Tuesday, October 30, 2007


I thought I'd talk about e-publishing today. Kathleen Bolton at Writer Unboxed has a nice post about the history of e-publishing. It seems that the many of the e-publishers that are doing well started their imprints as a way to distribute books that are outside the bounds of what NY print publishers would normally publish, like gay erotica novels or niche books. Thus, it can be as difficult for an author to get published by a reputable e-publishers as by a reputable print publisher.

According to this Dear Author post, some e-publishers are even taking their e-books into print and getting them into brick-and-mortar stores.

As usual, Victoria Strauss has written an excellent article on electronic publishing, including the advantages, disadvantages, and things to watch out for. Also, The Rejecter wrote a post about E-books, and Jessica Faust at Bookends wrote an informative post on A Look at E-Publishing.

Briefly, the cost of putting an e-book together is substantially less than the cost of producing a print book, so the author gets more money per book sold and often receives that money more quickly due to the shorter time from contract to published book. However, the number of people buying your book is much smaller, so you will probably be paid less overall than if your book was printed by a reputable print publisher. As with print publishers, you need to do your research and make sure that the e-publisher is reputable before submitting your work to them.

The Dear Author blog has several other good posts on e-publishing for people interested in learning more.
What Authors Should Look for in an E Publisher
Will eBooks Revolutionize e-Publishing?
The Marriage of Ebook and Print Can Ring Profit Bells

Hope this was helpful for anyone considering e-publishing or just wanting to know more about it.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Three-sentence pitches

Jessica Faust at Bookends is currently critiquing pitches or hooks from query letters. She asked that they be one to three sentences long, though she graciously seems to be critiquing pitches that are a bit longer. Of all the hook critiques contests I've read, in my opinion, Jessica Faust gives the clearest explanations of what works and what doesn't. Here are a few things I picked up from the first day of critiques:

Remember, you have about two sentences to grab an agent in a query letter and about two minutes in a verbal pitch session.

Eek! I didn't know that. I thought agents read until they were confused, completely turned off by the idea or writing, or reached the end of the query. That information certainly changes how I'd write my query letter.

Things that she brought up that bear repeating are:

I need to know the why more than the who. Why are they solving this case? What’s their motivation? What’s the threat?

What's your character's motivation to start in the quest, the investigation, or whatever, and why do they continue despite the danger to themselves? Jessica also stated that you should start your pitch where the conflict starts.

Since condensing a plot makes it sound like a lot of others, include what makes your book different. What is it about the conflict that makes your story stand out? Why would readers buy your book instead of the many others with similar plots?

And don't forget to show, not tell, and let your "voice" come through in the pitch.

As usual, I'm left staring in dismay. I keep wondering why it's resonable to expect that we can do all that in three sentences. Especially when what sounds unique and intriguing to one agent seems totally uninteresting to another agent. Still, this pitch critique series will be a good learning experience for everybody. Thanks, Jessica, for taking the time to do it.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Sample Publisher-Author Contracts

SFWA has a section on their website with sample publisher-author contracts that authors might find interesting.

Author's Guild gives advice on negotiating your own contract if that's what you decide to do (or if you just want to better understand what your agent is doing) at Improving Your Book Contract.

There is also a Writer's Digest Article on negotiating your own contracts.

Agent Jonathan Lyons at Lyons Literary LLC is writing a series on the various parts of a contract:
Grant of Rights
Net Royalties
Reserve for Returns
Flow Through

And author Madeleine Robins at DeepGenre wrote about Contracts 101: Copyright.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

What Are Your Chances?

The Rejecter wrote about your chances of getting taken on by an agent in What Are Your Chances Really and why agents don't take on many new writers in Why We Seem to Hate New Writers.

Agent Miss Snark talked about how often she requests partials or fulls based on a query letter in her Speaking of Numbers blog entry. Most agents agree that they only request partials about 1-7% of the time based on query letters and request full manuscripts for only about 2-5% of those. To break that down further, most agents are getting 100-200 query letters a week (about 10,000 queries a year!) but are only taking on 3 or 4 new clients (some take more, others less) each year. The depressing news is that even good, picky agents only manage to sell about 70-95% of the manuscripts that they take on.

By the way, Miss Snark also talked about what things made her more inclined to reject a manuscript in her blog entry The Tipping Point. At least agents like her are willing to help us avoid some of the common errors that knock our manuscripts into the "rejection" percentages.

Monday, October 22, 2007

More About Query Letters

Query letters seem to be a never-ending source of blog posts. Here are a few more that I found which might be helpful:

The Rejecter wrote about Query Letter Basics and Credentials that you should or should not use in query letters.

Author Victoria Strauss at Writers Beware! wrote about More Reasons Not to Use Automated Query Services.

Agent Kristin Nelson on her Pub Rants blog gives examples of query letters that her clients sent her and what she thought about them. This includes her posts on Query for Demon’s Lexicon and Query for Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. She also shared the letters that she wrote to the publishers for Demon's Lexicon and Hotel on the corner of Bitter and Sweet.

Jessica Faust at Bookends wrote about Give Me Conflict to capture her attention in your query letter.

Agent Nathan Bransford wrote about the Anatomy of a Good Query Letter and Anatomy of a Good Query Letter II and 101 Things in Queries That Catch My Eye. Make sure to read his post on You Know All Those Rules About How to Write a Query Letter? before you get too stressed out about writing your query letter.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Watch Out For...Publishers

In the Writer's Beware article mentioned in the below POD post, there are several warning signs given for identifying questionable publishers. These signs include:

Is there a fee? Many indies can't afford to pay advances, but they don't ask for money....

Fee-charging publishers are often inventive about hiding their fees. They may bury them in the fine print, so it's not until you actually read the
publishing contract that you realize you have to pay a "setup" charge.... Don't be fooled by token one- or two-digit advances--this is usually a marketing ploy designed to produce an appearance of legitimacy, rather than a sign of legitimate practice....

Are the books professionally-produced and of good physical quality? Order one or two. Have they been edited? Does the print look good? Is the formatting uniform? Is the text free of errors? Bad writing, sloppy formatting, and large numbers of typos or grammatical errors indicate a less-than-professional operation....

Is the pricing reasonable? As noted, POD has a higher unit cost than offset [printing], and prices can be correspondingly higher.... A reputable POD-based publisher will make an effort to keep prices at least generally comparable to traditionally-printed trade paperbacks, which run between $12 and $18.

Does the publisher accept returns? Again, this is a sign of a more professional operation, and gives the publisher a better chance of selling its books into stores. Beware, though--some POD-based independents put so many restrictions on their returns policies (for instance, limiting the return period to three months, or offering returnability only on bulk orders) that booksellers won't find them attractive....

Are the books reviewed in professional venues (Booklist, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, etc.)? Reviews in these [professional] publications, which are read by booksellers and librarians, indicate that the company is sending out advance reading copies--an important component of marketing to the book trade....

Can you order the publisher's books in a brick-and-mortar bookstore? Even if a bookstore isn't willing to stock POD-produced books, it should at least be able to order them....

What's the focus of the publisher's website? Is it designed to promote the publisher's publishing services, or to promote the publisher's books? A reputable publisher's marketing will be book-focused--it will publicize its authors, and try to attract readers....

Is the contract standard? ....A questionable or amateur POD-based indie...can ask you to sign your life away and then some.

Typical problems include demanding all rights for the full term of copyright without an adequate reversion clause, claiming subsidiary rights the publisher isn't capable of marketing, basing royalties on net rather than gross income, retaining a financial interest in the author's work even after the contract has terminated, claiming the right to edit at will without seeking the author's permission, tying next-book option clauses to current contract terms, tying rights reversion to purchase of overstock, and offering a contract that's not negotiable.

If you're concerned about the publisher you are considering, I'd recommend reading the full article written by Victoria Strauss.

Q & A #3: Print on Demand

Q: Print on Demand is a technology, not another name for "vanity press." So why do some agents recommend not mentioning a POD book in your query letter as a publishing credit?

A: You want to be a professional author with your book published by one of the big publishing houses, but your rejection pile is growing larger and your options are becoming slim. You're tired of all this waiting. You see an ad for a company that promises to publish your book promptly and even let you control a lot of the publishing process. It sounds tempting, but are alternatives to traditional publishing worth the risk?

Print on demand (POD) is a digital printing technology that allows a complete book to be printed and bound in a matter of minutes for a decent cost. This technology may be a great way to get a small number of books published for certain uses, but be careful when considering POD publishers as a way to print your "break out" book that you think will make you famous. I highly recommend reading the Writer Beware--Print on Demand article. First, keep in mind that most companies offering POD services aren't offering true self-publishing. Second, don't expect to make big sales on your book even if you work hard at selling it. According to the Writer Beware article:

POD services' own statistics support these low sales figures. The most recent online Fact Sheet for AuthorHouse reported 27,000 titles in print in 2004, with total book sales of over 3 million. It sounds like a lot, but averages out to around 111 sales per title. iUniverse's most recent Facts and Figures sheet reports that the company published 22,265 titles through 2005, with sales of 3.7 million: an average of 166 sales per title. (Obviously some titles can boast better sales--but not many. According to an article in Publishers Weekly, only 83 iUniverse titles had sold more than 500 copies as of 2004). A 2004 Wall Street Journal article revealed similar stats for Xlibris: 85% of its books had sold fewer than 200 copies, and only around 3%--or 352 in all--had sold more than 500 copies.

Sales numbers like these don't impress agents or editors. Unless it's a niche book with sales in the thousands, most agents say that they view a POD book credit as indicating that you don't have the patience to deal with the slow pace of the publishing business. They say it's probably better to write a new novel and submit it rather than spend all your time and money trying to sale your POD book. If you have a POD book, agents generally recommend not mentioning it. If they find out about it, then just tell them that you learned from the experience and want to do it right this time.

Yes, some valid independent publishers--one that rigorously screen submissions and professionally edit, design, and market books--use POD technology. If you have a book published by one of these publishers, understand that you're still fighting the POD stigma. I haven't seen any agent answers on how to deal with this situation in a query letter, but mentioning the name of the publisher and the sales figures might help let the POD book mention work in your favor.

Hope this helped.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Several blogs are talking about the subrights mentioned in contracts with publishers.

Author Madeleine Robins at Deep Genre gave a brief overview of subrights in Contracts 101: Grant of Rights.

Agent Jessica Faust at Bookends discussed merchandising rights in The Branded Author.

Agent Lauren Abramo at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management wrote an excellent, detailed post about Subrights. In that post, he talks about film rights (among other subrights) and gives a link to a Publishers Weekly article. According to this article, both HarperCollins and Random House are partnering with film companies to make film adaptations based on their books. So it looks like more books are going to be making it to film now.

Monday, October 8, 2007

About Imprints

Jessica Faust recently did a blog entry on Imprints. To quote her,

Before we begin, what is an imprint? An imprint is essentially the line under which a book is published. Imprints are usually formed as a way for a publishing house to distinguish the types of books published under that line.

For example, Penguin is the overall corporation. Berkley is one of its houses. Berkley has many imprints. A publishing house might have one imprint for fantasy/sci-fi books, another for mysteries, and several for different types of romance.

Jessica was asked how did she know which imprints could be submitted to simultaneously. See her post for the details, but the summary answer was:

To summarize...you cannot usually submit to multiple imprints within a publishing house, but you can submit to multiple houses within the master publishing conglomerate.

The "big four" publishing conglomerates are Random House, HarperCollins, Penguin Putnam, Simon & Schuster, though there are other large publishers out there like Hachette, Thomas Nelson, and Holtzbrinck. Who owns what houses and what imprints are currently viable seems to constantly be changing, so you may wish to check out their websites to determine who has what (or even if they allow non-agents to simultaneously submit) before trying this.

Update on Oct. 9th, 2007: Today, Holtzbrinck officially changed the name of their US trade publishing unit to Macmillan.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Confusion on What Agents Want

*laugh* Today must be my day for confusion. The Donald Maass Literary Agency is now posting a monthly listing of plots they would be interested in seeing. To quote, "This month we’ve devised a list of hypothetical novels the premise of which would by itself pique our interest." For fantasy plots, they list:

  • A Huck Finn-like fantasy featuring a raft trip down the Mississippi, with magic.
  • An African-American Lord of the Rings.
So here we have a suggestion to write a journey-focused novel and a quest novel. Agents normally say that they get so many quest and/or journey novel queries that they practically get an automatic rejection letter. Does this mean that they would be interested in my novel if I mentioned that it's set in a Japan-influenced setting? Or that they like epic quests or humorous journeys after all? It would have been more helpful to me if they said what, exactly, they found appealing about these ideas. Oh, well. At least they're trying to be helpful.