Thursday, September 26, 2013

Question Emporium: What ho! Wads of cash.

I am a little confused about the “wads of cash” statement. I would  not bring it up except Jessica Faust said one time on her blog that if a book is successful you should be able to pay the light bill one time maybe.

That statement made me wonder how agents stay in business. 15% of diddly doesn’t stack up to the kind of rent I used to pay when I lived in Manhattan. And no, I did not live on Park Avenue, either, although Murray Hill then was not too shabby.

In those days a lot of old ladies used to carry grocery sacks of cash around for the Mob and do well, and guess what? Nobody ever mugged them. It’s been so long since I was in town I don’t know if that career opportunity still exists or not. Giuliani, you know. It would be interesting to know if writers in NY carry grocery sacks around that do not contain groceries. 

Well, we pay our writers by check so I'm thinking the grocery sacks are full of body parts or organic veggies.

But to your question: how do lit agents stay in biz.

The answer to that is backlist.  Backlists that consistently earn royalties aren't going to buy me an apartment in Murray Hill or even the basement of Murray's Cheese, but over time they're going to keep the lights on and the metrocard current. And if you've got 15, 20, 25 of those books, well, then you've got some lovely lolly twice a year.

The books that don't earn royalties have hopefully brought in big advances that ease the pain.

I know some books will sell for $5K. I know some books will sell for $50K.

What I don't know is which books are going to earn out and which books aren't.  Mostly the answer is they aren't.

That means I need to sell mostly for big advances rather than hope for royalties. Thus, the wads of cash comment.


LynnRodz said...

Interesting question, which brings to mind another question. When you do get a big advance on royalties, does that big chunk come all at once or can it be given over a period of time - say, part one tax year, part the next? The reason why I ask is that here in France taxes are very high. Why do you think French actor Depardieu decided to become a Russian citizen rather than pay 75% of his earnings to the government? Okay, it's more complicated than that.

No, I don't plan on learning Russian!

Yes, I can dream - it cost nothing to dream big!

Janet Reid said...

Lynn, the money is paid out in chunks over a specified time period: 1. on signing, 2. on delivery, 3. on publication of hardcover, 4. on pub of paperback are general guidelines.

One of my jobs is to negotiate the best payout for my author.

And yes, we pay attention to the tax implications for our guys too.

Jessica Faust said...

I'm touched that my name still pops up now and then.

I've thought about this a lot too. Sometimes I get so excited for an author when a big check comes in and then the reality of what my cut hits me and I wonder if I have enough gas to get home.

Backlist is key for all of us. A $5000 advance is piddly, but $5000 can easily lead to a lot more in royalties and if the author is lucky enough to build and build and publish year after year it isn't long before those royalty checks can become pretty impressive. Even my cut.

No one said this business was easy, but almost everyone will universally say it takes perseverance and the will to never give up.

Anonymous said...

Great question...I've wondered how agents managed to survive on the 15% of small advances as well. I pay attention to client lists, and always figured more clients = more $ in some way, but I wouldn't have thought backlists made up the bulk.

Keisha Martin Romance Writer said...

Question: If an author does not sell well what happens to the advance and the contract? Also too I realize as an aspiring author plenty of marketing can happen but at the end of it all the choice is in the hands of teh readers so I guess another question is how can author/publisher market books in order to potentially gain readers, and hopefully earn out the advance?

NotaWarriorPrincess said...

Now now now, just because it's about money is no reason to call anybody a ho. I'm sure agenting is respectable work. Then again, good people don't necessarily make good agents....

Janet Reid said...

"good people don't make good agents" is my new fave phrase (as you can see from the blog subheader. One of the great lines from someone at Absolute Write.

Keisha, you keep the advance and the contract should address what happens when sales fall below a numerical or monetary threshold. It's called the out of print clause.

Anonymous said...

Although it may appear that our agents pay us by check, the awful truth is that we pay them.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Dear Agent

I would like three wads of cash please. One for each book in my trilogy. I don't live in the city, so it will last me quite awhile.



P.S. I don't think mob jobs are all they're cracked up to be.

LynnRodz said...

Thanks, Janet, for clearing that up for me and for giving us the opportunity to understand the ins and outs of this business. The time you spend sharing your knowledge here and at Query Shark is appreciated more than you know!

Keisha Martin Romance Writer said...

Thank you so much for answering my question now back to my writing cave and dreams of a wad of cash (lol)