Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What to Expect When You're Expecting an Offer

(By Deidre Knight, The Knight Agency)

An agent provides many services and benefits when an author is on the verge of receiving their first publishing offer, everything from the proverbial hand-holding, to sorting out offers from multiple houses to reviewing and finalizing the contract. Since there’s frequent debate these days about the necessity of having an agent versus self-publishing, I thought it would be helpful if we went “back to basics” and took a look at what a first-time author can expect from the submission and sale process.

First, the agent signs on the new client, and there’s much high-fiving over the shiny, pretty manuscript that both of you love. Then you buckle up and, most likely, get down to work—i.e. the agent outlines any edits she might want to suggest for making the manuscript stronger. In this tough economy, it’s more important than ever that a manuscript from a debut author be as outstanding as possible.

Once the manuscript is in final shape, the agent makes a submission list and
sends out the project (aka “shopping” in agentspeak). This is where the author can expect one thing: to feel a little crazy. It’s a strange feeling, realizing that perfect strangers, editors who work with authors you admire, are reading your work. But be forewarned: That feeling will likely wear off because the submission stage often takes a few months. Sometimes it’s faster—much faster.

At our agency we’ve sold books within twenty-four hours of submission on quite a few occasions. I’ve also sold a book two years after I submitted it, and placed another project six years after making the initial submission. So, the time frame from submission to receiving an offer can vary widely. To be on the safe side, prepare and expect to wait months, not days.

Naturally, if multiple houses step forward with interest, that heightens the stakes and your agent will need to manage an auction. But, for the sake of simplicity, let’s picture a scenario where just the one house decides to bid. The agent receives an email or call from the publisher saying they’d like to discuss the project, Most Marvelous First Novel Ever by Debbie Debut. Is it still available? Your agent will let the editor know that, yes, the project is still up for grabs and then the editor makes an opening offer.

You can expect a good deal of back-and-forth in negotiations for Most Marvelous, because a good agent knows that an editor won’t make the very best offer right out of the gate. Sometimes the agent can haggle a fair amount; however, if the publisher thinks the book still needs a lot of work, for instance, the offer may not improve as much as you and your agent would like.

Some of the offer’s aspects that are negotiated include: subsidiary rights (audio, foreign rights, e-books, book club, film), royalty rate, format (will it be hard cover, mass market, trade paper, or perhaps even digital first?), advance amount, payout of the advance (some publishers try to apportion money to publication, some don’t, but clearly the author wants to be paid sooner, not later), number of author copies, which rights the author will keep and which the publisher will get.

Especially in an auction situation, there are bonuses that might be added to sweeten the offer—some of these include bonuses for appearing on the New York Times, for selling X number of copies in the first year or for earning out the advance in a set time frame. There are a variety of potential bonuses that publishers may add in order to make the offer more attractive.

Once the offer is finalized and accepted, you can expect…to wait some more. Publishers routinely take up to sixty or even ninety days to send a contract. Occasionally it might even be longer than that.

But once your agent receives the contract, they will go over it carefully, asking for any changes that are required. They may ask for contract revisions for several reasons-- because the document doesn’t reflect the deal terms that were agreed to originally, or because the publisher has changed their standard contract boilerplate language. Or maybe because there are new points of debate (for instance, right now our agency is eager to ensure that publishers don’t hold reserves against digital royalties, which obviously can’t be returned.)

And then, finally, once the agent has gone over the contract carefully, asked for changes and received the final copy you can expect to…sign on the dotted line. And maybe pop a bottle of bubbly with your significant other that night, to celebrate your new venture as a published author.

Deidre Knight established The Knight Agency (TKA) in 1996 after working in the entertainment industry. As president of TKA, she has built a dynamic, bestselling client list, placing titles in a broad range of categories, including romance, women's fiction, general fiction, young adult, business, popular culture, self-help, religion, health, and parenting. Deidre’s most well-known clients include New York Times bestselling author Gena Showalter and 90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN co-authors Don Piper and Cecil Murphey. Last year, The Knight Agency had 15 NYT bestsellers and was one of the foremost agencies in the field of romance publishing.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Studying the Magazine Market

(Several people have asked questions about how to study the markets, so I asked Sally Stuart to write a blog post. We'll follow up later with another guest blogger.)

How do you study the markets before submitting to magazines?

When you reach the point of asking this question, I assume you have identified the topics you can or want to write about.

You can then use the Christian Writers’ Market Guide and look up your selected topic(s) in the “Topical Listings for Periodicals” section. After reading the provided listing for each of those periodicals, plus checking out their Website, you may delete some immediately because of a difference in slant or theology.

For those that remain, download their guidelines from their Website (or send an SASE to request them if not available online). You’ll also want to send for sample copies if they don't provide enough samples of their articles online.

Read the guidelines carefully, highlighting any statements that fit your article’s topic or slant in one color, and those that are in opposition to it in another color. After that, rereading both the positive and the negative statements should help you decide if this might be a good fit for what you have to offer. Read the articles they provide on line, or the sample copies, to get a better feel for the magazine.

It’s also important to clearly identify the target audience for each publication.

That should be defined in the guidelines and obvious in the sample articles, but you can also get additional insight into who the readers are by reading letters to the editor. Are the readers conservative or more liberal? What topics get a reaction from them?

Study any advertisements in the sample copies. Whom do those ads target? Your articles need to target their reading audience. Targeting that audience means your topic, as well as your anecdotes and illustrations, must be of interest to those readers.

Complete the above steps for each topic you want to address, and start making a list of potential markets for each topic.

The real secret to success as a magazine writer is in building a reputation as someone who writes well on a particular topic (marriage, family, women’s issues, or prayer)—or who does a particular type of writing (feature articles, how-to, or Bible studies).

Get published regularly, and when you become an “expert” in your topic/type, editors will seek you out with assignments.

Sally E Stuart has been putting out the Christan Writers' Market Guide for the last 26 years, and has been writing for more than 40 years. She is a marketing columnist in several writers' publications and teaches regularly at writers' conferences. Visit www.stuartmarket.com or www.stuartmarket.blogspot.com for more information.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Secrets from Professional Writers (Part 10 of 10)

10. We behave professionally.

Professionals are people on whom editors depend. We don't just make our deadlines, we beat them. We're dependable. Many years I received opportunities to ghostwrite for a publisher—and did a total of 35 for them. Although I didn't know the reason for at least a decade, a woman had written many books for them and she was excellent. She had failed to meet every deadline. They got tired of working with her.

Another thing about professionals is that we take criticism well. We know we have things to learn. Even if we don’t agree with what an editor says, we seriously ponder it instead of responding with anger. A once-famous writer called an editor on the phone and berated her. The story I heard (from someone who sat there) was that the writer yelled and screamed for nearly five hours. Maybe that's a reason she's no longer a famous writer.

I could list other characteristics, but professionals seem to have an innate sense of the correct thing to do at the right time. Perhaps I could sum it up by saying that professionals try to be sensitive to others, especially in the way they treat people who are a few rungs lower on the ladder than they are.

I am a professional and I behave professionally.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Secrets from Professional Writers (Part 9 of 10)

9. We reach out to other writers.

Thirty years ago, Suzanne refused to help another writer because "she'll become my competition." I didn't agree then; I strongly disagree today.

I believe in the principle of giving ourselves freely, and sharing what we know. I don't think of others as my competition. I think of them as other writers who are trying to sell what they write. I want to help.

Here's my favorite verse that's not from the Bible: Yea, the Lord shoveleth it in; I shoveleth it out; and behold, the Lord hath a larger shovel (Jubilations 4:4).

To the fearful and insecure, it may sound outrageous to give away what we've worked hard to learn. But it really works the other way. I'm a giver and I like to give. As I examine my writing career, every upward step I've taken has come about because someone else opened the door. My first book publisher and my first agent came because someone else opened the door. In both instances, the help was from individuals I had helped but never expected any return.

Professionals know that. They enjoy sharing what they know and giving to others. That puts them in a position to receive from others.

We receive by giving; we grow by sharing.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Secrets from Professional Writers (Part 8b of 10)

8b. We study the markets.

If you don't study the markets, you lower your chances of selling anything because you don't know what publishers want. If you send in something that's outdated or no longer of interest, you frustrate editors. Do it often enough and you create a negative reputation among editors (and they do talk with each other).

As you study what's out there, you can ask yourself, "To what does that lead?" You can learn to anticipate what the public will read next. For example, I've been suggesting for five years that books for retiring baby boomers will be a big thing. So far I haven't seen many books on the topic, but they're definitely on the way.

Studying the markets is more than selling; it's staying abreast about what goes on in the world. We figure out the felt-needs of people, sometimes before they're aware.

We study the markets because we're professionals.
Professionals are always on the learning curve.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Secrets from Professional Writers (Part 8a of 10)

8a. We study the markets.

One way to define success is that we sell what we write. Professionals don't rely solely on agents, but they know what's going on in the world around them. They're aware of writing trends. The best professionals spot trends before they become trends.

In 1989, I wrote a book for caregivers of loved ones who suffered from Alzheimer's. I wrote two other books for caregivers. They didn't do well because I was too far ahead of the loop. In 2004 I did another series of caregiving books with only slightly better results. The trend had begun and I lectured often on caregiving.

In 2009, I started a series of gift books for caregivers and they've done quite well. I'll continue to write in that field, but it's no longer my focus because there are already so many people out speaking and teaching.

That's what I mean by studying the markets. I co-wrote Don Piper's 90 Minutes in Heaven and it's now in its fifth year on the New York Times' best-seller list. Since then, other books have come out about heaven. In the fall of 2010, two books, both about a child who went to heaven, appeared.

In the summer of 2010, I released my book When a Man You Love Was Abused. So far as I know, it was the first book on the topic aimed at the Christian market by a royalty-paying publisher. The book has done well and I know of two other books on the topic that have gotten a thumbs up because of my book's success.

By contrast, memoirs and autobiographies aren't doing well, unless the subject is a celebrity, and some of them haven't shown strong results, such as Kitty Kelley's bio of Oprah.

Awareness of the market doesn't guarantee sales,
but it does increase your chances of selling.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Secrets from Professional Writers (Part 7 of 10)

7. We write what we know and what we yearn to know.

Each of us leads a unique life. We are products of our past experiences and no one has a background exactly like ours. Draw from that background. Reflect on what you already know and write it either as fiction, autobiography, how-to, or any other genre you like. Use your already accumulated knowledge and wisdom (and we all have more than we think we do).

But don't stop with what you know. Move into what you'd like to know. Research by reading and asking questions, and learn about topics that grab your interest. For instance, in 1990 and 1995 I co-wrote two books about Antarctica, even though I never went there until 2003. I read widely because of the two books, the first of which was published by a company that specializes in true adventure, and they called it With Byrd at the Bottom of the World. It's the story of Norman Vaughan who was then the last surviving member of Richard Byrd's historic flight over the South Pole. (He went on a ship, disembarked on the icy continent, and a team of men with dog sleds went 400 miles inland. Norman was in charge of the dogs.)

I didn't know much about Antarctica, but I read widely and felt as if I had been there long before I boarded a ship. That's one of the marks of a professional—we're curious people. We want to know more. We don't settle for surface information.

Good writers write what they know;
Good writers explore new areas to increase their knowledge.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Secrets from Professional Writers (Part 6 of 10)

6. We mimic the best.

I can't say this enough: Imitate the writers you admire. Would-be basketball heroes copy the moves of the players they admire.

For example, when I was 15 years old I first read William Saroyan's The Human Comedy. I didn't know much about writing, but I knew I wanted to write and that I wanted to write with his warmth. Saroyan's writing gave me permission to express my heart on paper. That's one kind of imitation.

The other is to copy their words. When you read something that makes you pause and say, "I wish I had written that," copy the words. File them. Read them occasionally. As you copy and ponder the prose, you're absorbing their style.

Don't just copy best-selling writers. I can think of several top-grossing writers. It's not their mastery of the craft that makes them sell, but it's their plots or the material they cover.

I started with two writers I like, and neither of them was in my field. That didn't matter and may have been a positive factor. I couldn't steal or copy their prose, but I could learn syntax and phrasing that equaled theirs.

I find superior writers;
I imitate them so that I can become better than they are.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Secrets from Professional Writers (Part 5 of 10)

5. We Grow Professionally.

Learn—and keep learning—the craft. We strive to become the best writers we’re capable of becoming.

Growing professionally means an unrelenting search for excellence. We're never satisfied. We smile when we've constructed a good paragraph and say to ourselves, I'll continue to improve.

Here's something else we can do for ourselves: Connect with other writers, those who will help us push ourselves. We don't want to connect just to get someone to stay at us until we finish an article or book. I urge writers to covenant with another to push you to make your manuscript the best writing you can do at this stage of your development.

Professionals are never pleased with their writing
because they know they can improve.