Taking Back the Past – BTL

For All TimeFinally, another Taking Back the Past post! We’re now up to Between the Lines, my third book for Arabesque and the third entry in Harlequin’s recently released 3-in-1 re-issue, Sweet Passion. Between the Lines marks two significant events in my writing history: acquiring an agent and doing research.

As I told you in an earlier post, I negotiated (or, didn’t negotiate) my first tw0-book contract with Arabesque. I don’t quite remember how exactly when I acquired an agent, but I do remember that the agent negotiated the contract for my second two-book contract. I learned a couple of things from this experience. First, having an agent doesn’t necesssarily mean that you’ll get more money. I remember the disappointment I felt when my agent came back with an offer from the publisher that was not very different from the offer for the first contract. I assumed that I had paid my dues with that first contract, and now as a published author, I would be compensated accordingly. Not so.

Conventional wisdom puts the average advance for a new author at $5000. Quite a few make less and many make more. This was true in 1994 when I sold my first book and it’s still true today. I won’t tell you where I was, but by the tone of this post, I’m sure you can guess.

I know some of you are crying about now because you had dreams of getting rich, quitting your day job and buying a new house from the advance for selling your first book. All I can say is, “Wake up!” Now, a lot of writers do a lot better than I did. I started out writing romance, genre fiction, where big, fat advances are not very common. As I recommended in an earlier post, you really need to sell well with the first book because that book determines the floor (and in many ways, the ceiling) for subsequent advances. For example, if you start out with a $5000 advance, it’s highly unlikely that your next advance is going to be $50,ooo. Not impossible, but highly unlikely.

But there is the reality of publishing. $5000 may be selling well for you and your book. You only know that you’ve gotten the best deal that you can get if you shop your book around. Good agents know the price that a book should bring and they fight for that price. Typically, an advance is based on the expected first year sales of the book. So, if publishers expect a book to make $5000 in the first year, then you get a $5000 advance. Some publishers, like Harlequin, tend to pay a standard advance rate but their first year earnings typically exceed that amount. At least, that’s been my experience.

So how do you figure out how much you’ll make on a book? If your book is a mass market paperback (those books you see in the racks at the grocery story), it probably sells for $6.99. Your contract will specify a royalty rate of 6 or 8 percent; I’m not sure which is standard these days. That means that for each book that sells, you get 56 cents (8%) or 42 cents (6%). At the 8 percent rate, you’ll have to sell around 10,000 books to make $5000.

If your book is a trade paperback (one of the larger paperbacks), it sells for about 14.00. At a standard 7% royalty rate, you’ll get about one dollar per book. So, you’ll have to sell about 5000 books to make $5000. Hardover is a bit different, but let’s keep it simple. Let’s say you have a 10% royalty rate on a 22.00 book. You’ll make $2.20 per book, meaning that you have to sell about 2500 books to make $5000.

Sweet PassionI bet you’re wondering how publishers decide which format to use for a book. I have no idea. They probably consider a lot of factors, including what price the target market is willing pay. I have sold in all three formats and there are upsides and downsides to each. The key point is to negotiate the overall best deal you can, regardless of the format, and that is why I strongly recommend finding a good agent. (And, yes, that’s easier said than done.) I learned the hard way that I’m not savvy enough to negotiate my own deals. Try to learn from my mistake.

I’ve found a few web sites especially helpful during the agent search, AgentQuery, Preditors & Editors, and Everyone Who’s Anyone in Publishing. If you have $20 a month to invest in your career, I recommend Publishers Marketplace. You can subscribe to the Publisher’s Lunch free newsletter here.

Now back to Between the Lines. In all honesty, I was reluctant to sign that second contract. I felt as though I was cheapening myself and my work for accepting such a low offer. My agent calmly explained that, wihout other offers on the table, there was very little room for tough negotiation tactics. So, reluctantly, I signed that second contract.

I have one writer friend who refused the second contract because she felt her work was worth more than she was offered. Unfortunately, she has not published a book since. For some of you that may mean that she made the wrong choice. I’m not sure that’s the case. You have to make decisions that you can live with, and only you can decide what’s right for you. I often ask myself what would have happened had I not signed the second contract. Would I still be a writer? How would my career have progressed? I don’t know the answer to those questions, but I’ve certainly wondered about them.

I’ll wrap up this agent discussion with an update. I’m no longer with my first agent. In fact, I’m now on my third agent and I’m praying for a long relationship. I’m happy to say that all the signs are pointing in that direction. You have to realize that the author-agent relationship is a special one and it may take a few missteps to find the agent that’s right for you. My two previous agents are very good at their jobs and well-respected in the industry. They worked well for me, both of them taking me to a new level in my career. I appreciate their hard work on my behalf. That our relationship didn’t last forever is not an indictment of them or of me; it’s more that the relationships just ran their course.

Now let’s talk about research. Between the Lines is the first book that I actually researched. I spent a couple of days in a newspaper office in one of the Atlanta suburbs. It was a lot of fun and I had a great day! I interviewed people in the office and then I just sat around and observed them at work. I think I got the richest data from the observation.

That’s about it for Between the Lines. Have a great week!

11 thoughts on “Taking Back the Past – BTL

  1. Once again, it was enlightening to get a glimpse into the writing life. As with any job, I guess you have to learn all the ropes and that usually takes a while whether you teach, work in an office, nurse or whatever. And every time you switch employers, you have to learn new methods.

    I hope you’ll be able to stick with your agent. Is this person a Christian to go along with knowledge of the Christian fiction market or does that matter?

    I know I have this book–somewhere. I think it’s definitely your second book that I’m missing. Maybe I can scrounge it up somewhere.

    I haven’t read your Bible insight yet. Sometimes I just don’t have the patience or whatever to read something longer. I also still have a lot of pain in my right arm. I’ve got a tensor bandage on my upper arm–just don’t ask me how I actually managed to put it on. However, the pain is certainly not conducive to very lucid thinking and reading something that I’d really like to profit from like your comments on the Bible reading.

    I’ll be back another day. I really need to get some pain-killers. Maybe the weather is not too conducive to my body’s comfort right now. Yours may be somewhat similar to mine–the weather, I mean.

  2. Thanks again for sharing Angela. I have been looking forward to the next installment. I’m laughing because I thought a $ 5000 advance for a romance was pretty good! The links for the agent info are a blessing. I didn’t know having one to negogiate the ceiling and floor were so important. I’ll make sure to join Publisher’s Marketplace.



  3. Angela you are teaching us potential writers SO MUCH. Yeah Rhonda, I was thinking $5,000 was pretty good, but I guess “good” is relative, huh? 🙂 Angela, every time I read one of your entries, it encourages me that much more to finish at least ONE of the THREE books I’ve started–good grief. Two are Christian non-fiction and one is a Christian fiction/autobiography.

    I’m trying to figure out how to better manage my time so that I can pull those books out of the drawer (yes I long-write them; probably wouldn’t do that now) blow off the dust and get back to it! 🙂

  4. Sigrun, Rhonda and Geigh, I’m glad you found this post helpful. Let me clarify a bit about agents and contracts. The advance is just one of the thing that the agent negotiates. She also negotiates how the advance will be paid, how the royalties will be calculated, how subsidiary rights will be handled. She also helps with career planning. So advance is just part of the deal. I realize I am stressing that one have an agent and I do that because I want you business-minded people to make sure you’re making sound business decisions.

    I didn’t mention the Author’s Guild (http://www.authorsguild.org) in my original post and I should have. It’s a great group, unlike any other writers group. But I wouldn’t join until after I sold a book. Not sure why I say that, but I do.

    Anyway, if you don’t have a contract, attorneys at the Authors’ Guild will review your contract for you and give you a detailed analysis that includes recommendations/suggestions for changes. Basically, they tell you how consistent your contract is with contracts given by that publisher to other authors. Very helpful information.

    You ladies are so right about the $5000. It’s all relative. And remember I said that’s the average or most common amount. My first few advances were significantly less than $5000.

    Yes, Geigh, get those books out. NOW! 🙂

    Sigrun, I hope your hands are feeling better.

    Rhonda, good agents are hard to find but well-worth looking for. You have to do your research to make sure you’re getting someone who’s right for you.

  5. How do you know when an agent is “right” for you? It seems as though most authors learn through bad experiences. 🙁

  6. Typically an author makes a list of agents based on her research. When an agent expresses interest in representing you, you take some time to ask questions. You have to find out if you and the agent have the same thing in mind when it comes to what an agent does. Your agent has to be enthusiastic about your work; that covers a multitude of sin.

    The reality is that many new authors sign with the first person who expresses interest, without going through this interview process. Good agents want you to go through this process. It only makes sense.

    Sometimes you’re left with only one interested person, and then you take what you can get. The relationship may last forever or it may only last for a book or two. Just try to be honest and open with the agent. Don’t run at the first sign of trouble, but then don’t be blind to the truth either.

    All you can do is make the best decision you can with the data you have. You work the relationship as long as it works for both of you and when it stops working, you move on. That’s why author-agent agreements have explicit language that describes how to dissolve the relationship.


  7. Yes, yes, yes!! Thank you for this!!! The information you share with us says alot about you; it shows that you’re confident in who you are and you’re not insecure. You don’t mind helping potential authors reach their full potential! 🙂

  8. Publishing Topic-completion. Not giving up until you’re completed your book. 🙁 Well, maybe that’s just MY problem…..

  9. Angela:

    Thank you so much for this “Taking Back the Past” dialogue. Lot of gems to mull over and store.

    I just started a blog for aspiring/unpublished authors but you gave me a great idea. I think I’m going to invite published authors periodically to stop by and recount their first publishing experience. If nothing else– and I’m sure there will be lots–we’ll reaffirm what we know already, that the journey is different for everyone and that’s okay.

    Patricia W.

  10. Angela I admire you more the more I read. I’ve just started reading this and I love it! It’s wonderful of you to share so freely with us.

    This advice is invaluable, even for ‘foot-draggers’ like me. Visualizing myself negotiating a contract for my book really helps me to see myself WRITING my book. I just hope I remember some of this when the time comes.

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