Thursday, March 15, 2012

Close Calls (And How to Turn Them Into Sales)

Close calls. We've all had them from agents and editors, and it indicates that something was very right with your manuscript/story, but it was off just enough to reject. These types of rejections come in the form of personal comments, outlining specific areas that need work, seem confusing or require improvement. The agent or editor can go into great detail or summarize any manner of problems, typically calling attention to POV, or point of view, depth of characterization, world-building, tense, plot holes, dialogue, narrative, genre, length, style/voice, or general execution. Hook plays an important part of the earliest pages, and sometimes the agent/editor can explain that they weren't drawn into the story fast enough. There can also be a combination of reasons, covering many areas. Of course, the less areas tagged for improvement, the better.

The ideal rejection with comments, if such a thing exists, can end with a R & R, or Revise and Resubmit request from the agent/editor, who is giving you a chance to rectify problem areas. Sometimes these can be very simple, like fact-checking certain descriptions and information that is inaccurate or poorly explained. POV slips can be easily remedied, as well as minor plot holes. Strengthening character can also be an uncomplicated fix. Major structural flaws, poor syntax and grammar, and unskilled writing, however, will usually not be included in a R & R request. If the book looks like it will take too much time to correct or fix the problems, chances are you will not be afforded an R & R. But if you should get one of these invitations, you are in a very favorable position, prompting you to follow the suggestions and guidelines. You have only to create a new file (new version) of your story, and rewrite accordingly. Make sure to same the older version.

Close calls from several agent/editors that basically outline the same problem areas are a very good barometer for pointing out major or minor flaws.  If you receive three or more identical comments, you can rest assured that you need some revision. You have two choices: stop your submission train immediately and revise, then send out the revised manuscript to your next prospect, or ask your last agent/editor if they would like to see a rewrite in line with their suggestions. A lot of times you will be given very helpful comments, but what happens when they don't extend the R & R invitation? Well, the reality, much of the time, means that they're trying to be helpful, but find (personally and internally) that the material requires too much work.

All is not lost if you receive great suggestions for improvement, but an R & R has not been offered. It could be a forgetful lapse on the part of the agent/editor, or an implied request. Most often it is not an invitation. This shouldn't really discourage you. Besides writing a thankful email back to the agent/editor for spending their time, knowledge and insights with you, you'll never be black-listed or flogged for politely asking if they wouldn't mind a re-submission inline with the suggested changes. This works in your favor more often than not. I've used it and I've had about a 65% to 70% success rate. It demonstrates that you're willing to put time and effort into your book and follow guidelines. Even if the answer is no, and you have several agent/editors who have given you the same advice, one of them is bound to accept your offer to resubmit.

Writing is full of chances, missed opportunities and timing. Patience and determination on your part, can only increase your odds in this subjective and mysterious numbers game, called publishing. Don't be afraid to take chances. Never feel that you are a burden and bothering agents and editors. They're really there for you, even if there time is limited and they are slow to respond. You'll find them most accommodating when you least expect it. And by all means, don't take rejections personally, because you'll spend untold, wasted hours trying to decode those mysterious rejection comments.

Happy Hunting! 


Planet Janitor: Custodian of the Stars (Engage Science Fiction) (Illustrated)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Net Vs Cover Price

As I've said in the past, my greatest strengths today are a result of my past failures. If I can tip a writer off to avoid roadblocks or glitches, I'll get on that wagon ASAP, even if it's too late for me. And this time it is. I was reading a hard copy contract that I resigned because of a breach of contract committed by one of my publishers. In my case, the publisher neglected to assign me an editor within a specified time period which made the contract null and void. I wholly expected that the terms, agreements and any clauses would be a duplicate of what I signed 14 months ago. In other words, I trusted my publisher to not deviate from the original agreement, or notify me if any amendments or changes had been altered, changed or added. There were no notifications in the accompanying contract and letter.

Never take things for granted. If you receive a new contract, read it over line by line, or compare it side by side with the original. Things can change radically in 14 months, and that's the rightful prerogative of the publisher. When looking at my new contract royalty clause, I noticed that the trade paperback royalty allotment stated 10% on net and 20% net on e-book sales. This threw me for a loop. I distinctly remember having never seen "net" after the figure in the last contract. The old contract did read cover price, after having confirmed it. In fact, I would have immediately called the publisher on it if I'd been perceptive enough. What struck me was the very low percentage combined with the net terminology. If memory serves, I believe these royalty figures are below Publisher America's figures. Double stun. And it was too late.

Cover price royalties are fairly easy to determine for trade paperback or e-books. If the books sells for $10.00 retail, then the author is entitled to $1.00 in royalties for that book. There are no hidden surprises. I've also seen "cover price" written as "gross" revenue. Same thing. The problem with a net definition is that royalties are determined after the vendor or book store has taken their commission-share. Online vendors can take as much as 50% to 65% of the sales proceeds, leaving the balance to the publisher, which must be split with the author. It's gets worse. If the net clause is not fully defined for what it includes (additionally), it could very be that the publisher will take out expenses related to publicity, mailing expenses, productions costs, and even editing and artwork expenses. And in that contract scenario, all of the power lies with the Publisher. With very low royalty numbers on net proceeds, this can virtually leave the author next to nothing in future proceeds.

Although I'm going to mention this to my publisher (at this late stage), it remains potentially futile to expect any type of a post-contract change or adjustment. My contract was signed by me, dated and witnessed. There really is no wiggle room, unless this was a typographical error. An error could be rectified. But the publisher is well withing their rights to refuse any change or request at this stage. In reality, I'll probably end up pulling about 2% to 5% royalties on cover price, a pittance for the very hard work that went into the book's writing, editing and production. I have only myself to blame for glossing over this very important clause in the new contract. This very well might have been a "boiler plate", which is usually reserved for new authors. And unless you don't know the difference between net and cover price, you too can end up in this unfavorable situation. Since my agent was not involved in the sale, I can't pass it off to her in hopes of a revision.

Don't make this mistake. That goes for every clause contained in your contract. Refer to the Science Fiction Writers of America, as an example of a standard, industry accepted contract that is fair and up-to-date--a contract that favors and protects the author. Lesson learned. 

Planet Janitor: Custodian of the Stars (Engage Science Fiction) (Illustrated)