Book Business

How Can You Manage So Many Clients?

I am frequently asked the question, “How do you manage so many clients?” It is a perfectly reasonable question to ask since many agencies carry a sizable list of clients. The underlying question is really, “Does or will this agent or agency have time for me?”

We post a list of our clients on the website 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 more than 280 clients on our roster.

[A quick reminder to all readers. Our client list is the combination of Tamela’s, Bob’s, and my clients. We’ve chosen not to distinguish on the website who is represented by whom since everyone is under the same agency banner.]

Ebb and Flow of the Work Load

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 this: “We are like a major airline that is always overbooked but never flies full. But if everyone showed up at the gate at the same time, we would be in serious trouble.”

The writing profession is somewhat cyclical. During the proposal and contract stage, agent-author conversations are frequent. But once the deal is set, the writer disappears into a cave to write. Then periodically the writer comes out with a question or a situation that needs attention. Later the editorial, production, and marketing stages can have issues that require an agent’s attention.

Rarely does much of this happen on the same day. Thus, the airline metaphor is apropos. If every client called their agent on the same day, it is doubtful that any author would be served immediately.

This past week I dealt with a number of issues for clients that I did not know existed when the week began. Nary a one of more than a dozen situations were on my daily to-do list. But this is normal. Each crisis was handled without delay and resolved.

“Active” and “Inactive” Clients

Another consideration when looking at a list of clients it to realize that not every author is what can be termed as “active.” An active author is either writing their book, creating a new proposal, or otherwise engaged in activity that affects their work as an author whom I would be representing.

However, I have some clients who have retired; but there is still work to be done their behalf when issues arise on their older titles. Other clients have passed away. In those situations, if there is an issue with the estate and the intellectual property, we are still there to handle it. We have clients who take years between projects. We keep these people on our list of clients because they are our clients, but they would not necessarily be considered active.

Responsive Communication

From a workflow standpoint, I try my best to respond to each client’s situation as soon as possible. Am I perfect? (Who is?) But generally we hope our clients are satisfied with what we can do for them. Each of us in the agency works hard to take care of each situation as it arises. Some days are crazier than others. Email is a tremendous tool for taking care of quick questions. Plus the phone still rings.

Ultimately, the question is not “can we” but “do we” manage a number of clients? The answer is a celebratory, “Yes, we do!” We will not take on a new client unless we think we can sell their work or help them achieve their publication goals. A project or an author must be commercially viable; otherwise nothing happens, and no one is happy. So while our client base may continue to grow, it is done with intention and purpose.

 

[This is a heavily revised version of a post that ran in April 2012.]

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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That Conference Appointment

You snagged one of those valuable 15 minute appointments with an agent or an editor at the writers conference. Now what? What do you say? How do you say it? And what does that scowling person on the other side of the table want? What if you blow it?

Many excellent posts have been written on this topic (see Rachelle Gardner and Kate Schafer Testerman for example) but thought I would add my perspective as well.

What advice would you give to a beginning writer about attending a writers conference and meeting with an editor or an agent?

Go in with realistic expectations.

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Who Gets Paid in Publishing?

With all the talk about Independent publishing vs. Traditional publishing and the talk about how writers can get rich if they follow a certain plan…I got to thinking. Maybe we should do a quick look at the Economics of Publishing to see if anyone is making off like a bandit. Sorry for you non-numbers people, but it is critical to understand the infrastructure (i.e. the lifeblood) that keeps your ideas in print.

The detective in the movie says “Follow the money,” so we shall. But first a disclaimer. These models are estimates based on years of reading contracts, profit and loss sheets, spreadsheets, and royalty statements. Your mileage may vary.

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Checked Your Copyright Lately?

Have you checked your copyright lately? I mean, have you actually gone to the US Copyright Office web site and searched for your registration? You might be surprised at what you won’t find. Here is the link to start your search.

Most publishing contracts have a clause that requires the publisher to register the copyright, in the name of the author, with the US Copyright Office. This is supposed to be done as part of the in-house paperwork process.

If you do not find your book, don’t panic.

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