Monday, October 15, 2012

Agency Lessons

Today is the first of what I hope will be many posts containing all the magical treasures I'm learning during my internship. In honor of this post (and because procrastination is fun) I even made a fancy picture to go with it. Yeah!

Today's lesson is all about deciphering publication notices. These are put out by Publishers Marketplace and, I was surprised to learn, are self-reported by the agencies. I guess I always imagined some fancy database that tracks all the sales, and sub-rights and agent happenings and then spits all the information out in organized little tidbits. Lesson number one: there is no fancy database. Book sales are reported on a fairly non-complex little web form. If I had to guess, most of this is done by minions such as yours truly.

I have seen these little tidbits show up on author's blogs, FB postings and Twitter quite a bit and always wondered what they mean by "nice deal". I imagine I'm not alone. Lesson number two: nice deal is code for how much of an advance the author got. Oh, it's like overhearing gossip in another language. You don't know what it means, but you think it's juicy. :)

Lesson number three: Here's the code.

                $1-$49K                Nice Deal
                $50-$99K              Very Nice Deal
                $100-$250K         Good Deal
                $251-$499K         Significant Deal
                $500K +               Major Deal

You should know that I feel like I'm breaking at least ten rules by posting this, but the truth is that anyone with a Publisher's Marketplace subscription already has this information. This may not even be news to most of you. I could be the last one to know any of this!

I've heard tons of people ask "what is a typical advance?". If the chart above tells us anything, it's that there is no such thing as a typical advance. But because everyone's curious, I looked up a few folks with pretty big books to see what kind of ca-ching they were able to rack up.

Veronica Roth's Divergent trilogy (as in all three books) sold as a Major Deal. 

Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games trilogy (again all three books) sold as a Significant Deal

Marissa Meyer's Cinder (which sold as a four book deal) went for auction as a Major Deal in the high six figures.

So you start looking at this and you think wowsa, everybody's a winner! But I know that's not the case. To take a look at the other side of things, I went back and looked at the announcements for some new YA books that are releasing this week. Here's what I found.

Crickets, chirping softly in the silence.

Most of the debuts didn't have PM announcement (remember lesson number one) and for the few that did, there was no designation for how much the book sold for. In agency speak, this means it wasn't very much.

 All of this leads us to Lesson Number Four: There is no normal in publishing. One author gets a six-figure check and a world tour to promote all the foreign rights and another author gets a slap on the back and an atta-boy. The only thing all these books have in common is that the authors worked their tail ends off to write something that agents and editors think people will want to read.

Stop worrying about what's "normal" and what's happening for "everyone else" cause it's not happening for everyone and the only way to make it happen for you is a big dose of hard work.


  1. This coding always makes me laugh. :)

    1. Yep! When I saw it for the first time the designations made me giggle out-loud. :)

  2. I'm going to have to show this to my husband, because he'll laugh his butt off. We sort of talk like this at home -- I'll ask him how work went, and if anything went wrong, he'll state exactly how big of a deal it was (the chart topper is BFD, short for big flippin' deal).

    And you're so right about not worrying what other authors get -- the only person we can make a meaningful comparison to is ourselves. Looking forward to reading more on this series of posts!

    1. Nickie,
      There are so many components that go into each deal, comparing yourself to others is a exercise in futility. We have to remember to focus on the one thing we have control over, our writing. :)

  3. I think we all dream about getting the big deals, but what happens when that book doesn't sell? And getting $100,000 for three books isn't that much when broken down. Not to mention you still have to sell out your advance.

    What I'd like to see, is a comparison of a good deal compared to a higher royalty rate. Which author really made out in the end?

    1. Eliza, you are right that it's not a ton when you spread it across multiple books. There is a whole pay schedule for when you get what portion of your advance. Another post down the road.

      The information you're talking about is only included in someone's private deal and is going to be highly individual. Someone who has lots of fanfare, but doesn't sell much is obviously better off with a higher advance. However, someone who creates a break-out hit is going to do well with a higher rate.

      The other thing to consider is this is just US rights and doesn't include any foreign rights or subrights such as film or TV. There are a lot of different things to consider.

  4. Thanks for this information. I have the same question as Eliza though. What happens if the book doesn't sell???

    1. Linda, an advance is yours regardless of how much a book sells. Obviously every author hopes to sell out their advance and keep the royalty checks coming.

      Generally, the only time an author is under obligation to return an advance is if the book is sold on proposal and then not delivered.

  5. This is so interesting, I've always wondered what "nice deal" meant...great post, thanks for sharing!


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