Monday, October 23, 2006

Stepping stones, ladders and bridges.

Start small work your way up. Take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves. Climb the ladder one rung at a time. Get your foot in the door and the rest will follow. Well worn platitudes all. But what does it have to do with writing?

Many writers think that the secret to getting published by a major house is working their way up. Write a book, get it published by a vanity/utility publisher and that’s the first rung on the ladder to success. But is it? Do these books count for anything other than massaging the ego of the writer that they are indeed now ‘published’?

No. The publishing industry doesn’t consider a vanity book as a writing credit because it hasn’t been vetted. No one has determined that the book is well written or has market value. Quite a few agents and publishers look down on a writer that includes a vanity book in their resume as being unprofessional and na├»ve. Some even consider it a disadvantage because they assume the writer couldn’t get the book published or they would have. A vanity book indicates to them poor writing.

What about the motivation that is sparked by holding your very own book in your very own hands? Well odds are your hands will be the only ones holding that book. The average number of copies a vanity published book sells is about 100. Most literary agents are unimpressed until the sales level reaches 5000 or so copies. And those copies have to verified, the author can’t just go on a credit card spending spree and buy tons of their own book.

It’s not really a fair assessment because it is next to impossible to get a vanity book stocked in a bookstore. Bookstores are where most books meant for the public are sold. The stores demand 90 day payment terms and most vanity books are publish on demand which means paid for when ordered. Most publish on demand books are not returnable and bookstores want to return unsold copies. Publish on demand books are priced from 30% to 50% higher than an offset printed book. Bookstores want competitively priced books. And finally publish on demand houses don’t offer discounts that allow enough profit margin for the stores.

Vanity published books are appropriate in lots of circumstances. The author has a book that appeals to a niche market that is too narrow for even a small press. The author lectures and speaks and wants a book that can be sold in the back of the house. The author has a book that is meaningful to their family or other personal relationship group but doesn’t have much appeal outside that group.

However much writers would like to believe it, a vanity published book is not a step up the ladder to a writing career, or a stepping stone to greater publishing achievements.


Friday, October 06, 2006

A day in the life of literary agent Jean Naggar

Jean NaggarJean V. Naggar is the founding agent of Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency. Her agency is responsible for many book sales every year. Naggar was a former president of the AAR organization of agents. She is most interested in agenting strong, well-written mainstream fiction, literary fiction, contemporary, and suspense.

I would start by saying that there is no typical day.

That is the fun of it!

I never know if a phone call, an email or a letter will change someone's life for the better forever, make me able to dazzle by realizing a dream, or if the day will hold nothing but complaints and almost-offers that fizzle to nothing when an eager editor takes the project "to the board..."

I never know when I open a manuscript box and start reading if this manuscript holds infinite promise or will send me to sleep a few pages in. When a colleague steps into my office, I never know if I will have to help problem-solve or share in a triumph.

When I go to a meeting or a lunch date with a publisher or an editor, I never know if our conversation will offer me the link I have been wanting for a hard-to-place manuscript, or reveal a hobby that immediately speaks to a manuscript sitting on my desk to await resubmission.

Sometimes I make a new friend and hurry back to the office, energized and ridiculously optimistic.

Sometimes a difficult lunch meeting resembles nothing so much as playing tennis with a dud tennis ball. I patiently keep lobbing out the shots and the ball keeps falling flat at my feet. So I keep lobbing and smiling and munch on my lunch and heave a sigh of relief as I make my way back to the office.

I guess my typical day consists of answering emails, listening to my colleagues, proffering advice when asked, responding to correspondence and phone calls, soothing troubled spirits and castigating the tardy, running through the office to show off a wonderful jacket design that has just come in and making persistent and unwelcome phone calls about the jacket that the author and I hate and that the editor and the sales force love.

Yes, negotiating comes into it and offers its own challenges and rewards, as does the painstaking review of new contracts, as does the day-to-day runningof the business.

Manuscripts are strictly read in home time, evenings or weekends, and rarely encroach on the busy work of the day and the constant effort to wrestle the persistent avalanche of input into something resembling order.

Bored? Never!

Glamour? Rarely.

Multi tasking? The name of the game!

Disappointment and exhaustion? Par for the course.

But nothing beats the wild pleasure and satisfaction of being able to call an author with a good deal that I know will surprise and delight. (And they have usually gone away for a couple of weeks and forgotten to leave a forwarding address...)

In the end, that is what it is all about.

In the end, that is the joy that lies hidden in the relentless demands of every day, none of which is ever typical!


Dee Power is the author of The Making of a Bestseller: Success Stories from Authors and the Editors, Agents and Booksellers Behind Them and the novel, Over Time, A letter travels thousands of miles and through 20 years to reunite four friends and throw the game