Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Different Way of Doing Business

I get a lot of referrals from clients, which, of course, I absolutely love. In fact, just last month (or maybe the month before) I signed a new client who came through a referral. But I digress.

The reason I’m writing this post is because there is definitely a different way of doing business in every industry, and publishing is no exception. When a nonfiction client refers me or introduces me (usually through email) to a potentially new writer, almost inevitably the writer follows up with an email suggesting times when we should talk on the phone. She always has a list of book ideas she’d like to discuss and I never get the feeling she has a book proposal.

Frankly, I still haven’t quite figured out how I want to handle these situations. More often than not these phone calls end with me saying that the idea sounds viable, and rarely do I ever see a proposal when I tell the author that’s what I would need. Now, I’ve scheduled time out of my day to have the call, wasted time explaining the business to an author, and nothing much comes from it.

So I’ve responded via email instead, explaining how the process works in publishing and letting the author know I’d need to hear more about the book. The author, of course, seems miffed that I can’t take the time for a phone call and, again, I never see a proposal.

Most of the authors I experience this with are business authors, and obviously they are doing business in the way they are used to. I don’t think it’s wrong, it just doesn’t necessarily work for publishing.



Anonymous said...

It's the same with authors. I'll bet a week doesn't go by that a friend of a friend or a distant cousin wants to either have lunch or a lengthy phone conversation about how they can get their book published.

Of course, I always do it. Just part of the gig.

Victoria Hamilton said...

But business people are sales people, and anyone 'selling' anything (in this case themselves and their book) ought to do the research on the 'customer' (Jessica) first... if they did they would already understand the business of approaching an agent.

Anna Banks said...

Maybe you should let your writers know that you appreciate them sending potential clients your way, but that you'd prefer the potential clients to approach you prepared with a,b, and c. That way they can pass the word on to the hopefuls. They should understand since they likely had to go through the same thing.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Ms Trite says,
'talk-about' goes "across the board."

In my business everybody wants a job but very few are willing to do the work.

Many writers...come on, fess up, you know who you are...LOVE to talk about writing but when it come down to the nuts and bolts of putting the erector set together, quit when the screwdriver rolls under the table.

Ms. Trite also says if you are going to talk the talk then walk the walk. We all know Ms. Trite isn't the one who said that but she likes to take the credit because she knows everything about everything.

How many of us will sign off this blog today and then actually write the proposal or work on the novel or fine tune the query?

Ms. Trite is going to the beach with her latest issue of Writer's Digest.

Sheila Cull said...

Yes, time is money. Instead, I think you should listen to writers that have gotten a million rejections but have still gotten published anyway! And writers like me that always read your Blog and have even gone through the arduous process of learning how to create her own Blog to join in on the conversation.

Sheila Cull

Anonymous said...

Hi Jessica,

Hear hear! As a writer for magazines, newspapers and now books, I know first hand that the publishing world would grind to a halt if every single bit of business was done by phone. As a journalist and now novelist, I depend on e-mail, not the phone. I even highly encouraged people I needed to interview to send me their replies via e-mail (due to having to transcribe that conversation and get approval on those quotes later).

Publishing (and not just the book kind) is highly dependent on e-mails. And since I realized that early on, I've gotten plum assignments--including a book deal--this way.

The sooner non-authors realize that this is the way to do business in publishing (as well as having a finished product, be it proposal or manuscript, to back up the e-mail), the sooner they'll see success in our industry.


ryan field said...

One of my best friends has been an agent for over thirty years. I've known him for fifteen. And in that time I've only recommended one author (and only because I read the author's work first). My agent friend didn't take on the author, however, I still felt good about how things went. The author was a professional. And I helped the author present the proposal so I wouldn't look bad.

A great deal of the responsibility falls on the person making the recommendation. And if this isn't done, any polite e-mail you write should be just fine. Most businesses, from real estate to publishing, have different protocols. You shouldn't be faulted for someone else's mistake.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me that the onus of explaining the publishing process belongs on the writer/client who referred the person to you.

If they are going to refer someone to you - which will ultimately be a reflection on them - then they should do all they can to make sure the person is aware of what is expected of them.

Norm D. Plume said...

Publishing is a self-regulating system as long as agents refuse to get on the phone.

There is amazingly little which actually requires a phone conversation. One should stick with email whenever possible.

I have had exactly three telephone conversations with my agent. The first was when he wanted to discuss the book manuscript I'd sent him. The second was two years later when he sold it, The third was when he told me that I should drop my current project and do what the editor recommended, which was a different project. And since that recommendation did not come with any money behind him. It became probably the last conversation I'll ever have with him, unless one of us ends up suing the other. Go find another agent, probably have no more than three or four conversations with her either.

I'm looking for someone who can sell my books and help move my career ahead. I'm not looking for a fricken girlfriend

Magdalena Munro said...

Business people should especially have the tools in place to do their research and understand the NF submission process. End of story. My husband is being referred to one of the top music agents here in LA through a music supervisor referral. He has made 100% sure he is following protocol on every level and isn't calling her or pestering her for a meeting. For someone to assume they deserve special attention because they are a referral is myopic and rude.

Kate Douglas said...

I've sent a number of authors your way, but I generally tell them to check out either this blog or the FAQ page on your website first.
Everything you ever wanted to know about the process is on the website. Unfortunately, you can't FORCE people to read the instructions!

Prettypics123 said...

Thank you for this reminder that writing is a business and must be approached in a professional manner. I have several book ideas. It sounds as though I should flesh them out in a book proposal and query agents that work with the specific type of book.

CFD Trade said...

I was wondering how you dealt with the author who referred? Was that awkward as well?

Unknown said...

Guilty. I have had no less than 5 agents ask for a proposal (at a pitch contest, and one even phoned me later to check on it), but I have not yet finished the proposal (15 months later). My reason, and I think a common one, is takes far more than most realize to clarify and adequately support a thesis, much less make it persuasive and pithy. Although, recently a mentor said, "If a proposal takes you more than a month to write, you are procrastinating. Get out of your head and put it to paper." I've written more this month than in the last 15.

Kimberly Unger said...

I have to say, we see this in the videogames industry all the time (though we usually ask for a design doc rather than a proposal, it amounts to the same thing). Asking for that all important writeup often separates the serious designer/writer from someone who "has this really great idea" and, to be honest, saves you *both* time and effort.

Anonymous said...

The real lesson here is the trend toward an inverse relationship between social networking and quality.

An author who has an idea worth publishing can follow the same procedure as everyone else, and not need to take advantage of social ties to slip in the back door.

This sort of broadly accepted networking should be seen for what it really is, a form of corruption that robs the process of resources and value. When a client asks if an agent can skip steps for a friend, the answer should be a polite "No" citing professional ethics.