Tag Archives: Author Info

He said, she said…

Where’s Ken: I’m currently sitting in the Boston Billiards having a few pints. Guess I should just apologize now for the typos.

For the past two blogs I’ve been talking about common mistakes we see in queries sent to Divertir Publishing. This week I wanted to continue that discussion by talking about dialog. First, let me say that I understand why writers try so hard to include large amounts of dialog in their manuscripts and why they have such difficulty. One of the first pieces of advice for writer’s that I read was that one should always “show, not tell”. The article then went on to say the easiest way to do this was by using dialog. The problem is that the article never connected the dots; how does one use dialog to show and not tell?

This brings me to something I call the levels of dialog. Consider the following exchange:

“I think you’re a very attractive woman,” Ken said half-drunkenly.
“If I had a dollar for every guy who told me that I wouldn’t have to work anymore,” Linda said, rather frustrated.

Let ignore the poor use of adverbs for a moment. This is what I call level 1 dialog and is the way we learn to write in grade school. The problem is that a page filled with short choppy dialog including the word “said” 13 times followed by your favorite adverb isn’t really very interesting and can actually be distracting. At some point authors realize that pages and pages of the above dialog is not very good, and they correctly deduce it is in part because they have overused “said”. Unfortunately, their solution is to break out a thesaurus and start looking for substitutes. The result is what I call level 2 dialog and looks something like this:

“I think you’re a very attractive woman,” Ken offered half-drunkenly.
“If I had a dollar for every guy who told me that I wouldn’t have to work anymore,” Linda sighed, rather frustrated.

Better? Not really. The problem is that, even though I am using dialog, I am still telling and not showing. When an author shows his readers something, the author is inviting the reader to become part of the scene – to be an observer of the action. So how does one do this? That brings us to what I call level 3 dialog; it’s when authors realize that they can identify a speaker without resorting to “he said, she said” and where the author writes so that the reader can visualize the exchange.

As Linda passed Ken sat up straight, feeling the courage his fourth pint had temporarily loaned him. “I think you’re a very attractive woman.” He flashed his best half-drunk smile for effect.
Linda put both hands on her hips, ready to let Ken have it. But something about the smile was far more sincere than she was used to. She sighed as she took her hands from her hips and leaned against the bar. “If I had a dollar for every guy who told me that I wouldn’t have to work anymore.”
”Well then, for the first time in a while I must be right, huh?”
Linda couldn’t help but laugh as she picked up Ken’s phone from the bar and entered her number.

Corny, yes – but I hope the above examples make my point. Let’s hope, if nothing else, your dialog is as amusing…

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Tools of the Publishing Elite…

Last summer I agreed to read a manuscript for a friend of a friend. The book told the story of a cross country road trip by four frat boys which goes horribly wrong. While I won’t disclose the plot, the manuscript included a 127 year old witch that sucked the life out of the frat boys to stay young (you’ll need to use your imagination here). Upon checking, I determined that the author had already published the manuscript with a vanity press and in fact didn’t own the rights. Trying to be helpful, I sent the author a very nice email explaining why I couldn’t publish the manuscript. Big mistake…

Within the next hour I had received four emails from the author, each one worse than the last. In one, the author said I had “limited vision for failing to see the genius of his writing” (seriously) and called me a “tool of the publishing elite”. It was at that moment that Divertir Publishing implemented the policy of blocking the email addresses of authors who send unprofessional communications to us. Life is just too short.

For the past three blogs I’ve been talking about a manuscript I really liked but that went way above our word count. It may surprise everyone that last night I sent a contract to the author of this manuscript. Assuming all goes well with the contract, we will be publishing Elizabeth Young’s second book “Fugo”. So what changed? Simple. I worked to come up with a typesetting format that would be easy to read while getting more words to a page, while Elizabeth agreed to try and get the word count down to what the new format would support.

You’re probably wondering why I bothered to do this extra work – we’ve had close to 200 queries since we started accepting submissions in January and have no shortage of manuscripts to choose from. Again, the answer is simple:

  • The manuscript was well written and told a great story.
  • When we originally rejected the story (and took the time to tell the author why), the author behaved in a professional manner and offered to work with us to address the issues and resubmit.

This is not the first time a rejection has become an acceptance when resubmitted. Recently one of our editors rejected a manuscript assigned to her for review. The author sent a very nice email asking for advice on how to improve the manuscript. Our Acquisitions Editor, Elizabeth Harvey, agreed to talk with the author after reviewing the manuscript and determining that, while it needed work, overall it was a good story. As a result of these conversations, the author reworked and resubmitted the manuscript. I sent out a contract to the author of this manuscript last night as well. I won’t spoil it for the author by mentioning his name here in case he has not read his email yet.

Not every rejection will be accepted on resubmission – there are just some stories that don’t catch our interest, and to be honest in that instance an author is better off if we’re not their publisher. But even if your query was rejected, a publisher will probably remember if you were professional when reviewing future manuscripts you submit. They will also remember if you were not. What authors need to remember is that when a publisher offers you a contract the publisher is agreeing to make a financial investment in your work. They are also agreeing to a long term relationship to work with you. A publisher is going to be less likely to do this if you call them a “tool of the publishing elite”.

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Yog’s Law

For those who have been following my blog for the past two weeks you know that I recently received a submission for a novel that I really like. However, because of the current word count I don’t believe I can publish the book at a profit. My first blog on this topic talked about what it costs to print a book of this size using digital printing, while the second blog talked about the cost and risk associated with doing an offset print run for the same book. In this blog I would like to talk about something that the author wrote in an early email to me:

I would not be averse to considering making an “investment” in your company to get this book published if you ever do anything like that.

The short answer is that we don’t do anything like that, and the reason why is Yog’s Law.

Yog’s Law was coined by author James Macdonald (the same person who brought us Atlanta Nights) in response to a question from an aspiring author regarding how much one should expect to pay to get their book published. Yog’s Law is

Money should flow toward the author.

It’s that simple: unless you’re self-publishing, it should not cost you anything to publish your book. Period. You should not be asked to help pay the production cost for your book or to buy a set number of copies as a condition of publication. You should never be asked to pay a fee to have an agent or editor read your manuscript. The costs of editing and cover design should be paid by the publisher. Most importantly, a publisher should be willing to answer questions about their business model and the compensation you will receive before you sign a contract.

If a manuscript cannot be published at a profit then no amount of investment an author is willing to make will change that. Most publishers will be honest with an author about that. Most vanity presses will not. For Divertir Publishing, this blog really serves two purposes. The first is to share my experiences starting a publishing company so that others can learn from what I’ve done (the good, the bad, and the less than sane). The second is to create a convenient place for authors to obtain information about our philosophies on publishing.

In case you’re curious, we are currently working with the author of this manuscript both to look at the current word count and to see what options exist for publishing her manuscript. None of these options will involve the author making an investment in our company, because money should flow towards the author. Period.

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A Word on Word Count…

I received a query three months ago that will be the topic of my next three blogs. This is not because it was a bad query. In fact, we requested the manuscript and in my opinion the novel has great potential. It’s not because the author was unprofessional, which we unfortunately see far too often. It’s because the query serves as an example of three different topics that I want to talk about. The first topic is word count.

The proposed novel was an action thriller where the bad guys come up with an ingenious way to attack the US. The good guys respond by coming up with an even more ingenious way to thwart them. The plot was very clever, and while there were many ‘dead spots’ overall there was plenty of conflict and suspense. So why did I send a rejection letter? Simple. The original manuscript was 150,000 words.

In my letter to the author I pointed out that our upper limit for considering a manuscript is somewhere around 100,000 words and that I would be more than willing to review the manuscript again after the author took my comments about the length and a few other issues into consideration. I must admit I was actually excited when I saw we had received an updated submission. Unfortunately, the revised manuscript was 135,000 words. It arrived with a very nice letter from the author saying that this was as much as she could cut without doing damage to the story. As much as I like the manuscript I’m just not seeing how we can move ahead with publication.

Go to any blog which gives advice to authors and you will see the same thing: while it varies a bit by genre, the optimum word count for a novel is around 80,000 words with an upper limit of 100,000 words. “Query Shark” Janet Reid recently responded to a query that 200,000 words was “twice as long as you want something like this.” So why is word count so important, especially for a debut novel?

As the number of words goes up so does the cost associated with publishing a manuscript. For a debut novel where the author has no track record, the cost associated with publishing the manuscript and the popularity of the genre are really the only information a publisher has to go on (other than the quality of the work) when making a decision concerning publication.

Let’s use the above query as an example. Go to Amazon and do a search for the bestselling trade paperbacks for “Mystery & Thrillers” and you’ll see most of them are priced at just below $15.00 (this excludes mass market paperbacks, which are always priced lower than trade paperbacks) . Books of this type are generally priced in this range because this seems to be what people are willing to pay. At 135,000 words, the best I would be able to do when typesetting the book is to get it down to about 450 pages, which means my printing costs at a minimum will be $6.75 per book. Knowing that the average retailer discount is 40% of list and that I pay 25% of net on average for author royalties, editing, and cover art I can compute the profit I can expect from each book sold:

List Price $15.00
Retailer discount (40%) -$6.00
Printing costs -$6.75
Royalties, editing, and cover design -$2.25
Profit $0.00

In short, we would make no money from publishing this book. In fact, given the size of the manuscript, the additional editing costs might result in the book losing money for every copy sold. There are other issues regarding the readability of a manuscript of this length that are addressed in the blogs I mention above that I won’t rehash here. But the above example demonstrates why most publishers will likely pass on a debut manuscript of this length.

So what is an author to do? In my opinion you have three options. The first is to self-publish your work. It is important to note that you will have the same issues regarding profit margins that I outlined in the table above if you try to publish the book as a paperback. Thus, unless you have a large amount of money to invest in a large offset print run this would most likely limit you to publishing as an eBook. The second option is to reexamine the manuscript to determine if it really needs to be the length it currently is.

If after an honest examination of the manuscript you determine there is no way it can be shortened and you decide that self-publishing is not for you, then no matter how great the manuscript is, it is probably not a good candidate for a debut novel. Your third option is to put the manuscript aside for now and begin working on your next novel. I know this is hard advice for most authors to hear, but it really is the best advice. If your goal is to become a published author, sending queries for a manuscript that will be rejected by most publishers and agents based solely on the length without even being read is probably not the best strategy. Sending the same manuscript to a publisher that you already have a relationship with will most likely at least get it reviewed.

I know one comment that will be made is that I can significantly reduce my printing costs (and thus increase the profits) if I just went to moderately sized offset print runs. While this is true, it would also introduce a significant new risk that I will discuss in my next blog. Regardless, there is a reason most publishers have word count guidelines. Following them is the best way for a debut author to avoid a form rejection.

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On Royalties…

The biggest argument for self-publishing made on the many blogs dedicated to the topic is that an author gets to keep all of the money. I have to admit this one point is hard to argue – other than to say that, as I point out in my last blog, you also get to do all of the work. The other point is that publisher’s royalties are somehow out of touch with the reality of a modern age.

This one point I would like to argue, with an example.

Divertir Publishing currently pays the following royalty rates to authors:

  • 12.5% of net for the first 2,500 paperback copies.
  • 15% for the next 2,500 paperback copies.
  • 17.5% for every copy after the first 5,000 paperback copies.
  • For e-books we pay 50% of net.

So how does an author fare with these rates? Let’s take our upcoming book “Hurricane” as an example. We are planning on pricing the book at $9.99 to keep it in line with other books in the genre. Assume the following:

  • We are giving a 40% discount to retailers, so our net sales per book are $5.99 for print copies.
  • Our fixed costs (press fees and ISBN) are $142 per book, and we pay 15% of net (or about $0.90 per book sold) for editing and cover art (we pay editors a percent of net sales just like authors). Our printing costs are $3.50 per book.

Let’s look at what % of the gross margin (net sales minus cost of goods sold) an author receives if we sell the average number of books (500) or if the book is a success (meaning we sell 5,000 copies)

Books Sold 500 5,000
Net Sales (60% of list) $2,997 $29,970
Cost of Goods Sold (not including authors royalty) $2,342 $22,142
Margin (Net – Costs) $655 $7,828
Author Royalty $374 $4,104
Royalty – % of Margin 57% 52%

 

Our royalty rates are set of so that an author will receive about 50% of the margin for each book. For e-books, we give 50% of net. We feel this is fair. What are we doing for our 50%? We provide the editing, typesetting, cover art, fulfillment, and marketing (more on this in a future blog).

The usual argument against self-publishing (or going with a new small press like Divertir) is that you’ll end up with low sales. But as discussed previously, going with a major publisher is no guarantee your book will be successful or that it will sell more than 500 copies. The usual argument for self publishing is that you keep all them money. While this is true, you also get to do all the work. The choice is yours. Caveat Emptor.

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A Tale of Two Queries…

I was originally going to talk about books sales this week, but then I was sent these two links and couldn’t help but talk about them. The first is a very funny commentary on why proofreading is important. The second was a blog entitled “Why Your Novel Won’t Get Published”.

As people in the publishing industry, we’ve all reviewed submissions that read a lot like the video, except that the errors weren’t in places where it made them particularly funny. I believe this would be one example of what the blogger refers to as “Them Brownies Ain’t Done Baking”. We’ve also received queries from people who view themselves as the “Special Snowflakes”, whose writing was so incredible that little things like submissions guidelines could be overlooked by them. With that, I would like to share the outcomes from two recent queries we received.

Let’s call the first author ‘Brownie Baker’, or Baker for short. Baker sent a query that more or less followed the submissions guidelines. The query letter was not stellar but did convey the required information. The synopsis outlined an interesting plot in the genre paranormal young adult (with no vampires, which for me was a plus) that had commercial viability. Yes, even as a small press we consider the commercial viability of a manuscript, although we are still more likely to publish a manuscript that will do total sales of only a few thousand copies than a larger publisher. Then I got to reading the sample chapters. I was 10% into the manuscript before I met the main characters, and almost 1/3 of the way in before I got my first hint as to the nature of the conflict in the book. In short, the book had some real pacing issues and needed a lot of work.

Let’s call the second author ‘Special Snowflake’, or ‘Snowie’ for short. Snowie sent an email  that basically said “I’ve been writing and editing for many years, and I’m a star. Please log into my website where you can download the first five pages of my manuscript for your review. This is the only information I am willing to provide until you send me a contract.” We sent back a very nice email pointing out that if he’s been editing for many years then he knows the importance of submission guidelines and that we would be happy to review his work when we receive a complete query. What happened next always surprises me, although by now it probably shouldn’t because it happens far too often – we received a very nasty email pointing out that it was our loss that we would not jump through his hoops and that he would be looking down at us when he’s on the New York Times bestsellers list. In case you’re curious, we’ve received two emails this month from authors who responded to our suggestion that they follow our submission guidelines with nasty emails saying they would be seeing us from the NYT bestsellers list – I’m beginning to think that must be the standard ‘special snowflake’ reply to a rejection letter.

So what happened to the two queries. Baker received a very nice email saying that, in my opinion, her book had potential but needed some work, and I would be happy to discuss the details concerning the pacing issues I saw. In fact, I’m on IM chatting with her about her book right now as I type this. I’m expected a resubmission of her complete manuscript sometime in the next month.

And Snowie? Because I won’t tolerate nasty emails from authors, his email address has been blocked.

Update 5/13/2011: I’m pleased to announce that we have signed a contract to publish “Baker’s” first book. Congratulations to Jenna-Lynne Duncan, the author of Hurricane on the acceptance of her manuscript.

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Simultaneous Submissions…

Last week I wrote a blog explaining our policies regarding submissions. I didn’t cover our policies regarding simultaneous submission and previously published manuscripts. A submission we received this week suggested I should have…

The submission contained a brief query letter and a synopsis. Upon reading the synopsis we liked the overall story and requested the full manuscript. The response we received back from the author read something like:

I must admit that I’ve only just read your submission guidelines. I have already submitted this manuscript to other publishers and have heard back from several editors. If this is a problem I will wait to send the manuscript to you until I have decisions from the other editors.

I must admit what really floored me wasn’t that the author had failed to follow our guidelines regarding simultaneous submissions, but rather that the author had not bothered to read the submission guidelines before sending her query. I then did a search on the author and found that the manuscript she had submitted had already recently been published by another small press, which most likely meant the author does not own the rights. We sent an email back to the author thanking her for her submission but stating that we did not accept simultaneous submissions and that we were no longer interested in her manuscript. We even took the time to explain why. The response we got back was:

I know it takes “a good deal of time to review a manuscript properly”. But it would take an eternity to find a publisher unless the author submits to various publishing houses and agencies. Most publishers understand that. But I respect your decision.

“Most publishers understand that.” If the author’s admission that she hadn’t read our submissions guidelines didn’t make me pause, that statement did. I guess I could comment that in fact most publishers won’t accept submissions directly from authors. Instead I want to explain our policy. The reason for the policy is quite simple:

We’re a small company.

The staff at Divertir Publishing currently consists of myself (as Publisher), Elizabeth Harvey (my business partner and our Acquisitions Editor), and two editors that work for us part time. As you could probably guess, because we are open to author submissions we get quite a few queries each day. This is why we require an initial query and synopsis – so we can review work from authors as quickly as possible. We can read several synopses in the same time it takes to read the first three chapters of a manuscript. If we do request a manuscript, it takes up to two weeks to thoroughly review the manuscript and to make useful comments for an author – unlike most publishers, if we don’t move forward with a manuscript after requesting it we like to tell an author why.

The amount of time we spend reviewing manuscripts means that, when we decide to review one author’s manuscript, we have in effect decided not to review another author’s manuscript. Reviewing manuscripts which we are not likely to publish, either because the author is already working with another publisher or because the work has already been published and the author does not own the rights, means that other authors won’t have the opportunity to have their work reviewed and possibly published. This is not fair to those other authors, especially if they have taken the time to read and follow our submissions guidelines.

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