! Thank you so much for this series.

Pink Ink said...

Thanks for taking us behind the scenes! Wonderful post.

djpaterson said...

Great post, Adrienne. Thanks!

Jo said...

Love it! Outlining the process while balancing luck, hard work and determination :) Comprehensive yet simple (yay!) Thank you!

Adrienne said...

You guys are so welcome! It's nice to hear that these extremely long posts of mine are actually useful for people!

Deborah Blake said...

Okay, how do I sign up for the "multiple interest" path? Oh, wait, I have to have an agent first? Drat!
And yes, they are very helpful. Even for someone who has done their homework and knows the basics of how the system works (or doesn't) it is always intesting to see it all spelled out from an author's point of view, as opposed to an agent, an editor or some other 'expert."
Thanks again.
Also, I love your Mel Brooks quote!

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say how much I appreciate your blog, Adrienne. It is a joy to read and very informative!


Mary said...

This is so informative. Thank you!

Whirlochre said...

Thnaks for sharing your thoughts on this one.

Carrie Harris said...

Yes, this is absolutely useful! It makes me feel slightly less neurotic, and anything that can do that is amazing indeed. :)