Welcome to the week that was, and what a week it was!
In last week's review, Dena Pawling said
I'm going back to the archery range today
which for some reason cracked me up completely. I guess I'm thinking of Dena in a Robin Hood hat.
John Davis Frain (he of the manuscript all of us plan to read)
Janet, I so enjoyed your discussion (some might say rant) on rhythm, citing your sentence:So one day,
When Mr. F Post
had had just quite enough of Dog P,
Thou rockest mightily with thy argument. I've had this exact discussion with a client, but I was unable to sway her. Assuming you're okay with me swiping your material, it's good to have more artillery for my next client meeting. Thanks for that.
Totally fine with swiping it. In fact, you (and all y'all) are welcome to use any of the material here. Of course, I prefer to be credited if you're posting the advice but that's mostly so people know the source and can evaluate merit from that. One of my big rants is pay attention to who said it.
On Monday, we honored those who gave the last full measure of devotion
On Tuesday, I ranted about agents who toss off little "do this, not that" in writing conference panels
Sometimes I think some agents have a moment of super rockstar stardom when at a conference. There they are, on the stage and Wow! Look at all those shiny, eager faces hanging on to my every word! All these people are here for me. They want my attention. They want me. And I get to eeny meeny miny mo my way through them all. Bwahahahaha!
You're right on the money. Particularly when we are young agents, this is a mindset that is VERY hard to understand and resist.
I wrote about this here
It's easy to be flamboyant and fun and crack jokes on stage when you're an agent at a writer's conference. It's as close to playing to a packed audience of relatives as I'll ever be now that I'm not in the third grade.
It's very easy to forget that every single thing you say will be written down as though it's gospel (it's NOT) and analyzed for hidden meanings and tripwires. It wasn't until I'd written this blog for about five years that I truly understood how woodland creatures roll.
Sigh. I think if agents truly realized how much writers freak out about everything, they would chill out on comments/guidelines like the one referenced in today's post.
We writers do a phenomenal job freaking ourselves out without an agent's help. Just yesterday a querying writer told me if an agent doesn't followup on your full within 5 days, it means they aren't really interested. The writer's logic was based on observing that when agents sign new clients they sometimes state they couldn't put the book down and contacted the writer within mere days. So says Twitter, the Honest to Smut arbitrator all things true.
Now, I read this blog, so I know that's not true, and it STILL momentarily worried me. I can't imagine the tailspin it might cause for someone new to the query trenches.
OP's question is the kind of thing I would generally stick in the housekeeping section, and I would keep it pretty short (this is a stand alone with series potential, I am currently working on my next YA project, etc.).
Most recent client I signed: full requested 1/24/16. Read 2/11/16.
Third most recent client: full requested 3/5/15. Read 3/22/15,
From that you'd think, wow, she requests and reads VERY fast.
But here's what you also need to know:
Second most recent client signed: Query 10/5/14, Read 8/17/15
I also am working with another prospect who queried 7/29/15 and I read it 4/29/16.
Looking at those two, you'd think, holy smokes, she's molasses in February in Icelandia.
But the only conclusion this data supports is: there is no norm. Anyone who says otherwise better cough up some pretty serious date to support that idea. And lest you wonder: Twitter is not serious data. Not now. Not ever.
If not to fuck with your head is there a reason for writing conferences. Oh there is the name dropping thing you can use after it is over.
Well, I know you're being a little facetious here but sure, there's a lot of good stuff that can happen at a writing conference. It's a good way to actually talk to an agent when that's what you need to do. Just remember to keep some perspective. A writing conference and meeting with an agent is not the doors of heaven opening wide. It's just a place to find some help and advice, and maybe some new friends, all of which will help you pry open those doors yourself.
As E.Maree said later in the week (Wednesday)
One thing I found *incredibly* helpful here was to make pro writer friends. Visit cons, and talk to people with Big Five contracts, mid-list contracts, small pub contracts, self-pubbers and everything in-between. People who're unafraid to talk business.
A couple of years ago, when Month9 requested a full of one of my projects, a pro writer buddy stepped in to warn me that he'd heard troubling stories from Month9 offers and would recommend I steer clear.
If you're still in the query trenches and haven't yet found a shiny agent friend to steer you true, talking with writer friends is an absolute godsend. For introverted woodland types it can be hard to get out there and speak to writers that are further on in their careers than you, but having a varied network of experienced writers is amazing. I couldn't be without my writer buddies.
Adib Khorram cracked me up here:
I feel kind of bad for Smut the Dragon. It has to be hard growing up when your older brother is the Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities. "Hi, I'm Smut, the, uh, Second-Chiefest and Second-Greatest of Calamities."
Imagine the family dinners.
I really want to be The Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities.
On Wednesday we talked about the value of artifacts for novels
Colin Smith asked:
Janet: How much of Gary's supplemental material was suggested by him vs. to him, or did the idea for the maps, timelines, and notes come out of editorial discussion between the three of you (you, Gary, and editor)?
I don't remember really. I know that the ms that went on submission didn't have any supplemental material at all.I think Gary suggested the timeline, and from that came the author notes. I'm not sure where the map idea came from; if I had to lay a wager I'd say Gary. Since all that kind of supplemental material is the responsibility of the author, the editor may have suggested it, but it was Gary's choice to create and include it. Since I love maps, I'm glad he did.
When I first read the post I thought the OP's question was more about plagiarism --such as, would it be okay for her character to write a resume and use the actual resume her grandfather wrote. That would be fine, right?
As long as what you use is in the public domain, you're fine. If it's not in the public domain, someone has the rights to it, even if it is something from your grandpops. Permission from the rights holder is REQUIRED. There's a clause in the publishing contract (the Warranties clause) that says anything that requires permissions is the responsibility of the author. The publisher WILL NOT CHECK this. That means, if you sign the contract, you've said your permissions are or will be in order. In other words, you use something you don't have the rights for, and without permission, and the publisher's insurance and legal folks won't step in to assist if things go awry.
Thus: don't use anything unless you're sure. The ugliest fights on stuff like this comes from the least likely suspects: "But Mom, why are you suing me over using Granddad's old resume?"
Debradorris picked up on my "slinking off" comment and asked:
Janet, how does the QOTKU, a majestic shark, slink off?
Where's there's a fin there's a way.
On Thursday we talked about the unfolding mess at a small publisher beset by a host of problems:
Lisa Bodenheim asked:
Another question from this novice writer: Is the on-signing payment le Sharque mentions in #1 the same as an advance?
An advance is ALL the money a publisher pays "in advance of royalties" The on-signing payment is most likely only a portion of the advance. Generally advances are paid in chunks:
1/3 on delivery and acceptance of manuscript
1/3 on hardcover publication
If it's a big book and a large advance it could be:
1/4 on signing
1/4 on D&A
1/4 on hardcover pub
1/4 on ppbk pub OR 12 months after hc pub whichever comes first
Lennon Faris asked:
Oh man, when I read this it just makes me feel ignorant. I mean, smarter now, but... now I know even more of what I don't know. This is what I was hoping my agent would know all about. I'm wondering now if that is presumptuous and naive of me? Would an author ever tell their agent 'no don't submit to that publisher b/c I don't like what I've heard' without severely offending the agent."
I really REALLY hope I know more about a publisher than any of my clients do. After all, that is my value here: knowledge and expertise the client does not have. And frankly some of those snake pit author chat chains are so full of misinformation it's really not even funny.
However. If a client has concerns about a publisher, it's something we will discuss. I won't submit a client's work to a publisher the client doesn't want to work with, whether I think that's a good choice or not. It is the client's work. S/he gets the final say on who acquires it, and holy smokes I do not want to be the agent who says "gosh, no the client thinks you're odiferous in your dealings, so we're not taking the offer."
Susan made a very good point here:
As someone who had lost a lot due to illness, including the ability to do my job per my usual work ethic, I felt sympathy for the owner of Month9. Until I read the article. Holy cow--smoke and mirrors, indeed! I feel terrible for the authors for having to experience this!
What this ultimately comes down to is a question of character. She didn't seem to have much respect for her clients, and respect goes a long way in any relationship--a business partnership like this notwithstanding. Character tells you a lot about who a person is; who a person is can tell you a lot about how their company is run and, in this case, how your books and you, as the author will be treated.
Our agency faced a medical crisis some years back. One of our young agents was suddenly, with no notice or prep, unable to work at all. It was instant crisis mode, and it was a real learning experience. Thankfully all of us pulled together as a team and handled the work. There were some bumps along the way of course, and much of that was because we had never even thought of what to do if someone is stricken ill so quickly and completely.
A small publisher, beset with illness, few staffers, and a lot of clamoring writers no doubt feels bruised and overwhelmed. I have a great deal of sympathy for how isolated and alone she must have felt/is feeling. The trick is to ask for help. And of course, to have actually thought about this before it happens.
Just Me asked:
Normally I just lurk, but today's post had me wondering. Could an author caught in a bad contract sell the contract to another author or someone else?
Publishers can sell contracts. The bankruptcy clauses are mostly useless because a bankruptcy judge can decide the contract is a company asset and sell it to cover debts. (See Triskelion.)
Yes, reverting rights is better. But if an author has a bad option clause or a bad non-compete and is not getting paid for the book(s) in the contract anyway, could they sell it to someone else to provide the future books? That person would also receive any royalties due which is why authors would not normally want to do that. But if you're not making money anyway, could you? Has it been done?
No. Standard publishing contracts preclude "assignment" of the author's obligations. The author can direct that someone else be paid, but the actual work is warranted to be that of the author.
Also, generally publishers can't sell contracts either, unless it's part of the overall sale or liquidation of the company.
The publisher can release you from an option and a non-compete clause. That's negotiable. Whether it would be considered as affecting the assets of a company in bankruptcy I do not know.
This is an agency, not a publisher. It's the alliance of Julie Baror, Elisabeth Weed, Faye Bender, and Brettne Bloom. They're top notch agents.This post is almost like ESP. I was curious about the publishers I've seen on Publisher's Marketplace I'd never heard of, and this post made it click for some reason. here are recent examples that caught my eye:The Book Group - 36 deals--
Unnamed Press - 16 deals
Opposites Attract - 1 deal (yikes)
(a division of Torquere Press)
Groundwood Books - 5 deals
(a division of House of Anansi, Canada)
Maybe some of these are imprints of larger pubs.
The last two are imprints of a larger company, yes. Unnamed Press is a small press in LA.
One of the ways to evaluate small presses is see who is selling to them and if they're only doing digital books. See if they have an address and phone number listed at Publisher's Marketplace. See how many people are acquiring. Check the website for distribution, a catalog, a focus on selling books, rather than persuading authors to submit work.
E. D. Martin asked:
I'm confused about this: "A potential client who starts issuing instructions about what they want in a publishing contract is a bad risk." If authors are expected to take an active part in their writing career, shouldn't they have a say in the contract?
How much do you know about publishing contracts? Chances are you know less than I do. Even publishing lawyers often don't know the norms of publishing contracts. They know a lot about the law, less sometimes about how things actually work.
My clients know what their contracts say. If they have questions about it, they ask. They don't come in telling me what they will or will not accept. Quite rightly I hope, they have decided to work with me so they don't have to know that stuff. My job is to keep them out of the briar patch and they have confidence I will do so.
Of course if you have an idiot agent who doesn't negotiate the boilerplate contract from a publisher, or who can't explain to your satisfaction what something in the contract means, well then, you should be doing something proactive here. Like finding a competent agent.
On Friday we discussed the funds remit clause in the author agency agreement.
Scott G asked:
Janet, if there's ever a time in my life when I am presented with an author/agency agreement, (if it's not yourself) could I hire you to look it over?
Sorry, no. If a prospective client of mine turned up with my agreement in hand, redlined by Felix Buttonweezer of Weezer, Beezer and Sneezer, LLC, that prospective client would find himself looking at the exit sign. Felix at WB&S is a competitor. I'm not sure he'd have YOUR best interests at heart so much as grinning merrily at the idea of making my life miserable.
For contract review you want someone who's NOT a competitor. In this case it would be a publishing lawyer. If you need names, let me know. I know some good ones.
Dena Pawling said:
Janet wrote "If the agent pushes back on this, watch for how they say it." I'm sure that also applies to how the writer asks the question. If OP would say "I demand this modification" that is quite a difference from "Can we discuss a modification".
I can certainly understand OP's question though, and the hesitation in asking about a modification. I remember just a few weeks/months ago [time flies as I get older] when Janet wrote in a blog post that her own agency agreement is not negotiable. But would Janet agree to modify her own agency agreement if the request was reasonable [similar to this request]? Or would that be a deal breaker? Or is just the fact of asking the question a deal breaker?
Yes indeed, how the question is framed is certainly important. Clients demanding anything are soon not-clients. I don't work well with that kind of mindset.
If it comes to pass that something needs to be changed in my agency/author agreement I'll certainly consider it carefully. Generally I don't do modifications to the contract because I have the same expectations of and obligations to all my clients. If one client wants funds remittted in three days, not five, that's an undue burden on our staff here to remember this ONE author has three days in his contract not five.
If an author wants me to accept deals on his behalf while he's in outerspace, I won't agree to it even though it will make life easier for all concerned. Our contract forbids it, and it's in the client's best interest to have that protection. Instead I'd work with the client to have a third party able to agree on his/her behalf.
Eric Steinberg asked:
These types of questions and the answers kindly provided by Ms. Reid and other agents as to what types of clauses should or shouldn't be in literary agency contacts made me wonder something. Something I hope will someday be more than an academic questions.How common or uncommon is it for a writer to have an attorney review a literary agency contract prior to signing? Thanks!
Not common at all. I've had several clients consult attorneys about the agency agreement, and generally the points they came back with were useless. And the clients got a nice fat bill, and no results.
Lawyers are problem finders by nature. You can't spell out every problem in a contract and mandate how it will be handled. At some point you have to have faith you've selected the right agent to work with. If you haven't, make sure the agency agreement lets you leave.
I haven't lost a single client who asked an attorney to review the agreement. I have not signed clients who came back with laundry lists of requested changes. My favorite was the man who wanted client funds in a trust account. He failed to understand that trust account has a specific meaning in bankers terms. We have (as mandated by AAR and good accounting practices) a separate dedicated account for client funds. It is a checking account however, not "trust account"
On Saturday we talked about whether lousy sales figures follow you like a cloud
Shaun Hutchinson really nailed it here:
Sales figures are weird. My first book didn't do well...it tanked actually. My second book hadn't come out yet when I split with my agent. When I started querying my third book, I got a lot of rejections that praised the book but then gave me vague reasons for the rejection. Whether they said so or not, I know a lot of the rejections were because of my crappy sales numbers for book 1. The wonderful agent I eventually signed with and I did talk about my crappy sales numbers, and she told me it would definitely be a challenge to sell my third book because of them, but that she believed in my third book enough to think we could overcome those sales numbers. And we did. We sold The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley, and more books after that.
Bad sales numbers definitely play a role in future book sales, but they are not the end of the world.
The Duchess of Yowl's last week here at Shark Summer Camp:
The Duchess of Yowl needs a deuce
The Duchess of Yowl points out the obvious
The Duchess of Yowl makes fetch happen
Now it's time for the week to come!