Sunday, October 14, 2012

Greedy and Unfair

Penguin is demanding advances be repaid for never-delivered manuscripts* and charging interest

Ha! A hearty laugh in Penguin's face! Whose contract provides for Penguin to pay interests if a royalty underpayment is discovered? Ha! Greedy, unfair Penguin.

This is the way of things today. STNY is biting back!

A lousy experience at Harper resulted when editors asked a pedigreed author/illustrator to revise a dummy thrice, THREE times!, and then declined it. STNY demanded a kill fee**— for our client had invested hours (in other industries, billable hours) working at two editors' behest. Why shouldn't Harper share with the creator a risk that its editors suggestions will not, finally, work?

The editors blanched to be asked to pay for the work. "STNY is happy to appeal to executive management, if your immediate supervisor lacks the say-so for releasing a few hundred bucks," said we.

Three months later, we still have no proper response, despite our follow-ups. Why? Because Harper is greedy and unfair.

Even though STNY is biting back, publishers' skin (always tough) is virtually impermeable today. To test that assertion. . . 

In the coming months, we shall broadcast publishers' greed and unfairness, in all its multiple manifestations, as we slam up against it. 

*      *      *

*For our younger readers, some history: in the distant past (like, ten years ago), advances were paid before work was revised on spec: publishers paid a signature advance intending it to sustain authors while they rewrote.

**This term derives from a standard magazine practice: when an assigned article is cut mid-development, the author is given a kill fee, less than the completed article would earn but recognition of the professional, goodwill effort of an author under contract. 

Monday, October 8, 2012


Hi all! Sharing this post, which appeared originally on my blog. - John
At conferences I’m often asked What do you actually do all day? On camera, my job would look fairly boring: a Warhol-esque single-shot film of me staring at a computer, getting up every few hours to fetch a Red Bull from the office fridge… Truth is, what I get up to varies from week to week. Every book has a different story, from conception to sale to shelf. In my experience, there’s no real “usual way” a manuscript gets rep’d, sold, and published. The best I can offer is anecdotes. So here, for your enjoyment, is one book’s (ongoing) story:
I was sitting on my couch one Saturday afternoon, having just finished a four-hour marathon of the Masterpiece Theater program Downton Abbey. In case you live in a cave, and read this blog on printed transcripts winged to your dark little fissure by carrier pigeons, Downton Abbey is an immensely popular Edwardian soap opera following the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family, their romances, exploits, and financial disasters. It’s smart, sexy, and addictive.
Now, I’m of the opinion that young adult trends follow television and visual media. I’d seen twenty-somethings and teens swooning and speculating online over the Crawley’s romantic entanglements, and thought this needs to be a book, if it isn’t already. Waiting for a brilliant Edwardian y.a. to drop in my lap would take too long, so instead I tweeted I was in the market for a Downton Abbey for teens.
Sometime that evening, a freelance writer and farmer named Sharon Biggs Waller was scrolling through her feed and spotted my tweet. It just so happened she had an Edwardian y.a. she’d not yet been able to sell. In fact, historicals can be difficult to place; Sharon had shopped her manuscript, A MAD, WICKED FOLLY, before there was a swoon-worthy cult hit to compare it to.
Sharon queried me via my agency’s online form. The first line of her cover letter hooked me utterly. I mean, how can you not love this?:
London, 1909. When 17-year-old Victoria Darling poses nude for a forbidden art class, she gets dismissed from her posh French boarding school.
SOLD. I requested the full manuscript and read it overnight. I discovered Victoria was a bold, forthright, talented, passionate protagonist, ahead of her time and yet steeped in the attitudes of her era. The story had romance and high stakes, but on a deeper level, something I hadn’t known I’d been looking for: an examination of women’s suffrage, gender politics, and sexism that would resonate with a contemporary audience. It was a deeply-felt and socially relevant story wrapped in a delectable crust of Edwardian fashion and romance. Smart and sexy. Agent catnip.
The next day I called Sharon and offered representation. She agreed, we popped the metaphorical champagne, and I put together a list of editors I hoped would love FOLLY as much as I did (including a few editors who’d contacted me after I’d tweeted about signing Sharon- Twitter for the win, again). Responses began to roll in. Editors offered notes, some wanted to speak with Sharon directly. Particularly exciting was the afternoon I was away at a conference in Salt Lake City and had to keep excusing myself to “run to the bathroom,” dashing outside to field calls from excited editors, relaying that info to Sharon, then hurrying back to the conference in time for my phone to ring again (I’d switched my ringtone to the Downton Abbey theme song, for luck).
After some back-and-forth, we placed A MAD, WICKED FOLLY with Leila Sales, a brilliant editor (and y.a. author herself) at Viking books, an imprint of Penguin. After so many phone calls and emails, Sharon and I were able to meet in person last month when she came out to NYC for lunch with Leila and me. Afterwards I took Sharon for coffee and she pitched me ideas for future projects (one of which I so wish  I could talk about now. But soon, boy, soon.)
Now, Sharon is revising A MAD, WICKED FOLLY, which will be released by Viking in 2014. Sharon and I found each other via twitter, but I’ve picked up clients at conferences, via their blogs, at parties, and of course, through the slush pile. Every story is different.

A Silly Song!

Jimmy was in Chorus
But for talent he had none.
When he practiced vocalizing
Friends would wince in unison,
And they whispered to each other
"Can't the Chorus teacher hear?"
To which the Spring Assembly
Answered sadly loud and clear.

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