Book Business

Barriers to Effective Communication

It has been said that 90% of problems are failures in communication. And the other 10% are failures to understand the failure in communication. In the publishing business, or any business for that matter, this is so true. There are a couple common barriers to effective communication: assumption and expectation.

But I Assumed

Often one party assumes knowledge that the other person does not know. Or someone without knowledge fails to admit their lack and tries to fake their way through the situation for fear of being found ignorant. Simple to fix. Just ask if you don’t know; and, alternatively, make sure the other person knows what you are talking about. I try to learn something new nearly every day and hope to continue that streak for the rest of my life.

But even  worse, and more common, is assuming the other party is mad at you for some reason. The fear of that assumed anger prevents an open dialogue or at least delays it.

Much of our business comes down to relationships, and fear or anger prevent them from being healthy.

Why Don’t You Answer?

I once had a client terminate their relationship with our agency because I did not answer their emails fast enough or had ignored them entirely. I was bewildered by this and tracked down the problem. My records showed a consistent pattern of answering everything the same day or shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, the author’s email server was intercepting 40% of my emails, declaring them spam and not delivering them. (They weren’t even sent to the client’s spam folder!) Unfortunately, the author’s trust in me had been broken (due to technological error), and we went our separate ways.

This taught me a good lesson about expectations when it comes to email in particular. Make sure you have an early conversation with your agent or editor or publicist to set out reasonable times for replies. And if that timing goes too long, find out if the email was ever received.

It is ironic that we used to make jokes about the Postal Service losing mail. Now it is more likely that a server doesn’t deliver or receive an email. Once a client told me they found an email in their draft folder that they thought they had sent to me and had been wondering why I had not yet replied. Just last week, a client and I discovered that her two reply emails to me disappeared. I thought she might have been sick or otherwise out of commission. She called me on the phone, and all was well.

Silence Is Molten

When someone doesn’t reply and days roll by without an answer, the tendency is to start thinking the worst. “They have bad news.” “They hate me.” “My career is over.” “Steve thinks I’m annoying.” “My publisher is going to cancel my contract.” “They have discovered that I really don’t know how to write.” None of these thoughts are true. But you feel the need to fill in the silence with some answer. And eventually the answer turns volcanic, at least in our minds. Out of that comes discontent and despair, and depression or anger begins.

Your Style

Every person has their own preference in communicating. I have one client who does not use email and prefers a fax(?!) or phone call. Another does not ever want to talk on the phone; email only. Another said, “Email me before you call so I can drive close enough to the local cell tower so my phone can get a signal, I don’t have any bars in my house.” We try our best to accommodate each client’s unique communication styles. But we aren’t always perfect.

Grace Is the Solution

Give each other the benefit of the doubt. Email can sound stern and unyielding, even angry, in tone. (I’ve been told I “sound” mean and angry!) So before assuming (see above), grant a measure of grace. The ease of email makes it simple to fire off something without adding a couple filters.

It may be that your editor or agent was called into a meeting for the day. Your agent may be traveling or immersed hip-deep in a complicated contract. The editor may have twenty fires to put out before they go home for the day, none of which they had anticipated when they got to work that morning. Give that editor or agent another day before lighting the fuse.

Oh, and if you want to rant to your agent about your editor, make sure you double, no triple, check the “To” line before you click SEND. The auto-complete function in your email system can be trouble if you are not careful–trust me.

What other barriers to communication have you run into?

 

[An earlier version of this post ran in March 2012. Interesting how the principles still hold true, even when examples change.]

Leave a Comment

Do You Have a Backup Plan?

by Steve Laube

The question is not if your hard drive will fail, it is a question of when. At least twice a year I have a client who has lost their hard drive to equipment failure. There was a recent story of an editor at Wired magazine who got hacked via a security hole in his Amazon and Apple accounts. He not only lost data, he lost all the digital pictures of his baby girl. He wrote the article as a cautionary tale. As the editor admits, he knew better, but did not follow his own advice. So my question to you is, “Do you have a backup plan?”

Hit the Save Button Regularly

Many think that just hitting the “save” button is enough. Sorry. That only saves the file to your local computer. And if that computer fails, you are toast. While hitting the save button helps with immediate things it isn’t a long term solution. What if someone steals your laptop while you turned your back to refresh your drink at the coffee shop?

Save to an External or Portable Backup Device or E-mail Service

Keeping your files on an external drive or a USB thumb drive is okay. But what if you lose the thumb drive (they are so small!)? Or what if you forget to take the external drive with you…and your computer is stolen from your office, along with the external drive?

Read More

Three Questions About Agents

In meeting with writers on the cusp of their careers or flush with new success, we find that three big questions come to the forefront. Today, Tamela shares her answers:

How do I find a literary agent?

1)      First and foremost, visit the Agency web sites to see which ones are actively seeking the type of work you write.

2)      Talk to your agented friends to learn about their agents. Referrals are a big part of our business.

3)      If time and finances allow, attend a conference or meeting where your preferred agent will be appearing and meet the agent.

Read More

How Can You Manage So Many Clients?

by Steve Laube

I am frequently asked this question. It is perfectly understandable as many agencies carry a sizeable list of clients. A prospective client or even an existing one wonders, “Will this agent or agency have time for me?”

We post a list of our clients on the web site because we are honored to work with so many gifted people. Not every agency makes their client list public. It is neither right nor wrong, it is merely a preference. As of this morning we have over 150 clients on our roster.

Proper management of a client base is all about communication and work flow. The best metaphor I’ve been able to use to describe how a literary agency works is “We are like a major airline that is always overbooked but never flies full. But if everyone show up at the gate at the same time, we would be in serious trouble.”

Read More

Where Is My Money?

Before I became a literary agent I had no idea how much energy this profession spent being a “collections agent.” Recently someone asked us the following questions (use the green button to the right to ask your question!):

What do you do, as an agent, when a publisher does not pay advances on royalties on time as per their legal contract?

What if a publisher is consistently late (months) saying they have cash flow problems and will pay when they can? Shouldn’t authors be able to count on getting paid the amount and on the date stated in their contract?

Is this common and is there anything that can be done or said regarding what seems to be a breach of contract?

This is an excellent series of questions. The full non-answer is “It depends.” Generally publishers are very good about making the payments according to contracted schedules. The above situation is much more dire and is a good reason to have an agent who know who to talk to inside the publishing house. There are ways to approach the situation that gets results, just remember, “Don’t Burn a Bridge.”

However, there are a few possible reasons that authors should keep in mind before getting impatient with a tardy paycheck.

Read More

How Do You Measure Success?

by Steve Laube

A few years ago while talking to some editors they described an author who was never satisfied (not revealing the name of course). It this author’s latest book had sold 50,000 copies the author wondered why the publisher didn’t sell 60,000. And if it sold 60,000 why didn’t it sell 75,000? The author was constantly pushing for “more” and was incapable of celebrating any measure of success.

Recently there has been much ink spilled on whether Indie authors are better of than authors published by traditional publishers. Pundits have laid claim to their own definition of a successful book using number, charts, and revealed earnings. Following this dialogue can be rather exhausting.

I understand the desire to measure whether or not my efforts are successful. It is a natural instinct. If it is any indication, one of our most popular blog posts has been “What are Average Book Sales?” with thousands of readers.

In one way this is a wise question so that expectations can be realistic.

In another way it is unwise in that the cliff called “Comparison” is a precipitous one. I’ve talked to depressed authors who are wounded by numbers. I’ve talked to angry authors who are incensed by a perceived lack of effort by their publisher. I’ve talked to highly frustrated authors who wonder if it is all worth it.

Ultimately I can’t help but think this is all an exercise in determining a definition of success for the individual author. If you can measure it you can define it. That is as long as we know what “it” is.

Read More

Never Burn a Bridge!

The sale of Thomas Nelson to HarperCollins and last week’s sale of Heartsong to Harlequin brought to mind a critical piece of advice:

Never Burn a Bridge!

Ours is a small industry and both editors and authors move around with regularity. If you are in a business relationship and let your frustration boil into anger and ignite into rage…and let that go at someone in the publishing company, you may end up burning the bridge. And that person who you vented on might someday become the head of an entire publishing company.

Read More

What Are Average Book Sales?

by Steve Laube


We recently received the following question:

“What does the average book sell today? An industry veteran at a writers conference recently said 5,000. What??? I know it all depends….but … nowhere near 5K, right?”

My simple answer?

It’s complicated.
It depends.

HAH!

Average is a difficult thing to define. And each house defines success differently. If a novel sells 5,000 copies at one publisher they celebrate and have steak dinners. If a novel sells 5,000 copies at another publisher you find staff members fearing for their jobs and in total despair.

Let me give you some real numbers but not revealing the author name (and there is a wide variety of publishers represented):

Author 1: novelist – 3 books – avg. sale = 8,300

Author 2: novelist – 12 books – avg. sale = 19,756

Author 3: novelist – 3 books – avg. sale = 7,000

Author 4: novelist – 7 books – avg. sale = 5,300 (Two different publishers)

Author 5: non-fiction devotional – 5 books – avg. sale 10,900

Author 6: non-fiction – 2 books – avg. sale = 5,300

Author 7: novelist – 4 books – avg. sale = 29,400

Author 8: non-fiction – 3 books – avg. sale = 18,900

Author 9: fiction – 7 books – avg. sale = 12,900

Author 10: non-fiction – 5 books – avg. sale = 6,800 (three different publishers)

So you can see it DOES depend. Depends on the author and publisher and topic or genre.

Read More

How Long Does It Take to Get Published?

How much time does it take to get published?

I came to the publishing business from the retail side of the equation. The biggest adjustment was understanding how long the process takes. In retail there is instantaneous gratification. But book publishing is a process business.

There is no question the timeline varies from person to person and project to project. In the world of major publishers the diversity can be quite extreme.

Read More

Would You Buy Your Own Book?

When I ask a room of writers if they would buy their own book if they saw it on the shelf at a major bookstore I am met with a variety of reactions. Laughter. Pensiveness. Surprise. And even a few scowls. How would you answer that question?

But the question is meant to ask if your book idea is unique. Whether it will stand out among the noise of the competition.

It is not a question of whether your book is important or valuable or even well written. It is ultimately a question of commercial viability.

Read More