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The problem with rambling is that it exposes the unwary to the clutter of my version of mental organization. But it's free, right?

So I'm going to go back to sales reps, and to buying from reps, as it relates to something sleigh said. The way it relates is circuitous, so bear with me. Okay, very circuitous, so please bear with me <wry g>.

The reps sell what's called frontlist. I know that many authors/writers are familiar with the term "mid-list" or midlist as it relates to an author's status, but midlist isn't a term that's used as frequently in the bookstore. Well, in ours, at any rate. Midlist in general is, as far as I can tell, a term that's used in a way that varies widely -- that can mean anything from "I earned 2,000 on a novel last year" to "I earned 50,000 on a novel last year". I think there was a Salon article in which the author earned a lot more than that, and was unhappy, which goes to show something.

The two terms that are most frequently used as regards orders and stock are "frontlist" and "backlist" (If my spelling of these words isn't consistent, it's because I can't decide whether or not the words should be hyphenated or lumped as one). Frontlist is what the sales reps present to buyers: Books that will be published in 3 to 6 months from whenever it is they offer them (usually 3; there aren't many reps that offer something six months in advance).

[Brief aside: the best way to get me to stop with unnecessary detail is to say "we know all this already, move on." In fact, it's probably the only way to get me to stop.]

The reps come from different houses. Once, a long time ago, hardcover rights were sold separately from mass market rights; the paperback rights were considered sub-rights, and the hardcover companies controlled those. Then the paperback companies began to produce their own hardcovers, and for my genre, it's the mass market companies that I best know. For an author, having hardcover rights and paperback rights with the same company generally means that the royalties all come to you. If a hardcover only company made an offer on your book, the base boiler-plate was a 50/50 share of whatever income the paperback produced. With a hard/soft deal, you get the normal hardcover royalties and all of the normal paperback royalties.

Anyway, this is only significant to the bookstore because the reps will handle different lines, and the catalogues are structured in different ways, depending on that line. For some lines, all you see is the catalogue and the occasional ARCs; for the mass market companies, the reps will usually have a binder that weighs almost as much as they do with cover flats for the season's releases (or at least 2 months worth). Quantity incentives are often offered for titles being pushed by the trade houses, but not so much for the mass market houses. This means the rep will offer you an extra 2% off retail cover price discount if you buy 10+ copies, and 3% if you but 20+ copies, etc.

Knopf is a trade line. Tor is a mass market line (as is DAW or Baen or etc.). I don't know how publishers make the in house distinction; this is the distinction we make because it serves information purposes for us. I'm just saying.

Okay. Back to what's being offered. For any given month, any given line will have a Lead title, and the rest of the new titles. Actually, that's not as true now. Now there's a bit more hyperbole: There's the SUPER LEAD and the LEAD and the ROMANCE LEAD and the SF LEAD and the FANTASY LEAD (you get the picture).

What this means is that the rep will start at the top. The top? Defined by the publisher. So if the publisher has 4-6 sf/f titles for the month of November, one of those will be the Lead. The backlist associated with that title will be re-solicited or re-offered. Which is to say, if the Lead is book three in a series, you'll also be given an opportunity to order the first two books. You can always order backlist, if it's in print, but it isn't always offered on the New Release order form if the title isn't the lead. Some companies offer backlist for all their titles this way, but some don't. If they don't, you have to keep on top of it on your own.

The positioning of the book in the list is one of the ways in which it's promoted, and it's one the authors seldom see (it depends on whether or not you get the sales brochure sent to you). I would consider it significant -- but as in all things, it's not something that the author controls. It's not something the editor controls, because of those 4-6 titles, you might have books by 4 different editors all vying for attention. It's a blend of different considerations.

So now we go back to sleigh's discussion of the advantage of a high advance.

If a publisher pays you 100K for your hard/soft rights, the P&L has a great big wonking gravity well in its centre, which would be that advance. They didn't offer you the money based on nothing, of course -- I haven't seen a genre advance that high for a first book in a long, long time (YA has had some that are higher, but that's a result of the Harry Potter phenomenon, which has caused a wild growth in YA fantasy, at least from our perspective). But if they -did- offer you that money, they want to make sure they recoup it. Built into the initial offer there's probably a plan on how to sell the book, on how to make sure it gets some pre-pub buzz so that people are aware of it before it's even brought into the store to be offered to buyers. Not that this is discussed in concrete terms with the author, though.

Not recouping the investment can be career expensive in the way that any business decision that causes bleeding loss of money can be career expensive. Editors are underpaid, imho. No, wait, we've established that I have so very few humble opinions that I'm going to reserve humility until I Really Need It. But underpaid or no, they have to eat, and they have to work. The fact that they loved your book enough to buy it and to shepherd it through the process doesn't change the nature of the business they work in. Okay, end of digression.

Covers vary greatly in cost, as do cover artists. The range can be anywhere from 1500 to 15,000 per cover painting. But it's not just the painting -- it's things like embossing (bumpy bits) or foil, or cut-aways or stepbacks (I hate hate hate hate hate cutaway covers. Anyone who has had to shelve cutaway covers does -- the damn things catch and tear, and who wants a book with a torn cover at full price??? You might as well stamp Instant Return on a quarter of the darned things) -- anything that might make the book stand out on the shelf when it's sitting beside a zillion other books with similar types of covers.

After this, there's the positioning in the catalogue. Lead title (or super lead or ultra lead or whatever) implies that this is the title that the publisher expects to be the best seller for that category. It's not always true in an independent store. In a chain, if there's placement money to be spent, it will be more true, because the book will get more shelf space. [Placement dollars expansion and musing in a different post.]

Does a low advance guarantee that you -won't- get that treatment? No. It doesn't. I know authors who were paid 5K for their first books, and the artist was -definitely- paid a lot more than that, and the books were hyped and pushed and they sold a lot.

But while a low advance is not a guarantee of obscurity, a high advance, almost by necessity, means that the publisher has more to lose, and therefore has incentive to invest more to make sure it doesn't. This investment doesn't always work.. One thing that makes me grind my teeth to crowns is the very odd notion that many writers have that goes like this: If my book were promoted like Jordan's book, I would sell like Jordan. This is not true. It gives you a better chance of selling, yes. No question. But having been on the ground floor since the late '70s (part-time in high school at a chain), I can say with absolute certainty that I've seen books that -did- get that push, and they tanked, disappearing without a trace. No one remembers them, and perhaps this is why there is such bitterness; the successes stay around forever.

[ETA: Does this mean that I think that all authors have been given a fair chance? Not hardly. I've mentioned cases in which I think the publisher was short-sighted, and I can think of a handful off the top of my head that I could add to that list. I'm not saying that there's never any cause for complaint -- I just want to add a bit of reality check to what is perhaps the most common author complaint I hear. Among other things, in order to be Jordan, you have to write Jordan-like books, which many of these authors don't. Do I think they're better writers? Almost always. But that has nothing to do with it.]

The difference between a 3,500 advance and a 35,000 advance doesn't, btw, guarantee much. Between 35,000 and 350,000 though, it certainly does <g>. So when we're talking about "high advances", it's smoke and shadows. (Which is also the title of the newest Huff novel, which I adored. No, she's not paying me to say this <g>).

(next rock)


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 2nd, 2004 03:06 pm (UTC)
YA has had some that are higher, but that's a result of the Harry Potter phenomenon, which has caused a wild growth in YA fantasy, at least from our perspective

And it's still rare enough there that each advance of that size is cause for serious eyebrow-raising (and other, less tactful expressions of incredulity) in the field. (wry g)
Aug. 2nd, 2004 03:22 pm (UTC)
And it's still rare enough there that each advance of that size is cause for serious eyebrow-raising

I think that the value of an advance that high -- the advance that raises eyebrows for a first novel -- can't really be calculated, though. Because it -does- cause that reaction, and people -are- looking out for it. It gets reported in all the trade magazines, etc. etc. It creates buzz.

Aug. 2nd, 2004 08:52 pm (UTC)
Yes--the advance is indeed a part of the marketing budget, at that point.
Aug. 2nd, 2004 03:07 pm (UTC)
But even if we know it, it's good to see it integrated into the picture. And I suspect most of us know different peices.

(Deleted comment)
Aug. 2nd, 2004 03:20 pm (UTC)
Incidentally, I despise foily covers--I know they mean the author is Doing Better, but I hate having sun in my eyes, and given the chance between a foily cover and a non-foily cover, I will almost always pick the non-foily one as a book-consumer. I must be a minority, though.

I know authors who don't like them either. I don't mind foil (on lettering) but dislike that backfoil that makes the whole cover glare in the wrong light. I don't mind embossing as long as it's also only type or the design element; embossed people drive me nuts because their faces rub off <wry g>.
Aug. 6th, 2004 03:35 pm (UTC)
Hi--I linked over from Making Light.

I've been interested in the publishing industry for some time, and have needed exactly this type of introduction to figure out how things work and exactly where I want to be in them. I don't have The Great American Novel, but I'd like to help provide those who do with a conduit to get their work to the (perhaps unappreciative) public. Can you recommend any other sources (besides PW, which I read religiously) to help me figure out where I belong in the industry?

Thanks in advance.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )