Wednesday 27 October 2010

How to speak publisher - A is for Author

That's you. Don't look around for the real author, you're the real author if you have a contract with a publisher who's paying for your book. Now you have to behave like one, because if you don't believe you're a real author, you can be sure as hell no one else will. Act professionally and you will be treated like a professional. Do a 'what, poor little me?' act and you'll shoot your authorial career in the foot before you've left the starting block.

Acting professionally means not being precious about your work; not keeping important information from your publisher or agent; not making excuses for failing to write, or failing to write the right thing; not missing deadlines, writing over the agreed length, or deviating wildly from the agreed synopsis. Oh, that's all very negative. Let's reprhase: being professional means remaining open to suggestions and criticism that might improve your work (no, it's not perfect, whatever you think); sharing any important information with your publisher and agent; writing what you have promised to write by the agreed deadline and in the agreed or standard format. There - that's not so hard, is it?

'Oh, but I can't,' you wail. 'I have a cold, I need to take my son/daughter to swimming lessons, I'm depressed because I'm getting a divorce, I can't work out how to change the margins in Word, I got distracted into reading a blog about how to be a writer....' You know what? It doesn't matter. Anything that would not prevent you going to a paid employment should not prevent you fulfilling your contractual obligations to your publisher. This is your job now - that's why they're paying you. Of these excuses, only one counts - 'I'm depressed because I'm getting a divorce'. And that is covered under keeping your publisher or agent informed of vital information.

If there is a real catastrophe that prevents you meeting your deadline, say so. Apologise, explain, tell them what you are doing to remedy the situation, and suggest a solution. Even if the solution is 'tear up the contract'. If you come clean, and don't screw up their schedules, they will respect your professionalism and sign you again in the future. If you keep quiet and don't deliver - acting unprofessionally - they will, quite rightly, stop respecting you and be wary of working with you in the future. If you have an agent, you can be slightly more emotional and let him/her smooth things diplomatically with your publisher. But remember your agent can also dump you if you turn out to be more trouble than you're worth. Your agent is not your friend (remember?), so you should act professionally with him/her, too.

As an author, you might think your job is to write things. Sadly, it's not that straightforward. To be a successful author you will also need - almost certainly - to do at least some of the following: book signings, school visits, conferences, festivals, interviews, blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, radio, TV, reviewing... general profile-raising stuff. You don't have to do all of them. I don't do school visits (which is quite a big one for a children's author) or radio. I've never been asked to do TV, but I wouldn't be keen to do that either. This stuff all takes a lot of time and much of it doesn't earn any immediate money. But many publishers take a dim view of authors who won't do any of this. Some demand their authors have a website and a promotional Facebook page (not the same as your personal Facebook page - we'll come to that in F.)

If you hate all this stuff, pick the bits you hate least. I've always had a good excuse not to do school visits - my own children and single-parenthood means I have to be back home by the time school ends, not halfway across the country trying to get home. But all the electronic bits can be done from the snug comfort of my own writing room, so I do those. And I like them because I'm a geek. If you're a natural performer, you might hugely prefer school visits to perfecting your website - fine; go for it!

And, lastly - don't beat yourself up about not writing while you are doing these other things. They ARE part of your work as a writer. Within reason - spending all day on twitter and Facebook is beyond the demands of publicity management and if your internal Alistair Campbell is encouraging you to do that, fire him.


Wednesday 20 October 2010

How to speak publisher - A is for ARC

And ARC is for Advance Reading Copy (also advance copy). This is essentially a bound proof - a copy of the book that is not in its final form and may still contain errors. It may have a different or unfinished cover. Advance reading copies are sent out to groups of people who might have some useful input to the book, and to people whom the publisher hopes will provide a nice comment that can be printed on the jacket or back cover (a 'puff'). It may be used in marketing the book (eg showing it to potential foreign distributors or film scouts), or it may be given to lawyers preparing to defend the book against defamation cases, or to the person doing the book's website so that they know a bit about the book and don't produce total tosh (if they can be persuaded to read it, of course).

If you are sent an ARC of someone else's book, it's probably so that you can provide a puff (unless you are a film scout, web designer or lawyer). If you don't like the book, don't feel obliged to provide anything. A note to the editor politely saying that you've read the book but don't feel able to provide a quote is fine, or send it back saying you don't currently have time to read it. You don't need to give a reason. In the interests of protecting the author's feelings - especially if it's someone you already know, but you can never tell when you might come to know another author - don't say the book is shite. Authors are sensitive souls. Then again, my favourite response from someone sent a copy of my book for comment is 'unfortunately, this work is completely useless'. The publishers didn't put it on the jacket, though I have a sneaking suspicion that it might have been quite a selling point if they had.

ARCs of your own books give you something to gloat over and show off to your friends a few months before real copies arrive. They're not the same as review copies, which are usually the same as the copies that will go on sale, just delivered early. For a 'big' book, though, ARCs may be sent out to reviewers to whip up some pre-publication frenzy.

Some book collectors consider ARCs the 'real' books and like to keep them. If you live somewhere infested with writers and reviewers, you'll find lots of ARCs in charity and secondhand bookshops.
There is some cachet attached to having advance reading copies of certain books, usually literary novels. But for a big-name author's new title up to 5,000 ARCs may be printed (yes, I know - more copies than the real print run of some books!)

If you want to produce something that might be of value to your descendants - if you're lucky enough to become famous and stay famous after your death - you can annotate an ARC of your book with insightful (or rude) commentary and corrections, then put it away carefully to accrue value and spiders.


Tuesday 19 October 2010

How to speak publisher - A is for Agent

Health warning: this is not about how to find an agent. If you want to know how to find an agent, go elsewhere. You could do worse than start with the crabbit old bat's blog. If you want to know whether you should look for an agent, look here. This is about what an agent is, or should be, and how your relationship with your agent should work.

An agent is your representative in the publishing world. They will help you to sell your work for the best - or most appropriate - deal and will speak up for you and your work at opportune moments. At inopportune moments, they will stay discreetly silent.

Your agent is not your best friend and not your life-partner (usually). Your agent is neither your servant nor your boss, but your business partner. You and your agent should work in symbiosis. Yet many writers live in terror of their agent, fearing their agent will leave them, or will not give them the attention they need and deserve, will spend too long with other authors, will like other authors' work better, will go off them, will no longer love their work.... Remember, it is a one-to-one relationship for you, but a one-to-many relationship for your agent - just like your relationship with your doctor, hairdresser, child's teacher, or the mosquito that just bit you.

What the agent should bring to the relationship is a detailed knowledge of the market for the type of book you are writing or want to write. So if you want to write young adult fantasy, an agent who specialises in romance novels or non-fiction is not going to be much help. Your agent should know which editors are in the market for your type of book, which lists they are running at the moment, and what they are likely to be buying. Your agent should know if an editor has just signed a very public deal for a book too like yours for it to be worth approaching them with yours - and should know who will want a title to compete with that blockbuster. Having the wrong agent is worse than having no agent as they will send your book to inappropriate editors and give you a bad name while not actually getting you any money. Worse, they'll sell your book short, getting a poorer deal than another agent could have secured.

A good agent knows the publishing world and what can and can't be done in it. Your agent may handle foreign rights for you, or have an arrangement with another agency that will do this. Your agent will check your contracts and argue about anything that should be argued about. Your agent will invoice your publishers, and chase the publisher's accounts department when they don't pay the invoice. Your agent should promote you as and when appropriate, give editorial guidance on your work, and have an overview of your career and how to manage it. An agent will rarely be interested in representing someone they consider a one-book wonder, unless that book is truly wonderful and likely to make a lot of money.

An agent will give you honest advice: if your book is unsaleable, they will tell you. If the book is redeemable, they may be able to tell you how to fix it. If it's just a duff book, they should tell you that, too. If your agent thinks book after book is irredeemable, you might like to get a second opinion - maybe you have a duff agent, or maybe your style has changed and no longer suits your agent. Or maybe you just can't write and need to try a different career.

You should be able to trust your agent's judgment - their judgment of your book and its place in the market, their judgment of whether you are being offered a good and realistic deal and their judgment of what is best for your long-term career. But if you think your agent is wrong, you must speak out. Don't make assumptions that they don't value you, don't harbour resentments - ask them to explain what they are doing. And if you still don't like it, it's time to move on. You haven't committed to your agent for life, for better or worse, richer or poorer. There is a termination clause in your contract, remember? You can give notice - probably three months - that you no longer want them to represent you. The books they already represent are likely to stay with them, but it's up to you what you do with future books once you have terminated the contract. It's wise, though, to end your relationship amicably. Don't hurl abuse at them and list their shortcomings. Remember that agents talk to one another and if you abuse one, another is less likely to take you on.

Trust is a two-way street, and your agent needs to be able to trust you, too. You need to meet deadlines, deliver what you have promised and be honest. Don't let your agent line up lots of events or work for you when you know you won't be able to deliver. You need to tell your agent when you are too miserable to write, when you are bereaved, sick, injured, moving house, getting divorced or preoccupied with your day job. They know you are human and will respect your professionalism - but if you don't tell them, you will erode their trust and damage your working relationship.

Don't expect too much. Remember that your agent, though he or she loves books, is in the business to make a living, not because they have blind faith in you (though they should have faith in you) or is incensed that books like yours are not 'given a chance'. Your agent has other clients, other demands on their time and possibly cannot dedicate as much time to you as you would like. Don't be like a needy husband/wife who expects every waking moment of their partner's time - you're going to be disappointed.

Remember that your agent makes 15% of your income. If you can't live on your income from writing, your agent certainly can't. Think about it. If you make £50,000 before tax and expenses from writing, your agent makes £7,500 from you (if all your work goes through your agent). Your agent will need, say, eight or ten writers earning as much as you in order to survive. So that means you can have perhaps half a day of your agent's time each week. But then the agent also needs to read their slush pile, go to book fairs, read the trade press, meet publishers and other agents, go to launch parties, keep up with digital developments, read books.... and that has to be shared amongst everyone's time. You're down to a couple of hours a week. If your writing earns less than £7,500 for your agent, you're going to get proportionally less time. If your agent doesn't stick roughly to this pattern, they're going to go bust. They'll make an exception for something they think is a guaranteed bestseller, but that's a very rare beast, and of course they're looking at your long-term prospects so will make some investment in you, but being an agent is a business, it's not an act of benevolence.

What a real agent absolutely will not do is charge you any money to read your work, make editorial suggestions or meet with you. If an agent tries to do this, they're not an agent, they're a cowboy. Walk away. Don't hand over any money. An agent's income is the percentage of your earnings that they keep. Some agents say they will charge you for photocopying or buying copies of your books for promotional purposes, but these are out-of-pocket expenses connected with promoting you. This doesn't make them a cowboy. More often, there's a clause to this effect in the contract, but the agent never actually does charge you anything for photocopies or promotional copies.

There are big agents and small agents. Your agent may be one of many in a large agency, and this can be useful as they are likely to have expert departments to deal with things such as foreign rights, TV and film rights, and so on. They also have a lot of clout in the publishing world. The downside is that they will have much bigger fish than you in their pond and you might feel neglected. A small agent may be a one-(wo)man band, or one of two or three agents in a quaint, dusty, book-lined office in Soho (that's my agent's dusty Soho office in the photo). They may have less detailed knowledge, may not handle foreign rights themselves, and have fewer fingers to have in pies, but at the same time you'll be a larger fish in their pond and get more of their time and attention.

Having an agent is not absolutely compulsory and there are some types of writer who rarely have agents. Many poets don't have an agent, and most writers of children's non-fiction don't have agents, for instance. Academic writers don't usually have agents. These types of writing don't earn much per title and so an agent won't be interested in representing them. Nor should you be interested in giving away 15% of very little when an agent won't get you a better deal. Children's non-fiction is often written for a flat fee and, indeed, having an agent can put some editors off signing you - they don't want the aggro of dealing with someone who will try to argue about what is a standard deal; it's simpler just to employ another, unagented, writer.

For many other types of writer, though, an agent opens doors and secures better deals and is a great source of support and advice. But still the wrong agent is worse than no agent, so choose carefully. You must like them, as well as them liking you. Don't just sign up because you are pitifully grateful that anyone likes your work. If your work is genuinely good, someone else will like it, too.

Sunday 17 October 2010

A is for accident

which is why there hasn't been a post since Monday. Sorry! Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible with A is for Agent.

Tuesday 12 October 2010

How to speak publisher - A is for Advance

'We have proofs of the blads for Frankfurt, but the bleed's wrong.'

Publishing is a foreign country. They say things differently there.

You can get by in PublisherLand by speaking English very loudly and slowly. But if you want to get off the beaten track and explore the hinterland, make friends with the natives and be treated as more than a tourist, it's worth learning the language. By the end of this (occasional, sporadic) series, you'll be able to negotiate the gutter and confront blads and bleeds without believing you need garlic, a crucifix and a sharpened stake.

A is for Advance

The advance is the money the publishers pays you - guess when? - in advance: before you have completed the book, or at least before it's published. An advance is a payment against the royalties your book is expected to earn. Some authors/celebrities command large advances and this makes the press jump up and down shouting about greedy millionaire authors, but they are a tiny minority. Usually, the advance is calculated to be approximately equal to the royalties the publisher would expect you to make from the first printing (or hardback and subsequent paperback printing) of the book. This isn't as straightforward as it sounds. If your book sells for £14 and you get 7.5% royalty, and there is a print-run of 2,000 copies, that doesn't mean you will earn £2,100. Some copies will be sold at a large discount, and your income may well be calculated on nett receipts rather than cover price.

The advance is often paid in two or three stages. Typical points of payment are on signing the contract, on delivering the manuscript of the book, and on publication (or sometimes on passing of page proofs). The advance may be for more than one book. So if you are lucky or well established you might get £50,000 for two books. It sounds a lot, but it isn't. Each book may take you a year to write. There will be research expenses as well as living expenses. If you have an agent, he or she will take 15% + VAT of that £50,000 (= £8,812.50). That leaves you a little under £42,000 before tax to pay for your expenses and living, or around £20,000 a year pre-tax income - well below the national average wage. Don't forget to set aside the tax you will have to pay - the tax people won't be sympathetic if you spend all the advance and can't pay the tax. Not many authors get an advance of £50,000 straight off. You're more likely to get something like £2,000 or even less. It all depends on how much the publisher expects your book to earn. If you have written an academic book, you are unlikely to get any advance at all, and you quite possibly won't even get any royalty on the first print run. But if you're written an academic book, you probably have a paid academic job and need the publication for your CV so it's a slightly different case.

If the book earns out the advance, that means that you have earned back in royalties all the money the publisher has paid you in advance. After this point, you will start to get royalty payments. Hurray!

You don't have to repay the advance if it's not earned out. You only have to repay the advance if you don't deliver the book, or if the book you deliver is so bad, or so far from the agreed synopsis, that the publisher feels it's not publishable.

Some authors and agents are very keen to negotiate as large an advance as possible. There are two main reasons: one is that it's nice to have lots of money; the other is that if the publisher has invested a lot in the book, it should be keen to recoup the investment and so will, the thinking goes, be more likely to try very hard to sell your book, give it a large marketing budget and push it. There is a big drawback, though. If your book doesn't earn out the advance, especially if it falls well short of it, your next book is blighted. If you're lucky, you'll get a smaller advance. If you're unlucky, you won't sell it at all. No-one wants to throw good money after bad.

Saturday 9 October 2010

Over there

Blogging over on Awfully Big Blog Adventure today, on how UK libraries are in danger of eroding goodwill amongst writers.