My Agent Answers: Why Is It So Hard to Land a Literary Agent? (Conclusion)

My literary agent, Rick Broadhead, specializes in non-fiction and works with the top publishing houses in North America. Rick has represented non-fiction books that have appeared on bestseller lists. His clients’ books have also been shortlisted for literary awards, translated into multiple languages and optioned for film and TV development.

By Rick Broadhead

Copyright © Rick Broadhead. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

(This is the final installment of a two-part series. Read Part 1.)

Often, a book proposal doesn’t get the past the editor’s desk if the editor doesn’t believe he/she will be able to generate internal support for the idea.

Even if an offer is made and you sign a deal with a major publishing house, you’ve still got two more major hurdles. A book isn’t guaranteed to be well-distributed just because a major publisher has acquired it. If the booksellers don’t get excited about it, orders will be small, and the book can stagnate before it even hits the shelves. And regardless of how many orders are placed by retail stores, if there isn’t sufficient publicity to generate awareness and momentum for the book, sales could be very disappointing.

Publishers are looking for books that can move tens of thousands of copies, so the bar is set very high. This is not as easy to achieve as you may think.

Keep in mind that most agents are receiving dozens or hundreds of book pitches a week. Editors are usually in the same boat. The process of pitching a book to editors, and then negotiating a contract, if an offer is made, is very time consuming. It can take several months. So agents have to pick and choose their projects carefully. It is simply not practical or possible for an agent to circulate every proposal to publishers.

I once had an author ask me why I couldn’t just send out his proposal to editors and see what happens, even though I wasn’t keen on it. Editors depend on literary agents to vet proposals and send them the most promising prospects. Even though editors and agents often disagree on what constitutes a strong idea, I have to believe in a project in order to attach my name to it and then take up an editor’s valuable time.

When an agent rejects a proposal and says “it’s not right for me” or “it doesn’t fit my current needs,” it means that the agent isn’t motivated enough by the idea to be able to pursue it enthusiastically.

That decision is usually based on multiple factors, including the agent’s current client load, the quality of the writing, what the agent’s personal interests are, what projects the agent believes his/her publishing contacts are most likely to be interested in, how much the project is going to sell for, and more.

It’s a complicated business!

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Trends in Self-Publishing

I have written two books. THE LONGEST SHOT came out in 2012. My next book is going through the publishing cycle and will be released in September 2014.

Neither of my books is self-published (both are with Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, which is owned by Macmillan), but I expect there is a self-published book in my future. I think it could be an interesting venture.

While away in Indiana on Thanksgiving vacation, I read a USA TODAY story about the rapid rise of self-publishing. (I love getting the free newspaper at the hotels.)

Here are a few takeaways:

  • “The number of books being self-published in the U.S. ballooned to 391,000 titles in 2012, according to Bowker, an industry research group–an increase of nearly 60% from the previous year.”
  • “According to Smashwords, which distributes many self-published authors and titles to some of the most popular e-book sites … the best-selling 1% of titles net half the sales.”
  • “‘On average, authors spend between $1,000 and $2,000 to get their books into the marketplace,’ says Keith Ogorek, senior vice president of marketing at Author Solutions.”

Obviously, few self-published authors are making big money. Authors such as Amanda Hocking and Bella Andre, both featured in the article, are among the 1%.

Many others are like Portland, Maine, author Katie Lippa. Lippa has invested $700 in editorial services and made around $1,600 in book sales.

But money isn’t the sole reason people are compelled to write and publish a book. In fact, money is fourth on a list of reasons, according to Writer’s Digest as cited in the article.

What are the top two reasons?

To build a writing career and “to satisfy a lifelong ambition.”

I can relate to both.

My Agent Answers: Why Is It So Hard to Land a Literary Agent?

My literary agent, Rick Broadhead, specializes in non-fiction and works with the top publishing houses in North America. Rick has represented non-fiction books that have appeared on bestseller lists. His clients’ books have also been shortlisted for literary awards, translated into multiple languages and optioned for film and TV development.

By Rick Broadhead

Copyright © Rick Broadhead. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

To understand why literary agents scrutinize projects so carefully, you need to understand the sales process.

I’m going to be most responsive to projects that I believe are saleable to the major publishers I work with. Even if I’m interested in the idea you’re pitching, I have to believe that the editors I work with are also going be receptive to the idea.

Because of the considerable amount of time required to shape an idea, pitch it to editors, and negotiate a contract, it’s simply impossible for an agent to represent everything, even projects that are likely to result in an offer from a publisher. Literary agencies are businesses, and they are not only motivated by their personal interest in certain topics, they are motivated by projects that are going to generate the most interest (and the strongest offers) from publishers.

No two literary agents are the same. Since agents have different personal interests (one may be interested in history while another may not) and different relationships with editors and publishers, it may take awhile for you to find an agent who can be an effective champion for your book.

There are several steps in the process of getting a book published.

First, the agent has to pitch the idea to an editor at a publishing house. Second, the editor has to sell your project internally to his/her colleagues (including the marketing and sales staff) and build enough in-house support to justify an offer from the publisher to the agent. Third, the publisher has to sell your book to the book buyers at the chains and bookstores.

This doesn’t happen until about six months before publication, when the publisher releases its catalog for the upcoming publishing season and publisher’s sales reps call on bookstores (and other accounts), hoping to generate big orders from book buyers.

Fourth, the publisher (and the author) need to generate enough publicity to make the public aware of the book and in turn drive sales.

When an agent is reviewing a book proposal, he/she has to think about all of these hurdles and whether or not the proposed book can successfully clear them.

TO BE CONTINUED.

My Agent Answers: Why Do You Need a Literary Agent?

My literary agent, Rick Broadhead, specializes in non-fiction and works with the top publishing houses in North America. Rick has represented non-fiction books that have appeared on bestseller lists. His clients’ books have also been shortlisted for literary awards, translated into multiple languages and optioned for film and TV development.

By Rick Broadhead

Copyright © Rick Broadhead. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Due to the overwhelming number of writers seeking a contract with a major publisher, editors cannot possibly keep up with the hundreds of unsolicited submissions that come in every week. This is why most major publishers do not accept submissions directly from authors who are seeking publication.

Instead, they rely on a network of literary agents who understand the publishing business, have relationships with editors and know the subject areas and types of books that specific editors are most likely to be interested in.

Within each of the major publishing houses, there are dozens of editors, each with their own interests and “wish lists” for books.

A literary agent is usually the most efficient way to find the right editor, and the right publisher, for your book. An agent can help you improve your book proposal, resulting in stronger offers from publishers, and consider publishers you may not have even thought of approaching.

Publishing is a very specialized field, and book contracts can be especially complicated. Just like you should never sign a business contract without a lawyer, I don’t recommend you sign a book contract without a literary agent.

A literary agent can help you secure a better deal by helping you to select the right publisher and negotiating improved contract terms that will protect your financial and intellectual property interests.

Man Gets Jail Time for Overdue Library Book

Do not be late returning library materials in Copperas Cove. The central Texas city adopted an ordinance four years ago that allows library patrons to be arrested for overdue books and other materials.

Jory Enck was arrested a week or so ago. Court records indicated that Enck checked out a GED guide in 2010 and didn’t respond to the library’s calls or other attempts to have the guide returned.

“Library policies show the patron must have the overdue book checked out for a minimum of 90 days and not respond to phone calls or emails from the library about the book before the municipal court is notified,” reported KWTX.com.

Library patrons are not happy, according to municipal judge Bill Price.

“Nobody wants to get arrested over a library book,” Price said.

I reckon so.

“The other side of that is people that go to our library and can’t have these materials, they’re put out too,” he added.

The day after Enck’s arrest, the GED guide was back on the shelf at the Copperas Cove Public Library. Enck’s library card was found inside the book. Maybe he won’t be using it anymore.

(H/T: GalleyCat)

Writing Routines: Scott Turow

Turow - Portrait
Scott Turow.

Scott Turow, the bestselling author of Presumed Innocent and other legal thrillers, has a new book out entitled Identical. At TheDailyBeast.com, Noah Charney asked Turow about his life as an author and attorney.

Here’s a peek into Turow’s writing time:

Describe your morning routine.

It’s not really a routine, because the pace is so likely to vary, but the greater portion of days finds me up by 7 and looking through three newspapers over coffee. By no later than 8:30, I’m at my desk, writing. I think the truth, to be brutal with myself, is that I spend no more than 45 minute out of every hour actually getting things down on paper. The rest of the hour goes to email or phone calls. But this does not prove that technology has intruded on my life, since years ago I’d just spend that 15 minutes wandering around the house, often ending up at the refrigerator.

Apparently, Turow is adept at handling distractions, also saying, “I can take a call from a client in the midst of writing a sentence and complete it as soon as I put down the phone.”

How does Turow determine if he has had a productive writing day?

No page or word counts, but I have to keep my ass in the chair, which is hard at the very start of the process. If I allow myself to become distracted, as I’m inclined to do at that point, then I’m disappointed in myself.

A Chicago native and Cubs fan, Turow still enjoys practicing law and has been a member of a famous authors rock band called the Rock Bottom Remainders. Other band members have included Stephen King, Amy Tan, Dave Barry and Mitch Albom.

6 Questions from a College Student

This Q&A is different. I’m answering the questions rather than asking them. A college student at Fort Hays State University interviewed me for a class called “Leadership in Information Technology.”

Besides learning a bit more about me, maybe the Q&A will spark some new thoughts about you and your work.

Q. What roles do you play in your business?

NEIL SAGEBIEL: I wear all the hats, from marketing my services to doing all aspects of the work (research, writing, editing, etc.), including things such as book promotion and media. I manage all the business relationships. I handle all financial aspects as well. Again, I do it all. My cats are no help at all.

Q. How would you describe your management style?

NS: I’m pretty easy to work for. I know myself fairly well by now, after nearly two decades of self employment. Ha! I’m pragmatic and usually steady and sufficiently focused.

Q. How do you think vision is created and communicated?

NS: In my case, it’s understanding how my skill set and interest in communication and my passion for storytelling can serve a market. For someone like me who is a solo creative professional, it’s more intuitive and internal rather than a formal process or a company statement of some kind. I tend to gravitate toward markets that allow me to earn a living and find fulfillment as a writer.

Q. What is the best way to create “buy-in” and loyalty within an organization and with your readers?

NS: Always treat them with respect. Show that I understand something about them and their interests. Tell them great stories and always strive to offer something valuable in the communications I create.

Q. What is the best way to motivate people in your experience?

NS: As a communications professional, I think it’s paramount to be a good listener. You need to get to know people, and treat them with respect. Find out what their interests and wants are, and how you can help them. If you want them to do something, you need to communicate it clearly, including how the outcome will benefit them as well as others.

Q. What are your thoughts on the challenges involved in working in the information industry with ever expanding market and technology parameters vs. working in an industry with defined technology and market parameters?

NS: It can be hard to keep up, and sometimes technology advances such as the proliferation of social media can seem like a barrier to making truly valuable connections. Many people are overwhelmed with information these days, in large part because of the Internet and technology. It can be hard to break through. At the same time, the tools are available to everyone, so it also creates an opportunity. That has been the case for me.