Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Book Titles

Dear Ms Rejector

Do you have any insights on book titles, and if they affect the way you respond to a query?

The answer to your second question is no, they do not affect the way we respond to a query. We'll probably only notice the title if it's especially cool. Most of times it's just a regular title or an especially bad one, but that doesn't bother us. The title can be changed throughout most of the book-publication process. I'm not particularly sure if the right title has to go on the contract or if it can be changed later, but I think it can be changed as late as final editorial.

Titles are also deceptively hard to come up with unless you're writing a thriller. We don't expect you to nail it the first time.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

E-Books! Did I do this already?

So, two people emailed me with questions about e-Books. Generally I trim long emails, but I'm going into ultra-pruning mode for the sake of time.

You should sell an e-book. Figure a five percent sell-through and 98 percent profit. If you get 500 visits per day and you're making $4.80 per unit, it works out to about $3,600 a month, possibly enough to rent a dumpster behind the Port Authority.

No, I wouldn't. Even if I sold 500 books per day, which bestsellers don't even do, Amazon would take 55% of my profits - or more. I'm not sure what their commission rate is for e-Books. I imagine it's high because they (and B&, to be fair) are the only real vendor.

[Deleted section: This guy likes reading e-Books] Every-now and again though, for the same reasons I went to used bookstores and bought the most random title i could find, I nab stuff that is e-book only. Like before, most of it is pretty horrible and a few of them are worthwhile reads. One in particular was the best read I've had this year(since then its being picked up for print, which makes me very happy). Anyway, my question is this, where in the world are the reviews for this part of the industry?

Don't get me wrong - I'm a technocrat. My teenage years were spent on ultra-slow Prodigy Online and then on slightly faster local network. I shamelessly download an entire TV series that's either too expensive or not available for retail in this country (I like Japanese feudal dramas). That said, I hate reading books online. I'm willing to read fanfic because it's free and I already know the characters, so I'm more likely to like it, but I can't remember the last time I read an e-Book, even for free, that had no relation to some fandom. Why? Because most people feel that reading a book on a computer screen sucks. And most people make up most of the consumer market (though it's all right to feel special).

When hand-held devices that you could actually read on came out, there was a whole lot of press about how it would change publishing industry and we would all be switching to reading off our tiny, poorly-lit Palm Pilot screen like the guys in Prelude to Foundation. Remember when Stephen King did that chapter-by-chapter/pay-as-you-go posting of a novel? Or I took that course on hypertext fiction? (No, you don't because you weren't there. Well, I did. I needed more time to spend with my Playstation so I opted out of another history course.)

Even some ten years later, industry professionals are scratching their heads, trying to make a way to make e-Books profitable. As the person in charge of the digital division at I think it was HarperCollins explained to me this summer, "e-Books and internet files are being published by the major companies, but it's still basically R&D." (research and development) And she was a person willing to read a novel on her little novel-reading device, but she admitted no one understood her, even her co-workers.

As with any new thing that comes along unexpectedly and alternately revolutionizes/threatens your entire industry, it takes time to figure out how it's going to work. With the internet it's especially hard because things are constantly changing, as are the devices we buy to keep us hooked to that digital IV while we're away from the computer. What publishers have discovered, for the most part, is that e-Books are unprofitable. You put it up for $5.95 (dumb companies charge more), Amazon takes half, and then the author gets a cut. Also, people don't buy it, especially if it's a new author and/or it's also available in print form. In the end the result is easily less than $50 a month - for the company.

Not that the industry has given up. They have figured out that it costs almost nothing to create an e-Book other than editorial, especially if you've signed the author for a print run and you're doing the editorial anyway, so they don't really lose money; they just don't make money. The advantage is in time: it takes a book a year, at absolute best, to go to press, between the contract signing and the day the books appear on shelves. e-Books can go up whenever the editorial is done and someone's put some cover art together. Some companies are using the e-Book as a promotional tool while they're waiting for the book to come out, and even then, that's promotion restricted to people who spend a lot of time on Amazon. I do, but a lot of people don't. The point is that it's free promotion, and promotion is rarely free, so that's why you're seeing e-Books.

(Also you're seeing them because some people like them, but those people remain in the minority until our computer screens don't make our eyes want to bleed after a 12-hour session)

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Rejection Timeline

Hi Rejecter-

Here's my question: sometimes query replies (in my case rejections so far) come like lightening, and other times it takes several weeks. What I guess I'm wondering is, if it a case of "the longer it's out, the better your chances are" because it's actually being considered, or does the fact that the query is still out just mean it's in a pile somewhere? Is this a total toss-up or is there a "usually" answer?

There are very few hard truths in this industry, and this is definitely an area in which a million things could be going on in the other side. I can tell you this:

(1) The "pile" (referring to the snail mail pile) stacks up based on how often the agent checks it, or if the assistant is in charge of that and if so, how often they come in. Sometimes I only come in once a week and do the whole pile. I used to work three days a week, so the pile didn't build up as much, except over the weekend. We do not go through it in any kind of order based on how much you spent on postage, so don't waste your money. What I do - and it's not always done this way - is go through the whole thing to make sure nothing's a bill or a royalty check or a bank statement, then stack it back up from largest to smallest envelope because it stacks better on the table. Then I do the whole stack.

(2) It's true that we reject instantaneously while we might take more time to think about a maybe query, but this by no means universally true. Generally I make a pile of maybes, and my boss looks at them, picks up the one she likes, and sets them aside. Then when she gets a chance, she emails the person. It's probably within the day because she's polite, but that's not true of everyone. They might let it sit on their shelf for a couple weeks (even a letter) if they are extremely busy. Agenting stuff like contract negotiations, publisher-set submission deadlines of final manuscripts, proof approval, and any kind of conference to get ready for (like the BEA or Frankfurt) are really more demanding and is what the agent does all day. In fact, hope that they do, because it means they're working hard for their clients, and if you become one, you'll want the same treatment.

(3) Partials and fulls can take a long time. This is true. I have had agents get back to me really quickly, generally with a rejection. Or if it's a partial, the agent can take a quick look and say, "Eh... I'm not sure. Need to see the whole thing" and request a full very quickly as well. If you have a full or a partial and it's been 6 months, give them an email. If something comes up, like an offer from that publishing house you sent into a year ago, call them and tell them. They will drop everything and read the manuscript. If they don't, they're definitely not the right agent for you.

(4) Some agents do not feel the need to respond to email queries if it's a rejection. I think this is rude and I'm glad my boss takes the time to reply to her emails, but that's the way some people feel. It's slowly changing as e-queries become more common, but some agents still just ignore it if they don't like it. The paper query with the SASE is a little harder to toss in the trash. There's some guilt factor there.

Beyond that, I can't say. Every agent works differently, and they work differently from week to week depending on what's going on that week. If they're busy badgering an author to get the final manuscript copy into the publisher by the deadline because it's tomorrow, then they won't be reading partials.