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Entries in Money (20)


Is the Check In the Mail?

Question of the day: I am about to have my first freelance article published -the article will be published in the May issue so it's not out yet. My concern is that I have not heard anything about what I will be paid for this article. I never discussed it with the editor before and I have not heard from anyone else at the magazine about it. Am I being too impatient or does it look like I will not be receiving compensation?  

Oh my gosh, this is not good. Writers, please, never find yourself in this situation! Money is an uncomfortable subject to raise, but please, please, please, raise it as soon as you're offered an assignment, if not before.

In this case, I would email or call your editor asap. You should have received a contract for your article, and in this contract, it should state the terms of what you'll be paid. So I would call her/email her and say that you haven't yet received the contract, and can she please send it out asap. THIS IS STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE for any reputable magazine, and you should get one stat. I would also ask - clearly - what the per word rate is, and I would make it clear that you have the expectation that there is indeed a per word rate. Though you could perhaps word this a bit more subtly - i.e, "I realized that we didn't discuss payment. I'm was so excited to receive the assignment that I let this important aspect slip by! Can you please tell me what your standard rate per word is and when I can expect a check?"

But in order for them to pay you, they need information from you - social security, address, etc - and I'm a little alarmed that this wasn't asked for and the contract wasn't provided. 

Writers CANNOT forget that this is a job, and editors EXPECT to have the money discussion with you! Please, please, please (and I'm saying this so kindly - you can't read my tone here, but I really am) do not let yourself be taken advantage of. Contact your editor NOW and find out what's going on. And in the future, always know that asking about money/payment is simply part of the negotiation process, and you should never feel awkward raising it.

Readers, any advice for this reader?


Saying Sayonara To Your Day Job

Question of the day: My question is: At what point did you realize you could write full time? 

If you're asking me to speak from personal experience, I'll offer the caveat of the fact that I was already doing writing in the form of PR and marketing when I segued to magazines and then later to fiction. So I don't really think that I should hold myself up as the prime example of when to quit your day job because, well, writing was already my day job. 

That said, I'm asked this question - when can I quit to write fiction (or freelance) full time - and my answer is always the same: not as soon as you'd like. Establishing yourself in the freelance world, especially these days with the magazine market tanking, can take years. If memory serves, I believe that I earned 35k my first year of freelancing. I had a spouse who was also bringing in money, but that's around where I came in, and it wasn't for lack of trying. I was pitching my ASS off, working my ass off. But you get what you get, and despite my ferocious work ethic, I wasn't exactly rolling in the dough (for a NYC salary) for the hours I put in. From there, I built on this salary every year and yes, eventually, I made six-figures from my magazine assignments, but I also supplemented with corporate writing and always had the parachute - if things really went bad - that we were a two-income family. 

With fiction, it's even trickier. While with magazines, you can sort of anticipate (if you're lucky) of building on previous success, I'm not even sure that the same thing can be said with fiction. Most debut advances are terribly low (we're talking 10k low), and don't forget that they get paid in three installments AND your agent deducts 15%. Yes, if your book is a break-out success, you'll earn more the next time, but - and this is just me being honest - most books aren't break-out successes, even when you're sure they will be. And even if your debut advance is higher, very few debut authors will earn something akin to six-figures, and even if you do, then what? You won't get paid again until you sell your next book (or earn out your advance, which no author should bank on), and if your debut doesn't live up to expectations, there's no promise that your next advance will be higher than your first.

Wow. That sounds depressing. I don't mean it to be. Look, I'm proof that you CAN earn a great living as a full time author. But for every one of me, there are dozens of other published authors who have kept their day jobs until their third book deal or so. (Which in no way elevates me above them or anything like that - I'm just trying to present the financial realities of being a writer. PLEASE don't think I in anyway am disparaging people who have day jobs. I'm not. In fact, I'm impressed by them! I don't know how the heck they do it all!) But I'd be irresponsible and remiss not to tell you to keep working wherever you're working for a good long while. If you get the half-million dollar offer for your debut? Well, then, without knowing your tax return, I can't tell you what to do, but I'd say it was safe to quit. Barring that, keep working AND keep writing. I think you'll know when the time has come to tell your boss you're outta there.

Anyone else want to weigh in? Do any of you juggle day jobs with being published authors? How and when did you or will you know that it's time to quit?


Understanding Co-op

So you've probably heard the phrase co-op here on the blog before, and if you're new to the industry, wondered just what the heck I'm talking about: a pc health-store where everyone pitches in? A preschool where the parents work in shifts?

Nope, I'm talking about the space at the front of the store that publishers pay for.  Kristy Kiernan tweeted this Fast Company article about co-op last night that I wanted to pass along to you - it's a very good explanation of what it is and why it's important, and while I don't share the author's relative dislike of BN, I think it's a great behind-the-scenes explanation. Co-op is arguably THE MOST important element a book's success, so it's always good to understand the machinations behind it.

Read the article here. 



Old Work, New Agent

Question of the day: When you break up with your agent after your first book was published does the new agent now rep that title or does that stay with the old agent?

I've never been in this exact position but I believe that technically, yes, the old agent reps that title. I know in my case, my agent left her old agency after she sold my debut, but I still get royalty information from that old agency, so technically, they'd get any profits, etc, from that book. THOUGH, since I'm still with the same agent, she still reps this work if, say, we ended up selling other rights than we previously had.

I think the best thing to do in this case - I'm assuming you've parted ways with your agent and are interested in selling additional rights to that work - is simply ask her if she has any intention of ever furthering that book's chances in the marketplace, and if not, ask her if she'd consider releasing you from the contract you signed. It might not be up to her: if she's one of many agents within an agency, she might not have authority to do this, but if she works alone, she might. (I'm guessing here.) If she has no plans of ever making another dollar off of this work - and if she's a reasonable person - she might just let you pass it off to the new agent, who could pursue foreign opportunities, etc.

But as I said, I've never been in this exact situation. Have any of you readers out there? Want to advise our question-asker?


Size (of sales) Does Matter

Question of the day: I have heard that if your first book does not do well than it is near impossible to be published again.  So my question to you is....does it make sense that my agent is waiting to shop around my second memoir proposal until she saw what sales were? Should agents give input into the proposals you send? 

I think it can go either way: some agents like to jump the gun and sell your follow-up book BEFORE your first book has come out...this way, even if your book doesn't light the world on fire, you have a book deal. But some also prefer to wait to see how your book does. Of course, this can backfire: if your sales aren't strong, you have an uphill battle. (More on that below.) But if your sales DO take off, then you can command a lot more money for your next one.

In your case (blog readers, she elaborated on her situation, which I cut out so as not to identify her), I think - personally - your agent is giving you the cold shoulder. There's waiting to see what sales are, and then there's waiting until the cows come home to see what sales are. You already know what I think about agents who aren't your strongest advocates (and if you don't read the archives), so if you sense that she's blowing you off and not interested in shopping around your second book, then have a frank discussion with her and/or branch out to find someone new. Yes, in my opinion, agents who are vested in your career CERTAINLY WILL help you with your proposal - it's in their best interest to help you cultivate the strongest package to put forward. But if the agent simply doesn't want to move forward with you period, well, then, the indications of indifference will be fairly clear.

Is she right to tell you that she has to wait for sales figures? Well, yes, sales do matter - whether or not it's fair. (I say not because plenty of books make their publishers money, even if sales aren't stellar, but then again, I'm not a publisher.) In my own experience, my first book did fine - didn't break sales records, didn't totally tank - but because I had an agent who was willing to fight to the death for me - and for my next manuscript, which, voila, was Time of My Life - I still landed another book deal. But time and again, we ran up against the mantra of, "Well, her first sales weren't great." And EVEN THOUGH this was clearly a much bigger book, and EVEN THOUGH many agreed if it were my first book, I'd be getting huge offers thrown my way, it didn't matter. Sales figures were checked, and eh, the offers (I think we got four of them) were only okay. FORTUNATELY, my agent refused to be cowed, and she fought for me, and I fought for myself, and we - collectively, as a team - ended up with an offer that we were very happy, at the imprint I wanted to be at, with the editor I was dying to work with. But we ended up there because she - my agent - stood shoulder to shoulder with me. And in the end, of course, the book has far outsold my advance, defied original expectations, and landed me a much bigger advance for The One that I Want.

So, do sales matter? Unfortunately, you betcha. But they're not everything. Not if you strategize smartly and have someone who believes in you. I'm fortunate that I did. I'm not sure that your agent is willing to fight tooth and nail for you, and if she's not, you know what I'd recommend you do. :) Good luck, whatever you decide!

Readers, anyone have any experience - positively or negatively - with sales of one book influencing another?


Do You Want It Hard or Soft?

Question of the day: Can you explain the difference between a hardcover release and a paperback release? Which is better? What about e-books?

First of all, forgive the header innuendo. I couldn't help myself. :) Second of all, I'm happy to explain MY opinions on this subject, with the understanding that this can be a little touchy and not everyone will likely agree with me!

So, when you sell your book, you usually sell it with the understanding that it will come out either in hardcover, trade paperback or mass market. I'm going to solely deal with the first two because I've never had a book come out in MM (the even smaller version of a paperback that you often see in airports or grocery stores), so can't claim to have first-hand knowledge of that situation. Whether or not you land a hardcover deal depends on a few factors - 1) the imprint that makes an offer (some imprints, such as Avon, solely publish in pbk), 2) how much money they're offering you (generally - and this is just a rule of thumb and not always true, bigger advances garner hardcover offers - I'll explain why below) and 3) where your agent/editor think you fall in the marketplace.

What's the positive of coming out in hardcover? Well, there are a few. (Don't worry, I'll get to the negatives.) For one, you get TWO shots at the book doing well and TWO shots at earning back your advance. So there's the first wave, and then the second, as you can see from what I've been doing this past week with Time of My Life. For two, hardcover books are generally the ones that grab reviews in the major mags/trades (though not always, of course!). For three, for whatever reason, there is a certain prestige within the industry about hardcover books...I'm not saying I agree with it, but the general belief is that there's something...grander?...not sure if that's the right word, but something along those lines with hardcover. And again, for four, hardcovers often get bigger advances because as I noted in my first point here, there's a bigger opportunity to earn it back AND more media coverage to generate buzz.

Now. Before anyone gets upset, let me say that there are downsides in being published in hardcover too. For one, the price will turn some people off, especially if you're a new author. So your agent/editor may very well try to build your audience in pbk with the long term plan of eventually coming out in HC. For two, if your HC doesn't perform, the publisher has the option NOT to publish you in pbk, which really leaves you screwed. For three, paperbacks tend to sell A LOT more copies - so while yes, someone in my position DOES have the opportunity to come out with a paperback - it CAN be nice, especially for a new author, to really sell like gang-busters out of the gate.

I really don't have any idea about e-books, if you're talking exclusively publishing in that realm. Maybe someone on here does? If you're talking Kindle, I believe that this is part of your entire publishing contract and you receive a certain percentage for each sale. (I'd have to check my specific contract however and am too harried to do so at this exact moment.)

You know, it's a tricky thing - which one to come in. Both have their positives and negatives, and I guess this is where having a trusted agent to advise you really comes into play. But I'm curious to hear feedback from others: hard or soft? Preference? 


A Little Support

(An admin note: there was a tiny kink in the new blog publishing, so I had to switch the title of this page to I'm sooooo sorry to ask this of you again, but if you link to the blog from your blog, can you amend it? SO SORRY. But this should fix the Google Reader problem of the RSS showing up as a generic blog feed. Thanks again!)

Okay...Question of the day: My publisher doesn't put a lot of marketing money behind my orders & print runs are small, which begs the question: why even publish them? And I do hustle my ass off continuing to hope that will make a difference in demand and orders. A girl can dream, right?

You know what? I really don't know the answer to this, but wanted to pull it out of the comments section because I think it makes for such an interesting discussion. My husband and I chat about this fairly often. He's a finance guy, so I can't tell you how many times he's looked at the publishing industry and said, "What the hell are they doing?" If it were up to him (and like-minded individuals), which, I should say, it's not and probably for good reason, they'd only buy books for good advances with strong print runs. Why, he says, as you do, would you buy a book only to leave it dying on the vine? Either you support a book or you don't.

And I have to say, part of me agrees with him. I've seen how brutal this industry can be. I've seen how WONDERFUL it is for a writer to get published, only to also see, yes, how gutted that writer can be when the book falls in the proverbial forest without making a sound. Raising the question: if a book is published and no one reads it or buys it, is it really published at all? (Yes, obviously, it is, but to what end?)

On the other hand, and I know some of you will argue this, who's to say what books will succeed and what books won't? (I'll argue that the marketing dept is the one to say it, but that's a whole different post.) Yours could be that break-out book, or yours could sell 100 copies but truly touch the 100 people who read it. I guess maybe it comes down to different goals: if you only want to reach readers, regardless of the number, then publishing your book is indeed worth it, regardless of print run or advance size. If your goal is to really make an impact on the book world, well then, yeah, these other factors matter.

Maybe publishers buy these books and then offer little support simply because they want to saturate the market with a variety of options for readers; maybe they do so because they have a certain number of books they need to publish each year. I don't really know. I do know that authors can feel awfully let down if they're not offered the support they're hoping for, but that this is an industry lesson that I'd say 99% of authors have to learn: whatever your expectations, they're likely to be dashed in some way. Maybe that sounds cynical, but whenever I talk to author friends who are on their second or third or fourth book, this is the consensus. Push for as much as you can get, hope for as much as you can get, but don't be surprised if it all doesn't come your way.

Anyway, I've gone on a tangent. Why do you guys think publishers buy books and then don't support them? Who here gains and who here loses?


It's All About Distribution

Question of the day: How do books get in which stores, their placement etc? I've heard authors say if they don't make it in Walmart or Target, they expect to take a huge hit in their total sales. And that makes up a tiny slice of their total sales. Can you explain a bit more about this process?

Ah yes, this is one of the big secrets that many soon-to-be published authors don't uncover until they're published: distribution (and print run) are king. In many, many ways, much of the success of a book is determined long before it hits shelves, and is up to a team you might not even have thought much about - the sales team.

Here's what happens: you write your book, you and your agent deem it genius, you and your editor deem it genius, and then...from there...a lot of it is out of your hands. Hopefully the art dept gives it a fabu cover, and hopefully the marketing and PR team come up with an incredible campaign, but what really has to happen is that the sales team has to believe that this book can sell the hell out of itself, and thus, when they take it to Barnes or Borders or Amazon or Ingram or Target or Walmart, etc, their buyers want to place big orders. If the sales team just isn't as jazzed up as it needs to be or if they can't sway the buyers to place big orders, your book simply isn't going to get in enough places to make much of a dent. You can hustle the hell out of it and if buyers can't find it, well, they can't buy it now, can they? (I would say that this might be the single biggest complaint you hear from published authors - that no one can find his/her book, and if you feel like complaining, just know that you have company on this one.)

As far as what really makes the biggest hit, in terms of sales? Yes, Target, Walmart and Costco are biggies. In fact, I was just informed that Target placed a big order on the paperback of TOML and named it a Breakout Book from Aug-Oct, and my team (ugh, not to sound pretentious) is jazzed. Because the support of one of these biggies can completely change the trajectory of your sales and your success. That said, can you hit a best-seller list without it? Well, sure, my hardcover did, but you still need a strong distribution throughout the major chains (again, up to your sales teams and the store buyers). There are few things more frustrating than getting great reviews and great press and knowing that people WOULD buy it if they COULD find it, but since they can't find it, they forget about it, and voila, there goes the momentum that a prominent review might have held.

So how do buyers make their decisions? I'm not a buyer, but from what I can tell, it is partially based on previous sales, partially based on trade reviews, partially based on the amount of support and $$ that your publisher is throwing behind you. So they place an order, and these cumulative orders determine your initial print run. If Target or Walmart decides to place a biggie order, it can significantly boost your print run and generate a ton of enthusiasm which trickles down to your entire team...and thus, might help them sway other buyers to place bigger and better orders.

As far as Amazon, I think it depends on the book. I found that Amazon orders made up about 15% of Time of My Life hardcover sales. But then, I had strong distribution in stores, so maybe people preferred to literally get their hands on it when purchasing. Others might find this percentage higher if their book is harder to find or lower if their book is available everywhere (airports, grocery stores, etc).

It's funny to realize how much of this process is out of your hands. Well, maybe funny isn't the right word for it. :) But so much of it depends on outside factors: what buyers think will sell, other books that are launching the same month that yours are, how much marketing dough they're throwing your way, etc. I guess my advice is to go into it with realistic expectations: almost every author I know (barring the biggies) has gotten those emails saying, "I want to buy your book but can't find it!," and it is so, so frustrating, but it is simply how this game is played. Hopefully, your sales team is doing a kick-ass job (a HUGE shout-out to mine for landing me Target - I freaking LOVE THEM!!), and that's all you can ask for at the end of the day.

Other authors want to weigh in? I'm sort of fascinated by this subject.



The Price of an Agent

Question of the day: What do agents charge? What advice do you have for someone that wants to write a book & be published?

Legitimate agents don't "charge" anything. If anyone, ANYONE, wants you to pay him or her for reading/submitting/publishing your manuscript, run, run, run as fast as you can in the other direction, and you might consider reporting him to Editors and Predators, as well.
Agents earn their keep by selling your work. Period. So if they make money only when YOU make money, which is critical, because their success is contingent on your success - this is why it behooves them to work for you. Agents usually take about 15% of the, if your ms sells for 10k, they earn $1500; if your ms sells for 100k, they earn 15k. You get the idea. Anyone who wants to charge you differently (more or less) is a scam artist. (I should note that these percentages might change slightly in the area of foreign rights, film, etc, but this is a general barometer.)
As far as how to get started? WRITE. Full stop. You cannot sell a book without having written it. I've read before that something like 90% of the populations believes that they are capable of writing a book. Ha! Of that 90% how many actually write it? Well, I don't have the specific percentage on that one, but I can assure you that it's a tiny fraction of this percentage. Wanting to write a book and actually doing it are two very, very different things. So get going. Prove to yourself that you're one of the few who CAN do it, not just dream it.



On Advances

Did you guys see this article in the New York Times on writer advances? I've mentioned a lot of the info before, but it's a very thorough piece and well worth reading.