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Category : Agents
Here's how this blog works: You send in publishing questions, and I give you a straightforward answer. Nearly all of the recent questions relate to agents…
Rita wrote to ask, "I've been offered a contract on my novel… When an author is offered a deal and they don't yet have an agent, should they seek one at that point? And if an agent accepts, should the agent still get 15% of the royalties, even though he or she didn't market that book or secure the deal for them?"
Ten agents might give you ten different answers to this, Rita. Here's mine: Unless you know publishing, contracts, negotiations, and what's considered standard in the industry, you'd probably benefit from having an agent. So yes, I'd seek out an agent to help you, in most cases. However, I wouldn't feel right about taking the full 15% commission unless I somehow improved the deal for you. If I didn't sell it or find you the deal, it would seem unfair for me to take a full commission. Not every agent agrees with that perspective, so be aware as you talk to people.
Julie wrote regarding a related question: "If I already have an offer from a publisher, will an agent negotiate the contract for a fee?"
Negotiate it for a fee? No. But some will do a contract reading or contract evaluation for you for a fee. Or you could pay a lawyer to review the contract and make notes (be prepared to pay a good sum of money), OR you could pay someone who specializes in contract evaluations to look it over and make suggestions. When someone does an evaluation, they go through the contract, mark it up, tell you what's fair, and suggest things you can ask for in order to improve the deal. But that requires you to actually do some negotiation — so if you're really not comfortable negotiating,
Jacob wrote to me and said, "I submitted to one of those compilation books, and the company requested I put my social security number on all my submissions. I wrote to ask them about the practice, since my submission had not yet been accepted, and was told by one of the people who helps with the project that he ‘puts his SSN on everything’ he submits. What’s your advice on this subject?"
My advice is clear: DO NOT PUT YOUR SSN ON YOUR PROPOSALS. In fact, my guess is that anybody who routinely sticks that sort of confidential information on all his proposals is a dipstick. Don’t take career advice from that individual. Yikes.
Belinda wrote and noted, "I have been accepted into a compilation book, but their contract has an endless non-compete. When I asked them about it, I was told they ‘don’t mean it like that.’ What should I do?"
Sticking with the dipstick theme, if the editor said to you, "I know the contract only calls for you to make a 2% royalty, but we don’t mean it — we’ll pay you 15%," would you agree to sign? No way. The reason you have a written contract is to clarify exactly what the deal is. If they want to offer a broader non-complete clause, get it written down, or suggest some wording for them to insert into the contract. Basically a non-compete is there to protect a publisher from an unscrupulous author writing a book with one house, then writing a very similar book and producing it with another house, thereby cannibalizing sales. An author who regularly writes and speaks on a particular topic needs to gain some freedom, so as not to be prohibited from ever writing on that topic again. A good contract strikes a balance between the publisher’s protection and the author’s calling to speak to a certain issue.
Timothy asked, "How long
I’ve been sent some tough questions lately — questions that you might have been wondering about in your own writing career. It seems like there are some difficult publishing questions that frequently get ignored, so I’ll try to tackle a couple of them today…
Donna wrote to say, "It seems like there are a ton of books that have sold a million copies lately. Can you tell me what the top books last year sold?"
I can, but prepare to be surprised. There were only four books last year that sold more than a million copies — Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (which sold more than 7 million); The Secret (just shy of 3 million); Eat, Pray, Love (just shy of 2M); and A Thousand Splendid Suns (sold 1M). That’s it. Four books.
There were another 15 titles that sold between a half-million and a million copies: The Dangerous Book for Boys, Kite Runner, Water for Elephants, and The Memory Keeper’s Daughter all sold just under a million. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious, Stephen Colbert’s I Am America, Sidney Poitier’s The Measure of a Man, John Grisham’s Playing for Pizza, Bob Greene’s The Best Life Diet, the two You titles (You: On a Diet and You: Staying Young), The Glass Castle, Eclipse, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince all sold more than 500,000 copies. And that’s it. There were 250,000 new books printed last year in this country. 19 of them hit the big time. Yikes.
John wrote to ask, "Do you have ethical problems with ghostwriting?"
I hate this question, because too many people are quick to say "YES!" without understanding the terms. I used to make my living as a collaborative writer. A well-known speaker would send me his notes and his seminar on tape, and I’d turn it into a book for him. It was all his material — I was