Monday, March 28, 2011

Book Packager v. Agent

Help! I feel like a bunny in a lions den! I had an idea for a non-fiction book, not being a writer and knowing absolutely nothing about the publishing industry, I searched for books on similar subjects and contacted them with my idea and asking if they would like to collaborate. One of the authors who replied was a book packager who began working with me on the proposal. We both had the same ideas on what the book should be so I thought it would be a good fit . . . until they sent me the contract. It was a work for hire agreement - no way was I going to agree to it, this was my baby and I was the one doing the work, they weren't planning on helping me write - just the packaging and finding a publisher, yet here they wanted to pay me a small fee and keep the copywrite. I began to querry agents. In the meantime they agreed verbally to most of my terms but wanted to split any advance 70/30 - net, my cut being thirty and any future royalties 50/50 - net. They wouldn't budge on this stating that their expenses were going to be high and this was normal for first time authors. Mabe I'm being stubborn but since their expenses are taken out before the split why does their split have to be so high? To make me trust them less, when they sent the new contract they stated that the split for advance AND royalties at 70/30. They have since sent a corrected contract but I just feel as if they are trying to take advantage of my inexperience and there may be something else I am missing. In the meantime, one of the agents I had contacted asked me to send my full proposal. I should be hearing back from her in a few weeks. I don't know if I can put the book packagers off for that long but there are moments when I think I'd rather not do it at all than get ripped off!
Any advise???

There’s a lot here. In other words, there’s a lot for me to comment on and a lot of different issues to address. I’m going to try to take it step by step.

You started by saying you had a book idea but you aren’t a writer, so it sounds to me like you were looking for someone to write the book for you because you thought the idea was so revolutionary. That might be the case, but the truth is that an idea is nothing without the execution, at least in the book world. I have seen some of the most amazing ideas cross my desk in both fiction and nonfiction, but without the right execution it never made it to publication.

As for the book packager. This is a typical book packager agreement and why I urge all writers to do their research before putting things out there. Without knowing what the book is or what is being done to package the book, I can’t tell you for sure if what they’re doing is fair. It sounds to me like it is. A 70/30 split and 50/50 royalties is far more than most authors receive from packagers. Do you know what they’re doing for you? Is this a heavily illustrated book and are they supplying the illustrations? You claimed earlier you are not a writer and were looking for a writer, but now you say you are the one doing all the work. I’m a little confused by this. Are you actually writing the book or is someone else? Are they doing a lot of work preparing the package and editing or are you expected to do all of that yourself?

Here’s the deal. Here’s what a book packager typically does. If what you want is to keep the majority of the money and hold on to the rights, you need a literary agent. To find one, however, you need to be prepared to write the book proposal yourself (or pay someone to write it for you) and submit it to agents for consideration. If illustrations or art are required you will need to be the one to pay for and supply those.

As for what you should do? I can’t tell you that. I don’t have enough information for one thing, but I also don’t know if you’re getting ripped off. That depends on what the packager is doing to make this a project that can be sold.



Josin L. McQuein said...

I think it's worth pointing out that, just from this post (letter? email?) it's clear that the person asking the questions may not be up to a standard that could get an agent's attention.

True, this is non-fiction, so I don't know much about it, but just in this short correspondence, there are errors that indicate a possibly larger problem in a full-length manuscript.

Lack of apostrophe, homophone mix-ups, spelling errors -- none of these put forth a professional face. And if the packager who's helped you on the proposal has corrected those issues, then the agent who made the request may be in for a shock when they read your own words.

And if the proposal you submitted to those agents is the one you say the packager helped you with, then you shouldn't be sending it out in the first place. You're using someone else's work to your sole benefit.

Anonymous said...

Oh, dear writer or idea-haver or whatever you are, wait till you get to the actual publisher. Mine only gives me 9% of the cover price of my books-- 9%! And I'm the one who writes the damn things.

jjdebenedictis said...

I think the letter-writer might consider saying no to the packager and the agent, stepping back and taking some time to (1) learn more about the publishing industry and (2) create the raw product, i.e. the text and/or illustrations for book--however that gets done.

It just seems like you've put the cart before the horse. The book doesn't exist yet, but you're already engaging with the professionals? Doesn't that seem premature?

There are predators who will take advantage of you, and even reputable publishing houses will hand you a tragically unfair contract if they can get away with it (which is why literary agents can be such valuable allies.) If you're not sure, back out and don't sign anything.

Maybe take a year to prepare your materials? This dream will still be waiting for you when you finish.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Josin hit the nail on the head, querier. It sounds like you would be better served finding an agent rather than going with a book packager, but you need to take some time to learn about the industry and work on your craft. You've got quite a few spelling and grammatical errors right now, and that's likely to make an agent say "pass" before they've even finished reading your query. Take some time and polish your skills, and then write a new query and begin again. (Unless the agent that has your full likes it, I guess. Then you've lucked out.)