Friday, February 25, 2011

Money for Books (Part 2 of 3)

How Do Publishers Decide on the Royalty They Offer?

The easy answer is that publishers estimate the number of copies the book will sell the first year. They take into account the author's experience, the subject matter, and the likely audience. They compare the acquisition to other books of that type and also the timing. A book, for example on physical fitness may be well written and carefully researched but others have written on the topic in recent years. They'll probably know about the book's competition and compare it with what other publishers have done. They'll either know or guess what other publishers paid for similar projects and how their sales went.

Publishing houses already have a pro-forma analysis program that calculates

• the costs involved in the editorial work. What level of editing does the book need? Some books have excellent content but need a virtual rewrite. Others need someone to add more substance.

• the costs of producing the book, which includes the format, trim size, paper costs, number of copies they'll do for their first print run. This includes the royalty scale.

The amount of advance royalty is a good indicator
of the publisher's expectation for your book.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Money for Books (Part 1 of 3)

Most of us think of receiving royalties (money) for books we write, and that is the usual method. We call the other method a flat fee.
It's probably obvious but the second term means the writer receives a specific amount of money for writing the book and a publisher makes that clear in the contract. For example, if the writer received $30,000 and the book sells a million copies, she still doesn't earn more. That's the risk. Or the book may have sold only 2,500 copies and the writer comes out ahead.
Flat-fee contracts are easier for publishers because they don't have to figure out royalty payments. Sometimes it's to a writer's advantage, but usually not. I did one deal where I received a flat fee and something like 3 percent royalty after the book had sold 100,000. The book was about 20,000 short of that goal, so I received no extra money.
For me, editorial rights are as important as the money issue. Generally, when a writer receives a flat fee, that person has no editor input. I don't like my name on books where copyeditors can change things I've written without consulting me. The publisher may invite the writer into the editing process, but that's not a guarantee. Of the many flat-fee arrangements I did early in my career, only twice was I invited to participate.

Most publishers have a good idea how many copies they can expect to sell; flat-fee arrangements are usually a disadvantage to the writer.

Friday, February 18, 2011

“How Do You Make a Living at Writing?” (Part 6 of 6)

(By Chip MacGregor, President, MacGregor Literary, Inc.)

Many novelists take eight months to write a book. But at that rate, even a healthy $16,000 advance (which is pretty good for any novelist these days) means you're getting by on $2,000 a month. If you take that part-time job to make ends meet, you now find you have less time to work on your novel, so it takes you a year to complete. You don't want to hurry it, because you won't write as good of a story, and writing a lousy book is sure to kill your career.

This is why I always remind authors how tough it is to make a living at writing. You need to have books that are already out there earning you money, so that you know you have income from projects you are no longer working on.

You also need to have signed contracts that will earn you more money. And that money is easy to track, because you know when and how much you'll be paid. And you need a plan for how you'll move forward.

Let's be honest: The first rule of writing is "Don't quit your day job." Stop acting as if writing full time is some sort of God-given right. If you had chosen painting or sculpture or singing or dancing or any other art, you'd probably be facing even longer odds at making a living at your craft. The fact is, most artists struggle financially. That's why most writers have other sources of income. Either they work full or part time, or they have a job related to the industry (editor, reporter, or book salesperson), or they're married to somebody who has a real job that pays the bills. Don't lose sight of the fact that it takes most people years to get to the place where they are writing full time—if they ever get there.

It's easy to hang out at a writing conference and assume that "Everybody else in writing is making a living at this except me." But it’s not true. Many of these folks are doing something to pay the bills. I'm not trying to dissuade you, but trying to help you gain a realistic picture of what it takes to make a living in this business.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

“What Is the biggest Mistake Writers Make When They Try to Turn Professional?” (Part 5 of 6)

(By Chip MacGregor, President, MacGregor Literary, Inc.)

The biggest mistake is that writers jump too soon. I routinely see wannabe authors get a book contract, quit their jobs, and later wonder why their agent can't help them survive financially.

I have three rules for authors who want to go full time:

1. You need to have four to six books earning you royalties;

2. You need to have 18 months to 2 years of book contracts;

3. You need to have a plan in place. That plan includes a budget, a writing calendar, an accountability partner or writing support group, a writing space, adequate equipment, and most likely a therapist, because you're probably delusional to consider the idea anyway.

Let's say you received a nice two-book deal. The publisher pays you $10,000 per book on an advance, so the total deal is for $20,000. You get a third of that on signing ($6,666). You need to be able to live on that while you write your book. If you can write it within three months (relatively fast for most novelists), you've lived on $2,200 per month. Pretty thin stuff. If it takes you six months to do a novel, you have to make do on a thousand bucks a month.

Once the publisher approves your manuscript (which can sometimes take a few months), an editor sends you your completion check for that book, another $6,666, payable thirty days after they request the check. You've now made a whopping $13k, you're months into the process, and you've spent all your good ideas on your first book. So it's on to book two.

Friday, February 11, 2011

“What Are the Most Important Parts of a Contract?” (Part 4 of 6)

(By Chip MacGregor, President, MacGregor Literary, Inc.)

In a general sense the two most important ingredients are clarity and completeness—that is, your book contract covers all the important issues, and does so in a way that you can understand.

Here are a handful of things I believe are important in publishing contracts.

1. A reasonable grant of rights. You own your words. But you're granting a license to your publisher to produce and sell them in some form, and the grant of rights details what forms that can take. Anything not specifically granted to the publisher ought to be viewed as being retained by the author.

2. A clear expression of what the author will do. Your due date, word count, and the direction of your writing will certainly be in the contract, but so will expectations about your participation in marketing, your provision of art and photos, your ability to write other books that may or may not compete, and your willingness to sell other ideas to other publishers. Seek clarity on these issues.

3. A complete accounting of money to be paid to you. You need to pay close attention, and you need to know the industry standard. Ask for the ability to have a professional auditor check the publisher’s accounts.

4. Details about the editing, production, and sale of your book. Make sure the copyright is in your name. It's reasonable to have the contract state that the book will be produced within 24 months or so after turning in the manuscript. And make sure you, the author, can buy copies of your own book at a reasonable discount.

5. A clear and complete explanation of everyone’s legal promises and protections. This is a legal document that governs everything about your book for as long as it’s in print. When you think of it that way, you want to make sure the legal protections are clear.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Why Is an Agent Necessary? (Part 3 of 6)

(By Chip MacGregor, President, MacGregor Literary, Inc.)

Most authors don't know all the things I listed in the previous post and need a specialist to assist them. A good agent brings access through his or her relationships in the industry.

Long ago publishers realized the value of agents, and generally they won't look at unsolicited manuscripts. They insist that all proposals come through a legitimate agent. Think about selling your home: you can do it on your own (my wife and I have sold houses "By Owner"), but it's not easy. You have to educate yourself to make sure everything is legal and that the deal is done appropriately and fairly.

If you own an expensive home, it's tough to sell it yourself. Buyers want the professionalism that comes from having the assistance of a good realtor overseeing the sale. Similarly, when you sign a book contract, you're agreeing to a series of legal clauses that will govern your book for as long as it's in print.

Having somebody help you through the process is always helpful and often necessary. Having someone assist you with the long-term view of a writing career is usually deemed important by most career authors.

Friday, February 4, 2011

“As an Agent, What Do You Do Besides Negotiate Contracts?” (Part 2 of 6)

(By Chip MacGregor, President, MacGregor Literary, Inc.)

A good literary agent will help authors focus an idea, respond to the writing, perhaps offer thoughts to give shape to the manuscript, assist in the creation of a strong proposal, know who will be interested in the project, have the relationships to get manuscripts in front of publishing decision-makers, solicit offers, walk the authors through the decision-making process, negotiate the deal, and ensure contract compliance. Depending on the relationship, the literary agent may very well serve as encourager, timekeeper, counselor, career-guidance officer, and sounding board. Or the agent may serve as a business manager, helping authors map out the details of making a life in the arts.

While I play all of those roles at times, I don’t play all of them at once. There’s no one right relationship between agents and authors. Some authors want to talk through ideas; others don't care if they get my thinking on their ideas. Some need a lot of encouragement; others want me as a business partner, but they do not want me hanging out with them and slapping them on the back. So part of linking up with an agent is figuring out what you need.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"What Do You Do When Potential Clients Approach You?” (Part 1 of 6)

(By Chip MacGregor, President, MacGregor Literary, Inc.)

The best place to connect with an agent is at a writing conference. Check to see which agents are attending, do some research to find out who might be a fit for your particular project, then ask to set up a formal meeting. If all the meeting slots are filled, try to sidle up to the agent during a meal or between sessions. Most of us are happy to meet interesting people in our industry. Be pleasant, introduce yourself, and get to the point.

If you approach an agent at a conference, I suggest thoughts to help make it successful.

1. Have a focus. Frequently people sit in front of me and do not give me any direction. It's your meeting. Know what you want to say.

2. Prepare your presentation or question ahead of time. Sometimes knowing how you want to start is all you need to get us rolling.

3. Be ready to talk about your writing. What’s your idea? How is it strong? How is it unique? What’s the market? Why are you the person writing this? If you can quickly hit the highlights, you’ll find the meeting more productive and satisfying.

4. Bring a sample of your writing. If we don’t get to it, that’s okay. At least you’re prepared if we do.

5. Remember to listen. If you’re talking to a professional, listen to what advice they have for you. Don’t argue.

6. Know what “success” is. It’s probably unrealistic to think an agent will sign you at a 15-minute meeting. Maybe what you need is direction for your story, or to hear you’re on the right track, or you want the agent to suggest whom to show it to. Don’t limit success to “an agent or nothing.”

7. Make sure it’s ready. Most of the projects handed to me are somewhere between 30 and 70 percent ready. The more ready your project, the more likely you are to land an agent.

8. Don’t come on too strong. We’ve all seen the super-confident buffoon who acts like everybody is going to love the project. Confidence in a writer is great; overconfidence is a turn-off. Strike a balance between “I know I can do this” and “I’d love to learn from someone who is farther down the path than I am.”

–Chip MacGregor, President, MacGregor Literary, Inc.