Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Tuesdays With Editor

Sorry for the delay in posting, there was something wrong with blogspot today that prevented me from logging on. So here we go, and before anyone gets in a huff, I know technically 'editor' should be plural. But the book wasn't called "Tuesdays With Morries," so I'm leaving it as is. Hopefully this column will become a weekly feature where I can shed some light on the wild world of book publishing. And now on to the mailbag:

Brian asks: Why do books take so long to be published? It seems like most major publishers wait up to 2 years before they release books, some POD publishers do it in a matter of weeks.

Give or take, the average book from a major publisher takes about 18 months to find its way onto shelves, though comparing traditional publishing to POD is like comparing Grey Goose to well vodka. The Goose takes longer to distill for a reason. When an editor buys a book on proposal, first the author has to write the book. If it's a novel, the editor has to edit it (yes, editors do edit). This can take months, sometimes years. Then once the publisher has scheduled it, they put together the catalogue spread, decide how they're going to market and publicize it, and "Sell in," which is when the publisher's sales reps pitch the book to stores, offering a glimpse of what the finished book will be and how the publisher will support it. Publishers generally like to have completed manuscripts about 9-10 months before the scheduled pub date, partly because they need this time to properly sell the book to stores but also to design the interior, the book jacket, print galleys, and do everything else that will help the book sell more copies. If publishers and authors didn't mind selling 12 copies of each book, they probably could put them out in 12 weeks like POD. Publishing a book is like drinking a fine wine. If you wait the perfect amount of time, it'll taste delicious. Open it too soon or too late, you'll lose out on a great deal of flavor.

Stacey asks: How common are multi-book deals? Does it make a difference if the first book is the first in a trilogy or a standalone?

Multi book deals for fiction are fairly common, less so for non-fiction. This is often the case when an author writes in series, especially with a strong track record wehre the publisher wants to sign them long-term. As for trilogies, asking a publisher to buy three books in a debut trilogy is a pretty daunting task, since if the first doesn't work both the author and publisher are in big trouble. Buying three books is a pretty bold commitment from a publisher, especially for a debut author. I did a three-book deal with my publisher, and it meant a great deal to me that they were willing to commit to a series. But when it comes to authors who publish a book a year or in some cases more, multibook deals are the norm. Romance authors, in particular, who sometimes publish every 4-6 months, sign new deals almost annually. I believe James Patterson signed something ridiculous like a nine-book deal. So if you're writing the first book in a proposed trilogy, keep in mind just what you're asking the publisher to commit to.

Anonymous asks: Have you ever slept with Judith Regan?

No. But thanks for ruining my lunch.

Tia asks: Why do some authors who never earn out keep getting new deals?

Earning out is one of the biggest misconceptions in publishing. A book does not need to earn out to make considerable money, which is why John Grisham can make $15-$20 million a book, never earn a single royalty check, and keep his publisher very happy.

On a hardcover book, after printing, binding, marketing, author royalties and other expenses the publisher generally recoups about 40-50% of the cover price. So if THE BROKER costs $26.95, the publisher is making approximately $12-$13 a book. Assume Grisham sells 2 million in hardcover, and another 3 million in paperback. On $12 a book for 2 million hardcovers, Grisham's publisher has made $24 million. Factor in about $3 a book on the paperback, and they've made about $33 million.

On royalties alone, Grisham is making approximately $10 million ($7 on the hardcover, $3 on the paperback), earning out only half of his advance. But the publisher is still making a huge profit, which is why they're more than happy to afford John Grisham ownership of several Caribbean islands. If an author has a track record of earning out, a smart agent will ask for a raise on their next contract. But at the same time an author making a modest advance will at some point need to make "the leap" in sales, since even if they do earn out there's very much a feeling that with budding novelists, you're either growing or dying with every book.

Anonoymous asks: Why did Kaavya Viswanatham get paid $500,000 to write a novel when she's only 17 years old, when some authors can write for years and never make a dime?

The simple answer? Because her publisher thought her book would sell. And before the scandal hit, they were right (before the scandal her book hit the New York Times extended list, an impressive feat for a debut author ). As a purely business decision, Kaavya signing was smart. You can hate what they represent, but the truth is Alloy has a great track record of making bestsellers. Now before homely MFA students sharpen their pens and commit hara-kiri, platform is very seldom a consideration when buying fiction. Granted there are exceptions, like in Kaavya's case, but the first and foremost thing when considering a debut novel is the work itself. Period. No arguments, I don't want to hear it. I don't even know what most of my authors look like until after I've signed their book. An attractive author is considered an added bonus, not something you buy a novel off of. Unless the "author" is Nicole Richie. But I won't go there. Bottom line is that if these books didn't fly of the shelves, they wouldn't be published.

Joan Didion was never on the cover of Maxim. E.L. Doctorow didn't appear soaking wet in Details. Yet both of their recent books were huge bestsellers, simply because they were fantastic books. Most of the people griping about young, pretty authors are, lets be honest, unpublished authors who harbor a hint of jealousy. I'm not saying it isn't warranted and I'm not claiming the system is perfect, but if your novel isn't selling it's not because you aren't worthy of a centerfold spread. Was signing Kaavya an artistic coup? Definitely not. But the GOSSIP GIRLS books sell. The A-LIST books sell. Publishing houses stay in business by selling books, and truly have to merge art and commerce to stay afloat. At the same time any system that has to objectively judge talent is not infallable, which is why a Tom Brady can slip to the 6th round of the NFL draft, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" can make $250 million, and THE LOVELY BONES can sell 4,000,000 copies despite a $25,000 advance.

Thanks for the good questions, keep them coming and "Tuesdays With Editor" will return next Tuesday. If you have any questions or comments you want answered, send them to jason@jasonpinter.com or post them in the comments section.

On another note, I'm currently reading Charlie Huston's CAUGHT STEALING. Just a fantastically brutal book. Like James Ellroy with a hint of Chuck Palahniuk and a dash of insanity thrown in.


Blogger Stacia said...

Excellent answers, Jason. Thanks!

3:15 PM  
Blogger Allison Brennan said...

Great post. Invaluable. Thanks for sharing your expertise!

8:23 AM  

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