Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Facing Facts When A Contract Isn't Renewed

With the restructuring at Berkley/NAL I've had a lot of great talks with clients about their careers and publishing careers in general. Unfortunately, in this case, we were forced to have these conversations because with any merger/restructuring, authors are going to feel the impact, good and bad.

When new people are in charge (of anything) things will change and in publishing that usually means the publisher will take a closer look at what's working and what's not and some authors will feel the fallout.

It is always difficult for an author to face the fact that something isn't working or is no longer working. There's nothing worse then putting everything you've got into a book series only to learn that your contract won't be renewed (that you won't be offered to write more books in the series). For every author during a time like this there's always a feeling of loss. I mean face it, I'm not sure there's any author who feels good about not finishing the story.

Sometimes though, that non-renewal might in fact be the smartest business decision anyone ever made for you.

For so many years writers spend all of their time focusing efforts on being published. An incredible goal to have. However, once you are published your goals need to change. No longer is your goal to be published, and it should always be bigger than just staying published. Your goal is now to build a career and continuing to write books that are reaching fewer and fewer readers with each book does not a career make.

In fact, there have been times when I've talked to my clients about ending a series even if the publisher is offering on more. If we can see the writing on the royalty reports and we know numbers are going down why would we want to continue on that road? It's certainly not building anything.

So instead of seeing a non-renewal as a personal insult or as a publisher who doesn't like the kind of thing you write, look at it for what it is, an opportunity to make some career shifts, something every business has to do from time to time. After all, Coca-Cola hasn't had the success it's had by only putting out a cola. When consumers wanted lemon lime they created Sprite and when water became trendy they added Dasani.

While every business owner will mourn the loss of books they love writing, no successful business owner closes the business. Instead she takes a close look at what the market is begging for or wants and checks her back pocket for which ideas fit those needs.

--jhf


Monday, July 06, 2015

The Truth About the Midlist

I think you're going to see a lot of blog posts based on the restructuring of Berkley/NAL. It's when something like this happens that I find myself with a whole slew of new ideas. Usually based on conversations we're having in the office or with clients.

One of these conversations involves the midlist. For those who don't know, the midlist is defined as those books that fall in the middle of a publisher's list. They aren't the top sellers (not always bestsellers, but those books that sell the most) and they aren't at the bottom, those books with sales so low that they just aren't salvageable. You know, books that only sell 2,000 copies. Ever.

Midlist books are those books that are selling moderately well, have solid sales, but just aren't pushing to top selling status. They could be mysteries, romance, nonfiction, paperback, hardcover. They could be anything because it's not about the genre, but about sales.

One of the things the Berkley/NAL conversation has brought up is the death of the midlist. The same death I've been morning since my first day in publishing. I mean, I've been around long enough now that I think I can say that's a freakishly long mourning period.

Here's the truth as I see it where the midlist is concerned. Authors who languish in the midlist are not going to be given contract after contract just to remain midlist authors. That's not what the midlist is about (at least not these days). The midlist is a place for publishers to grow authors from. Its where great books go to grow. A publisher will always have a midlist of some sort because a publisher will always be buying new books from new authors and somewhere along the way someone is going to have numbers that aren't top selling numbers, but aren't at the bottom either. When those authors come along the publisher is going to look at those numbers to see which direction they are going and what can be done to boost that author, those books and those numbers into the top selling range.

When rumors abound that a publisher is cutting the midlist it isn't mean that a publisher is taking out one kind of book over another, it means the publisher is making room for more. Have I ever told you that I'm an eternal optimist?

Books that languish in the midlist, that are selling a little less with every new book (in a series for example) aren't making money for a publisher and aren't growing an author's career. And that is always the goal, whenever an agent takes on a new client, whenever a publisher buys a new book and whenever an author sits down to write the goal is, and should always be, to grow that author's career. Not to languish in any list.

--jhf

Friday, July 03, 2015

We are off for the weekend celebrating Independence Day and hopefully taking some time for relaxing reading. I'll be finishing up Charlaine Harris's Midnight Crossroad and considering what I should read next.


Have a safe and happy holiday!

--JHF

Thursday, July 02, 2015

The Importance of Respecting Your Own Writing

Recently I received a query in which the author seemed embarrassed about the genre she was writing in. Sadly, I see this a lot and not just from querying authors, but from published authors as well. It's discouraging and disheartening.

See, I love the books I represent and I love the authors I represent. I'm proud of each one and excited to introduce them to new readers. Most importantly, I respect every author of every genre, even those I don't represent.

Sitting down to write a book in any genre, of any length is no easy task. I couldn't do it and I know many in publishing who feel the same way. It's why we aren't writers. So don't let someone else tell you that what you're writing isn't a "real book" or isn't important. It is. And if you can't be proud of your book how are you going to convince other people it's something they want to buy and read? Learn to love what you're writing now and it will show later when you're trying to build your brand.

--jhf

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

An Agent's Thoughts on a Publisher's Restructuring

It's no longer news that there have been some dramatic changes at Berkley/NAL, changes that aren't necessarily a complete surprise, but still difficult for everyone involved.

I knew this was something I needed to, and wanted to, address on the blog, but after several starts and restarts I realized I wasn't sure what I wanted to say.

When Random House and Penguin announced the merger in 2013 everyone in publishing knew that change would be coming. At the beginning of 2015 we started to see the first effects of those changes.  Appointments were made announcing new names in new positions, contract renewals were slow to come and imprints were consolidated. While I'm not sure any of us foresaw what exactly would happen, it's hard not to look at these changes and see why it did happen. In many cases there was just too much overlap between the many imprints of the new Penguin Random House.

It's been a tough week for a lot of people, including the BookEnds team. We've been in business for over 15 years and we've worked with editors over at Berkley/NAL for 15 years. These are long-standing, trusted relationships. I'm not going to lie, when I hung up the phone with an editor who lost her job I cried. She's good at what she does and a victim of restructuring. I'm going to miss discussing everything from cover copy, to contract negotiations, to cover art, to an author's next idea with her.

While agents and editors are often seen as working on opposing sides, the truth is we work more closely than many realize. I think sometimes even more closely than we realize. Together we are part of an author's team and together we work to try to make each decision in the author's best interest. That means long discussions about the cover art, the cover copy and even the direction an author is taking with her next book or her career. An author's success means success for all of us. Seeing an editor leave, for any reason, is losing a trusted member of my team.

Well if I'm upset, you can imagine the state of many Berkley/NAL authors. The question in almost every author's mind is what's next. What can an author expect during a time of upheaval with their publisher and what should an author do? Of course each author's experience is different. For some everything is status quo and nothing should change. For most, unfortunately, change is inevitable. Even those who are lucky enough to retain the same editor, change is happening within the publisher and that will have an impact on everyone. This could be because of the change in the art department, the copy department or even buying decisions. I'm not saying it's all bad, I'm just saying there will be change.

The first thing to remember is that we can't control the actions of others. The only person you can control is yourself. Panicking isn't going to help, but coming up with a plan might.

Once you've taken a few deep breaths here are some suggestions:

1. Penguin Random House just introduced this wonderful Author Portal where you can see sales, royalty reports and get hints and tips to how to build your brand as an author. Spend some time there and really look things over. Take notes if you need to. Get some perspective on what more you might be able to do to build sales and, most importantly, get perspective on how your brand is doing. A good CEO always has an idea of how well the company is doing at any given moment. As the CEO of your brand you should do the same. Check out your book sales. Are they going up? Going down? Do they seem to be holding strong?

2. Talk with your agent. Once you have an idea of what your numbers look like, give your agent a call to discuss them with her. What concerns do you have and are they valid? Should you continue on the same path or is coming up with something new a good idea? Knowing how to proceed is always smart, plus, as one author once said to me, "it's always good to have something in your back pocket."

3. Ignore the gossip. I can only imagine what the writing loops and discussion boards look like right now. In fact, I think I'd prefer not to imagine it. Watch out for the doom and gloomers, the Chicken Littles with the falling skies. This sucks. It sucks for a lot of people, but as in any good Dystopian YA, those who are prepared to fight and accept change will win. Those who want to sit in a hole and refuse to accept change, will die (probably in some horribly gruesome death). If you are concerned about some of what you're hearing please call your agent. Many times she has an insider's perspective that can be very helpful.

4. And here is the same advice I give in any situation. Keep writing and make your next book even better than the last.

Change is always a frightening thing and it's not going to be an easy road for some people, but those who are willing to pull up their boots and keep walking (love that song) will always see the light at the other side.

--jhf


Friday, June 26, 2015

Jessica A’s Favorite Reading Spot


I love the beach. The sound of waves crashing, the smell of salt air, the warm sun on my sunscreen-lathered skin. It’s all perfect for reading, except I really hate getting sand in my books. Luckily, my father’s beach house has plenty of comfy seating with a great view of the ocean. I’m fortunate that I’ll be able to spend plenty of time there this summer with a book in one hand and an umbrella drink in the other.




---Jessica Alvarez

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Why You Don't Need to Worry About Protecting Your Idea

Last week I posted this Tweet:

BookEndsJessica
#MSWL a book based on this crazy story: http://www.nj.com/union/index.ssf/2015/06/lawsuit_bring_me_young_blood_stalker_told_westfiel.html#incart_2box_nj-homepage-featured
6/19/15, 12:16 PM

If you haven't read the article you absolutely must. It's the creepiest thing I've heard in a long time. Since reading it I've thought and thought about what kind of book I'd like to see and then I thought about all of the different types of books that someone could create from this crazy story.

Which is why I think writers sometimes worry a little too much about protecting an idea. The idea in this case is a book based on this particular true story, but what any one writer does with that idea will likely be completely different from what another writer will create.

A YA author might create a story about a young girl who moves with her family into the house and is either possessed by a demon or lives in terror of what is in the walls. Maybe she has supernatural powers, maybe she doesn't.

A suspense or mystery author might create the story of a killer who used live in the house and buried bodies in the walls, or a killer who killed as a child and is now trying to get back in the house because he needs to be there to start killing again.

A romance writer might write the story of a woman who inherits the house and moves in only to be terrorized by these letters, stalked even, when the hero comes to investigate and saves the day, and they fall in love.

A SFF writer could write the story of an alien abduction that happened in or around the house...

Or, even if all of the writers who take my idea and run with it write in the same genre, the possibilities are endless. What's really going to be important isn't the idea (although that's a terrific first step), but the execution. How the idea or the story plays out, who the characters are and the author's voice.

--jhf

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Why Jessica F Loves Instagram and Other Thoughts on Social Media

I've been known to tell writers that they don't have to involve themselves in social networking if they don't want to. It's a statement that makes agents cringe, editors blanche and writers cheer.

I've always been fairly active on Twitter. I Tweet in fits and starts as the mood takes me and Beth does a terrific job managing the BookEnds Facebook page. Recently though BookEnds has signed up on Instagram and I'm absolutely loving it. I love taking pictures and I think it might be the perfect place for someone who wants to be involved in social media, but doesn't want to do a whole ton of work. In other words, with Instagram you can post and go if you want.

As Jessica A said, it was a great time to launch our Instagram account. We had BEA and I traveled to California for a conference. I saw a lot of terrific Instragramable things and I posted them, all the other BookEnds agents have done the same. Instagram is fun for me. It allows me to explore another venue of creativity and its quick. A great photo and a few tags can be done in about five minutes. A lot quicker than a blog post.

I don't think any body or any author needs to have their hand in every bit of social media. There's just too much. If anything, find the one that best feeds your soul. What do you need as well as what can you give? Instagram gives me a fun break from words and allows me to paint pretty pictures in a different way.

--jhf


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What Jessica A. Is Reading

Like a lot of people, summer is the time I get to do the most reading for pure fun. Beach vacations offer plenty of opportunity. Also, I’m an admitted tv addict and, once those season finales air, I start to fill my nights with more reading. So, what have I been reading besides submissions?

I snatched up The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins once Jessica F finished reading it. Oddly, I, too, ended up reading a lot of it on a train. And I, too, really liked the book. The heroine was unreliable yet sympathetic, and I was eager for her to unravel the mystery. I will admit, I was hoping the plot would have a few more twists and turns than it did, but it was still definitely worth the read.

Next up was Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta. I’d picked it out last year as a gift for my father and really wanted to read it but only now got a chance to borrow it back from him. This wilderness thriller had me flipping the pages late into the night as I needed to know if a teenage boy managed to escape a pair of truly creepy and sadistic assassins. This book had several unexpected twists and I was so emotionally invested in the characters that I actually cried at the end. That never happens to me with thrillers. I highly recommend the read. It was the first book of Koryta’s that I’d read but it certainly won’t be the last. In fact, I may go buy another one right now to be my next read…

--Jessica Alvarez



                                            

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Tess Gerritsen Medical Thrillers are #MSWL by Jessica Alvarez


ER, House, Gray’s Anatomy, Boston Med, Hopkins, Doogie Howser. I devoured them all. On screen or page, I love a good medical mystery or hospital setting. That’s what drew me to my client Lara Lacombe. Lara writes romantic suspense with a science angle. Check out her (http://laralacombe.blogspot.com) books! But long before I found Lara, and back before Tess Gerritsen began the Rizzoli & Isles series, she wrote a number of medical thrillers that I read and re-read, and, lately, I’ve been hoping to find something similar in my submission pile. Though I am not at all scientifically inclined, I am fascinated by details of viruses, and so on. Give me a submission like that right now and you’ll move to the top of my reading list. Please!

-Jessica Alvarez