Wednesday, January 26, 2011

ASK BACK: In this new digital age, what role do you envision a literary agent having (if any) in representing you for an e-book original deal?


In this new digital age, what role do you envision a literary agent having (if any) in representing you for an e-book original deal? What value, in your opinion, can an agent add?

I welcome your thoughts and opinions.

Is it detrimental to have your book published as a trade paperback original?

"Dear Mr. Lukeman,

Thanks again for creating your blog, and for generously taking our questions. I have a question (which you've probably been asked before) regarding hardcover vs. paperback. My debut collection of stories will be coming out with Ecco/HarperCollins, and most likely they'll do it in paperback (they'll also be publishing my novel, which is still in progress). I knew going into the deal that they were going to publish the stories in paper, but lately I'm having the anxiety that it won't be given the same kind of attention that most debut collections (in hardcover) get (reviews, award consideration, etc.). Most of my writer friends who've written debut collections had their books come out in hardcover, and were reviewed in the major venues, and went on to a paperback release. I worry that I won't have the same opportunities. I know these things can't be predicted, so I guess rather than a question, I'd like to know your thoughts on this, if perhaps I should have gone with a publisher who would've committed to a hardcover. I'm thrilled to be with Ecco-- they were at the top of my list--but as my publication date gets closer, I'm becoming less certain about the format I've signed on to. I appreciate your response and advice. Thanks so much, and Happy New Year.
--Brin Londo ("

This is a very sophisticated question, and there is no right or wrong answer. In fact, whether to publish in hardcover or paperback is always a matter of heated debate even among publishing veterans. It is by no means a science, and anyone who says they have all the answers is wrong. That said, let me at least clarify what the issues are, and the pros and cons of both.

On the one hand, one could argue that it is always better to be published in hardcover first, for a number of reasons. First of all, there is the obvious reason that you stand to earn more money in hardcover royalties than in paperback. If the typical hardcover is $25, and your royalties escalate to 15%, you can end up making $3.75 or more per book sold. If the typical trade paperback is priced at $15, and you are making a 7.5% royalty, then you are making just over $1 per book.

And then, of course, there is the prestige and review factor. Many authors and publishers will argue that books published in hardcover are much more likely to get reviewed, and to get more reviews. Many also feel that a hardcover is more prestigious.

Finally, one could also argue that being published in hardcover gives your book two lives, two chances to make it: once in hardcover, and then again, a year later, in paperback. (As opposed to a paperback original, which only has one chance to make it.) One could argue that these two lives are crucial in making a book, since sometimes a book is published at a wrong time, whereas a year later the climate may be just perfect for a great reception.

There is some validity to all of these arguments, and one can't discount them. If your book becomes a true hit, and it sells for years in hardcover, then you certainly will stand to make much more money in royalties, for one. Look for example, at a book like THE HELP. That book has sold astronomically well in hardcover. If it had been published as a paperback original, the author and publisher would not have made nearly as much as they are making now. One could also argue that if it had been published as a paperback original, then it would not have received the critical reviews it needed to become the bestseller that it did.

All of that said, one can also make convincing arguments to publish a book as a trade paperback original. One could argue that publishing in hardcover can sometimes kill the crucial momentum that an author, particularly a first-time author, needs to build a readership. This argument can especially be made with certain types of books, and certain genres. For example, if the potential readership for a book is younger, and cannot afford $25 as easily as $15, then a publisher may take that into consideration and thus publish as a trade paperback original. Certain genres, as a whole, tend to do better in trade paperback than they do in hardcover, and that might also affect a publisher's decision. If, for example, they feel that your first story collection, or novel, is targeted towards a 20-something readership, that might tip the scales in their decision to publish as a trade paperback original.

Another argument for a trade paperback original is that sometimes a book is published in hardcover, and still gets few or no reviews. On top of that, the sales can be dismal – so dismal that the publisher won't even publish a paperback edition a year later. In that case, you are left with a hardcover publication that didn't get you anywhere. You could argue that, if the book had been published initially as a trade paperback original, it would have sold many more copies, and perhaps gained momentum, and perhaps crossed a tipping point – one which it will, in that case, never have a chance to cross.

The only thing harder to do than landing a book deal for a first time novelist is landing a book deal for a novelist already published to a bad track record. In many ways, it is easier to land a book deal for someone who has never been published, and who has no track record in the system. Once you are published to a poor track record, your numbers are permanently in the system, and it is extremely difficult to convince publishers to publish subsequent books. So another argument for publishing as a trade paperback original is that you don't take the risk of publishing in hardcover to dismal sales, and ruining your track record for subsequent books. In other words, publishing as a trade paperback original just may make a publisher more inclined to buy your subsequent books. It is more of a long-term approach, looking at your career in the big picture.

As far as the review issue is concerned, no one can say for certain that being published in hardcover will necessarily result in more reviews than being published as a trade paperback original. I have seen some books published in hardcover that received no reviews whatsoever (when they should have received many) and I've seen other books published as trade paperback originals that received many reviews. It’s true that, as a rule of thumb, hardcovers tend to receive, on average, more reviews than trade paperback originals, but it really is uneven and based on the book. So I wouldn't necessarily feel that you are jeopardizing your chance for reviews simply because it is a trade paperback original.

A more important factor than the format of the book in getting reviews is the prestige of the publisher and imprint. If a hardcover is being published by a very commercial publisher who is not critically well respected, it may not receive any reviews, whereas if a trade paperback original is being published by a prestigious press, it will more likely get review attention. In your case, Ecco is a prestigious imprint, and I'm sure that major review outlets will pay attention to your book, regardless of the format.

In your case, keep in mind that it is not easy to land a book deal for a story collection, especially with a prestigious publisher. If you had many publishers bidding on your book and several offers to choose from, then in that case, you certainly could have debated whether to go for a hardcover or paperback publication. It all depends on what your bidding situation was, and how thorough a job your agent did in shopping it around. But if your agent shopped it thoroughly and every other publisher passed, then you should consider yourself very fortunate to have landed a deal at all.

One final issue: in the long run, it is not helpful for you to compare yourself to fellow authors. There will always be authors who land bigger advances than you, receive more reviews, win more awards, and sell more books. Comparing yourself to others will ultimately make you unhappy. Just compare yourself to yourself. Focus on what you do, and make each book the best it can be, and challenge yourself to make each book better, and everything will fall into place.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Ask Back: Why is a print publication important to you?

I would like to introduce a new feature to this blog, which I will call “Ask Back.” After I answer each question asked of me, I would like to ask a question back of you. I would welcome all of you to post your responses here in the comments section, so that we can encourage a lively dialogue. I value your opinions: as you are interested to know what I think on certain topics, I am interested to know your thoughts as well.

If you self published your book as an ebook/POD original, and it was a huge success online, would you still be interested in a traditional book publishing deal with a major publisher? From your perspective, what is that being published by a traditional print publisher offers you that being published as an e-book original/POD does not (for example, is it the advance, subsidiary rights sales, distribution, marketing, prestige, etc.)?

“Is it normal to have different agents for U.S. and international publication?”

"I have a question regarding non-US agents. I've written a suspense/thriller novel, which earned honorable mention in a fairly prestigious UK competition. The novel is set in Wales, and I received a manuscript request from a London based agent.

I'm in the US, and plan on submitting queries to US agents. Is it normal, or even proper, to have different agents for US or International publication?"

Rick DeMille

As a rule of thumb, it is best to focus your search on finding an agent in the U.S., for several reasons. First and foremost, if you submit your book to foreign publishers, whether directly or via an international agent, the first question they will ask is who is publishing it in the U.S. When you tell them there is no U.S. publisher, then in most cases they will either lose interest, or tell you to come back to them once you have a U.S. publisher, or make you an offer which is lower than it may have been otherwise.

There are other reasons to find a U.S. agent first. When a U.S. agent shops your book to U.S. publishers, he needs every option at his disposal in order to make a sale. Landing a book deal is not easy, even for an agent, and if an agent is forced to shop around a book in which world rights are not available, that could end up making the difference in his being able to place it at all. It may end up that a U.S. publisher likes your book, but is somewhat on the fence, and having the assurance of world rights makes the difference, and enables them to make an offer. Alternately, the advance that a U.S. publisher offers might be significantly smaller if world rights are not included as part of the deal. For example, a publisher might offer you an advance of $50,000 for U.S. rights only, or $75,000 for world rights. If you have already engaged one or more international agents to shop your book in their territories, then you will not be able to offer those rights to a U.S. publisher. U.S. publishers like to engage their own international co-agents, and will not want to use yours. That is not to say that in every instance you will give a US publisher world rights—but you do want to all have options at your disposal.

Additionally, once a U.S. agent sells your book to a U.S. publisher, if he retains the world rights, the first thing he will do is put your book into the hands of all of the international co-agents he has relationships with. If you have already committed your book to other international agents, it will cause a problem with your U.S. agent.

All of this to say that you should not query international agents as the first step towards getting published. I still recommend your approaching U.S. agents first, and, of course, that your U.S. agent approaches U.S. publishers first.

If your U.S. agent shops your book to U.S. publishers and it doesn't sell, then, at that point, you might want to consider shopping it in other countries. In that case, your U.S. agent may be willing to engage one or more of his co-agents in other countries to try to shop them. That, though, would be fairly unusual. As I said, making foreign deals without a U.S. deal already in place is not an easy sell, because the first question asked will be who is publishing in the U.S. That said, there have been some rare cases where a book did not sell in the U.S., but then landed some foreign sales, and then the agent came back to the U.S. with the momentum and made a deal here. That, though, is very unusual.

Of course, if your novel is set in a particular location overseas, for example London, then I could understand how you might want to query UK agents directly, and I could see the temptation to have it shopped in the UK first. Still, though, I would hold off and wait to see what happens in the US first. In your case, if you are unable to find a US agent, and have exhausted all possible submissions, then, in that case, you have nothing to lose by following up and submitting your manuscript to the UK agent who has already contacted you directly.

Along these lines, for you authors who are self published and have had foreign publishers approach you directly, possibly as a result of your sales on Kindle, even in that case, I wouldn't necessarily recommend entering into a book deal with foreign publishers directly. If a publisher in a particular country approaches you with interest in your book, then chances are that there are other publishers in that same country who may also be interested in your book. Your book should be shopped thoroughly in that country, as opposed to taking the first offer that comes your way. Additionally, and more importantly, it would be better for you to use the international interest in your book as a selling point to help convince US publishers to publish it in the US. As I said, it is not easy to land a book deal, and if you can prove to a US publisher that several international publishers are already interested, then that might make a difference.