Posted: 14 Dec 2017 10:17 AM PST
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
I've recently gotten a number of reports about a literary agent with a major agency who is offering representation with a "handshake" deal: representation based on a verbal commitment, rather than a binding author-agent agreement or contract.
There are a number of reasons why authors should be wary of such offers.
1. A handshake is not today's professional standard.
Decades ago, so-called handshake deals were common in the agenting business. You and your agent agreed that the agent would represent your work to publishers; once your work sold, the agent's right to receive commissions and to act on your behalf was formalized in the agency clause of your book contract. Before publisher consolidation created the mega-houses, before the digital revolution and the array of new rights and markets it has spawned, before authors' backlists became valuable, most authors, agents, and publishers deemed this to be enough.
But the present-day publishing landscape is far, far more diverse and complicated than it was then. There are more rights, more avenues to sell and re-sell them, and--at least potentially--much more money. In this increasingly complex environment, a simple, informal handshake and an agency clause are no longer regarded as sufficient. While there may still be some long-time agents who work on a handshake basis, author-agent contracts have become the professional norm.
2. A handshake doesn't protect you.
Oral contracts do carry weight--if they can be proven. For authors, though, the concern isn't so much proving the relationship exists as it is setting out the terms of it.
As noted above, publishing is far more complicated than it used to be. As a result, so is agenting. Myriad issues need to be addressed when agreeing to representation--from commissions and payments, to expense reimbursement, to termination provisions, to what happens after termination or if the agent goes out of business.
It is very much in your interest--and also in the agent's--to clearly and precisely lay all of this out at the outset of the relationship. Otherwise, you not only lack a clear understanding of what the agent can and will do for you, you have severely diminished recourse to demand accountability or to take action if the relationship goes bad.
3. A handshake may be a warning sign.
And not just of a lack of professional knowledge or practice. Putting it bluntly: a handshake deal makes it easier for an agent to get rid of you.
Maybe the agent doesn't want to bother with clients whose work doesn't sell in the first submission round. Maybe the agent isn't all that enthusiastic about you and is hedging their bets in case there are no offers (and if there are offers, is this really the agent you want representing you?). Maybe the agent has one publisher in mind and is up for a quickie sub but not a longer-term commitment. Maybe the agent only offers contracts after a manuscript finds a home, so they can disavow the authors they aren't able to sell and look like they're batting a thousand. (Be especially concerned if the agent works at an agency where contracts are the norm--as is the case with the agent I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post.)
Over the years, I've gotten complaints from authors who've experienced all these things as part of a handshake deal. As these authors know, it's incredibly hard to walk away from an offer, even if the offer isn't a good one. But if the offer is a handshake deal, you just might want to make that very tough decision.
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Tuesday, December 19, 2017
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Wednesday, September 6, 2017
Posted: 05 Sep 2017 05:58 AM PDT
I read an excellent book by John Sutherland, A Little History of Literature, which shared a historical perspective on novels that covered an array of topics, from book clubs and best-seller lists to great writers, censorship, books turned into movies, poetry, and mythology. But the most revealing chapter was its last one, about the fate of literature.
The author notes the marketplace is flooded with too many titles, that we suffer from “too-muchness of literature” and it’s expanding all of the time.
“This mind-crushing plentifulness creates whole new sets of problems. There are those still living (and I am one) who were raised in a cultural environment whose central features were scarcity, shortage and inaccessibility. If you wanted a new novel, you had either to save up the money to pay for it, or put your name down on a waiting list at the local public library. It was annoying. But, in a way it made things simpler. You had fewer options. In a single lifetime – mine, for example – shortage has been replaced by an embarrassment of choice. So how is one to navigate the onslaught of books?"
He later notes: “In Shakespeare’s day, there were, it has been estimated, some 2,000 books available to a bookish person like him. You could be, as the phrase was, “well read.” That is a description for which no one in the future will qualify.”
Today the book industry easily produces more than 2,000 new titles every single day, 365 days a year. How can one keep up with what’s new, let alone visit the millions of volumes stored online and in libraries?
People read books based on the time available to them. Will they form a literary diet of the classics or of what a review, friend or store recommends? Will they experiment and diversify, or will they read more of what they believe they like to read, sticking narrowly to one’s specific genres?
And how will people consume their literature – with a paper book or a digital scroll on their smart phone?
“The printed book,” writes Southerland,” a physical thing made up of paper, type, ink and board, has been around now for over 500 years. It has served literature wonderfully: packaging in cheap, sometimes beautiful forms that have helped to sustain mass literacy. Few inventions have lasted longer, or done more good.
“The book may however, have had its day. The tipping point has come very recently in the second decade of the twenty-first century, when e-books – digital things made up of algorithms and pixels – began to outsell the traditional book on Amazon. An e-book, as it’s currently marketed for handheld tablets, looks eerily like a ‘real’ book just as the early printed books such as Gutenberg’s looked just like manuscripts.”
There’s still evidence that paper is favored over digital. E-book sales have dropped much of the past four years while print has risen. But there’s no doubt the digital world is creeping into every aspect of our lives.
“Literature,” concludes Sutherland, “that wonderfully creative product, of the human mind, will, in whatever new forms and adaptations it takes, forever be a part of our lives, enriching our lives.”
Sunday, July 23, 2017
Posted: 12 Jul 2017 07:28 AM PDT
Many authors that I speak with, whether self-published or published by a leading publisher, regardless of genre, a writer’s credentials, or the marketing campaign behind their books, will ask about how they can become a best-selling author. It is understandable that they’d want to make a list – they seek fame, fortune, and to be heard in a big way. But do our best-seller lists really represent the best books out there?
Best-seller lists are in today’s world a manipulated reward for those who know how to game the system. Through pre-launch orders arranged by an author’s marketing team, family and friends, one can hit a best-seller list not because of the merits of the book but the proof that expensive and persistent marketing has a pay-off. Nothing wrong there, but one should not be fooled into thinking that a best-seller is necessarily a great book. Heck, it may not even be a good one.
Once a book gets on a best-seller list it tends to beget more sales. More people – reviewers, media, consumers – pay attention to these lists and further create a demand for a book they know little about. It’s a process similar to when people choose the brand item vs. the generic or unknown label simply because it seems familiar and recognized in an authoritative way.
Then again, there’s almost a deliberate opposition to best-sellers by the literary snobbery. Whether it’s jealousy or something else, the elitists may purposely damn a book because it is popular and on a list. Everyone likes to knock a leader off his perch. But that kind of prejudice seems uncalled for. A best-seller can be a very good book. But its selling status is not necessarily an indicator of the content quality, just as a beautiful person may be ugly on the inside. No guarantees there.
Best-seller lists used to be influenced by a number of factors, including traditional reviews by a respected handful, huge advertising campaigns, big publicity tours, and positive word-of-mouth. Now a big player is pre-order shenanigans arranged by people who know how to process a certain amount of orders by reaching out to an author’s list of connections, including ones the author will underwrite book purchases for. Further, social media is now dictating popularity and fueling book sales, but again, the buzz is not necessarily based on the book’s purity – just its author’s financial ability to get influencers to post on his behalf.
Best-sellers are created and rarely just materialize organically. It’s a crafted, controlled process that represents not so much the best of books but the best of book marketing.
What will it take to make these lists purified and truly representative of real consumers and their reading judgments? We may never know.
Wednesday, July 5, 2017
Friday, June 30, 2017
Thursday, June 15, 2017
Posted: 14 Jun 2017 12:51 PM PDT
As a writer, you must overcome many obstacles. You write a book that’s worth publishing. You find a literary agent, book publisher, or self-publishing platform. You market and promote the book. Then, opportunity knocks, and the news media wants to interview you. Finally, your moment has arrived. But with it also comes pangs of fear, feelings of insecurity and even a touch of panic.
Hold on. There’s every reason to feel nervous, that’s natural, and the adrenaline rush can even help you. But there’s no reason to have an allergic reaction to the media. It all comes down to you talking about yourself and your book – two subjects you know better than anyone. You should not fret. Have fun with it.
The reasons people freak out may consist of the following:
1. What if people reject me or my book?
2. What if I don’t say the right thing, or worse, say the wrong thing?
3. I’m insecure about my looks or my voice – can I hide?
4. I fear what they’ll ask me or that I’ll be surprised.
5. I desperately want to make a great impression but don’t know how.
6. I don’t know how to speak in sound bytes.
7. I’ve never done this before, so I have no clue what to expect.
8. What if the media wants to make me look stupid?
9. What exactly should I say that will lure interest in me?
10. I’m not a big public speaker. I would rather write than talk.
It’s quite normal to think of any and all of these things. But I can assure you these can all be addressed.
The first step is to reverse your thinking. Instead of thinking of the negatives, think of the positives. Finally, you get to have your message heard, your views voiced, and your book discovered. Simply choose to see this as a wonderful opportunity with no drawbacks or risks.
Second, to alleviate your concerns or fears, go through media training. Have a professional help you.
Third, write up 12-15 suggested interview questions and share them with media outlets. They are likely to use it as a script for the interview, which helps you anticipate what will be asked.
Fourth, start to think of the key points that you want to stress in every interview and offer a call-to-action, such as going to your website. Have something free and interesting available as a download on your site.
Fifth, break the interview down into what it is – a one on-one conversation. Never mind how many people may watch, listen or read your story -- just think of you talking to one person, one question at a time.
Sixth, boost your confidence by remembering why you started to write books – to help inspire, entertain or elevate others. Feel good about what you’re doing and believe it will go well.
Seventh, imagine for the moment that you fall on your ass in the interview. You stutter. You forget an answer. Your makeup runs. Your shirt has a coffee stain. Your voice cracks. So what!? What ends up happening? Nothing. Maybe you didn’t make the best impression or sell a lot of books but you won’t lose friends or go to jail or be fined. A bad interview is nothing and goes into the rear view mirror when you replace it with good interviews. Imagine the worse, realize nothing bad results from it, and move on. Face your fear and walk away unscathed.
Some things can be addressed or even avoided. For instance, don’t pursue media that may actually try to turn this into a circus, such as morning zoo radio or late night comedy talk shows. If your topic is controversial – race, religion, politics, sex – ready yourself to hear opposing viewpoints but never lose your cool or treat people disrespectfully. And if you’re worried about your appearance, fix it up (new clothes) or accept yourself for who you are. Don’t keep beating yourself up.
Lastly, remember there are endless reels of bloopers of famous, well-trained personalities who messed up royally in their interviews. The bar is quite high to compete with their screw-ups. Believe in yourself and others will too, and if the worst happens, move on to the next interview.
Smile, deep breath…talk.