About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Bargain Bin

One of the people we follow on Twitter recently tweeted that he felt bad upon seeing a friend's book in the remainder bin, and I thought this deserved a blog post.

Simply put, there is no reason to be upset at being in the bargain bin.  Everyone in this business is remaindered.  Everyone.  It is part of the life cycle of being a published author.  It is built into the economics of the industry.  It is probably better to be remaindered than not. The only good way to avoid being remaindered is to avoid being published.

I understand you're human, you're going to feel this twinge of rejection, of insecurity, of having failed, when the day comes when the publisher sends you that letter inviting you to buy copies of your about-to-be-remaindered novel.  Get over it!

Let me again emphasize this basic fact:  Everyone gets remaindered.  Your favorite bestselling author gets remaindered.

You've got to start by keeping in mind that every book a publisher sends out is returnable.  Maybe if we could go back in a time machine we would change that fact, but until that happens, that's a basic starting point for understanding the publishing industry.  Every book is returnable.  When the publisher buys your book, they offer you an advance based on a profit and loss statement, a P&L, and in this P&L, they factor in that some percentage of copies will be returned.   And there's a good chance they will even factor in that some of those returned copies (or copies that never leave the warehouse) will ultimately be sold to a remainder house, and even an itty-bitty first novel for Tor may have $1000 in remainder revenue sitting on the P&L statement.

So for better or worse, the publisher decides what advance they can afford to pay you based on the idea that there will be 1500 books that will be remaindered for $1000 in income instead of selling to bookstores for $15000 in income.   Since this remaindering is factored into the publisher's most basic economic calculation of the book's worth, there's no shame, no scarlet letter "R," no nothing, attached to you if in fact the book gets remaindered.

Publishers and booksellers can make decisions on your book that might increase returns and thus increase the chance of a remainder that are nonetheless good for you and your book.  As an example, Costco decides it will stock you!  Costco can sell lots and lots of copies, but they aren't going to keep your book on the warehouse shelf as sales diminish and until the last copy sells.  Nope, even if your book is quite successful for Costco, there might still be Costco-sized returns at the end of the day, way more returns than what might be expected from Barnes & Noble.  But that isn't a bad thing, that Costco took your book.

Publishers don't advertise a lot.  However, your cover is a little billboard, each presence of your book with its cover someplace might be the only "advertising" that your book gets.  So let's say it's the holiday season, and Barnes & Noble decides to take a huge position on your book.  Your book is all over the store, in stacks on the floor, during the holiday season.  Now guess what, neither Barnes & Noble nor the publisher is actually expecting to sell every single one of those copies.

And in all of these instances, the returns and the subsequent remaindering aren't negative things in and of themselves.  They may be negative, but it might just be a cost of doing business.  The publisher might be happy because they remaindered "only" 15% of the print run, when the P&L was based on remaindering 20%.

Furthermore, if your book isn't remaindered, there's a good chance that the publisher didn't print enough copies of  the book, didn't ship copies aggressively enough, underestimated the potential of your book and reduced your earnings.  Real-life example, there were no remainder copies of Peter Brett's Desert Spear.  Because the publisher didn't print enough copies and didn't go back to press.  Let's say The Desert Spear cost $3 to print and ship off to retailers, that Del Rey had printed an extra 2000 copies, and sold only 1000 of them.  The publisher would have spent $6000 on the printing, $4000 in royalties to Peter Brett, and probably made $2000 in profit.  And then had 1000 copies that it could have sold to a remainder house for an extra $1000.  Should Peter Brett be happy because he lost $4K in royalties, his publisher $3K in profits??  I as Peter Brett's agent wish his book had been reprinted and remaindered.

Bottom line, having your book in the bargain bin 15 months after publication says nothing, in isolation, about you or your book or your profitability to the publisher or the prospects for your career.

Everyone gets remaindered.

Some free advice on your contract.  The publisher should be obliged to offer you remainder copies before offering them to their remainder house.  This might be the opportunity you've been waiting for to fill your garage with $2 copies of your hardcover that you can sell at conventions or over the internet for $25.  If you're one of the authors who can do that, you don't even need to get rid of that many boxes before you're making some nice money off of your remainder, you could even make more money selling your remainder copies than from your advances and royalties.

Even when your publisher is obligated to offer books to you, what price are they offering at?  One publisher, they offer books at an 80% discount off of cover price, which sounds very nice except that for a $25 hardcover, they want you to pay $5, and a remainder house will probably pay under $2.  Is that fair?  Another house might offer the books at their manufacturing cost, which is a little fairer but still probably more than a remainder house will pay.  And the publisher won't bend over backwards to cut you a deal if you intend to buy 48 copies at their remainder price of 4,629 copies they have left.  But let's say they have 1,169 copies left, and you have a big garage, and you decide to buy 1,169 copies.  Don't you think they should cut you a deal if you're willing to buy out the entire stock right away, when they might otherwise be waiting two or three months to get paid for selling to a remainder house?

So this is the sort of thing we will explore when we negotiate your contract which you might not think to explore on your own.  80-90% of our clients don't care about this, but for those who do care and do have a big garage, this could be worth hundreds or thousands of dollars to you at the back end.

Everyone gets remaindered.

Click here, it will take you to the BN.com page with sf/f bargain books.  Look at the authors there, it may be a different assortment in a week than today as new books come in, but I think you'll happily trade places with a hefty percentage of the authors who are in the bargain bin today.

Everyone gets remaindered.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A quick rant

I don't agree with Rand Paul on much, but I'd be remiss not to thank him for doing a little battle against the never-ending war against "Al Qaeda" we are fighting with drones.  I put "Al Qaeda" in quotes because it deserves to be.  The entity that attacked us on 9/11 is pretty much out of business.  The other organizations that call themselves Al Qaeda this or that are not Al Qaeda, no more than someone else can call themselves a Bilmes or a Joshua or a Joshua Bilmes and not be me.  And even though I am not in favor of any of these organizations attacking us or for that matter attacking other people, including other Muslims, which they do as or more often as attacking us, I am in favor of the rule of law.  Targeted assassinations against targets determined behind closed doors under a program with no oversight, no accountability, no nothing, with the administration not even willing to entirely preclude carrying out attacks like this as opposed to arrest and trial even when they can do so -- those aren't the rule of law.  And as people who read this blog know, I wish that libertarians and especially gun nut libertarians would stop fixating all their attention on the 2nd amendment when we are doing far worse violence against multiple other amendments that are as or more important in the name of some undefinable never-ending impossible-to-ever-have-an-ending war on terrorism that has been going strong for almost 11.5 years.

So, yes, please, let's get on John Brennan and Eric Holder and the Obama administration just a wee bit on all of this.

Unplanned Obsolescence

There's nothing like the internet to make me feel obsolete sometimes.

As an example, I used to plan to see movies on opening weekend.  There would be an ad in the Sunday paper or in the Village Voice on Wednesday telling me that a movie was opening on Friday.  It might even have told me which theater it was opening at.  I'd have days to anticipate going to the Astor Plaza or the Ziegfeld or some other particularly nice theatre.  Now, maybe, I'll check the NY Times home page on Thursday night and there will be reviews of movies opening the next day, and I'll finally know what's opening.  Many of the movies won't even have ads in the paper on the day they open, or they'll have ads without theatre listings.  If it weren't for the movie clocks in newspapers, the only damned way I'd know where to see a movie would be to scroll through 12 pages of listings, two theatres or three theatres to a page, on the internet.  It would almost make me not want to go to the movies any more.  I feel old.

Now, Variety is migrating.

Like a lot of print media, Variety has been in trouble.  It's lost ads and readers, it's lost relevance to websites like Deadline.com, which is owned by the new owners of Variety.  25 years ago I could remember special issues like for the 25th anniversary of James Bond movies that would go on for 50 pages full of ads from anyone who had ever so much as supplied an ashtray to the plot department of a James Bond movie.  Now special sections have two pages or two columns or two column inches of ads from somebody's mother.

A few years ago Variety decided to hide its content behind a pay wall, which only hastened the migration of readers to other Hollywood sites.

So now, the pay wall is down.  Daily Variety will be gone in two weeks.  There will be one weekly issue like what the Hollywood Reporter has been doing.

And this totally sucks.

Because, first, the Variety web site sucks.

Please, click here, look at it.  Am I missing something?  Am I so old that I don't know a sucky website when it stares me in the face?  To me, this is just a random bunch of garbage strewn randomly down a web page with no grouping of any information in any discernible form or fashion.  Where is my eye supposed to go?

Clicking a link to an individual section header isn't much better.  Any better.  Let's look at the film section.  If you want to find anything in the section, you've got to go scrolling down and down and down and down because there's no "there" there.  Wherever you go, you have to just scroll down and down and down and down and down and down and down and down for 1 little headline after another with a very big picture.  My life isn't long enough to go scrolling and scrolling and scrolling.

There are no RSS feeds.  You can sign up for newsletters, and maybe the new owners will be better than the old ones who couldn't keep track of what newsletters you did or didn't want and who felt they could send you new newsletters you hadn't asked for until you begged them to stop.

As frustrating as the fact that I'm now not sure where to go to keep up with Hollywood is the absence of having somebody tell me what news was important for me to read.

The internet makes it too easy to discover only what you want to discover, to visit only the websites you want to visit and follow on Twitter of friend on Facebook only the people you want.  It closes out different views, different perspectives, puts blinders on to things that might be important but which aren't on your radar.

But getting a mass communication product, even for a small community like Hollywood with Daily Variety, means that you are forced to turn the pages and find on those pages not just what you already know you want to know, but other things beyond.  It provides a forced path to learning about the world beyond your own immediate and narrow horizons.

Even if I find some Hollywood news site that I'll visit in order to find what Variety will no longer provide, the temptation will be to focus only on those things I want to focus on, to lose depth and breadth of seeing a headline for something else and being tempted to explore.

I don't think this is an improvement.  I feel old, outdated, like yesterday's model, because I'm not seeing this as a step forward.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Idle Musings

I just feel like ranting about a thing or two today:

The Keystone Pipeline.  I'm a leftie, you read the blog and you know that, I believe in climate change, I believe in not running the AC 24/7 during the summer or leaving store doors open to hot streets while running the AC at 72 degrees in the summer, I believe in rapid transit over cars.  But I'm not a crazy leftie, I do all those wonderful things and then like to fly in business class to London Book Fair so I can have a good healthy carbon footprint just like everyone else.  The environmentalists shouldn't be fighting the Keystone Pipeline like it is the end of the planet.  Yes, the arguments in favor of the pipeline are almost certainly a lot of hooey with regard to the jobs created.  But stopping the pipeline isn't going to stop anything else.  The oil locked in the Canadian tar sands is coming out no matter what, it is getting to market one way or the other, it's happening.  Did you ever see the movie Silver Streak, and the train's roaring along at the end of the movie.  That train is the tar sands.  Now, if Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor had decided to take away the train track, the train was still going to keep coming, maybe crashed or derailed and made a mess of things.  If you wanted to stop the train, you had to get into the engine.  The opposition to Keystone isn't taking control of the engine, it isn't stopping the train, the best you can say is that it might lead to a tidier crash, but the people who are opposing Keystone can't say that for sure, their crash may be worse.

The sequester.  As some background, I've been ambivalent about the sequester.  The big reason for me is that it's so hard to get any defense cuts through normal budget processes, and the sequester doesn't spare the defense department.  We spend more money on defense than the next eight or ten countries combined.  You just can't tell me that with all that money we're spending we can't find ways to spend less and still defend the country.  As an example, why don't we keep one or two bases in Germany or someplace like that to have a nice military hospital and an airfield to help as staging for far away conflicts, and otherwise remove troops from Europe seventy years after World War II and 25 years after the end of the cold war?  I've gotten really super tired of having the SecDef going before Congress to bemoan the sequester and all the harm it's doing and wish Obama, who is after all the boss of things, had told SecDef to shut the f*ck up instead of carrying water for Lockheed.  My opposition to the sequester might be as quixotic or foolish as Bill McKibben's to the Keystone Pipeline because over time, the Lockheed lobbyists will have a lot more money to spend getting their money back from DoD than the advocates for needy people who are losing things in the sequester as well, but it is what it is.

But certainly, if you want to replace the sequester that you helped create, the way to do it isn't by having this constant parade of chicken little forecasts not just about DoD but about everything else.  Because ultimately, a lot of these cuts will take place over time in such a way that they are not discernable to the average person.  Or the departments will find some way to move fungible money around or move job titles around where the craziest cuts don't materialize.  What the average person will see is that we've had the sequester, in spite of chicken little's visit the world hasn't come to an end, and that we can cut the budget.  And they will go from there to deciding that we can in fact run the government without raising taxes or cutting tax expenditures (a.ka. eliminating tax loopholes) or doing anything on the revenue side.  In essence all of Obama's complaining isn't going to help him on the revenue front, it's going to hurt him, he should have just kept his yap shot and his SecDef's mouth shut and everyone else's mouth shut.

But as we've seen time and again, President Obama is not a good negotiator.

I did a tweet about this next subject.  In the good old days, people sent manuscripts and there were rules to follow.  Some of those rules aren't relevant any more.  It doesn't matter if your electronic manuscript is double-spaced, because so much stuff is now being done electronically.  Your editor reading on a Kindle doesn't care what font or size or line spacing you had going in.  If the copy-editor does actually need to look at the manuscript, it's a minute to change the format on a global basis for the file.  But there's one rule that needs to be followed and which many people don't.  You still need a title page with your contact details at the front of your manuscript.  For the exact same reason you needed your address in the old days, only more so.  In the old days, maybe your query got separated from the SASE or your manuscript got separated from your cover letter.  Now, it is 100% sure that they will be.  I will take your attached manuscript, I will put it on my iPad, I will often reformat it into ePub for that purpose to read in iBooks, and there it will sit on my iPad.  Your email?  It will be somewhere in the cloud.  Maybe your e-mail address will be stored as a sent-to address or maybe not or stored under your email address instead of your name.  Maybe I'll want to call you instead of e-mailing you.  Think how much nicer it is for me to go to the front of your manuscript and find all your details there and waiting, vs. having to go and seek out an email from three weeks or three months ago when the submission arrived, only to find that even then, I may want to call you to give the wonderful news that I want to represent your fine first novel, and you've sent me an email that doesn't even have a signature block on it.

We now continue with our regularly scheduled programming.  Thank you for listening to me rant.