Saturday, October 31, 2015

On Agents and Traditional Publishing.

Louis Shalako

When writing a new book, I will often post a few excerpts, fairly substantial ones, as I go along.

It tends to pique readers’ curiosity and it might even help sell a few copies. Excerpts from my mystery novels sold at least a handful of already-published mysteries. Those links were on the page. People could read a sample of a work in progress and then click through and buy a book.

I really can’t claim much more than that. Many traditionally-published authors cringe when they see that. It’s considered unprofessional, and according to them, if it has been ‘published’, no reputable publisher would ever be interested.

From their perspective, you have pissed in your own well. From their perspective, they’re absolutely right, too.

For my new book I haven’t done that, except for a couple of extremely short snippets posted on Facebook. This leaves all of the options open. For a first-time author, (which is exactly how I will be perceived), potential deals don’t look all that sweet, and that’s just gut instinct. Five or ten grand in advance sounds like a lot of money, (after twenty-one years on a disability pension). Another person’s perspective will be different. A print run of a thousand hardcovers and three or four thousand paperbacks isn’t nearly so impressive. It gets your foot in the door. That’s not enough of a print run to become a bestseller, and it won’t be marketed as if it stood any chance of becoming a bestseller and it is best to accept that going in.


It legitimizes you, to the extent you might be invited to sit on a panel at a convention, etc. The local paper will interview you. Your books might appear in small numbers, on brick-and-mortar bookstore shelves from coast to coast. And you may never see another dime from it. It’s a question of what you want and whether it’s ultimately worth it to you.

Theoretically, it helps you to make the next deal, build readership, and get some experience.

For a first book, yes, it has to be a good story. But the publisher is more concerned with the sales potential of an unknown author. It is not the reader, but the buyer who determines perceived value and the desirability of a product. Before readers can buy your book, a publisher sort of has to buy it first. And they’re in business to make money.

It would be wonderful not to have to format my own books, design my own covers, and write my own product descriptions. It might be wonderful to find a really good editor, and to see some really professional work with my name on the cover on the shelves in a national chain bookstore.

There is a lot more to it than that, isn’t there?

To be forewarned is forearmed. For myself, assuming I could get such a contract, I might want to retain ebook rights and just let the publisher have a hard-copy license. I might want a strict end date with no exceptions. I might want to know exactly when those print rights revert to me, how much creative control I have over the work and the process. I might want to see it spelled out exactly how much promotion the publisher would give such a work, and how much promotion at my own time and expense I would be contractually-obligated to do.

I’m not a starry-eyed twenty year-old anymore. I’m a fifty-six year-old, getting a small pension, one with some pretty severe restrictions as to what I can and cannot do financially.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch is quite correct when she says that a professional writer can simply go on to the next book. It’s what I do anyways. We’re not talking about the writing.

We’re talking about the money—the business side of it from a writer’s perspective.

Her thoughts on literary agents are quite strong. The question is, is the information reasonable?

It’s probably true that you don’t really need an agent in the age of the internet. You submit a book. If you get some interest, some follow-up request for a partial or complete manuscript, it’s perfectly plausible that an author might get on the horn real quick and try to engage an IP (intellectual property) lawyer.

At that point you have entered the waters, thoroughly chummed by the blood of a million other authors before you. You are now swimming with the sharks. Ah, but on disability, that lawyer would have to be working on a contingency basis. That’s because I can’t afford much of a retainer, although a one-hour consultation at $250 to $500 an hour might be doable. Those costs must be borne by the project in hand, and yet it’s all up-front, speculative money where we might not even end up with a deal.

Assuming we’re running our writing as a business, there are some cost-benefit analyses that must be done. Perhaps it’s better not to sign a deal, hoping that a better deal will come down the road. Some other publisher might offer a deal which seems better to the inexperienced author/businessman.

At which point, we’re going to need to call our IP guy again.

It takes money to make money. That is an unfortunate truism. When we submit a book to a publisher, we are asking them to invest in our works, and that’s fair enough so far as it goes. Selling books is their specialty, far more than it is mine or the average reader who might have some interest in this process.

There is always going to be that time element. At my age, playing catch-up with successful authors who have been around for thirty or forty years seems pretty unrealistic.

Buying into a myth is just dumb.

That’s not to say that I can’t write some good books over the next fifteen or twenty years, because that’s what I’m going to do. However, we also want to make some money.

That is an entirely different kettle of fish.

A lot of authors make multiple submissions, and as long as the publishers don’t mind that, I don’t see anything wrong with it. For myself, I’ve always liked to keep it simple, submitting to one high-profile publisher at a time. One in particular sticks in my mind.

That was the publisher who sent a rejection slip two years after my submission.

Honestly, that book was self-published six months or a year before I got the slip in the mail.

At that rate, you really don’t stand much of a chance—I mean the publisher, and the author as well.

I’m not going to sit here and bitch about the industry and how it has to change. Frankly, I don’t know much about it, and I’m certainly not all up-in-arms about it.

If we don’t like the alternatives, we can always choose not to submit.

Some of the stories I’ve published were never going to fly anywhere else. There isn’t much market for westerns, not at five bucks a story, or military fiction, or some other genres. I’m not going to write a novel and let some guy serialize it for twenty bucks on his website. I can do that myself and build up my own traffic and readership.

If there is nowhere credible to submit it, then publish it yourself. Keep the cost down.

Take what sales you get and learn from it.

I’m in no position to give advice, but we all do, don’t we?

However, for my nineteenth novel, I can set that one aside, submit it a few places, and start writing the next book, novel number twenty.

It really only takes a couple of months for the books I’ve been doing lately. And it’s nice to have something to do when I wake up in the morning.


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