Jan 232006
 

File this one under Naked Conversations. We all live and learn in our first year of business, and I’m happy to share.

This post is for any agented author who in the past received 1099 amounts based on “net” receipts paid to the author by their agency. I know that many agencies have reported only net payments and that some may continue to do so, but in 2004 the IRS ruled that middlemen such as agents must report the “gross amount of royalties received from the publisher.”

Therefore, each 1099 I send out will report gross amounts received from the publisher and will include a short note detailing total commission charged.

When you do your taxes you will have to deduct the cost of commissions or expenses paid to your agency from the gross amount reported on your 1099-MISC. I know that some of my clients have already experienced this.

Of course, like many IRS rulings, this seems to be a waste of time (accounting software is geared to net payments of checks actually cut) that creates more paperwork for everyone for little purpose.

As a sole proprietor, and even after talking to my accountant, I believed that I might simply be 1099ed by the publisher and in turn 1099 my authors on their net receipts, but once I got into the nitty gritty of creating my 1099s I learned that we must add another 1099 from the author back to me for any commissions deducted ($600 and over).

Every author who paid me more than $600 in commissions will receive a short email statement in the next day, ahead of their 1099, so that they can plan to 1099 me. I’m not overly concerned that I receive these before January 31 since everything’s accounted on my end already, but the government must receive the 1096 form accompanying the 1099 by February 28.

I’m truly sorry for this inconvenience, and for anyone who has to 1099 me (or anyone for that matter), Gail Perry sent me this link to Filetaxes.com where you can submit a single 1099 with a 1096 at a cost of $3.79. For any of my clients who aren’t generating 1099s already and that want to take this option, I’ll repay you for any associated costs.

I was already planning to incorporate as an LLC after my first year and once the business was well established (it is) so this won’t recur in the future.

If your agency or agent is incorporated, you needn’t worry about reporting the commission payments.

Happy taxes everyone, and thanks for your patience.

Dec 072005
 

By way of Publisher’s Marketplace, here’s a link to the story of Martha Avery, an “agent” who bilked at least 200 aspiring writers of $700,000 in fees.

For more info on agent and publishing scams you can always check out Writer Beware.

Bottom line: beware of agents who ask for reading fees, editorial fees, or marketing fees. It’s relatively easy to do your research, online and off, and find an agent with a demonstrable track record.

  •  December 7, 2005
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Oct 192005
 

I just finished my teleconference with the folks at the Guerilla Marketing Association.

It was a great way to speak to a group of aspiring authors and reminds me I need to do so more often because it always brings up a number of good questions.

Besides the very common go-round on what goes into a proposal, how much your platform matters, and how can you protect your ideas, someone asked about the absolute metrics a publisher uses to decide on whether to do a book or not.

My answer was that “it depends.”

For a big publisher of trade hardcover fiction (depending on the advance and marketing put into it) you’re probably shooting for books that have the potential to sell 100,000 copies. But again, that depends on the initial investment and a title from more literary house may be considered successful at 20,000 copies.

For a computer book with a company like Wiley or O’Reilly, once you sell 20,000 copies I’d say the publisher is pleased and the author has made some money, no windfall, but enough to keep writing, and it’s a book probably worth revising, especially as revisions typically take less effort that the first edition. For these publishers it’s the books that eke out 10,000 copies per edition or less that are hard to justify, though they certainly break even from the publisher’s perspective.

For a small house like Countryman, a Norton subsidiary which publishes travel guide books and outdoors titles, they may pay a commensurately small advance, but can do okay if a book sells 2000 copies in the first year and keeps ticking at that same rate for ten years. I don’t mean to imply that an entire program can work if every book sells at this rate, but a publisher can support a backlist of many titles that sell modestly. Every successful publisher — and agent for that matter — needs hits and franchise titles or series to really grow.

For the author, the question is — what do these figures mean to your life? If you write to make a living you need to shoot for books that sell well and create repeat publisher and reader business. But some of my clients are passionate about a topic and want to write a book that fulfills their hobby and passion in life, and are perfectly happy to do a book that will sell only 2000 copies per year but will backlist well.

That’s the answer I gave on the call at any rate. Some books that may not be profitable for a professional writer may certainly add plenty to the life of a passionate writer who may find many intangible benefits in being published.

Sep 152005
 

Ideally, you’re moving quickly from book to book and you have very little downtime between projects, but sometimes professional writers will find themselves with a few weeks off. I strongly encourage my clients to do something with this downtime and I thought I’d share a few ideas.

Work on your wish list

Maintain a sort of “Bible” of ideas you’d like to tackle in the future, and be sure to share this with your editors and agent.

Market yourself as a technical editor

Let your editors know that you’re open to tech editing. The pay isn’t great but it’s a good way to understand the tech edit process, make more contacts within a publishing house, and you might even find a gig helping another author finish his or her book. I sometimes help to find tech edit gigs for my clients, so be sure to tell your agent if you’re up for this.

Work on your website

Blog, update your site, add an Amazon store, add a FAQ for readers, update your bio, or write bonus material and errata for your books. If you spend too much time head-down in your book projects, you may not be spending enough time marketing yourself and your site.

Attend a conference or expo

Some writers are conference regulars, others hardly get out of the house. No matter what you’re doing over email, voice mail and on the web, it really helps to see editors face to face, and it’s also a great way to network with other writers. If you haven’t attended a conference in the last two years, you’re probably overdue. Microsoft has a regular Publishing Summit, and O’Reilly has a great series of open source and emerging technology related conferences. You can always hit MacWorld, C.E.S. or larger expos as well. Even a local writer’s conference can be a great way to get your creative juices flowing. But if you’re planning on attending, network ahead of time, find out who will be there and be sure to set up meetings.

Read your competition

Spend time in the bookstore and read various authors and series. Find out what they’re doing well and learn what you might do better. It amazes me the number of times I’ve asked a client about a notable competitor and find out they haven’t read the book. You might find that your agent has an opportunity for you in the “X” series, and if you’re already familiar with the series the entire process will be much easier. You might also find there are publishers which you’ve overlooked.

Pitch an article

Have an idea that might be a book but you’re not sure there’s a market for it? Pitch an article to a magazine or newsletter. At the least, write it up on your website, blog about it, or find some way to demonstrate that you’ve got a great idea and that people want to read about it.

Do a work-for-hire

“Work-for-hire” is rarely an agent’s favorite phrase, but if you can put yourself in a position to help an editor on a book that’s in trouble, you’ll have a great long-time ally.

Network and teach outside the industry

If you’ve been focused exclusively on books, do some research and try to find some related teaching gigs: online training, video training, or teach an extension class at your local community college. Even your Chamber of Commerce needs speakers. Anything you can do to become a better teacher and speaker will pay off that day when you find yourself on the dais at MacWorld, Photoshop World, or even YogaWorld, for that matter (made that one up).

Spy on the future

You don’t need to be Faith Popcorn to spy on the future. If you’ve been networking all along, take some time to talk to the product or marketing managers at your favorite software companies, find out what’s coming down the pike, and work to add yourself to future product betas whenever possible. It helps to be the first person out of the gate with a proposal on a new product, so do everything you can to be there first. One of my favorite memories this year was sitting with a Peachpit editor at MacWorld while her cell phone went crazy with calls from writers just back from the keynote: these writers were in the right place at the right time, and even better they had their editor’s cell phone number and knew when to use it.

Learn something new

Expand your interests, research a book on your favorite hobby, do something new. Enough said. Variety of interest and focus keeps your mind open.

Insert your ideas here

These are all pretty straightforward ideas. If you’ve got some good tips, please feel free to comment. Thanks.

  •  September 15, 2005
  •  Posted by at 8:05 am
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Jul 292005
 

This is a puff piece, and contains details that may be embarrassing to the author.

Agents have a reputation as a necessary evil, or, as one friendly editor put it to me, “necessary weasels.” And, though we live in great anticipation of every contract, advance check and royalty statement, there’s nothing that quite warms an agent’s heart like a sincere acknowledgement of his efforts.

I was reminded of this today when I had the pleasure of reading a gracious acknowledgement in a soon to be released book. As always, I’m tickled pink. And more importantly, I’ll work hard to keep my client’s regard.

Your agent loves publishing — many of us are frustrated writers and editors ourselves — and it’s great to see our own names in print. So, yes, it’s an ego boost. I have to admit that.

It’s good advertising, too: potential writers often comb the acknowledgements to find just the right agent for their project.

If your agent did a good job, acknowledge her. You needn’t be verbose, sincere will do just fine. I guarantee you that your agent will notice.

And be sure to thank your editors. I don’t care how much you fought over the manuscript, preferential edits or delayed checks. Be polite and professional and give credit to your editor.

There’s plenty of tussling in this business, good manners go a long way.

  •  July 29, 2005
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Jul 072005
 

Dave has a short article on what he calls the “myth” of writer’s block. he writes

Okay. Here’s my key piece of advice for all new writers:

GET OVER THE WRITERS BLOCK MYTH

Really.

It’s a job, you’re a professional writer, and your task is to type, to put words down, to produce. Writer’s block is for fiction writers and hobbyists who enjoy the anguish and angst of “the creative process”. One of the very best things I ever learned about writing was from NJIT professor Peter Elbow’s books, that WRITERS WRITE.

It’s good advice. He suggests you sit down and write no matter what, and he suggests that blogs are a great exercise in this regard.

As an agent I see “blocks” that fall into a few categories, and this list doesn’t include large life changes such as divorce, death in the family, depression and the like, which can derail or delay any book project:

Anxiety

It’s one thing to pitch a book, it’s another to actually sit down and write it. Authors are unique in that they work very much alone and can be their own worst critics, anxious about every little detail. Anxiety can be a great tool that spurs you on to wonderful things in your life, but if you let it overwhelm you, you won’t get far. Save your anxiety for the re-write. Don’t over-edit while you’re writing your first draft, but be sure to edit it well before you send it along to your editor.

Know Your Audience

If you don’t know your reader you’ll be at sea. John Steinbeck once suggested to a young writer that he choose a specific person to write to, and he himself often wrote with his agent in mind. If you have a specific reader in mind you can engage in a much more meaningful connection, and with a more casual, direct voice. Pick your reader and you may find that the words flow more freely. Some of my clients have written to their mothers, isn’t that a nice thought?

You Need an Outline

If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re going to have a hard time getting there. If you’re stuck on a chapter but have a great outline you can work on sections that are working for you and work back to the section that’s troubling you.

Master Your Sample Chapter

If you do everything you can to nail your style and voice in your sample chapter, you’ll have fewer problems along the way. If you’re working with a house that requires a unique style or approach, do your best to understand what your editor needs from the get-go and the entire process will be much smoother, and you’ll have a leg up on understanding your audience as well.

  •  July 7, 2005
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Jun 282005
 

I see lots of pitches from writers who have written complete non-fiction manuscripts for all variety of books.

Sometimes that works out fine, and I’ve certainly repped and sold complete manuscripts. But for the most part, considering that the great majority of proposed books are not placed with a publisher, writing your book before you have a publishing contract can be a misuse of your time and energy. Most agents certainly think so.

I always encourage prospective non-fiction authors to focus their attention on first writing a strong book proposal and sample chapter, a process that in itself than can be a long haul, but very useful in terms of clarifying your purpose and answering the kinds of questions a publisher will have for you.

Don’t kid yourself, a great idea or manuscript goes only so far, and publishers will look as closely at the market, the competition, your platform, and your credibility as they do at your writing sample. Not only that, even if your idea is just right for a particular house, you may find that they’ve already signed something similar from someone else who got in the door first with a proposal while you toiled away on your manuscript. Or you may find that an editor loves the concept but wants to tackle it in an entirely different manner, and so you end up re-writing anyways.

If you write for love — and maybe even if you’ve pitched your book once and it didn’t fly, but you’re determined to see it published one way or another (on demand for instance) — feel free to work on it, but don’t assume that a finished manuscript is any more marketable than a great proposal.

The exception proves the rule disclaimer: there are a number of books that have defied this wisdom and were ultimately self-published before making it to the big time, The Celestine Prophecy, and Mutant Message Down Under among them.

  •  June 28, 2005
  •  Posted by at 12:45 pm
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Jun 202005
 

Author Michael Thomsett posted a comment in a previous entry about cross accounting, he says–

I would recommend every author cross out the infamous “cross collateralization clause” – a mouthful, but important stuff. This is usually some reference like, “Author agrees to that any amounts due on this or any other agreements may be withheld from earnings…” This means that if you write two books and one doesn’t earn out its advance, the publisher can apply earnings from the second book to the first.

This is good advice and it’s probably one of the best tools in an agent’s arsenal, something that authors might not learn on their own until they see lots of royalty statements. I thought I’d offer a little more perspective on co-accounting (a.k.a. cross accounting or cross collateralization) because it comes up in a variety of scenarios.

What is co-accounting?

Just what Michael said. You might have two books with $10,000 advances, but if one does great and the other poorly, you still won’t see any money until the entire $20,000 advance earns out. The “tell” is when you see the words, “under this or any other agreement” in your contract.

Co-accounting is a tool publishers use to reduce their risk, and we all want to reduce risk so it’s not really a surprise that it’s in your contract. You should be able to remove or modify this clause, but some publishers will balk at this with a new or unproven author. If you decide you can live with it on your first book, you should certainly address the issue before you sign a second book with that publisher. You might also ask that co-accounting be limited to future editions of that book only.

Co-accounting of advances

Co-accounting of advances is usually a bad deal. There are rare circumstances where it might work okay: for instance, an author and agent may agree to cross accounting on a series contract because they are sharing the risk on a full list of titles, but this is usually balanced by a strong royalty and large advance.

Co-accounting and returns

Even if you strike the co-accounting of advances, your publisher will want to keep the right to take “overpayments” from future earnings. You can make sure that “advances are not considered overpayments,” but it’s unlikely that your publisher will say the same of returns. In general I think this is fair. Returns hover at 20% for computer books, and most authors don’t expect to be paid for books that were subsequently returned.

Co-accounting and subsequent editions

If you’re dealing with books that are revised and re-released every few years — something that invariably triggers returns — you’ll find that your publisher may want to reserve the right to co-account your first edition against your second edition advance, and so on. Again, this protects a publisher from the cost of returns on the first edition.

What about reserves, don’t they cover returns?

Sure, over time they should. But something funny can happen when you have both co-accounting of editions and a certain reserve clause. Ideally, a publisher would deduct the returns from your reserve, but some will try to deduct the returns from books with positive sales, and keep the reserve pool flush for a period of time. This invariably delays your money. 20% of your sales are held in escrow, as it were, and your returns are debited against your other books. It doesn’t mean that you won’t get paid, but it forestalls that payday.

Publishers without reserves

A few publishers don’t hold a specified reserve unless they see a wave of imminent returns, but they do typically co-account advances and royalties against future editions to protect themselves from the returns on the first edition.

Success is your best weapon

In the best scenario, your books are doing so well that your returns are more than offset by multiple streams of income across multiple books that are not co-accounted. If you’re successful as an author, you can convince your publishers to limit co-accounting and also to release reserves when they climb too high. Cross accounting clauses hurt the mid-list authors of oft revised books most of all, since some of these books are only eaking out their advances before they need to be revised and updated. It’s worth asking whether they’re really worth the effort.

At the very least, make sure you understand what your contract says, and ask your editor as many questions as you can about the royalty accounting and payment system up front, especially before signing that contract for book two if you didn’t already manage it with book one. Otherwise you may not learn what your contract really says until you see the royalty statement in your hands.

Standard “I don’t know everything disclaimer”

Your mileage may vary. This post is most germane to computer books, textbooks, and reference titles. Every publisher’s system has its own wrinkle, and I’m sure I’ve missed a few points here. Please feel free to post your comments, questions, or pointers to other resources that may cover this topic as well.

Jun 102005
 

I’m stealing Wiley Publisher Joe Wikert’s “Author Tip” category because it’s a good one and something I should have been using already. Thanks, Joe!

It’s sometimes a long road to signing a contract, but reaching a deal is probably the easiest part of writing a book, you still have to write it. (This goes for reference and tech and much narrative non-fiction, novels are usually finished before they’re pitched to publishers, with few exceptions.) Here are a few tips for staying on track.

After you sign your contract, make sure that you have your publisher’s guidelines, specs, templates and contact info. Ask for some sample books as well, this will help you to understand the series or approach your editor has in mind. Make sure too that your signing advance has been requested (it will take up to another 30 days to reach you), and that you get your countersigned contract asap.

Be proactive. Ask to be introduced to your project editor as soon as possible. Some acquisitions editors do double duty, and so you might skip this step, but make sure you know who you are supposed to deliver material to, and find out exactly what is expected of you. This isn’t rocket science but sometimes an author will tell me that nobody has contacted him, he “didn’t know what to do.” Don’t let that happen, if you don’t hear from your editor make sure your editor hears from you.

Look closely at your schedule and decide, with your editor’s input, how you plan to tackle the deliveries. Some publishers may want to see chapters delivered sequentially, especially for a tutorial, but if you’re writing a reference you can often juggle your chapters and tackle the book in an order that makes more sense in terms of research and time management. One client of mine does this religiously and feels that he can cut several weeks from projects if he manages the sequence of chapters right. Some chapters require research that will inform the rest of the book: tackle those first if you can.

Review your outline, take your subheads down one more level if you can. Good planning and foresight at this point will save you lots of time on the back end. Some publishers like to revisit the entire outline at this point anyways.

Make sure you understand how your publisher tracks your delivery benchmarks. Some publishers go by page count, others by element (which includes chapters, front matter, back matter, appendices, etc.).

Be sure to remind your editor or agent when you hit your advance payment benchmarks.

Ask about author review. Will you see chapters back as you’re writing? Or will they wait for the full manuscript before getting back to you? It’s helpful if your publisher can at least tackle two chapters and give you feedback on those as you’re writing. This can save a lot of time later and it’s very common with tech books, especially with series like “for Dummies.”

If you’re drifting from schedule, even if you’re only a day late, be pro-active and contact your editor and agent right away. Explain the delay and explain your strategy for catching up. Once an editor feels that a project is drifting unaccountably, they’re much more likely to red flag the book and this will impact not just your current project but the next you bring to this publisher.

Schedule matters. If you lose ground you can lose valuable editorial resources, not to mention your planned pub date. It’s a complicated job for a publisher to schedule editorial resources for twenty or thirty books in process. If you’re late and your publisher can’t adjust their internal resources, you’re wasting time and money. If it’s so dire that your pub date slips, you can lose pre-orders from the bookstores and often a publisher will simply kill the book at that point.

Agents are often credited with the work that goes into getting a deal but most of our work takes place while a book is being written: managing schedules, finding help, soothing egos, chasing money, and planning for the next project. Be sure to connect with your agent, no matter what. Although rare, after over 1000 books, I’ve had a client or two disappear into the ether, probably so depressed about their failure on a project that they can’t face me, or their editor. That’s no help. If you burn bridges in this industry you’ll think that maybe you soured your relationship with one publisher, but you’ll find that your project editor or acquisitions editor will work at many other houses before you’re ready to give up your career.

Not to mention, if you don’t finish the project you’ll have to repay your advance. Stay in touch no matter what, the worst thing that can happen is that a book is killed quickly, before wasting everyone’s time and money, and you may find that with your agent’s and editor’s help your project is back in the fast lane.

As you near the end of your manuscript you should start planning for publication. Ask your editor who you can talk to about sending out review copies, pitch the publisher some promo ideas and give them any ideas you have for selling your book.

While you’re working on a book, always treat your publisher as if they were your only publisher. It will pay off.