What kind of stories are agents interested in? How do you find an agent and how do you know if the person is any good? And what about your publishing contract? What should you be mindful about there?
All these questions, and many more, are answered in this episode of the Am Writing Fantasy podcast by Jane Friedman.
Links to what was mentioned in the episode:
Not discussed during the interview, but this one is interesting as well: http://mswishlist.com
You can find Jane at: http://janefriedman.com
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Read the full transcript below.
(Please note that it's automatically generated and while the AI is super cool, it isn't perfect. There may be misspellings or incorrect words on occasion).
Narrator (2s): You're listening to The Am Writing Fantasy Podcast. In today's publishing landscape, you can reach fans all over the world. Query letters are a thing of the past. You don't even need in literary agent. There is nothing standing in the way of making a living from writing. Join two best selling authors who have self published more than in 20 books between them. Now onto the show with your hosts, Autumn Birt and Jesper Schmidt.
Jesper (30s): Hello, I'm Jesper. And this is episode 140 of the Am Writing fantasy podcast. Autumn is busy launching her brand new novel today, so I've instead brought someone else on, so I won't be all alone because that will be pretty boring on a podcast.
Narrator (48s): But joking aside, I have to say that I really looked forward to this conversation, our little piece of intro music there to the podcast says that you don't really need a literary agent, or worry about gatekeepers and all that stuff, but that is all true if we are talking about self publishing, but not so much, if you want to get a traditional publishing contract and Autumn and I have actually started talking a bit about maybe trying to become hybrid authors, meaning that we will have both self published books and traditionally published titles. And so I guess in some ways you could say that it's a bit of, for selfish reasons as well, that I'm are joined by the very knowledgeable Jane Friedman today.
Narrator (1m 31s): Welcome to The Am Writing Fantasy Podcast, Jane, and I hope you won't mind me picking your brain today.
Jane (1m 38s): Not at all. It's a pleasure to be here. Thank you.
Jesper (1m 41s): Yeah. I have a sneaky suspicion that the quite a few of our listeners will already know who you are, Jane, but the, let me just, I'll try to give a short introduction, Jane, and then you can see if I miss out something important here. So Jane has more than 20 years of experience in the publishing industry. And in 2019, she was awarded what the publishing commentator of the year by digital digital book world. And Jane also has an incredibly popular, I guess I could say newsletter for authors with in 2020, it was awarded media outlet of the year.
Jesper (2m 23s): And she also runs the award winning block for writers email@example.com and has been featured by New York times, Washington post publishers weekly. And the list just goes on and on. And that I miss anything that those are the important ones. Yeah. Yeah. And I think with those credentials, it's quite obvious why I want it to have a chat with you about traditional publishing, but maybe, maybe before we get into all of that, maybe you could just sort of share a bit about yourself that maybe has less to do with the business side, but more like who you are. So
Jane (2m 58s): Yeah, I started in the business in the late 1990s, right out of college. So in some ways my, my life has been spent on nothing but publishing in one form or another. I did go full-time freelance in 2014. So I was traditionally employed out a book publishing company and a media company in the literary journal at a university. And then finally after, I guess it was 15 years, 15 years of, of working for other people. I decided to just embark on my own. So I've been very happy working independently.
Jane (3m 40s): It's, it's a combination of doing the newsletter that you mentioned, which is for authors online teaching. And then I also do some consulting. So aside from that, you know, I do a lot, I do a lot of travel, but a lot of its because I go to the writing conferences. Mmm. So during the pandemic that certainly slowed down dramatically and I've spent a lot of time that my home office in the past year, but it's been good. I've been able to focus on things that I didn't have time for when I was traveling so much.
Jesper (4m 11s): Yeah. W what, what drew you to publishing and writing original that, do you, do you do you know, it was more like some people stumbled out to collage and by coincidence they end up in some sort of industry, but I was there something in particular that drew in there.
Jane (4m 26s): So it's, it's hard for me to say that I was drawn as much as it was the, maybe the process of elimination when I was growing up, I, I come from a very rural part of the United States. There wasn't a whole lot to do other than go to school and go to the library. My mother was a very bookish person. She was a librarian, in fact. So I spend a lot of hours in the library and I was just good at school. And I liked reading. And I dunno that I think this happens to many people who ultimately become English majors or they studied creative writing and they think, well, I I'd like books, I'll study literature. And so it just, I, but I think I'm fortunate in that I was able to turn that into something that actually pays the bills.
Jane (5m 10s): Not everyone does that.
Jesper (5m 12s): Oh, I know that. That's true. Yeah. I still have very fond memories myself of the library when I was a kid. I just, I don't know. I just love I could spend hours and hours in their well, but back then, it was the most comic books I was looking at. Of course. But yeah, you could just go out and take a new one and another one in another one in, and sit there for hours. Just go through all those pages. I don't know. There's something about it. Isn't that? I don't know what it is.
Jane (5m 36s): Yeah. I I've always been drawn to bookstores and libraries from a young age, although I will admit now in the digital landscape it's I do a lot less of that. And I do have as much of a fascination with computers and with figuring things out from a digital media perspective. So I like bringing those two areas together.
Jesper (5m 58s): Right, right. Yeah. OK. Well, in terms of, of talking about traditionally publishing contracts and how to get one, which is actually something that I'm, we are asked, but not all the time, but on a similar, a regular basis on them. And I, my cohost asked about how to, how to do that, how to get those kinds of contracts. And honestly, we're not the best one to advise on this because while autumn, they did have a contract like 10, 15 years ago, but I don't, we are not like the expert on this topic. And also, as I said, a bit earlier, 'cause we actually considering trying maybe to see if we can find an agent for ourself maybe in the years time or something, once we have a novel written for that particular purpose, I was thinking that maybe we could just try to structure our conversation in, in the same fashion light, sort of a bit of step-by-step where, where did we start and, and with what happens next to the next time.
Jesper (6m 56s): So on, in the process, because then it might make a bit more sense for the listener. And obviously where we start is with the story of self, you know, and do you, do we need to sort of think about what kind of story or what kind of novel we are we right. If we want to get it traditionally published?
Jane (7m 18s): Oh, a little bit, but not too much. So in other words, I think first and foremost, you need to write the story you feel called to riot, or that your interested in writing or, or that you are passionate about. And that's sort of cliched advice. You hear a lot, but its true that it takes far too much work, especially in my mind to go through the traditional publishing process, to try and write something that you think is going to just fit the market. To me, that's actually what self publishers do. There are always studying what's happening in the market and trying to jump on where the readers are going that happens in traditional publishing to, but I think there's also a concern for what's this writer doing that only they can do on, usually it comes out of your own obsessions or interest areas.
Jane (8m 12s): So, but on the, on the other hand, you know, you do have to be aware of kind of the model that traditional publishing works under, which is the way, if you're a first time author for them, they want the book to be a certain length. You know, they're going to get dissuaded. If your book is say more than 150,000 words are more than 120,000 words, it's usually the, where things start to get rejected more often because it's just too long when they don't know you yet as an author, they haven't established an audience for you yet just costs more in terms of time and editing to do a longer book. And if you're writing something that is a real mashup or hybrid of lots of different things, if it's really too far out there that might also dissuade them.
Jane (9m 3s): So they like things that are both familiar and fresh, which are, this is very frustrating to writers because what defines that? No one knows, you know that when you see it.
Jesper (9m 15s): Yeah. Because, and I don't know if this is right or wrong, but I have this impression as well that traditional publishers and I guess therefore also agency, they don't like to, I mean maybe some agents do, but, but if we sort of just take it in the broader sense here, I have a feeling that they don't like to take meant to many chances, meaning that they probably prefer to have something that is at least fairly similar to what is generally on the market today. Do you think that's a correct assumption or am I just reading into things that I shouldn't no.
Jane (9m 53s): And I think its true that they want something that fits the genre or sub genre. They like, they don't like things that are hard to categorize or that don't have good comparable titles or authors. So you should be able to usually imagine your book or yourself sitting alongside other books and authors, you know, you can say a free to use like ex they will like why if, if, if a publisher can't do that because your work is too odd or it's just, you know, it doesn't fit the model and yes, it's going to look risky. Oh
Jesper (10m 27s): Yeah. So, so, so that also basically means I fully agree. What you said before about in the others are probably doing far more market research, then the traditional publishers as are bad. But if it doesn't mean though that you should be doing at least enough market research, then to be able to understand what are the true those tropes and what to do, what do I need to deliver upon? Because if you are getting too creative and maybe thinking that, let me write something they've never seen before, because then I'm going to blow their mind. They will probably think, well, I can't sell this stuff. Yeah,
Jane (11m 4s): Exactly.
Jesper (11m 7s): But what about stand alone versus series? And if you are trying to get an agent, would it be best to just write a complete standalone thing? Or do you give them like, here's this book one of the series and leave it open-ended or doesn't matter maybe. Oh yeah.
Jane (11m 26s): Well there is of course a really strong tradition of series in science fiction and fantasy as well as some other genres like mystery or romance. So, but if it's safe or safer to propose a book that is the first and a potential series, so it can stand alone. But if it does really well, you're ready and it would make sense to continue it. Mmm. So I know that it's like a little dance that everyone is doing and, and the reason for this, his publishers or, you know, they like to see how things perform before they fully commit.
Jane (12m 7s): So it's not that they're going to abandon you after the first book, but if, if, if the sales just don't go in the right direction, especially like after book to are booked, three of the sales get softer and softer instead of stronger, and you may find yourself getting dropped by the publisher. So in other words, what that would mean on a practical level as that you would never want to query a series saying this is a five books series and you have to take all five
Jesper (12m 33s): It's something that
Jane (12m 35s): Basically works to both, both of you and the publisher and to a corner.
Jesper (12m 40s): Yeah. But I'm also thinking, and I don't know how often that happens, but I'm just, I'm, I'm, I'm just speculating a lot here. So do you have to correct me every time and say something incorrectly, but I'm assuming a lot of things I guess, but I would think that spending the time to right, like say the book 1, 2, 2, and three, and then give them big one and say, okay, here it is. I have two more books. If you are interested is probably not the best use of your time. I, I, I'm thinking it's probably a better to just write the first book, leave it in at least enough open-ended that you can continue and then just see if they want it before, because you couldn't, you just as risk spending a lot of time writing three books and they don't even want it.
Jesper (13m 22s): Or even if they're want book one and then they will never buy books two and three.
Jane (13m 25s): Yeah. Yeah. I, yeah, I would not, I would not write all 3, 4, 5, however many books there. I would not write the whole series and then start querying. I would write the first book and then have a really nice outline of how the series might unfold. And that doesn't take much, like it takes maybe a paragraph per book to show what direction you're going to take it in.
Jesper (13m 49s): Yeah. Okay. So basically like a bit of a plot overview or something, so to do the age and can see what are your thoughts are.
Jane (13m 56s): Right. And you wouldn't even submit that first. You, you have to sell the first book before you could have that conversation or at least interest them in the first book.
Jesper (14m 4s): Yeah. Oh, okay. Well let's assume that we have a story written out there and at least we think that it is abiding to tropes and we believe that we have at least written something that is fairly common in of course it has a good cover and it has a good showing are trophy title and all that stuff. And we don't need to find an agent. And I think, I think the general advice is that you should not try to approach any of the big publishing houses without an agent. Is that right?
Jane (14m 34s): That's correct. There are closed to authors'. So you're only weigh through the door is through an agent unless you happen to know someone on the inside or do you have a really good famous bestselling author friend who is going to make an introduction for you, even if that were the case though, you'd probably an agent to help you negotiate the contract, which I know we'll talk about. So yeah, I'd, I'd say when you're starting to query agents are step one and if the agent search doesn't go as intended, you can then start looking at publishers that are smaller, independent, that don't require you to have an agent they'll take your submission directly.
Jane (15m 14s): Yeah.
Jesper (15m 15s): Yeah. And I want to come back to that one about the smaller publishers, but I guess first, I mean, how do you find an agent? That's like the million dollar question that everybody asks? Probably yes.
Jane (15m 28s): So it's actually not, it's not rocket science. There are a few recognized up to date databases that you can use. And you just filter down to the agents who would be interested in your work. You can do this at sites like QueryTracker dot nets, do a trope.com. There's also publishers marketplace, where you can look up deals that agents have maid and you can filter the deals by genre. You can also do keyword searches and those deals. So if you are, if you have some sort of EY space opera, let's say that you could actually search the deals for space opera and look for agents who seem to like those sorts of books.
Jane (16m 11s): So if you use any, one of those are the best. If you use a combination that helps to consult different sources, you can then once you've got a working list and it might be, you know, for genre fiction, generally you can almost find a hundred agents just write off the bat without even working that hard. So then once you've got your list of a hundred or however many, you would want to go to that agency website, make sure that there are still open for submissions. Sometimes they'll close, you know, check out there guidelines, make sure its a good fit, look at their client lettuce. Do you think that this person is going to actually like what you send them and then you send off your query.
Jesper (16m 54s): And can you sort of just assume that the people are the agents that are on the list like that are good agents or, or do you need to like vet the list yourself as well to Czech? Like do they actually know what they're doing? So yes. Yes.
Jane (17m 10s): So the, the three sites that I mentioned are I think, quite reliable, it would be hard to find and unreputable agent threw one of those three sources. I'm not saying it can't happen, but the likelihood is greatly diminished. I think where you get into real trouble with bad agents, if you start Googling around very broadly, like if you go to Google and just type in and literary agent that has a terrible, terrible idea, you will get all sorts of scammers and people who have a financial interest in luring you in and charging you money. And who knows what? Now there are definitely good agents better agent's there are some who are more well-known and less well-known.
Jane (17m 54s): Those are who, those who are still establishing their career and those who have been around for decades. And that's where you get into really subjective concerns. Like some people they want to get the biggest possible agent or they want an attack dog agent or they're like, actually I would like an agent. Who's still building their list and maybe they'll, they'll pay more attention to me if I'm one of their early clients and these are all legitimate reasons to choose one agent over another in the United States, there's the organization called the AA L a, which if you're a member of, of you have to abide by a certain code of ethics and it's also a place to go with complaints.
Jane (18m 36s): So if you do have a bad experience, you can go to the AAL eye and say, you know, one of your members has treated me poorly or you, you tell them what happened and that they can help address it. Not all agents are going to belong to that, but a good number of them do. And there's a similar organization in the UK. And I have to imagine probably in Europe to
Jesper (18m 59s): Yeah, because it it's, it's difficult. Right? And, and sometimes you see you on the internet, these really bad examples where you yeah. Almost like bordering on fraud almost right. Like from, from because the, the terrible thing is that the authors in this case are there sort of chasing a dream. And if somebody then says, okay, I'll take you on board. I guess a lot of people won't have there critical census M on God there. And, and then they jump in and say, well, regretted later. So the, oh
Jane (19m 35s): Yes, you're absolutely right. A lot of people are preying on people's dreams, hopes and aspirations. You know, one of the first signs you may be dealing with a bad actor is that they praise you to this guy's and then ask for your money. So that's the sequence of events that should raise a red flag for you. People writers, especially to just get really taken in when someone says, oh, you're, you know, you're brilliant. You're a genius. And you know, it's what you've been hoping for all this time, for someone to select you and validate the hard work. But you know, the truth is that agents and publishers both tend to leave you feeling a little cold.
Jane (20m 16s): There are not the most complementary people in the world. We tend to be very pragmatic, critical, well, you need to change this and this. And then, you know, maybe it will sell it. They just don't think they don't want to build up your hopes. In fact, there'll be very realistic.
Jesper (20m 36s): Yeah. And I guess it's well, well, if, if, if they ask you for money that you should just run for the Hills, right? I mean, why would you, you, you shouldn't pay them anything unless they make a deal
Jane (20m 48s): That's right. They only earn money when they sell your books. So they are in the U S agents get 15% of everything that the authors make. That's 15% of the advance, 15% of the royalties, 15% of, you know, an option sale. Or it can go as high as 20%. If there's a co-agent that gets into more complicated territory. But in other words, you're not paying them out of your pocket. There are like some rare cases where maybe the agent will say, look, you know, I really like what you've got, but there are these issues that need to be resolved. I can't resolve them for you, but maybe you should go hire this editor.
Jane (21m 31s): And there are going to help you, you know, maybe, maybe in you, you would invest at that point, but just be super cautious because, you know, until you have an actual manuscript that the agent wants to represent, you could just be spending a lot of money for, for nothing. You'd have to agree with what they're saying, I guess is what the point I'd like to make. You have to see that there. Right?
Jesper (21m 55s): Yeah. Quite recently here, I heard another example of M and agent, which again, of course it was fraught, but the agent was like saying, well, this, this is really good manuscript, but there is a lot of issues in it. And then lo and behold, I can fix them for you. You just need to pay me X amount of that. I can't remember how much it was, but something, and then I'll get my editor, which I have in house and they we'll fix it for you as well. That sounds nice. But again, don't pay them money.
Jane (22m 24s): Oh yeah. I don't, I don't think it's a good idea too. If, if an agent does think, I mean, it's, it's true. There are many projects that need editorial work, but you have to be careful when the agent ha has a possible financial interest in you having that work done. That's not good.
Jesper (22m 45s): But if you are then going off of these lists as human, and, but maybe by the way, maybe you can, you, maybe you can email me those lists that you mentioned earlier, then I can put them on the show notes for people. But if we're going off the list and let's say with, and sending out Query letters, which I'll come back to in a moment, because I want to ask about that as well. But let's say we are sending out hundreds of Query letters maybe. And then let's say some of them are a bit positive and they come back and say like, okay, this looks interested. But then I have heard examples of agents and saying like, they want to change something or this character doesn't work or this part of the plot doesn't work or whatever, but wouldn't, you sort of be chasing your own tail.
Jesper (23m 29s): If you keep correcting things to every time one of those agents comes back and say something
Jane (23m 34s): It's possible. So what you've described is called a revise and resubmit request. So this is where an agent has a phone call or sent an editorial letter saying, look, I'd like to represent this, but you need to change these things. And they'll go into sufficient detail that you, you get it, you know what their trying to get you to do. And then you go off and do it. But you have kind of going back to my earlier point, you have to agree with the work. Like you ha it should excite you like it. You should feel like, wow, yeah, this is going to make such a better book or yeah. I can see why they're making those suggestions and I can do it.
Jane (24m 14s): Like I'm willing to compromise in that way. Usually what I tell people as if, I mean, it's like a revise and resubmit request's is great. Just neutral speaking. It means that they are really C something in the project or a new, and they, they would like to see it come to fruition. They don't issue those to just anyone. And there are probably testing to see if you have the ability to edit yourself, because that's really required when you begin working with the publisher, you know, the, the editor you work with is going to expect you to take revision suggestions. So this is like the first, you know, the first hurdle that you have to get over.
Jane (24m 58s): But in any event, if you query several dozen agents and then, and you see a pattern in there, response, like there are all wanting you to do X, then, you know, okay, I'm getting a really strong message here. That X is a issue that has to be resolved. But if you get a bunch of feedback and it's all over the map, some people are like, we need to change the character. And others are all, you have to change the plot or no, you can't, you can't have this setting or your dialog sex. Like if there is no pattern, that's when I would really be reluctant to make changes.
Jesper (25m 35s): Yeah. No, that makes sense. But what about those famous Query letters then? What, what do you, what, what you do you focus on there?
Jane (25m 47s): It's almost all about this story promise. So the query is, were talking about as short, very short pitch are usually not more than 300 words, maybe 400 for some types of fantasy, where it might, you might have to do some set up are world-building to make sure that the whole thing makes sense, but very short. And we're talking about character problem setting. Those are the key elements. The rest of the query outside of that is really just housekeeping. So by housekeeping, I mean, there's, you know, maybe a hundred words of a bio.
Jane (26m 27s): There might be an element of personalization there where you talk about I'm approaching you because I see you represent blah, blah, blah, which is similar to my book. And you'll of course I have the title and the word count. And you'll comment on the, the comparable titles, what you think is going to be similar. But the, like I said, the book of the query, though, that decision is made on this story, does the agent or editor think that this story has legs in the market, as it intrigue them, does it make them excited? And does it make them want to read or request the manuscript? Now there's a difference between sending a query by itself and sending a query with sample chapters.
Jane (27m 8s): So if an agent or a publisher for that matter is asking for a query, plus the manuscript, they probably know from experience that a lot of writers are crap
Jesper (27m 17s): Are writing their queries. So,
Jane (27m 20s): You know, if they see the query in there, like, oh, this is a mess, they'll just flip to your first pages and see if there's something there. Yeah. So in those cases, I think the query holds less weight. And the agent's probably more interested in just reading the opening and seeing if you can write. So there is some reassurance there, but I hope, and that you're gonna be judged on the right thing rather than you're ability to pitch. But for those people that you're just sending the query, there are, those might be agents who are more concerned with things like, do you have a high concept? Can you write just to really snappy pitch, were the character are the voice really comes through? Does the book kind of sell itself when, you know, the general outline of the story?
Jane (28m 4s): So it does put a lot of it puts more pressure on the writer to have something that just feels exciting, whether that's the character or that premise, or, you know, something about it, you know, that jumps out.
Jesper (28m 16s): Yeah. And it's, it's just so much easier said than done to, to right. In, in an interesting M summary, I guess, of this story 'cause as well when you are, well, not even if it's not even in a blurb level. Right. But it's more like just the summary of what's happening. It's it's, it can be very difficult to actually make that sound interesting other than its just like, oh, well then there is this story about this guy who this guy does, blah, blah, blah. I mean, it's, it, it very easily becomes this sort of boring bland synopsis,
Jane (28m 55s): Right? So that's precisely what you want to avoid in something that's really light kind of plot oriented and mechanical because that will be a turnoff. Even if the book is very plot driven, I think it's necessary in the query to be able to marry together that character and the plot M and in the case of fantasy, you need to probably have a couple sentences upfront that kind of establish the parameters, like our way on a ho in a whole other like a world or planets. What's the what's defining life in this world that you've created. You shouldn't assume too much about what the age and are editor may understand about the world that you've created.
Jane (29m 39s): You have to be pretty direct. And you know, I think the thing that often gets left out of the queries icy is the relationship of tension. So most times we're really intrigued by stories where we see people in opposition or people are trying to preserve her relationship that matters to them, but there are forces getting in the way, are there personal motivations or what they need to achieve is in conflict with someone else in the story obviously, and you might have a village and it's really clearly in protagonist antagonist situation I'm. So I think, think about the relationship dynamics and what, what striving the story forward from that perspective, in addition to whatever interesting elements your fantasy world has in it, that's going to be, but hopefully these are whatever's magical or fantastical about your story is also built into what the characters want.
Jane (30m 36s): What's giving them trouble rather than just, you know, window dressing.
Jesper (30m 40s): Yeah. So in a, rather than just riding about the one on one ring, having to be carried to Mount doom, you also write about the relationship between Sam and Frodo and how the struggle and so on.
Jane (30m 53s): It's like excellent example.
Jesper (30m 55s): Yeah. Yeah. And why, while you were saying that, I just got to thinking, because you were talking about those sort of websites with lists of agents and so on. I, I just started wondering all of a sudden, if there wasn't like a repository of like, here are the examples of really good query letters or something that some people could look at it as examples, do you know if something like that exists?
Jane (31m 19s): In fact, the query tracker site that I mentioned has a really robust set of resources and message boards and posts where they feature query is that actually worked in the, you know, there is even the potential for you to post your query in the message boards and get feedback from other people. Although you have to be careful or you can get a lot of different opinions. Yeah. You're left feeling more confused, but I think one of the best ways to write a better Query, I think to the point you're making is to actually see a lot of them. And you, you start to see what works.
Jesper (31m 56s): Yeah. Yeah. Because it's often rather than trying to invent the wheel again, you know, it often works a lot better if you can. Just, the same thing goes for when we're writing blurbs, for example, the autumn. And I often do check out like, what are the, when this shop Shaundra, what our, like the bestselling books in the shop show on her. And it's, there are like some common elements that they use across those slopes. Because again, you will start seeing commonalities and you can start see, oh, oh, okay. I see. They always focus on something to do with this part or whatever. And then you can make your own version of that obviously, but then you are already like 10 steps ahead.
Jane (32m 32s): Yes, yes.
Jesper (32m 34s): Yeah. Okay. So let's, well now we have a book. We have found some Asians to send Query letters to, and we have written an awesome Query letters. Well, hopefully, so let's say that one of these agents then comes back to us and say, okay, this, this is great. I would like to represent you. What, what happens now?
Jane (33m 1s): So they'll have a conversation with you where they talk about that, their strategy for submitting it, there is no right or wrong strategy here, but they, you know, they're going to hopefully be very open and transparent about what they want to see happen. And the approach they'll take. For instance, some agents will put things up for auction and they'll make editors bid against one another, but you have to feel like you have a pretty hot property because if no one that shows up to your auction, it's a little embarrassing. The more common approach that covers most projects is the agent will send it out to a select number of editor's that she thinks are going to be most likely to want the book.
Jane (33m 45s): And then there will be some waiting and let's hope it's not that long. You know, maybe a month, maybe two months, you know, some of this depends on time of year. Like right now, it's a slower time because it's summer people in there away. And you can tell the agent, you know, I want to hear, I want to hear from you every time you get something from an editor, whether it's a rejection or whatever, or you can tell the agent, look, that would, it would be really hard on me to hear about every rejection that comes through. Can we, can we touch base on this state?
Jane (34m 27s): And we'll talk about what's happened so far. Of course, if there's good news, the agent is going to call you right away. So if there is good news, the agent will bring you the offer and the offer starts off as it's not a contract, its usually a, they say, OK, this is the advance we're offering. These are the most important deal points. Like is it world rights or not? What's the royalty rate look like? And there'll be some other little details. Like, is it a one book deal, a two book deal? And then if you just have one offer, its kind of this very straightforward, do you take it or not? And it's not the agent's job, you know, to push you in one direction or the other.
Jane (35m 7s): But to explain to you the merits of the deal, you know, the pros and cons and help you make a choice, that's right for you. If you have a competing interest, that's wonderful. And now you can decide where do you think is the best home for the book who is going to do the best job of bringing the book to market?
Jesper (35m 26s): Yeah. And I'm also thinking that, I mean, just from a business perspective, I mean, if, if 'cause at this stage, you shouldn't be too much of the author wanting to get anymore, but you should more put your business hat on and say, okay, what makes sense here? And I'm almost because I, I'm not an expert on this, but I've heard like the advantage. They usually are pretty low when you are first starting out. And what I don't quite like about that to be honest is the fact that the publisher has absolutely zero skin in the game and it's so if they give you a very, very low, a advanced than well, they'll probably just leave it for you to figure out how to market and they're not going to throw as much money behind it.
Jesper (36m 15s): So, and, but I guess that's more like common nowadays as well. 'cause the publishing houses probably also struggling a bit with finances and so on. So they put all the money on the big name authors and then everybody else gets us very small piece of the pie. But it is that right to you think. Yeah.
3 (36m 33s): I mean
Jane (36m 35s): With the book publishing and sometimes it's hard to talk about it. Generally 'cause each publisher can operate so differently from another one in the us, for example, there's tour, which is really well known in the science fiction and fantasy space. And you know, if you had an offer from them, even if it were a low advance, it could be really helpful to be published by them just because of the really significant direct to consumer community that they have access to that you wouldn't. So there's a lot of this decision variables here. W I think its true that a low advance means the publisher isn't going to be as focused on getting a return on their investment.
Jane (37m 21s): But I think people aren't as M there not as gracious with publishers as they might be of other businesses, like let's say Silicon valley startups have a 90% failure rate, but we don't go around criticizing them. Well maybe in recent years we do. But once upon a time we do, they go around criticizing them so much. We called them innovative and disruptive, even though the failure rate was high book publishing has always had a pretty high failure rate. I think the penguin random house CEO, Marcus Stoli recently said, it's a 50% failure rate. And by failure, meaning this book did not earn back the money that was invested into it, not just the advanced, but the time spent by the staff and the printing costs.
Jane (38m 6s): But he doesn't see that as a failure of publishing. You just use it as, this is a very risky business that we engage in every book as a startup in his mind. And I think it's true. And it's like creating a new marketing plan from scratch every single time. Unless, you know, you have imprints that are devoted to a single genre, which is why I mentioned tour because I think those sorts of publishers, do you have an advantage in that they're going after a similar group of readers with a lot of the things that their publishing when you get so big five publishing where it's really random, like it's all sorts of books that are coming out. I think that's when it gets very, very, very difficult.
Jesper (38m 50s): Yeah. And I want to return to something you said earlier about the publishing houses there, because if, if we're looking at the big five, w we have a chef HarperCollins, Macmillan, penguin, random house and Simon and Schuster, oh, that's probably the five very big one. But so if we haven't agent and where they probably gone on to these big five and nothing happens early on, you mentioned about maybe looking at the sort of next tier down kind of publishing houses. So in what is like the general view on doing something like that and having your agent ghost to go in to those, how do they age and just do that automatically, just you guys just go to everybody automatically or how, how do you approach that
Jane (39m 43s): It's going to vary by agent, but most agents are gonna go to mid size houses and there really let's say prestigious or established smaller processes. So for example, in the U S there's a grey Wolf and Grove Atlantic, which were both independent publisher's on the literary ends of things. There are considered small by big five standards, but they punch way above their weight. You know, the, when the book of prizes and get on the bestseller lists and they tend to invest in there authors over many, many, many years. So even if your first book doesn't do well, even if your first five books don't do well, they're probably going to stand by you because they believe in what you're doing as, as an artist, because they believe in literature with a capital L.
Jane (40m 31s): So I think that's the advantage you get. When you start working outside of the big five model, you get people who are in it for lots of different reasons, some are in it just for the commercial money, bit of it. And there has to be some focus on that or else the publisher won't stay in business, but many publishers, the smaller they get, the more mission-oriented they are, are they're in the business to bring attention and Lite to certain types of literature or stories. So it can be very satisfying. You could have a closer relationship with your editor and if they can be more agile, more experimental, more open to collaboration, easier to reach in communicate with than your big five publisher.
Jesper (41m 10s): And you also need to have to trust the agent that he doesn't go out and query some sort of a very small press somewhere that actually has no, no mussels to, to, to use or whatever. And the market, right. I mean, I guess the agent needs to, he, he should know that, that kind of thing, right.
Jane (41m 29s): They ought to, yes. I have seen some shocking sails from agents to really small presses or what I would even consider hybrid publishers where there might be no advanced or even the author is asked to pay some money. And I think of how you did not need an agent for that deal. And that, that was a total waste of everyone's time. So if you have a docent agent, at some point, there are going to say, look, I I've gone to everyone that I think you should publish with. There might be some other publishers out there that could be smaller, or maybe, you know, the places that offer very small advances. It's not worth my time to go to these places, but if you want to be my guest, so you might reach that point.
Jane (42m 13s): Yeah.
Jesper (42m 14s): Yeah. And at that point, I guess the new self-published that novel and you ride a new one on, and then you gave that one to B and say, okay, try this one instead of, I guess,
Jane (42m 22s): Oh yes. Age agents, a good one should have a conversation with you about, okay. Let's what's next? What are you doing? What's your next book? Do you have anything else in the drawer? Like what do we think the next move is?
Jesper (42m 33s): Oh yeah. Yeah, indeed. Okay. So, but let's assume that everything goes well, of course, because we want the success stories here and you then get that offer. And you mentioned it a bit earlier on as well, Jayne about the, the contract itself. And obviously the agent should be able to, to some extent advice you on, on the contract. But I, at the same time, I've heard some really like awful examples of what might be in those contracts. So what I mean, well, I guess what I'm getting at is I'm not a hundred percent convinced that you can just trust that the agent will understand everything and tell you everything you probably need to will read everything also to small letters yourselves.
Jesper (43m 16s): And if you don't understand them, maybe even get a lawyer to look at it as something. But what, what, what's your view on that? I mean, usually
Jane (43m 23s): You can trust the agent to take care of the contract in its entirety and explain to you what every claws means and what you are getting into. And where are you might be making compromises or thinks that where you're agreeing to something that's less than ideal. Usually some of the most important parts of the contract to negotiate are what would S what would be, what would be an unacceptable manuscripts scenario. So like where there is a difference of opinion between you and the publisher about what, what changes to make what's acceptable, what happens in those instances? So that should be carefully negotiated. As you know, most agents are going to try to ensure that you don't have to give back the advance.
Jane (44m 6s): If there's some disagreement that would lead to no publication of the book, you don't want to be in that vulnerable position of having to give back money you've already spent. And there is, there are lots of ramifications of negotiating that well, and most agents are very focused on getting that part, right? The other big issue has to do with reversion of rights. So, and again, often, if things haven't gone well, but the publisher, you want to be able to sever that as cleanly in as quickly as possible. So the reversion of rights clause governs how that happens when it can happen, how long it takes, etcetera. You know, those are the areas that every agent knows about. You wouldn't have to have, I think, be concerned about what their doing on that front I'm.
Jane (44m 52s): But of course there are lots of things like, oh, you know, what are the royalty escalators? Like? How does your royalty increase the sales increase? What are the different percentages for all sorts of sales, which are there, what are the rights sub rights situation's there is your agent going to be handling any of those sales and you could hire a lawyer to help, but they would have to know that publishing standards are, umm,
3 (45m 15s): Or you could also
Jane (45m 17s): In the U S if you're a member of the authors Guild, they have a contract service where they'll review any contract at no charge. There might be something similar in other countries where if you go to your author society, they have something comparable. Right. So it doesn't, it doesn't hurt to get another set of eyes, but your age, I mean, that's your agent's job, but that's job number of one is
Jesper (45m 38s): To go out. Oh, I understand. Yeah. Yeah. And maybe on just to skeptical, but because I'm, I'm also just thinking that the agent has he sort of playing he or she is sort of playing on to horses at the same time here. I know on one hand they, of course the one to have a good relationship with the author. 'cause the author is the client, but at the same time, they also want to close that deal with the publishing house, because that's the only way they're going to and earn some money on all the on hours they spend already. So I'm just a bit skeptical that you can a hundred percent just trust their word all the time. And maybe they sort of smooth out small things. He in there. Yeah. It's not a big deal that you can, you can access this. And because then we can close to deal kind of, I don't know, maybe I'm too skeptical.
Jane (46m 23s): I think where those sorts of issues come more into play is when the books are already under contract. And, you know, there were differences of opinion or there is some tension between you and the publisher. I think there are the agent is I find them, there are going to try and smooth it over to as best they can because they don't want to lose the relationship with the editor or with the publisher because they have more books to sell presumably to those people. And they don't want to burn a bridge. So I think agents still do work. I don't use the word attack dog slightly, but you know, some of them are very aggressive on behalf of their clients and they have too much power to be pushed around by a publisher and they can, they could say, look, I'm not going to bring you my next book by whatever new, huge talent there is.
Jane (47m 12s): So they have a lot of it depends on the agent, how much leverage they have in that regard, but they can, you know, give editors' the cold shoulder, uhm, with the contract or something that might offer a reassurance is that you usually agents deal with publishers multiple times over the years. And they end up having an negotiated boiler plate for their agency. So you're not starting from scratch each time you get the benefit of every other contract that agent has negotiated with that publisher. Right. And, and then they'd make some changes that are unique for you in your project.
Jane (47m 51s): So anything that, you know, that would be of concern to the opp, to you, it's going to be of concern to the other clients. So that's why I'm less worried about the issue.
Jesper (48m 4s): No. Okay. No, that's good to you clarify that because if it's probably in just me being to skeptical, but I'm also not in use to that kind of, that part of the publishing world a as you are. So it, so that was good too. You could clarify that, but, but Looker Jane we've already sort have been from the beginning to the end of the process and we could probably keep on from on our wire if we needed to hear, but you shared so much, very good and insightful information. So I was just wondering if, if people want to learn more about you and your advice and , do you want them to go?
Jane (48m 45s): My website is the best place. That's Jane friedman.com. You can find out all the of courses I offer the book's, the newsletters it's all mentioned. They're
Jesper (48m 55s): Excellent. And the thank you so much for your time, Jane. It was a pleasure talking to you today.
Jane (48m 60s): Thank you so much. I really enj…