This week has been an indubitably difficult one. I am a queer, trans person with a disability and mental illnesses. And I have a book coming out next week, which feels all too apropos of this moment in history. I am fiercely proud of it. It’s a book about hope. Last week, my agent Sara Megibow and I sat down to talk to you about the next steps for authors once you get an agent. This little Q&A is about those next steps, about this book. If you need a distraction from this week, I hope this’ll provide one.
A simple place to start is why this book? Agents and authors come at things from different points, but they often meet over the love of a thing. What made LOOK TO THE SUN one of those things?
This book was a kind of experimental thing for me, and also a hyper-personal one. I’ve pitched it as LES MIS meets SHADOW OF THE WIND (by Carlos Ruiz Zafón) because both of those books deal with people caught up in systems of politics that are often personal to everyone involved. Javert is obsessed with Valjean not just because of the law, but because Valjean represents Javert’s personal failures. In SHADOW OF THE WIND, one of the plot threads is also an inspector with a vendetta (and no little amount of sadism). In both books, the stories we tell one another are front and centre, whether we tell them with raspy breaths in a sick bed or scrawled out on pages of letters or books.
In LOOK TO THE SUN, I wanted to explore those aspects as well as the shock that comes from realising the political is personal and vice versa. The sometimes sudden erosion of our sense of safety in our homeland. More than anything, though, the point for me with this book is that people live in the midst of revolution and tumult. They fall in love. They find connection. They learn about themselves and their families. They make the best choices they can. I had a particular vision for this book, and I brought it to Sara knowing we would be looking to sell sub rights instead of seeking a print home for it. It took a different path than others, and I still feel great about that decision.
LOOK TO THE SUN is an amazing book – lyrical, beautiful, moving. As Emmie says, it’s a story about “fighting fascism with love” – what could be more important?
Emmie’s AYALA STORME urban fantasy series (STORM IN A TEACUP, etc) released last year to tremendous enthusiasm, huge sales, a big audiobook deal and fantastic reviews. AYALA STORME is a high-action, save-the-world adventure series with a kick-butt heroine. As an agent, one of the things that impresses me the most about LOOK TO THE SUN is that it’s different in tone from Emmie’s urban fantasy series and also impeccably crafted in its own right. Emmie can write kick-butt urban fantasy and then write beautiful, thoughtful fantasy and they are both amazing. To me, that’s a demonstration of exceptional talent!
Most querying writers are familiar with the first parts of the agent-author partnership. After the first book an agent signs an author for passes (either because it sells traditionally or doesn’t), what happens next?
Great question! Roughly 10% of my week is spent reading submissions (queries, sample pages and full manuscripts). 90% of my week is spent supporting my current clients (including Emmie). The vast majority of my work happens AFTER a client has said yes to my offer of representation. I think that’s something most querying writers don’t see – I read 25,000 queries a year but one hour of query-reading only comes AFTER nine hours of client work.
Let’s say I offer representation to an author and they accept. What happens next?
My job is to monetize my clients’ books. Making money takes strategy so the very first thing I do for a new client is communicate a plan for pursuing a profitable author career.
Strategy is different for every author and every book. And, in every case strategy changes over the years. Here are the four things we look at in order to craft profitable strategy: in what genre does this author write? How quickly does this author write? What makes up this author’s backlist (are they debut or published)? Finally – what is personality of this author (does this author prefer a large amount of control or not)?
Once we have established a strategy based on these four questions I take the client’s book out on submission. While waiting on offers I encourage my client to keep writing! I will be in communication while we wait – I pass along editor responses, continue to answer client questions and keep thinking about strategy.
The above question was, “what happens next” and yet we’re still only at the tip of the iceberg! Not every book on submission gets a book deal but once that exciting offer finally comes in I get really busy! Much of my job happens behind the scenes and I will keep in constant contact with my clients as things unfold. These are the tasks that querying writers probably don’t see but here’s a short list of what I’m doing while the author continues to write: I track what a client is writing next and let them know when/where there might be additional opportunities for book deals, I negotiate contracts, track delivery dates, release dates and payments, audit royalty statements, sell subsidiary rights (audio, translation, Hollywood, etc), coordinate publicity with the publisher, coordinate travel and conferences and Keep In Communication. It’s not unusual to answer 50 emails a day from various clients with questions like, “is there an update on my cover?” and “can you check on something for me?” We’re a team and we’re busy!
As a side note, if a book doesn’t get a book deal then that book is either edited, shelved or self published and we decide that together based on, you guessed it, strategy!
Every author career is different once an author accepts my offer of representation the goal is always the same = make money on those books!
Sara covered most everything! From the author standpoint, there are some immediate shifts – you hit the crossroads where art meets business. That can be super daunting, and there is very little out there in the way of transparency about what happens on submission (and sometimes very little support outside your family and your agent). It’s really easy to get overwhelmed, especially because most of the time, submission is a “hurry up and wait” sort of deal. I like to think of publishing as a tortoise in a bog with a jetpack. The overwhelming majority of the time, that tortoise doggedly plods through the mud, but you never know when that jetpack will fire. Ever.
That can be compounded when a book doesn’t sell, because then you have to fret over the next one – but it’s completely necessary to keep moving. When a book does sell, the challenges of writing the option book, or the sequel, or a book for a new submission entirely? That is a step there’s also not a tonne of information out there about. It’s hard. The best suggestion I have is to try and find communities of authors at whatever stage you’re at and have private (important!) place where you can ask questions or ask for support. It’s important to have that private venue that isn’t say, the Absolute Write forums or Twitter where any person in the industry or out could happen by just as you’re crying into a half-empty bag of Cheetos in a cloud of orange dust because your deadline is in a week and you’re convinced the sequel to your debut sucks.
How do agent-author teams figure out what project to concentrate on next?
Great question! Going back to my previous answer, an agent-author team figures out what book to concentrate on next based on our strategy.
Sometimes the Muse is very loud and a client will tell me, “I HAVE to write this book next!” in which case that’s what they do. Sometimes the client is looking for more direction in which case we’ll look at some ideas they have and evaluate those ideas together. Planning profit for a debut author is very different than planning with an author who has 18 books already available for sale. Similarly, planning with an author who writes 4 books a year is very different than planning with an author who writes a book every two years (I have clients on each end of that spectrum for sure!). And, planning for middle grade authors is vastly different than planning for authors writing science fiction/ fantasy for adults. We look at Next Possible Books through all these lenses and Keep Writing!
I almost always have some sort of dialogue with my agent. That can be as simple as “I HAVE THIS IDEA AND I’VE ALREADY OUTLINED IT AT THREE AM” or “I’d really like to move into more science fiction. How can we do this?”
As Sara says above, strategy changes, and again, this is the part of a writer career where art meets business. If I hear editors are actively acquiring something that fits a manuscript idea I have, I’ll probably concentrate on that manuscript and try and finish it up. If I see three similar ideas picked up on Publishers Marketplace, I might table my idea for a while until I can figure out a way to know it’ll stand out.
What should new authors know about subsidiary rights from each of your perspectives? What ARE subsidiary rights?
We said above that an agent’s job is to monetize an author’s books. The good news is that an author makes money on more than just the print book deal – we make money on deals for audiobook, translation, Hollywood (Film/TV), graphic novel, etc. What should new authors know about subsidiary rights? That they are huge opportunities for profit!
For example, Emmie’s books are all available in audiobook format and narrated by the brilliant Amber Benson (TV Star from Buffy The Vampire Slayer). Those deals were done because I shopped Emmie’s books to my contacts at various audio publishers and we accepted a deal with Audible. We’ve been very pleased with Audible – the production and publicity have been outstanding!
Emmie’s books are also being shopped for translation deals by our foreign co-agents at the London Book Fair and Frankfurt Book Fair. In the above question, it was asked, “what happens next?” and shopping subsidiary rights is a big part of that next step. An agent is constantly selling a client’s books – to print publishers, to audio publishers, to foreign publishers, to Hollywood entities, etc.
Sub rights are something that I think get really overlooked. New authors tend to get super focused on the print book deal (which is huge indeed), but as John Scalzi said recently, audio and other formats can be a massive portion of an author’s income. In the end, subsidiary rights are a way to get your work in the hands of more readers. That’s the goal.
I’ve found some amazing people through my audio deals, and it also is super important to me that my books are as accessible as possible (whether via eBooks and the ability to change text size or with audio narration), so having the Ayala Storme series, A HALL OF KEYS AND NO DOORS, and LOOK TO THE SUN in audio means a lot to me.
Why should people check out LOOK TO THE SUN on 15 November?
I went through most of these questions before the election. I’ve spent this week in horror, fear, and huddled with friends reporting harassment, hate crimes, intimidation, and, heartbreakingly, suicides. LOOK TO THE SUN is a book I wrote during this campaign. I hoped so much for a different outcome. This book is about hope. It’s about love. It’s about standing up for what is right and for those others seek to harm. It’s about overcoming tragedy and injustice. If you need that right now, this book is for you.
Emmie has an amazing ability to tell a story that really touches readers’ hearts. LOOK TO THE SUN is incredible, engaging, unique and MEANS something. Overcoming conflict with love? Yes please! We need more of that right now!
You can preorder LOOK TO THE SUN here, and it’ll be delivered to you on 15 November! If you want to otherwise support me and my work, you can find me on Patreon, where each month you will get exclusive short stories and can even get my books early!
Get every new post delivered to your Inbox
Join other followers