Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Royalties? What royalties?

Yesterday, I wrote about publishers’ slow-paying practices when it comes to authors’ on-signing advances and suggested the writers’ groups should make this one of their rallying issues.

Next, I think, they should ask publishers why, if Barnes & Noble and other accounts report sales in real time, does it take a publishing house 90–120 days to report royalties and make payments?

In truth, every publisher could pay monthly, except each wants that time to massage the numbers and hedge their bets.

If I send statements for the period ending June 30th to arrive by September 30th, I get a whole additional two months to watch the returns. That way, even though the statement is so supposed to reflect sales and returns as of 6/30, I now get additional return information, which allows me to formulate a great “reserve for returns.” I honestly can’t think of another business that gets to hedge its bets so much.

Meanwhile, this all has quite the vicious effect on the business. It encourages authors and agents not to look for advances that accurately predict sales, but for advances that ensure the book will never earn out. People choose salaries over commission because a salary is steady and a commission is not. Similarly, agents and authors would rather get a large advance that is unlikely to earn out, rather than counting on the publisher to work hard enough to ensure the book earns out and results in future royalty payments. Personally, I don’t think this helps the business and some days I think it would be far, far more practical if publishers paid modest advances and then reported monthly.

Of course, one problem with this model is that it is tied to the booksellers-don’t-pay-their-bills model. Let’s say I’m an independent bookshop owner. I’ve been in business for three years. Now, there’s no doubt that when I opened my shop, I had to pay a good deal of start-up money to get stock. But let’s say I didn’t pay the bills for those first books I ordered right away. I held out for ninety days. And each thirty days, I returned whatever hadn’t sold in the prior thirty days and ordered some more books, using the credits for the returns I sent in. If 50% of all books are returned, then it would seem possible that the most I would ever have to pay for is 50% of the books I ordered. And since publishers won’t put me on credit hold for being thirty, sixty, or even ninety days late with payments, I can play this game a long, long time while paying out very little money.

One recent story about the new Harry Potter was that a large UK retailer was put on credit hold (they owed the publisher £2 million or so, I think) and was told they would not get the new Harry Potter until they paid. They did.

For this reason, publishers love “tent pole” books, or books that booksellers are going to want a lot of copies of and that will have better-than-average sell-throughs (they hope). So for a Harry Potter, this means the booksellers may not have enough in credits to get the copies they want. Thus, they will actually have to pay real money toward their bills.

You see, since publishing is a business, it’s as much about how much you bill as how much you sell. To my knowledge, no publisher will write a check back to the bookseller for returns. They will only give credit. So a bookseller orders new books, sells what he can, and returns the rest. And the publisher counts those sales and returns and calculates a reserve for returns and pays the author what’s left over, which is, more often than not, nothing. Is it any wonder that when an author hits it big after years and years of effort, one of the first things they often do is change houses? After all, if you’ve been in a bad marriage where your spouse didn’t respect you and treat you well, are you going to stick around if you suddenly become famous or get a great new job? No, you’re going to bail and find someone who loves you for you. Or at least respects what you bring to the table in the publishing deal.

Ultimately, I understand completely publishers’ desire to avoid paying out royalties before they really know the final sales numbers. But I think that desire is the result of a flawed sales system, which is a system only publishers, not authors, can change.

Z

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

How to Make the Publishing Business a Good Business

When I bought my house, I was required to put down a deposit or “good faith” money. This was even before we signed the contract of sale! Nothing happened with this money. In fact, they didn’t even deposit the check (which I admit was unique to our situation), but in most home sales, the deposit is nonrefundable if the buyer bails.

And, of course, the day we closed on the house, I had to deposit the down-payment with the escrow company. Thousand and thousands of dollars. In fact, that had to be deposited not later than the day before closing.

You see, in the real world, when you buy something like a house, or a car, for thousands of dollars, you pay when you sign on the dotted line.

Then there’s the publishing world, where you get emails like this:

Unfortunately, it takes us up to 60 days to process payments. I hope that will not be a problem.

Keep in mind, please, that this payment is the “on signing” payment.

Publishers routinely pay the “on signing” payment thirty days or longer after the signed contract shows up on my desk. And honestly, I do not understand this.

Once upon a time, I had a friend who was free-lancing on a video project at Viacom. I was bitching (there’s no other word) at her that Simon & Schuster, a division of Viacom, owed my clients money and I was still waiting for a check. She looked at me and said, “I can get a check hand-cut any day.” Same company, just a different division. Trying to get a hand-cut check out of a publisher is like trying to get a cub away from momma bear without a stun gun.

Publishers have said for years that they are “in business.” That they can’t publish that next book by an author because the first one didn’t hit its numbers. Or that they had to lay off all that staff because it’s a business, after all, and lay-offs happen. You pick the topic. As long as it relates to money, they will come up with some form of, “Well, we have to keep the business issues in focus.”

Well, here’s a business issue to keep in focus: When you draft a contract that says the payment is due “on signature,” the check or wire should be sent to arrive the same day as the signed contract. And if you draft that contract and sign after the author has signed, there is no excuse not to immediately execute that contract upon return of it from the author and to issue the payment. That’s business.

Can you imagine what my escrow company would have done if I’d said it would take me sixty days from closing to pay the down-payment?

From an agent’s perspective, it seems that editors and publishers—our publishing colleagues; people we often consider friends—don’t seem to understand that their foot-dragging on payments is the equivalent of their company telling them that their paycheck will be delayed a week, or thirty days, or sixty days(!). I’d like to see the reaction when an editor making six figures a year, with a two or three thousand dollar mortgage payment (or rent!) is told that his paycheck will be delayed for thirty days.

I see authors’ groups get up in arms about a lot of things. Be it reading fees, or contract terms such as the royalty rates on eBook editions. And those are important things to consider. But if the Authors’ Guild, RWA, SFWA, HWA, and MWA really wanted to make a stink about something, it should be the length of time publishers take to draft contracts, negotiate contracts, sign fully negotiated contracts, and pay the on-signing advance. Because their members are losing thousands of dollars—if not millions—every year because of these delays.

"Playing the float" is common enough in business, but when it comes to publishing contracts, there's no excuse. it's simply arrogance. Publishers know that no author is going to sue them because they didn't pay the on-signing advance when the signed contract was delivered. Plus, as many a contracts person will tell you, no court is going to call it a breech of contract if the payment is less than thirty days late. And a publisher can always get off the hook by actually making the payment due.

Maybe what we need in this business is a good-faith deposit and escrow service. Ebay has it. Elance has it. It's a simple concept. We create a standard "offer" document for use in the business, or each publisher can create one of their own, I really don't care. With every offer, the publisher has to send along that form and a check for 10% down. If the deal falls through because of the publisher, then the author keeps the deposit. If the author won't go forward, the publisher gets back the money. Once that form is agreed-upon and the deposit made, the parties negotiate the contract. The day that contracts are being sent for signature to the author, the publisher must deposit the signing advance, less the deposit, in an escrow account. When the author signs and returns the contract, the escrow company releases the funds. Simple as that. No more chasing advances. No more waiting for the Business Affairs VP to get back from vacation to sign off on the check request. It's simple, clean, and it's good business.

Z

Monday, October 29, 2007

Putting the bite on the vampire market...

For the past five years, I've been devoting nearly every moment of my spare time
to writing a vampire fantasy/romance novel--originally out of fascination, though I'd like it if I could get published. It's targeted to a sort of in-beteweeny market, for people who don't read young adult novels like the Twilight books by Stephenie Meyer, yet still don't quite feel like taking the plunge with hard-core material like the Anita Blake series by L. K. Hamilton.

I was just wondering, since you have the inside scoop on all this goodness: Is the market looking for more novels like those (as well as all the ones in the middle) or is it just getting started? I know that Anne Rice's fans have been around for decades, but it seems like the pattern has changed a bit--more mainstream and less literary than before. I'm seeing vampires in the newspaper more and more often...is it a fad or a new era?

I think vampires are one of those areas that ebb and flow. I remember when L.K. Hamilton was just starting out and no one imagined where she would end up. Now that I see a terrible vampire series on TV, I wonder if it might not mark the beginning of the end. Yes, editors still ask me about them, and yes, they will continue to be a romance/erotic sub-genre, but I don't know that the world is looking for "yet another." But if you have great characters and good writing, you'll usually find that's enough, vampires included or not.

Z

Looking for...Multi-Cultural Fiction, Manga, Horror & More!

I've been working through the pile of paper on my desk and found some notes about what we're looking for that haven't quite made it to this blog or our What We Want page. So here are the loose ends...

I'd love to find some great Multi-cultural Fiction in the following areas:

  • African-American fiction
  • Native-American fiction
  • International fiction (as in fiction in translation; though it must already be translated or have translated samples available).

I'm also looking for...

  • Manga
  • Anime
  • Graphic novels

Keep in mind that most of the successful manga and anime out there are tie-ins to other media properties, or are imports. There's not a lot of material getting published by the mainstream publishers for the first time. That said, if you think you have something, I'd like to be queried. If you've been publishing already, say as a comic book but now you want to do a graphic novel, sales figures and reviews of that previously published material are very important.

Last, but not least, I think it's safe to say that the market for...

  • Horror

...is back. With Saw IV about to come out, clearly there's a movie audience. Do I think the book audience is as large? No. But a really well written horror novel will always get readers' attention. I think the best horror has a strong psychological element. I love Supernatural on TV and I'm sure the novels do just fine, but when I'm thinking horror, that's not quite what I have in mind. I'm thinking bigger, meatier stories, with layers of plot and very, very strong characterizations.

I think that may actually wrap up the entire list of what I'm looking for. I've tried to give a good deal of detail over the many, many blog entries and on my What We Want page so that authors can really get a sense of whether or not what they have is what I want. And I'll continue to periodically review Already I've seen a number of queries that are of real interest. But I've also seen a number from folks that are trying to push a square peg into round hole. Don't presume that because I'm looking for one thing, I must by extension be looking for something else. Don't extrapolate beyond the actual areas I've described in my blogs and What We Want page. For example, when I posted that I wanted Military Nonfiction—and before I posted anything about fiction—someone queried me about a military novel. If I'm looking for something in a nonfiction area, that doesn't immediately mean I want the fiction equivalent.

Further, let's talk for a second about "creative nonfiction." I have another word for this: "fiction." "Creative nonfiction" is an oxymoron, I think. Though I'm sure every memoirist or author of an autobiography has employed a bit of the creative nonfiction process, I never want it to be so much that it crosses the line between verifiable and outright fiction. The Perfect Storm may have been a best-seller. It may have been a great movie. But in the end, it was 90% a novel and I don't know that it should have been on the nonfiction list. The boat went out. The boat never came back. There were no survivors. So there is no way to know what happened on the boat. So everything in the book and the movie that is set on the boat is fiction. Had the book come to me as an agent, I probably would have raised that point. It may have been great, but I'm not sure I'd have had the chutzpah to sell it as nonfiction. I'd probably have put in a disclaimer somewhere along the line.

So, if you are "making it up," in the James Frey tradition, please don't. He was writing "creative nonfiction," and we all know how well that turned out.

Z

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Why Software Subscriptions (esp. Symantec's) Suck

Has anyone else noticed that, while we've been fiddling away at work, life, etc., the software companies have been changing their model in an attempt to force us into subscription plans?

Take for example Symantec. This is a huge software company and one I've been a customer of for many years. Recently I retired a computer. Since I wiped the hard drive and would no longer be using my copy of Norton SystemWorks 2006 on it, I decided I would install it on my wife's computer. Now, she is already running Norton Anti-Virus 2007 and has an active subscription. But SystemWorks would not activate, complaining that I had installed this product key on too many computers. A phone call to tech support (in India, of course) was useless. A call to corporate headquarters and a request for US-based customer support was met with disdain and I was directed to send a fax to the CEO if I wanted US-based support. Yes, in order to get US-based customer support from Symantec, I would have to fax the CEO of the company. This is a useful expenditure of my time and his, right?

Well, an angry letter later, I get a phone call and an email from a very nice woman, here in the US. We play a bit of phone tag, but when we speak, she pretty much immediately offers to send me a new copy of Norton SystemWorks Basic (for XP only; not Vista). Problem solved, right?

Well, sort of. It wasted how many hours of my time and how many corporate resources at Symantec? It alienated me how much? Let's just say, "A lot."

In the meantime, I went shopping online. I also have a new computer and it's a Vista system, so I needed SystemWorks for Vista. I found it at Buy.com with not one, but two, rebates. Assuming I get both rebates, it comes out to a net price of $12.99 a copy. Ridiculous. These are not Buy.com rebates. They are Symantec rebates. If Symantec sold the damn program for $12.99, rather than play the rebate game, they'd sell a heck of a lot more copies. They wouldn't need to worry about people trying to install it on multiple machines, because it would be cheap enough up-front.

Now, Anti-Virus has been subscription-based for a while. You get a year when you buy the program and it costs, I think, $29 a year after that to stay subscribed. Now, if you think they've improved the program year after year, you can buy a new copy each year for, often, less than the $29.00 the new subscription costs (after rebates, of course). But, if you haven't been paying attention, all of their products are now good for a year, not as long as you own them. And they may stop working after a year. This, to me, is the biggest example of corporate obnoxiousness I have ever seen.

If I buy a program, I expect it to work as long as I own it. Period. New virus updates? Okay, I can see having to pay for new information. But how is SystemWorks going to change over the course of a year. Bug fixes? Well, I certainly shouldn't have to pay for those. So what else are they going to do for me? Not a lot, I can see. So I'm going to sit here and be a bit pissed about them being obnoxious and cheap about turning software into a subscription. This isn't a magazine and I'm not renting the program. So what exactly am I paying for?

It's a shame, because I have genuinely always had confidence in their programs. But I don't want subscriptions. I already get too many magazines. And I don't want a time limit on the working life of my software. It's not milk and it shouldn't expire. If I want to run some Norton product from 2004 with the same old virus definitions from 2004, that's my choice. It may not be safe, but it is my choice, if I paid for the software to start with.

So, now I just installed SystemWorks on a system that already has Internet Security 2007 installed. It says I have 184 days left on my IS subscription and 366 on my SystemWorks subscription. But I didn't install the Norton Anti-Virus program that comes with both IS and SystemWorks. But if I did, would I get 184+366? Or if I let the clock run out on IS and then install the Anti-Virus from the SystemWorks CD, will I get another 366 out of it? Confusing, eh?

Enough with the subscriptions. Just make good software and charge a reasonable price, like say the price you net out after all of the pain-in-the-ass rebates. That will get you more customers, for sure. And far fewer of them will think you suck.

Z

In light of the current fires in the San Diego area, would you recommend querying at a later date?

Interesting question, but I think if you read my blog you'll find that we're back at work here and getting business done.

Z

Getting Back to Normal

Things here are finally getting back to normal, though I have a pile of mail a foot tall that I still need to go through. The fires appear to be more under control, though many areas remain under mandatory evacuation and clearly some places are not getting their regular deliveries. The supermarket has no eggs, since these came from someplace in Ramona, which was hit very, very hard and is still evacuated. The aisle with the bottled water was wiped clean, but has been somewhat restocked.

Unlike a storm back east, this whole nightmare didn't cause a run on the grocery store with a "we're going to be stuck in the house for a week until we get plowed out" reaction. Because no one knew if the house would still be there after, of course. But bottled water, etc., you need to have, right? I kept flashing on the movie about the asteroid coming to destroy the earth. Not the Bruce Willis one. The other one. Everyone was stocking up on Ensure. I'm thinking maybe I should get me some of that. And some jerky. Jerky is good when you're running from the wildfires. You can eat it with one hand. It lasts forever. Good protein. In a crunch, you can probably use it to splint a broken finger.

Tens of thousands of acres of avocado farms burned. Stock up on the guac now, because prices are about to go through the roof. I'm also wishing these guys were a public company—http://www.firebreaksystems.com/—as I think they are about to get a ton of new business.

Z

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Back on the Office...for the moment

Phew! I am relieved to report that I am back in the office (otherwise known as "my house"). We were evacuated on Monday evening and were fortunate enough to get a hotel room on Shelter Island.

If you haven't been watching the news, San Diego is currently fighting the worst wildfires it has ever seen. Over a half-million people have been evacuated and many, many homes have burned. KPBS, the local Public Radio station has created the best map at http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=114250687465160386813.00043d08ac31fe3357571&om=1&ll=32.994843,-116.924744&spn=0.437686,1.213989&z=9. I have to say I wish I'd found it earlier, as it really is the best. I have to remember to write those guys a check when I figure out where the checkbook got packed.

Though I am back in the office, I can't say we are 100% safe yet. A wind shift, return of the Santa Ana, etc., could really turn this entire thing back around in our direction.

But to everyone who has called or emailed with concern, thank you. For the moment we are safe. If that changes, I will certainly let you know.

Z

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Fire Update

To those publishing colleagues who have emailed to express their concern about my wife and me, I'd like to express my thanks. To those of you who don't know why they did that, let me explain.

I live in San Diego, in an area known as Carmel Valley, right near the junction of the 5 and 56 highways. San Diego is currently fighting at least ten separate wildfires. And by wildfires, I don't mean the kind the fire department shows up to fight with one truck. One of these fires encompasses about 200,000 acres at this point. It started east of the city, in the Ramona area, and was driven west by the Santa Ana winds.

Yesterday we started watching the news and found that we were about one and a half miles south of the mandatory evacuation area. Now, I don't know about you, but when I see that I'm that close to a mandatory evacuation area, I get an itchy trigger finger. For those New Yorkers reading this, imagine that there is a wildfire on First Ave. and that they have evacuated up until the east side of Fifth Ave. Imagine you live just east of Sixth Ave. Are you hanging out to see if the fire jumps Fifth? Needless to say, yesterday was not a productive day and was spent monitoring the progression of the fire and packing up suitcases and boxes of files, and backing up the computers.

Watching the news was a bit like sitting at the base of a volcano and waiting for the lava to reach you. It wouldn't take much of a shift in the wind to bring the hellfire upon us. Walking outside, gritty ash stuck in my eyes. A pile of black ash formed where the wind swirls in the corner near our house. My wife, who has asthma, could not walk outside. When I walked outside and came back, I stank like I'd just strolled through an ashtray.

As a recent transplant (18 months ago) to San Diego, this fire has been quite the lesson in geography. Now I really know where Rancho Bernardo and Rancho Sante Fe are. Also, I have new empathy for everyone in New Orleans, as it really does take far, far too long for the mechanisms of state and federal disaster relief to start churning. Yesterday they were asking folks to bring "packaged--not homemade--sandwiches" to Qualcomm Stadium, as well as blankets, pillows, etc. I can't believe the state or city or feds don't have this kind of stuff ready for quick deployment. Though everyone agrees that this fire is being fought with far greater efficiency and communication than the Cedar Fire which took place four years ago and devastated several neighborhoods.

This has also been a bit of a lesson in business and personal disaster preparation. I think we did okay, but clearly we could do better. Once this is all settled down and we are back in our home and office, I will be spending quite a bit of time planning a bit better. Be it earthquake, fire, bird flu, or terrorist attack, we all need a good disaster plan. I use backup.com on both my work and home computers, and I also copied the home computer directory to my laptop, which I took with us. There are other services, of course, but this one works pretty darn well and seems fairly competitive on price, so I'm happy to plug them.

We are, of course, operating on little sleep, as we have been watching this fire since Sunday, waiting for the evacuation order. We are trying to do some work, take calls if we can. The mayor of San Diego has requested that folks stay off their cell phones and restrict electrical usage. We are staying in the hotel another day, as air quality at our home is, we are told, very, very poor. Plus the fire isn't at all contained. The winds could shift yet again and then we'd have to evacuate again. So we are staying put at least until tomorrow morning.

I am online and trying to answer email as best I can. Thanks for your good thoughts. Do a rain dance.

Z

Monday, October 08, 2007

To Stay or To Go?

I'm curious to know how realistic is it for an agent to represent subsequent books in a series.

Since my first crime mystery was released this past spring, I've had several people in the industry tell me I need an agent. I'm with a small foreign publisher; good people to work with--gave me my first break, but they are limited in what they can do to promote my crime mysteries. The first book received glowing reviews and they're interested in the second book which is due to them in a few months. I have a strong ethical sense of commitment but yearn for a larger market so therein is my catch-22.

My question is twofold: In an industry that is so difficult to break into, would it be advisable to stay with the "safety" of staying with this group (knowing they are interested in my work) in spite of their limited marketing/promotions capabilities, or should I try to find an agent in the hopes of finding a larger publisher? On the other hand, would an agent/publisher consider accepting a series that has been published by another house? If the answer to my second question is "no" I'll know not to spin my wheels.


Selling a second book in a series to a new publisher is extremely difficult, unless...

1. You don't actually need to have read the first book and the second book essentially stands on its own;
2. Sales on the first book were good enough to get the attention of publishers.

In your situation, I'd advised limiting the option on your next book to "next in series," then writing something entirely new to seek a new publisher.

As for finding an agent, you could use an agent on your next book with your current publisher. You'll probably get better contract terms, if not a better advance.

Z

Friday, October 05, 2007

In Search of... Aliens & Spaceships, Hobbits & Hogwarts-ish

When I first got into publishing, I thought I wanted to be a science fiction editor. I had grown up reading SF&F and was a particular fan of Robert Heinlein's, Fred Pohl's, and James P. Hogan's works. I was less a fantasy fan, but enjoyed the few that got my attention. When I was an Editorial Assistant at Warner Books, I got the chance to work on some SF&F and it was great. But I swiftly recognized that in the world of corporate publishing, SF&F was a bit of the awkward step-child. Techno-thrillers and business books sold more copies and corporate publishing was about selling copies. I didn't lose my love of SF&F, but recognized that, from a career perspective, I should broaden my interests.

Now, over the years, I've repped my fair share of SF&F, but not nearly as many as I'd like. I love these genres and would very much like to find many great books that fit into them. SF&F, I admit, is terrifically competitive. I have shopped some books for years before find them homes. And some have never found a home, unfortunately. But if you are a terrific writer, I have confidence we can find you a home. Thus, I am looking for....
  • Military Science Fiction
  • Post-Apocalyptic Science Fiction
  • Hard Science Fiction by people who understand the science and make it feel real
  • Romantic science fiction, or "Speculative Romance" that actually goes in the Romance section
  • Traditional, First-Person Science Fiction
  • Urban Fantasy
  • Humorous Fantasy in the Terry Pratchett vein
  • Contemporary Women's Fantasy that would more likely be put in the Romance section
  • Epic, Tolkien Fantasy
Obviously the writing has to be really great. If writing science fiction, you really need to know your science. If writing fantasy, you need to be original. I may say I want epic, Tolkien fantasy, but if your book is just a clone of something already out there, it won't fly.

As always, compelling characters are vastly important. If you can't make your reader invest emotionally in your characters, your book will not sell. If you can, let me hear from you.

Z

Let's talk about sex, ba-by....

To say that the market for erotica has exploded in the last ten years would be an understatement. If you factor in erotica published on the web, it's more like a volcanic eruption of lust and desire. Further, if you browse the relationships section of your bookstore, you'll find far less on how to communicate with your spouse or partner than you will on how to fornicate with your spouse or partner.

HBO's new show, Tell Me You Love Me, has been described as "envelope pushing." My sister said it was practically porn. In the one episode I watched, I understood why she said that, but there's a huge difference: porn is about the sex and the climax. Some of it may manage to be erotic; most of it is really just athletic. Tell Me You Love Me is about the role sex plays in relationships. Actually depicting the sex—good, bad, or lack thereof—isn't really needed, other than that it certainly makes it all seem more realistic and it helps HBO get better ratings because it's HBO and not "Skinamax" or the Spice Channel. If it's on HBO, it must be okay to watch and not just about gratuitous sex. Right?

Yet over on Showtime, they have The L Word and David Duchovney's new show, Californication. I laughed when I heard the name of that show. Do you remember that Duchovney was the "narrator" of Red Shoe Diaries, a show where the plots were nominal and there just to connect the soft-core sex scenes, and that Muldur, on The X-Files, was frequently shown watching porn? Hmm. Is that typecasting? I don't know. But apparently a show about fornicating in California appeals to viewers, because what I read in Variety is that it's doing well.

Which brings me back to the volcano. Given the growth of this industry, I'm looking for...
  • Erotica
But keep in mind I mean Erotica and not porn. There is a huge difference and if you don't know it, you probably aren't writing erotica. But do some reading. There are many free sites online. Or browse the local bookstore. There's no shame in checking it out. It's not in back behind the curtain or anything. Heck, it may be a good section to find a date for this weekend.

If you know that you are writing erotica, and you know what the market for your work actually is (don't say "people who like erotica," as there as many flavors of it as there are at Baskin Robbins), I would like to hear from you.

Z

Looking for...Mysteries, Suspense, Espionage & Thrillers...

I've been watching Burn Notice on USA and what I like about this show is that it's funny, it's got interesting characters, and there's a little something for everyone. I think they have a shot at a wider-than-usual demographic with this show. And as anyone in television will tell you, hitting a wide demographic is what makes a show successful. Also hitting the right demos, i.e., the ones with disposable income.

Fortunately, publishing is not as dependent upon disposable income as television advertising. Sure, publishers sell more hardcovers when the economy is booming, but people still buy books if it's not doing great. Though libraries no doubt get more traffic when the economy is dragging. Still, I recently looked at a novel and was shocked to find it priced at $9.99. The publisher was being a bit sneaky, I thought. It's a tiny bit bigger than a mass-market paperback, but probably not so big that it would not be racked like a mass-market paperback. The print was a bit bigger than usual. But I would have preferred a $6.99 paperback to a $9.99 really-a-trade-paperback. That said, I bet the slightly larger type would be worth it to one demographic: aging baby-boomers. As our sight goes, our enjoyment of reading can follow. But Large Print books, or in the case of this one book, larger-than-average-print books, relieve that problem. And there are specific genres that particularly benefit from these larger formats, as they tend to appeal, I feel, to an older audience. With this in mind, I'm looking for...

  • Mysteries, especially Cozy Mysteries
  • Espionage novels
  • Suspense Fiction
  • Thrillers

But keep in mind that I want books that are as much character-driven as high-concept, with strong characters likely more important overall. Suspense or Thrillers with a Paranormal Element are also good. But—and this is very important—plots that involve intellectual puzzles that allow the reader to try and figure it out with the protagonist are of great interest.

Of course, you have to be a compelling writer and be able to keep the reader turning the pages. And, other than with paranormal stories, I think you have to keep things within the realm of plausibility and also avoid being cliché. You also need to get the details right. Too often I get submissions in these genres that have the FBI guarding the President, rather than the Secret Service. Or they create some super-secret unit of the military when there are already units that would fill the bill. In short, if you aren't willing to do the research and get it right, then perhaps you're writing in the wrong genre. But if you are a research junkie who can also make the pages turn like the wind, I want to hear from you.

Z

I've been watching a lot of TV lately....

I've been watching a lot of TV lately. In fact, as much as possible. Each new TV season, I try to watch at least every new show once. And I'm sorry to say I'm not much impressed. I don't know that even one show that's new this season has wowed me. Pushing Daises has potential and the production qualities are terrific. It reminds me a lot of the Lemony Snickett movie in those terms. Very unique and rich look to it. Shark, which I enjoyed last season, doesn't seem as compelling. I expect that will drop off the DVR list soon. As much as I want to like Flash Gordon, it just hasn't grabbed me that much. Chuck has some potential, if they can keep it interesting. I'm not sure why Sarah Lancaster, whom I loved in Everwood, took such a lame role in a new show. My wife isn't that impressed with Private Practice and we figure it's gone sooner than later. It just doesn't have the chemistry or addictive junk-food feel of Grey's Anatomy. Not that Grey's is off to a roaring start. Can we buy TR Knight falling for Izzie when we know they are best friends in real life and he's gay? The wife and I are struggling with that suspension of disbelief. I had the same trouble buying Anne Heche in romantic roles with guys when I knew she was living with Ellen. Not that there's anything wrong with their lifestyle choices. It just makes it harder to buy into their characters. I still have trouble looking at Tom Cruise in nearly any movie, because if he smiles, all I see is Maverick from Top Gun. I guess what I'm saying is that your real life can typecast you as much as the movies.

I have dipped into K-Ville and it was okay, but the competition in the time slot will kill it. I am looking forward to checking out Life, which I was not recording because I didn't realize what it was. Now that I do, I've got it on the list and will check it out. Journeyman is nothing more than Quantum Leap without the white body suit and holograms. Not that I didn't enjoy the one episode I watched, but I find it interesting that the guy's ex is dead but he goes back in time and sees her and she doesn't realize that he's a different guy than her boyfriend, or notice that's considerably older! I mean, don't you notice when your spouse looks tired, never mind five or ten years older? Oy. I will say, though, that the lead was great in HBO's Rome, and I think he's a good actor, so perhaps he'll help this show succeed.

The original CSI is still the best and I've actually stopped recording CSI: New York. I think Sinise is great, the actress playing Montana is cute as hell, but the show as a whole has never intrigued me as much as the orignal or the Miami version.

Bones continues to be on the DVR list and I think will stay. I like the awkward chemistry there. The love interest between Hodgins and Angela doesn't quite work for me, though. They have no chemistry, actually. Boreanaz was entertaining as hell to watch on Angel and remains entertaining. I'm not sure why he never managed to grow his film career. His personality reminds me of a younger Bruce Willis in many ways, though with hair.

Stargate: Atlantis is still on the list, also, and I am looking forward to seeing the shift to Amanda Tapping as commander. If the show hadn't been part of the same universe as SG-1, I might not have stuck with it, but now that Amanda's on there, how can I not?

Now, why do I think you care about any of this? Well, I think knowing what TV shows and movies an agent or editors likes helps define what kinds of books they like. So I thought this might be useful to any prospective clients out there trying to read my mind. ;)

Z

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Looking for...Historical Fiction...and Women's Fiction...

They are painting in my office today, so I am sitting here at a folding table with my laptop and the entire contents of my office on the floor beside me. And I'm slightly fuddled by the paint fumes. So this might not be the most coherent blog entry ever written. Oh, and just to up the ante, my neighbor's kid is practicing his trumpet and I think he's playing the Dreidel song. Kind of werid, since I'm fairly sure he's Korean and I've never met a Korean Jew. Have you?

I've been threat—I mean promising—to start outlining my fiction interests and what types I'm looking for now that we are once again open to new queries. So here we go. I'm looking for....

  • Historical Fiction

But what is "historical fiction?" How far in the past does something need to be set to be called "historical fiction?" I'm going to try and make this easier. For me, historical fiction is set prior to the 20th century. Simple, right?

But historical fiction is one of those genres that breaks down to many differrent sub-genres, for example, there are Mysteries, Thrillers, and Romance novels that all fall into Historical Fiction. There could be Historical Military Fiction and Historical Literary Fiction. Please keep this in mind, as all could be of interest.

Which brings me to an announcement: Those of you who are very familiar with The Zack Company know that historically (yes, the pun was intended) we have not handled very much in the way of...

  • Commercial Women's Fiction
  • Literary Women's Fiction
  • Romance Fiction, including Romantic Suspense and Paranormal Romance
  • Chick Lit
  • Smart women's fiction that isn't Chick Lit or Romance

...but now we are. Why is that you ask? Well, there are a number of reasons:

  1. I'm married now and wifey needs more to read;
  2. The majority of my interns are women and many are fans of these categories;
  3. Fifty percent of all books sold in the United States each year fall into those categories.

In short, it's good business. Do I have the track record in these genres that I have in others? No. There is no hiding that this is new terrority for my firm. Which may make us very attractive to many authors. We are not as jaded and cynical as many hardcore women's fiction agents may be. So try us out. I think you'll be glad you did.

Z

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Looking for... Humor

Please! Make me laugh. I have been dealing with contractors for nearly nine months now and I’m just worn down. Seriously. I spent months in a dispute with one contractor and went to arbitration with him. I won, but I still haven’t been paid what I’m owed. The builder who built my house had to send the window company four or five times to fix the patio slider. And the blinds company still hasn’t gotten it all right. I could seriously use a laugh now.

Hence, I am looking for...

  • Humor
But what kind of humor? It has to be funny. Really funny. And you have to have the platform to make the book appeal to readers. Now, I am a funny guy. My wife tells me that all the time. But I don’t think a book of humorous essays by me would sell. I don’t have a high enough profile. Thus, if you aren’t a nationally or regionally syndicated columnist, or if you don’t have a website that gets thousands of hits a day, you probably don’t have the required platform.

And that raises an interesting question about platforms: Is a website enough? I just read where the kid who tearfully berated the world on YouTube to leave Brittany alone has just gotten some kind of deal from a media company. One editor I know told me that he spends his day cruising the internet looking for outrageous websites that could be good fodder for a book. Em & Lo, the sex columnists for nerve.com, got a book out of their work for Nerve and a new column in New York magazine. Not bad. Thus, I’d say if you are a blogger and you are really getting a lot of unique traffic, there may be some potential for a book, just as if you were a syndicated print columnist with thousands of readers.

But if are just published here and there, but not regularly, I’d say, no, you don’t have the platform yet. If you won Last Comic Standing, I’d say maybe. New York magazine did an interesting article recently about reality TV “stars” and what happens to them after the show ends. The answer is, Not much. Those that were established in business get some more business, but others simply go nowhere. Sure, the top ten Idol participants get to tour, but can you tell me what being on the show did for Antonella Barba? She certainly is not getting a recording contract. Thus, if you haven’t figured out how to stretch your fifteen minutes of fame into a growing platform, I’m not sure there will be interest in your book.

So what do I want? Books, like A Walk in the Woods, or collections of essays or short stories like those by David Sedaris. If you are as funny as those authors, I'll be sure to be in touch.

Z