Writers in the Spotlight: Turn Your Readings Into Book Sales
with Porter Anderson
Join me in this special three-hour intensive Boot Camp session at Writer’s Digest Conference East (#WDCE) at 12:30pET on Friday, April 5. We’ll look at public presentation for the entrepreneurial author in an interactive, up-on-your-feet workshop format: come with two pages of your work in progress, ready to rock and read.
By Porter Anderson | @Porter_Anderson
From March 28, 2013
Part of my series of columns on publishing, Writing on the Ether, appearing Thursdays at the invitation of Jane Friedman at JaneFriedman.com
Publishing’s Masks Need To Come Off
The 21st century cousin of the slush-pile submission is the query-by-tweet. Not only do we get “Dear Editor” letters, we see messages like this on Twitter. Hey, @BloomsburyPress, I’ve written a teen paranormal romance. Ppl say it’s next TWILIGHT-DM me for details!
If that was your tweet, or if you’ve hurled one like it at a publisher, you may not share my enthusiasm for Peter Ginna’s Tweet Not Your Query, Author, or, Why I Don’t Read the Slush Pile Anymore. Ginna writes:
After seeing one too many of those, I tweeted in response, Dear Authors: Twitter is not the way to query us. And this imprint is nonfiction only. If you want to get published, please do yr homework.
Caught a thief who assaulted me! Frontline bookselling, getting too old for this.
— Newham Bookshop (@NewhamBookshop) March 28, 2013
@NewhamBookshop And now you're reading books to him? To reform him, I mean.
— Michael Rosen (@MichaelRosenYes) March 28, 2013
The hauteur of amateurs is hard to stomach, Ginna is right. He goes on to show you exactly how that self-importance can come across:
Instantly–this being Twitter–I received a stream of tweets disparaging Bloomsbury Press as arrogant and ignorant of the new world where “publishers need to impress and adapt, not writers. We have other avenues.”
But the publisher and editorial director of Bloomsbury Press is something of an exception in an industry that has long veiled itself behind a now-inappropriate mystique.
A year ago I singled out Ginna for his singular willingness to step forward and respond from the publishers’ camp to a powerful “agent’s manifesto” written by London’s Jonny Geller. Both men arrived with an articulate candor that should have led other traditional-industry leaders to drop more veils and speak more plainly. The whole exercise is worth your review. I dubbed it then “Ginna-rosity.”
One springtime later, the season is chillier than I’d hoped it might be. The Ginna-Geller exchange should have prompted more frank commentary than it has.
thinking of putting my Twitter feed behind a paywall – let me know what you are willing to pay: a) $1.99 a month, b) $3.99 or c) unlimited
— Mathew Ingram (@mathewi) March 27, 2013
A statement as forthright and uncomplicated as this one from Ginna’s new essay is curiously hard to come by, even today:
What I’m saying is this: If you are thoughtful and imaginative enough to write a first-rate novel, say, or a gripping historical narrative, you should be able to apply those skills to the process of putting your work in front of an editor. You should not just chuck your query letter into a mailbox addressed to “Editorial Department, Random House” or “To Whom It May Concern”. Rather than just sending your stuff to every house in the Literary Market Place from Abbeville to Zebra Publishing, you should find out whether the publisher you’re querying even has fiction, or children’s books, or whatever, on its list. You would not believe how often my imprint, which states on its webpage it publishes NONFICTION, receives queries from novelists.
Bologna trend: many people around the world of both genders find Jon Hamm attractive. MORE LATER AS THIS SURPRISING NEWS DEVELOPS.
— Ginger Clark (@Ginger_Clark) March 26, 2013
Granted, this kind of talk raises the hackles of some writers who misinterpret the rise of the “empowered author” or “entrepreneurial author” as an event of vengeance. It also is the best thing such people can hear or read. The most heavily pom-pom-ed cheerleader of self-publishing needs to remember that the widest crowd of Internet-inspired would-be authors includes a lot of people whose bad guesses at how to “have a hit” make the entire writers’ corps look bad. Ginna:
By definition, writers in the slush pile have not…gone through the thought process, or done the legwork, necessary to put a well-targeted pitch into the mailbox of a specific person, they have trusted to luck or perhaps the dazzling quality of their work, or they simply haven’t thought about it one way or the other. That doesn’t mean they aren’t gifted; maybe they are naive, untutored geniuses. But it does mean they’re not professionals.
He’s right. Ginna is correct. And I’m grateful—annually grateful, as it were—for his efforts to drop the mannered distance of too many publishers and call out clearly to the community.
I see no problem with Random House replicating its most recent financial results in the coming fiscal year. #crapshoot
— Don Linn (@DonLinn) March 26, 2013
On the other hand, nothing eggs on the boys and girls who cry “gatekeeper!” than the kind of silence we heard from the agents’ enclave this week when Ether and Virginia Quarterly Review editor Jane Friedman posted author Melissa Foster’s piece on Agent-Assisted Self-Publishing and the Amazon White Glove Program.
As the roles and rigors of agenting adjust—and frankly seem to get only more burdensome—under the digital imperative, one of the keenest quandaries has involved how agents can reconfigure their services to support clients in self-publishing scenarios. Seemingly antithetical to the task (what would an agent have to gain from a client who’s staging his own show?), it turns out that agents can, indeed, be of considerable service to clients in the new paradigm, assisting with “author services,” marketing, publicity, international rights, and overall career management.
About to talk to people about what it means to be a writer. It means, chiefly, having a bad back.
— Matt Haig (@matthaig1) March 27, 2013
Those who followed the debut of the O’Reilly Tools of Change Author (R)evolution Day conference in New York last month are familiar, for example, with agent Jason Allen Ashlock’s positioning of this new stance as the “radical advocacy” of an industry professional whose partnership with clients can take on new depths and collaborative detail.
But as far as I can tell, no agents joined in the conversation at JaneFriedman.com as Foster proposed precise terms of representation in cases in which the Amazon White Glove Program is engaged.
An agent is necessary for White Glove—it’s designed for just that and, speaking of Geller, his Curtis Brown agency in London has used it to set forth a formidable array of more than 200 backlist titles in the States for his clients, as detailed in this write-up from paidContent’s Laura Hazard Owen.
Here is Foster outlining the following (where WGP stands for White Glove Program operating in the Kindle Direct Publishing self-publishing arena:
- Agent remains the Agent of Record for 3 years for work published through the WGP. For sales of foreign rights, audio rights, film rights, or a future publishing contract, the standard agent contract applies.
- Agent earns 15% commission on all sales from the book for the life of the WGP contract plus one year. After that period terminates, all royalties and rights revert to the author. (Most sales happen in the first two years of publication.)
— Sam Missingham (@samatlounge) March 28, 2013
Foster’s contention, apparently based on her own experience, is that agents are—in her mind unfairly—anticipating indefinite commission on properties that exist as White Glove projects for only six or twelve months.
At a site read as widely by authors as Friedman’s, doesn’t it seem that someone from the agents’ camp might want to weigh in with a word or two on this?
It is patently unhelpful to have authors hammering away at issues of agent relations among themselves.
Main image: iStockphoto: Jeffrey Driver