Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"Does my novel have to be set in America?"

Hi Mr Lukeman,  Thanks so much for the opportunity to ask a question at all.  I'm working on a YA Urban Fantasy that is set in Sydney, Australia. I'm wondering if this would be a problem when it came to seeking representation and (hopefully, one day!) selling it. I'd always intended to seek representation by an American agent, and I wonder if I'm pigeon-holing myself before I begin. The story I'm telling isn't particularly Australian, but Sydney happens to be the setting.
Thanks so much for your time.
Sarah :)


In the ideal world, it is usually easier to land a deal in the U.S. if your work is set in America. That said, its being set in another country should not be a deal breaker. The quality of the writing will matter much more than the location. If the writing is good enough, you should be able to land a deal regardless. As an added benefit, if you do land a U.S. deal, it might make it a bit easier to sell Australian rights. And if you can't land a U.S. deal, you might be able to sell it directly to an AU publisher--and then if the book does well over there, have another excuse to re-try U.S. houses. The real issue is whether Australia is just a setting for a timeless and universal story, or whether this is truly a local, Australian story. If the former, your chances are much better; if the latter, it becomes more of an issue.



Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Is my age a problem?

"I am a fourteen year-old author currently working on a YA novel. Pretty soon, I will start looking for a literary agent. Having no previous experience and being so young, would this make literary agents cautious? Or does age not matter as long as the book is well written?
Also, I was wondering if it matters how well known the agent and his/her publishings are. If the agent's books are not "popular", does that mean I should find someone else?
Thank you."

If an agent's books are not "popular" that does not necessarily mean that he is not a good agent. Some agents may be starting out and have placed dozens of works which are not yet published. Remember, it can years from the time an agent makes a deal until the book is released. That is just one factor to consider. You must really consider a host of factors when deciding. I outline them all in depth in my ebook HOW TO LAND A LITERARY AGENT, which I give away for free. Download it.

Your age should not matter, whether you are young or old. Writing should be considered on its own merit.

That said, it is possible that there may be some agents who are biased. Just don't mention your age in the query letter. It's really none of their business anyway.

On the flip side, it is possible that your age may impress some agents, might be an angle to help them sell your work. But that is less likely, so better to err on the side of caution and not to mention it at all.

You remind me of myself: I finished my first novel at 15, and sent out query letters to dozens of agents. They all rejected it. The same held true for my second, third and fourth novels, over many years. Even my first book on the craft of writing, THE FIRST FIVE PAGES, was rejected by 30 publishers before S&S bought it. You need to really be tough and to hang in there, and to dig in for a multi-year effort. This is a business of rejection. Those who succeed are those who are willing to ignore it long enough and to fight through it.

"My agent is not responding. What should I do?"

"Dear Mr. Lukeman, I've read three of your books and you've been an amazing inspiration. Thank you for all your work in adding to the writing community. I have a question - actually more of a worry. I was recently signed on by a new literary agent in a small agency. I was so excited to have landed an agent after a year of sending out over thirty queries that I signed the contract (after showing it to two lawyer friends who thought it was a standard contract). The agent is new, but she has over twenty years editorial experience in publishing and I know that she's in "acquire new clients" mode at the moment. But I've heard nothing from her since I signed the contract three weeks ago and she said she'd read my manuscript asap and help me polish it a bit more (minor changes) to get it ready for submissions. I sent her a friendly email ten days ago and no response. I know she's busy and I'm totally not the annoying type. I'm patient. But I'm also worried that I may have been hasty in signing a contract with someone who was abrupt on our phone chat (only gave me fifteen minutes) and didn't respond to my email. Should I be worried? Thanks so much. As always, your advice and guidance is greatly appreciated."

The first question is whether your agreement had an out clause--a termination clause that gives you the option to fire her. If it doesn't, then you have no choice, legally, but to stay with her. Practically, you could ask her to release you, but the choice is hers, and if she refuses, you owe her a commission, regardless of who sells it.

Whether she is competent or a good fit for you is a much harder question to answer. Just because she spoke to you for 15 minutes doesn't mean she's a bad agent; just because she hasn't responded to you in 3 weeks after promising edits doesn't mean she's bad either--reading and editing can take weeks, especially if it's long. It depends on the length of the manuscript. In general, it is always best to discuss timeframe upfront with an agent to get an idea of what to expect and avoid this situation. The fact that she hasn't answered an email in 10 days is more worrisome--but then again, she may have perceived herself as being pressured early on in the relationship. Hard to say. Email her again and see how quickly she answers, and what she has to say. I wouldn't necessarily worry now, but if she ignores you again, then there is cause for concern.

After a certain point you can turn the heat up and email and call. If she still doesn't answer, you may then want to fire her. But whether you can legally depends on your agreement.

In general, author/agent communication is always a tricky thing. It's always best to try to discuss these things openly upfront so that no one has any false expectations.

"Can I self-publish my ebook while pursuing a print deal?"

"I've recently undergone a mentorship with a well-respected Australian writer and critic. We worked on the manuscript for my first novel and the final draft is concise, edited and ready for publishing. It is now being considered by Penguin Books. I am feeling somewhat frustrated because I want people to be reading it now, particularly those in the US as it is relevant to elections. If I was to publish direct with Kindle in order to get it out there and circulating, would this lessen my chances of landing a traditional publishing deal? What are publishing houses' views on authors who self-publish their works digitally while pursuing a publishing deal?"

If you have representation by a legitimate U.S. agent who is aggressively shopping your work, then that submission process should typically (not always) play out within 8--12 weeks (depending on the length of your manuscript and whether it's fiction or non-fiction), and thus I would not self-publish in that scenario--I would wait 8 or 12 weeks and see what happens first. Because it's possible an editor might look you up on Amazon and find that exact title he is considering, and see that it has no (or bad) reviews and no sales, and it might give him pause.

If the submission is dead, though, then by all means, you have little to lose and a lot to potentially gain by self-publishing.

You always have the option of self-publishing under a pseudonym, too, to protect you--especially if it's fiction. You can even change the title temporarily. So hypothetically they wouldn't even make the connection to your work, and you can test both waters.

But again, if you are actively in the midst of seeking a print deal, then I would wait--assuming you are being shopped thoroughly by an agent.

Along these lines, you can also self publish while seeking an agent. Again, you might take a chance if the agent browses Amazon, but you can protect yourself with a name and title change. And if your agent search is not going well but your sales are, then you might just decide to keep things as they are.

"Should I pay to have my work published?"

Mr. Lukeman, A small but seemingly genuine publisher has accepted my mss with 100 poems which I have on a website with a large subscription list. The publisher wants the whole payment to commence. I thought payments were made in stages, proof reading, editing, printing etc. I feel the sum is reasonable 1K but now read that one should not pay all upfront. I wonder if you could kindly guide me on this. I am not really interested in making a lot of money but do want a book that is well advertised which is part of their package.

Per my previous posts, I would never advise any author to pay to have their work published. Unfortunately, there are a lot of self-publishing services and vanity presses that take advantage of authors. Stay clear of them. If you are really set on self-publishing a physical edition of your work, you can use on-demand services, such as Lulu or CreateSpace, which charge only a low, basic setup fee, and which don't pretend to be bonafide publishers.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

“Should I pay a fee to have my work published?”

“Have you heard of Tate Publishing? Do you think they are a reputable publisher? I submitted a children's book series and they said they wanted to publish it and sent out a contract. I am just worried because I have seen things on the internet saying that they aren't reputable and I am worried about risking the $4000 they ask for as a retainer fee. They said the $4000 is refundable once 1000 copies sell.”

Never pay a fee to a publisher—or anyone—to publish your work.

Unfortunately, there are many companies and services and “publishers” out there that prey on unpublished authors and are merely out to make a profit. They will entice authors to publish in all sorts of ways. Sometimes they will request an upfront free; sometimes they will claim they have no fees, yet later present you with hidden fees, such as “editorial” or “reading” fees; sometimes they will claim they have no fees whatsoever, yet request you buy a hundred copies of your work at a high price; sometimes they will pretend to be running a contest or competition, and request an entry fee for that contest. Later, they will claim you are a winner, and request you buy multiple copies of your published book. Legitimate publishers and literary agents will never charge any upfront fees.

I always advise authors to never pay any upfront fees to publishers, reading or editorial services, or literary agents who charge them. This is especially true in this new day and age, where authors who wish to self-publish can easily use print on demand (POD) services like CreateSpace or Lightning Source. POD services are not masking themselves as publishers. They let you know upfront that they are just printing and distribution services. With POD services, you will pay a small, one-time setup fee, and then have control of your title’s pricing and receive royalties from the first copy sold. This is not to say I advocate every author go the POD route—but rather that if you wish to self-publish, this is a much better route than paying some “publisher” an exorbitant fee upfront.

Keep in mind, too, that most authors going the self-publishing route tend to earn more money on sales from ebooks than from their paperback POD editions. In many cases, the income earned from paperback sales can be just 10 or 20% of what is earned on the ebook sales--especially in popular genres like commercial fiction. And with ebooks, there are no setup fees, especially if you can design your own jacket and convert your own file. Thus, depending on your genre, it may end up costing less time and money to focus on your ebook edition instead of the POD.