Tag s | Agents

Where Is My Money?

Before I became a literary agent, I had no idea how much energy this profession spent being a “collections agent.” A while ago, someone asked me the following questions:

What do you do, as an agent, when a publisher does not pay advances or 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 nonanswer 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 knows how and 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.”

It can be even worse. Last year I had a major publisher’s check bounce! That was interesting to say the least. I’ve also discovered accounting errors in royalty statements, some to our benefit, some to the publisher’s benefit. But those are other issues for another day.

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

It’s in the Mail

Many contracts give the publisher 30 days to make a payment after the signing of the contract. And some will take all 30 days to generate the check.

Also note that some organizations issue checks only on a specific day of the week (like Friday). If  mailing, and they missed their post office cut off, the check won’t go out until the next Monday. Then it depends on the speed of the mail service in your area. There have literally been times too many to count in which a client has called me impatiently awaiting their check–and the check arrived the next day. Please remember to consider holidays and mail travel times when marking your calendar.

If your account is set up to receive your payments via direct deposit, this problem can be eliminated. But be careful. If you have to change your bank account for some reason, it is a challenge to reestablish the ACH links. This can happen for any number of reasons. You move to a city that necessitates changing banks. Your account info may have been stolen due to ID theft. Your joint home account needs to become a separate writing business account after you have created an LLC.

Did You Move?

Have you moved and failed to tell either your agent or your publisher? Our office moved five years ago. I still have people asking what our new address is. One is a publisher who sends the 1099 form to the wrong address repeatedly. Someone in the office failed to update that particular address.

This issue is a common one. But usually when an author is expecting payment, they remember to tell people where to send the check!

Your Work Is Not Yet Finished

The majority of contracts have a second advance payment due on the acceptance of a completed manuscript. The key word is “acceptance.” This is not the same as delivery of the manuscript. Instead, it means the editor has to run the manuscript through its paces to determine that it is indeed the book you promised to write. A few publishers will not declare a book “acceptable” until the entire editorial process has been complete and the book is ready to send to the typesetter. This can be months after the book was originally delivered. (I recall one situation when a manuscript was delivered in April and the “acceptance” money did not arrive until November.}

Why is this? Because the publisher should be able to know that what you have written is saleable. There is a famous case in the 90s where Random House sued actress and author Joan Collins. The publisher attempted to make her pay back her $1.3 million advance alleging that the manuscripts she had delivered were unpublishable. Collins won, and kept her money, because the original contract only said that the manuscript should be “complete,” not satisfactory or acceptable. Back then publishers had “complete,” not “satisfactory” in their contracts. I can guarantee that mistake will not be repeated today.

Click to view a very long segment from the actual Joan Collins trial.

And here is a PDF of the actual Joan Collins contract.

The Editor Forgot to Do the Paperwork

In my early days as an editor, I was terrible about doing this paperwork. Since I was the one who declared a manuscript “acceptable,” it was up to me to generate the payment request. There were a few times when I simply forgot. I finally got smart and delegated the task. Once a book was past a certain point in the editorial process, our managing editor created the paperwork and I signed off. Problem solved. But because of that experience, we–along with our clients–keep tabs on payments with our clients. A gentle nudge is usually sufficient to get things rolling.

Your Publisher May Be Cash Poor

For some publishers (usually much smaller ones), cash flow trouble is a reality. Back in the heat of the economic crunch in 2009, a publisher wrote to tell me they did not have the money to pay an “on signing” payment. They had been hit by huge returns, and the banks were not extending credit back then. (Read this blog post about returns and their negative effect on the economics of publishing.) The author and I appreciated being told and the humble way in which the news was given. The money did arrive within 30 days, tardy, but it was all there. Fortunately, that was a temporary thing and has not happened again.

If you are concerned, talk to your agent. In my opinion, it is your agent’s job to pursue collections. And to pursue them in a way that keeps things professional and courteous.

[An earlier form of this post ran in February 2012.]
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The Editorial Process

It is important to understand the process through which a book takes under the umbrella called “The Edit.” I meet many first timers who think it is just a one-time pass over their words and that is all that will ever happen. And many who self-publish think that hiring a high school English teacher to check for grammar is enough of an edit.

There are four major stages to the Editorial Process. Unfortunately they are called by various names depending on which publisher you are working with, which can create confusion. I will try to list the various terms but keep them under the four categories.

Rewrites / Revisions/Substantive Edit

These can happen multiple times. You could get input from your agent or an editor who suggests you rewrite or revise those sample chapters of the full manuscript. Last year I suggest that one of my non-fiction clients cut the book in half and change its focus. We sold this first time author. But the writer had to do a lot of work to get it ready for the proposal stage.

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The Stages of Editorial Grief

Nearly every writer will tell you they have experienced the proverbial “red pen” treatment from their editor. The reactions to this experience can follow the well-known stages of grief popularized by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.

Skip Denial, I’m Angry!

There is no denying that the edits have arrived. And for the author who was not expecting a hard-nosed edit, they can transition from “shocked-angry” to “furious-angry” to “rage.”

And then they call their agent.

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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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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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Why I’m Not Mysterious

I don’t believe in being mysterious, especially as an agent. Since I used to write books for publication, I know what it’s like to put your career in the hands of others. As a writer, I wouldn’t want to send off my precious work and then hear no updates or …

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Four Myths about Agents

I was amused when I recently received a note from an author who had decided I’m a human rather than an infallible goddess. Not sure if I should be glad or disappointed! Since many authors don’t interact with agents, let me dispel a few myths about us: 1)  Myth: Authors …

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Choosing the Best Agent

Selecting the best agent is pivotal to the career of any author seeking a traditional publisher. A few traditional publishers accept unsolicited (read: unagented) proposals, but as submissions increase thanks to efficient technology and the growing number of aspiring authors, those publishers are becoming fewer. Most traditional publishers prefer agented …

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A Literary Agent’s Prayer

God, Who used words to speak the whole universe into existence, Who chose human language to communicate Divine truths, Who wrote your commandments on tablets of stone, And inspired mere mortals to publish your immortal and eternal Word, hear my prayer. ___ I am your servant, and I am a …

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