Tips for new authors
Published: October 29, 2004
|Be cautious when you sign that contract |
Bestselling author Joan Johnston advises writers, "Remember that everything in a contract is negotiable. Never give an agent the right to represent you 'in perpetuity,' 'beyond the term of the contract' or 'for the option book.' You don't want an agent to be receiving 15 percent of everything you earn for a book after the rights have reverted to you, and you've moved on to a new agent. You'll be paying two agents 30 percent when you finally make the New York Times bestseller list and all your backlist is republished."
Keep your eye on the bottom line
Jane Toombs, author of more than 60 books, had a former agent who generally did well by her, but "after a few years, it occurred to me that while I got the advances on royalties quickly, it seemed to take a very long time for anything over that to filter in. I finally decided something was amiss, so I called each of my publishers and asked about the monies. They'd all been sent to my agent long before. My agent told me the bookkeeping must have gotten messed up and sent me a few thousand dollars. I finally fired him. Five years later he died, and lo and behold, I got a check for $8,000."
Find the right agent for you
On the other hand, "A good agent is worth gold," says Sandra Davis, author of numerous books of fiction as well as nonfiction. "Mine is--correcting my spelling, editing, working like hell for me. It's an experience made in heaven."
Network, network, network
You can find that agent by networking like crazy. Networking can also help sales of your book immeasurably. Know any journalists? Ask them to review your book. Ask every coworker, extended member of your family and friend to buy your book. Join organizations. Get on e-mail loops with other writers in your genre. Go to conferences and sit on panels. Toss around your business cards like confetti.
Know your audience
While you're hobnobbing with industry insiders, remember also to find creative ways to reach the readers who would most like your books.
Write the best that you can
It often takes three, four or five books to start building an audience, according to mystery writer Christine Goff. "Too many writers today don't feel they're being paid enough for the work they do, and they skimp on the job. If you want to get ahead in today's market, you need to write the best that you can."
Don't branch out right away
Part of building an audience is to ensure your first few books are similar in style. I finished my second novel before my agent sold my first, and it wasn't quite as light and funny as my debut. My agent told me I needed to establish an audience with humorous books first, which makes sense.
Hang in there
"It took me 14 years to see a book in print," Goff said, "and now it's taking time to build a career. My first book did OK, my second book did better, and my third book is doing better yet. Through strategic marketing, the word is getting out, the readership is building, and I've been asked to write two more books in the series. By writing when you're most discouraged, focusing on your readers and writing the best book you can, you're investing in you. A good book will find an audience."
Keep writing ...
Whatever happens, keep writing. "My book The Persian Pickle Club made the rounds of publishers for over a year," Davis recalls, "and I collected more rejection slips than I care to count. During that time, I seriously questioned whether I could make it as a fiction writer. Then it was picked up by St. Martin's, and it's sold over 150,000 copies."