Book Business

Learn the Lingo

The opening scene of the Meredith Wilson musical The Music Man begins on a train, as a bunch of salesmen debate the best sales techniques. One salesman, however, insists repeatedly, “You gotta know the territory.”

That applies not only to selling “the noggins, and the piggins, and the firkins,” but also to writing for publication. So I asked a number of my writing friends and clients what writing or publishing terms and concepts they find confusing or opaque. I’ll answer a few this week and save the rest for next week.

Backlist

One of my clients asked, “What’s a ‘backlist, and at what point after a book is released is it considered to be part of the backlist?” A “backlist” is all those books in a publisher’s catalog that are still in print but not “new releases.” A book is “backlist” when the “frontlist” releases (traditionally Spring and Fall, but now that print catalogs have given way, largely, to website listings, who knows anymore?). See how easy that was?

Subsidiary rights

When you sign a book contract (“Oh, happy day”), you’re granting a publisher the right to package and sell your words in printed book form. That’s the publication right you’re granting. But book contracts typically also include “subsidiary rights,” such as audio, foreign translations, merchandising, etc. The contract allows the publisher to license those rights to a third party or to create it themselves.

Epigraph

An epigraph is (usually) a short quote from a poem, book, etc., that appears at the beginning of a book or chapter to set up the content that follows. These are credited (“What’s in a name?”—William Shakespeare) but not usually cited in a footnote or endnote. However, if an epigraph is not in the public domain, it’s still advisable to get permission. 

Passive voice

Another client asked me to define passive writing and establish some boundaries. Sure, okay. Here’s the short version: “passive” is; “active” does. See how easy that was? “It was a dark and stormy night” is passive writing. “Thunder rolled and lightning split the sky” is active. It’s all in the verb choices. As far as boundaries, you don’t need to use only active verbs; the words is, was, and so on are in our language for a reason. But in my writing classes and coaching, I’ve found that most writers, once they identify their passive verbs in a first draft, can enliven their writing by replacing 50-75% with action verbs.

Out of print

Someone else asked, “Are there any specifics publishers use to determine when they will take a book out of print?” Yes, and that’s usually in the contract, specifying a threshold of so many copies sold (or dollars) in a year as the trigger point, so to speak. However, in these days of ebooks, a book may live on forever in electronic format without costing the publisher, so contract wording becomes more important.

What about you? Are there words or phrases you’ve read or heard (say, at writers conferences) that you wish someone had taken the time to define or explain? Here’s your chance. Mention them in the comments below, and I may include any that aren’t explained here by your fellow devoted blog readers in next week’s blog post.

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Don’t Know Much About Editors

A literary agent is not an editor–or a publicist. That may seem obvious to some, since the words are all spelled quite differently. But I occasionally get a submission from an aspiring writer who wants me to act as one or the other. I have been an editor (of both …

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Barriers to Effective Communication

By Steve Laube

It has been said that ninety percent of all problems in the universe are failures in communication. And the other ten percent 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 try 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 learn something new nearly every single 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.

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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?

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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.

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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.”

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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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