Wednesday, July 1, 2009

You've Found an Agent - NOW What Happens?

My friend in Oz asked me what happens next with Hafan Deg. I had to get my head straight to think this through. I've never been published before, but I've read everything I can get my hands on to help with the clarification process. So this is what I believe happens, once you've found an agent. Keep in mind that the writer's lot is often tragic, and perhaps nothing will happen. (I could still be blogging on about it, with query stats in the hundreds, years from now.)

Anyway, this is my take on it:

The agent contacts publishers - in fact they approach EDITORS; the editor is the first point of contact, and will have to fall in love with your book. Then she (we'll call her 'she') has to persuade the publisher's editorial board - over several stages - that the publisher should offer the agent, on your behalf, a contract, so that review board will have to believe in your book, even if they don't love it. The final decision is based on their confidence that your book can easily find a niche in bookstores; there will be a good market for it; the writer is a good candidate for the promotional work required to generate sales; and that the book has enough merit to at least make back its advance.

Let's say you've made it through the various board approvals stage, and the publisher has completed the contract with your agent and now pays the agent your advance (if there is one - publishers are getting tighter) - with luck, about 5% to 15% of the value of the print run, which can be large or small. The agent takes 15% (usual) commission, and gives you the change.

If the print run is modest - say 10,000 - and the book was worth, say, $20, you'd get $10k advance based on, say, 5%, less 15% for your agent. If the book barely sells, you'll never see another penny, but you don't have to repay the publisher that shortfall; this is their cost of doing business (and they won't love you for it). Obviously big sellers have 100,000s of books printed.

Now the editor is totally in charge. She will probably want re-writes, things that may appal you, but that you will have to approve because she's now the boss; the publisher owns the printing rights (U.S., English, Foreign, Film, whatever you agreed to). She could insist on a new title. What she says goes.

The art department is brought in to design the cover and the writer has little or no say in that. (I rather like my own, but they won't use it.) You'll have little input as to the font used, the paper, hard or soft cover. You've sold those rights.
The book is printed perhaps a year after the publisher gets hold of it, because it sits in a print queue behind others.

In the olden days, the publicity department now would be involved, preparing to launch you and your book to fame and glory. No more, it seems.

You will be expected to promote the book pending that launch date, at your own expense, probably, because publishers are beginning to frown on these expenses. I have no idea what's involved in publicity. I'm currently finding out as much as I can online. I know it's early days, considering my book might not even find a publisher, but I believe in being prepared. I want to know everything I can about this business.

The book is distributed to stores. You arrange to do book signings, interviews, etc. Again, the cost of travel, business cards, little promotional gifts, e.g. bookmarks, is your expense against any revenue.

From all sales, Royalties of 5% to 15% are calculated, the advance is deducted, and the balance is sent to the agent, who subtracts 15% and again sends you the change. Royalties are calculated about every 6 months only. As I said earlier, if the book never makes enough to cover that original advance, you still get to keep it. Perhaps the publisher will play nice if he thinks your next book will recoup these losses for his company, or he could choose not to deal with you again.

Regarding how little control you have over your book once it's picked up, this undoubtedly becomes more relaxed with any future work, as and if you become more important as a writer. Obviously the likes of Harlan Coben, Dean Koontz, Stephen King, et al, have a huge say in the final product. I can't imagine any publisher telling them what to do.

As I said at the beginning, this is purely my understanding of the process. If any of you can offer more detail, or need to correct me, please do.

As writers poring over our work, hoping against hope that this time we're going to make it, we see the path ahead a bit like the Yellow Brick Road. We finish our amazing story, polish it to a shimmering wonder, and start the query process, already acknowledging that it's not going to be easy. We've read that much, at least. But we hardly know more. It seems to end there, and we ecstatically jump all the next steps to the point where we are standing on some community stage somewhere, giving a reading to a rapt audience. Ahem, wait a second. Not quite yet.

So that's why I wrote today's post.

I've added a couple of associated links here, that you could have missed. They're pertinent - one very funny, Intern Spills, and the other a fascinating look at the Michael Stanley Kubu journey at Anne Mini's blog. I notice that the advance here was split into three, one on signing, one on manuscript acceptance (unsure what that means) and one on publication. Everyone's different.

Please tell me how your Yellow Brick Road is going for you.

Hey, Happy Canada Day, eh!


Angela said...

Great breakdown!

I think the amount of promo help is dependent on how big they think your book will be. Some of the bigger authors I'm sure have expenses paid when they're being flown all over the place on tours and signings, others its on their own dime. If the pub thinks this marketing will pay out big time, I imagine that will sway them into forking over some money for expenses.

Fran said...

Thanks for that, Angela. Re the promo, I was addressing first time writers, who haven't proved themselves yet.