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Pros and Cons of Writing for Different Publishers (part two)

This is part two about the pros and cons of writing for different publishers. Part one appeared yesterday.

Pros and Cons of Writing for Different Publishers (part two) by Brenna Lyons

Choosing your publishers: Risk Management?

Bride Ball by Brenna LyonsSplitting your investments- This is actually another reason that many people choose more than one publisher. There are authors who have experienced the fall of a publisher and had to scramble to place all their books again. Understandably, they don’t want that to happen to them again, so they keep their eggs in different baskets. But…

Watch your percentages in high risk baskets– You have to look on choosing publishers as risk management much as you would view investing your money. What makes a high risk? A new company. A company that doesn’t have a full, competent, experienced staff. A company based on a “radical new idea” for shaking up the industry. An owner who doesn’t have a solid business plan. An owner that lacks people skills…or depends too highly on people skills and too little on business sense. A business that has already had financial and interpersonal blow-ups. You can take on some high risk, as long as you balance it with low to moderate risk publishers. It’s a good idea to weight your basket toward low and moderate risk companies and not high risk. Even the most aggressive planning doesn’t advocate putting all your resources in high risk. Placing all of your work with high risk carries the high risk of losing it all.

Do your homework with ALL publishers– Having more than one publisher does not make you all knowing. No matter how much you might like to claim you can, you cannot “spot a good company or bad” at a hundred paces, though it is usually easier to spot warning signs of a bad risk than it is to say with conviction that the company is a good one at a glance. You have to research all prospective publishers and assess their risk factors. For more information see my two part series about choosing a publisher. Part one. Part two.

New companies/old associates: does experience translate?– As I said earlier, it is never a good idea to choose a company just for…the company you would be keeping, though choosing not to work with someone you clash with may be a very good idea. Just because someone has good ideas for marketing her own book does not mean the person is capable of marketing an entire company. Just because someone was an EIC for five years does not mean that person is skilled as a company owner and will make the right decisions for the company when given all decision making. Not all experience is equal, and friendship is not business savvy.

You can actually hurt your chances rather than help them– Choosing the wrong publishers can hinder you toward your goals….which we will cover more in contracts. But, you can also hinder yourself by spreading your books too thin. Conventional wisdom says that it takes roughly three books with any publisher to start making a name with the company…and making decent money. It is almost impossible to break even and build an audience when you have one or two books each thrown in a half dozen venues.

Special concerns when you have more than one?

Contract provisions to watch out for– You have to be very careful, especially with the contract you sign. There are contracts that specify that the author is expected to keep a web site for only the publisher’s books…or that the publisher will not link to your site if you don’t comply. Forcing you to split your audience (or not giving you the same exposure they give every other author) is counterproductive to your aims of building an audience, and you should not sign something that does it. Always keep your contractual obligations in mind when signing a contract. Can you live to each contract you sign? How long will your rights be held up? How soon can you move to another publisher if things don’t work out? Do you have an “out clause?” Never sign a contract that gives blanket first refusal rights. Why?

Splitting series and related books– You do not want to be forced into a position where you have to split a series or related books from a series because you have signed first refusal to someone else. Keeping related books together is usually a good idea. Putting out shorts in anthologies that relate back to an established world somewhere else, while not overly appreciated by the anthology publisher in some cases, are a different matter. I look on them more as throwing out bait. It’s further exploiting the idea of bringing readers from one company home to another. Always spell out how far that “series” ranges in first right of refusal clauses. If you write the same world in another timeline and with new characters, is that still the series? If you write related books not on the same world (don’t you love science fiction?), is it still the series? The first is debatable. The second is arguably no, even if you see characters from the series there.

Pen Names– Never allow a company to own your pen name. That both steals your word of mouth from you and forces you to split your marketing. Instead of selling YOU and the books. You are forced to sell YOU and YOU and the books. This is a bad idea all the way around. The closer you can bring your pen names, assuming you aren’t writing in clashing genres like erotica and children’s, the better it is for you. It is always better to spend $100 promoting Brenna Lyons than $60 promoting Brenna Lyons and $40 promoting Brenna Stuart, with no apparent connection between them. If you are separating two adult reading genres, you may want a single site that splits into the pen names/genres. That allows for possible carry-over from one pen name to the other from regular readers. If your genres are children’s and adult, you may want two different sites entirely! In fact, it’s probably preferable that you do it that way.

Brenna Lyons is a bestselling, award-winning author in spec fic indie press. With 21 series worlds and stand-alones, it’s not a surprise that Brenna works with between six and eight publishing houses at a time and fields ten or more releases every year. You can reach her at her site http://www.brennalyons.com

Thanks so much for the informative posts, Brenna! If anyone has any questions just ask them in the comments section.

Pros and Cons of Writing for Different Publishers (part one)

I’m a member of the Marketing for Romance Writers loop. There’s a wealth of knowledge available in this group, mainly promo and marketing advice but there are also discussions about other writing related things such as publishers. Late last year the subject of writing for different publishers was raised. Author Brenna Lyons had such awesome advice about the pros and cons that I asked if she’d write a post for me on the subject. Over to Brenna…

Pros and Cons of Writing for Different Publishers (part one) by Brenna Lyons

Why do it?

All I Want For Christmas by Brenna LyonsYou’re a prolific author– It is possible to overload the system of a single publisher, if you submit everything you write to that one. Can you imagine the havoc that could cause with a prolific author?

You write in several genres– It’s a solid fact that authors who write in many genres may not be able to place all of their books with a single house. If you sign with a publisher for your fantasy erotic romance books and then you write a straight fantasy book, that publisher is likely not your market.

To work with publishers/authors/editors you enjoy– This is not my favorite reason to change or add publishers, but some people do choose publishers this way. For me, it is more important that I think the people I will be working with know what they are doing, are pleasant (or at least tolerable) to work with, and have a smooth-running system that I feel will work well for me.

Getting in on special collections or projects– This is actually a good reason to join a publisher…if your other concerns are met as well. Think of it this way. Even if it’s the collection you think is perfect for you, if the contract and staff are far less than ideal, you are better off taking your personal ideas elsewhere. Remember that this is your career!

A new concept or contract option that you enjoy– Unfortunately, some authors are so dead-set on making sure a particular thing is addressed at their next company that they allow themselves to be blinded to the less savory aspects of the company they target. You have to keep the full package in mind. It is typically easier to convince company B to add something you want than to convince company D to change half a contract that you don’t like to suit you, just because it already has that one item covered.

In addition, a new concept in publishing is good…if it works. Keep in mind that many of the more radical designs don’t last very long. A company that gives you 75% of cover price sounds great…until you find out that you won’t be able to sell a quarter of the books you did with your old publisher.

The pros to having more than one publisher?

Reaching new readers who haven’t read you before– There is no denying that you will likely reach some readers at the new company who are not regular buyers of the old one. However, while some readers buy a company, many readers buy the author. That means that, once introduced to you, the readers are typically willing to follow you from publisher to publisher…as long as they are comfortable with the publisher sites…or they follow you to one-stop places like ARe/OmniLit or Fictionwise, where they can buy books from you with several publishers at once.

Name building at double or triple the speed…maybe– This sounds good in theory. But while it is true that you are reaching more readers, there is typically an overflow of readers that read both houses…or one company may have a large audience while another is new and has a small one. You can’t count on doubling your publishers meaning that your double the readers who know you.

Less wait time for editors/release date…maybe– You may very well reduce your wait overall, since you are waiting editors at several publishers, so you can get four books through in the time you might have gotten one or two through at a single publisher. However, you may lengthen your wait on a particular book.

Not being pigeonholed into one genre or style– This is one of the most widely-stated reasons for people choosing to have more than one publisher.

The cons to having more than one publisher?

Planning ahead to fulfill your contracts– You have to keep an eye on what you agree to do and when. If you have three books coming in for edits, you better have everything out of your way and be prepared for some long nights and days getting those edits done in the 30 days you have to do all three! And, you don’t want to burn out.

The “Prolific Trap”– When you’re prolific, you often get contacted by your publishers saying things like, “We have X going on. You’ll put something into that, right?” This is where you get into an interesting balancing act. Do you say “I can’t” and get on a publisher’s bad side? Do you say “yes” and figure out a way to make it happen? That depends on your comfort level.

Glutting the market on your name– It is possible to put out so many books that the readers can’t keep up…or don’t want to keep up. At what point do the readers’ eyes glaze over? The problem is that there is no set number I can give you. If you write really well, that glut may not come for a long time.

Expectations of publishers– Your publishers have certain expectations of their authors. The problem comes when you either have conflicting schedules…you should be in chat with B at the same time C is doing a list game you should be taking part in…or you are get used to the expectations for one and have problems changing gears.

Keeping your mind in the game: which publisher is which– You could make a file of printouts or a database of guidelines and house styles a prerequisite for having more than one publisher. Worse, it’s easy to start resenting one company for not being more like another. You can suggest changes gently, but if they don’t want to change, you either have to live with it quietly or not sign them any more books. You are under no obligation to stay with a company that doesn’t offer what you need as an author PAST what you have already contracted.

Arranging SOME crossover readership to aid in the transition– You want to find new readers, but you also need the old readers following you along and bringing new readers with them by word of mouth. Having some distribution channels or promotion channels that overlap is a wonderful thing.

The “Leave your other publisher at the door” problem– Imagine a well-meaning reader or reviewer congratulates you on an award finaled for with a publisher on the wrong list…or someone mentions a series from publisher B in publisher C’s chat. Though it is beyond your control, and no matter how skillfully you handle it, it will still be held against you to a certain degree.

Come back for part two tomorrow.

Brenna Lyons is a bestselling, award-winning author in spec fic indie press. With 21 series worlds and stand-alones, it’s not a surprise that Brenna works with between six and eight publishing houses at a time and fields ten or more releases every year. You can reach her at her site http://www.brennalyons.com

Horses & The Monster That Shall Not Be Named

I often come across good articles and posts relating to writing and the writing business when I’m surfing on the net. What? You thought I wrote all the time? :grin:

I don’t know about you, but I enjoy both keeping up with the writing market and learning new things. I thought I’d share the bounty and repost some of the links I’ve found.

Bootstrap Book Marketing Co-op has a post on one thing that can really derail a writing career, and that is professional jealousy. We all have times when we feel down or think someone else is getting a better deal than us and the green-eyed monster creeps in. Bootstrap has a post called The Writer’s Other Classic Curse and Four Ways to Deal With It.

Erastes writes some very thought provoking posts at Reviews by Jessewave. A recent post related to horses in historical novels. Neigh…I blame Hollywood talks about horses and mistakes writers making with them. Note Reviews by Jessewave reviews gay romances, but the post on horses relates to all historicals.

Note: There are two posts today. Scroll down…

Can You See Into the Future?

Albert Park, Auckland

This is a shot of Albert Park (named after Prince Albert) in Central Auckland. It’s not far from the university and on a fine day, it’s the perfect place for students to eat their lunch.

Mystery writer JA Konrath has a very interesting post about e-books and what he predicts will happen during 2010 in the e-book/e-reader world.

I’m actually feeling very positive about e-books at the moment. I love the freedom of writing for e-publishers, although the pirate issue does worry me. It’s truly disheartening when pirates put up books for free download on release day. It’s not only the e-authors who have a pirate problem though. The pirates have no compunction in making e-copies of paperback books and giving those away free too.

I think the increased competition in the e-reader market can only mean good things, driving the price down. Like Mr. Konrath, I’d like to see a standard industry format. What do you think will happen in the e-book world during the next year?

I’m guest blogging at the Samhellion blog today and talking about diaries and my upcoming release, The Bottom Line. While you’re there don’t forget to check out the special Christmas scavenger hunts to win either a Kindle reader or a Sony reader.

Interview with agent Holly Root

Today my special guest is agent Holly Root from the Waxman Literary Agency.

Shelley: Tell us a little about yourself. How did you become an agent?

Holly: I actually had no idea that “agent” was a job until after I’d already landed in publishing. When I moved to New York I knew I was interested in trying something a little different than the editorial work I’d been doing, and that led me to make my way to the agency side. Agency work allowed me to work with authors shaping their books but also shaping their careers.

Shelley: What are the most recent books you’ve sold?

Holly: This summer was busy with renewing contracts for clients at Pocket, Grand Central, Harlequin and elsewhere, and that’s always fun, seeing an author’s series continued. I have some great debut fiction heading out on submission soon too.

Shelley: You’re going on holiday. What books do you take with you for your reading pleasure?

Holly: If I were leaving tomorrow I’d take the four books at the top of my TBR pile: Jennifer Weiner’s Best Friends Forever, Sophie Kinsella’s Twenties Girl, Malinda Lo’s Ash and James Dashner’s The Maze Runner. Unfortunately there are no holidays planned soon!

Shelley: A query letter is very important these days. What mistakes or problems do you see in the query letters you receive?

Holly: Most are just not quite ready for prime time—clear first drafts, or letters that lay out the entire plot to less than stirring effect. I also see many letters that say, “Writing this was very therapeutic.” I find most authors feel that way, but it doesn’t affect the market appeal of the work so it doesn’t belong in your query.

Shelley: How would you describe your ideal client?

Holly: Crazy talented as a writer, thoughtful as a person, and cool-headed enough for the wild ride we’re about to go on together. Ideally we’d also have similar communication styles; nothing is harder than working on a subjective endeavor like fiction with someone who doesn’t speak your language editorially.

Shelley: Do you offer editorial advice for your clients?

Holly: Yes. We do at least some editing before every submission. Once there’s an editor involved, I defer to that person so as not to have extra voices whispering in the author’s ear while writing, but I am always available for advice, even if the advice is just “write it and see.”

Shelley: A lot of aspiring authors struggle with high concept and the fact agents and editors are looking for a high concept in submissions. What is your advice to writers with regard to high concept and how would you define it?

Holly: I actually did a blog post on just this question, so I’ll refer readers here: http://waxmanagency.wordpress.com/2009/02/06/recipe-for-success-high-concept/

Shelley: For authors who live outside America, one problem that comes up is setting. Is a US setting necessary or does it depend on the genre?

Holly: That’s an excellent question. For contemporary genre fiction I think a setting outside of America is a bit tougher sell, but of course historicals (mystery, romance, general fiction) have often, even primarily been set outside our borders. If you’re in the more upmarket fiction market there’s more openness to settings beyond the US as well.

Shelley: What is your best craft tip for aspiring authors wanting to submit to an agent?

Holly: 90% of writing is rewriting. I don’t know that it ever gets easier, but I know that the more you learn to self-edit and polish, the stronger you’ll be at those skills.

Shelley: Thank you very much, Holly!

For more information about the Waxman Literary Agency, and up-to-date details of genres they represent or would like to see in the future, check out their website and blog.

Conference Report

It was a weird sort of a weekend for me. I attended the conference, but I have to admit I had trouble focusing on what the speakers were saying because of the personal stuff going on in our lives. I did, however, have a couple of real lightbulb moments – thank you Fiona Brand and Mary Theresa Hussey – and I think that once I return from holiday, it will be with renewed energy and inspiration for my writing.

I attended an early morning talk with agent Melissa Jeglinski from the Knight Agency. They read the first pages of manuscripts and she stopped them when she reached the point where she’d make a decision. The following is a summary of her dos and don’ts. For you experienced writers out there this is probably commonsense to you, but a reminder never hurts!

1. Don’t start your manuscript with a one-sided conversation. i.e. phone call. You’re wasting an opportunity to use characterization through dialogue.

2. It’s good to make the reader want more. i.e. intrigue them but don’t throw everything and the kitchen sink into that first page.

3. Add characterization rather than too much backstory. i.e. have your characters make an appearance early rather than giving lots of narrative first up.

4. Sentence length – don’t make those opening sentences too long and convoluted. You want the reader/agent/editor to understand the sentence. If they have to read it twice you have a problem.

5. You need a coherent flow of dialogue and narration. Don’t have all dialogue and no narration at the start of your story. Make the dialogue meaningful.

6. Don’t feel the need to give a detailed description of clothes etc in that first page. One or two details are fine but don’t describe everything in minute detail.

In a talk about Harlequin and the various lines editor Mary Theresa Hussey gave us a list of points that the editors use when they’re reading a submission.

1. Are the opening and closing lines strong? i.e. it’s that hook thing. Use strong hooks!

2. Do the characters make decisions? i.e. are they active rather than sitting back and letting things happen.

3. Do the conflicts come across as strong and interesting?

4. Are the characters compelling?

5. Does the story start in the right place? i.e don’t be tempted to slide in all that back story!

6. Do you want to read on?

If they can answer yes to all these questions, your manuscript is in good shape.

Mary Thesesa also mentioned that the Harlequin Intrigue line and the Harlequin Presents line are definitely looking for new authors, so if you’re interested in either of these lines get writing!

And two final things: If you’re interested in the new Harlequin YA line check out the prequel for Rachel Vincent’s debut story. You can download your free copy here.

Harlequin do regular podcasts that can be downloaded at this link or at iTunes. There are some additional ones coming any day now so keep checking back. The existing podcasts include editor inside information and interviews with authors.