Finally, 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.
I 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!