If you want to make a living as an author, you have to think one project ahead. Even before I started working on THE RED WINTER, I was kicking around ideas for a new project — a series that would take place in “The Tapestry” world, but unfold thousands of years later. That world, while sharing some of The Tapestry’s foundations and mythology, would be very different and reflect tectonic shifts not only in societies, cultures, and religions, but even geography. That world — and the empire that predominates — is called “Impyrium.”
The moment I finished edits and illustrations for RED WINTER, I started work on Impyrium’s first book, with the goal of writing several sample chapters and some supplementary materials that would introduce the world and my vision to potential publishers. Collectively, these are what’s known as a “pitch”. Last week, my agent sent this pitch to editors and publishers that he thinks could be a good fit. Over the next few weeks, editors will be reading it, discussing it with their peers, and — if they like it — presenting it to a broader group that includes people from departments like sales and marketing, rights (i.e., those who license titles to foreign publishers), finance, etc. If there’s consensus that “Impyrium” is a series they’d like to get behind, they’ll make an offer.
So, what goes into an offer? The element that most people focus on is “the advance”. An advance is “an advance against royalties” which essentially means the publisher gives the author some money upfront to purchase the publishing rights and enable you to pay your bills while writing/finishing the book. They will then deduct the advance from any future royalties (an author’s share of revenues) that accumulate when the book is ultimately released. Only 30% of books ever earn out their advance (!) which means that many authors never see a penny other than the advance they received.
Naturally, most authors would like to receive as big an advance as possible. Not only is it money in the bank, it’s the only guaranteed income they might see from months or even years of work. Furthermore, a sizable advance means that the publisher has truly invested in the title and the author — they’ve placed a big bet on the book and are likely to back it with the necessary support to help it find readers. If they aren’t willing to pony up for a title, it could mean that it’s not going to be a priority when it comes to marketing, PR, etc. That said, a really huge advance can have its problems too — it puts tremendous pressure on an author and book to succeed. The book might be a masterpiece and sell millions of copies, but if it doesn’t earn back its advance, the publisher might view it as a failure, which could hurt the author’s reputation when pitching future projects. We see this all the time when films that did well at the box office ultimately lost money because they had a crippling budget.
While the advance is what many people focus on, there are many other factors to consider when choosing a publisher. These might include:
- Who would be your editor? Does this person “get” your writing? Does she share your vision? How long have they been at the publisher? Is his career progressing well? Do you think it’s likely that they’ll stay at the publisher? Has he edited similar books/titles/authors that you like and respect? Is she someone who will really champion your work with his colleagues in sales and marketing? Is he just someone who will merely edit your work, or is this a thought partner and someone with whom you can really collaborate?
- What is the publisher’s vision for the book/series? Do they see this as being a cornerstone of their catalog? A lead title? How do they intend to support/market/promote the series? Are they intending to build a website? Are they willing to feature it (and/or you) at trade events and fairs? How do they intend to get it reviewed by literary publications or nominated for awards?
- Does the publisher want world rights? If they don’t, they’re only acquiring the rights to publish in the U.S. and Canada. If they do, they’re acquiring global rights for the title(s) and will then try to license those rights to publishers in other countries while splitting any advance/royalties with the author. There are pros and cons to this. The con is that the publisher is essentially taking a 40-50% commission on your foreign sales (as opposed to the 20% commission you would pay your agent and foreign co-agent in each country/language that you sold on your own). The pro is that the publisher might be very good at licensing titles in other languages, have overseas divisions, etc. and really get behind the series if they think it has international appeal. It’s essentially choosing whether you want a smaller piece of a potentially bigger pie or a bigger piece of a potentially smaller pie. Some publishers will not do a deal unless they get world rights, as they see it as a way to offset the advance they’ve paid the author.
- How creative/innovative is the publisher? This one is getting more important all the time. The world of publishing is changing VERY rapidly and we all see the headlines talking about e-books, Amazon, piracy, starving authors, and venerable-but-antiquated publishers trying to adapt or die. It’s simply not enough to publish a beautiful book, buy some newspaper ads, and hope the world will find it. On “Impyrium” I want to leverage every marketing and promotional avenue that’s available — from traditional media coverage to ancillary content, appearances, school visits, blog tours, viral PR, etc. Does the publisher look at that and say “Cool! An author who wants to pound real and virtual pavement to make the book a hit!” or do they say “Yikes. That sounds like a lot of work and I’m not certain if we have people who do that stuff…” There’s a world of difference between those two approaches. I’d vastly prefer the former.
And that’s just a partial list of the things I’ll be weighing as we try to find “Impyrium” a proper home. In a perfect world, publishers will clamor for it, we’ll receive multiple bids, and make an informed decision based on some of the factors I’ve listed. That’s a best-case scenario. The worst-case scenario is that no one wants it. That happens all the time to writers — and not just those who are trying to break into the business. While I think “Impyrium” is awesome and destined for great things, it’s also my baby and I’m not impartial. We’ll have to see what the marketplace thinks. The good news, is that it won’t be too long until I know the verdict. Cross your fingers and stay tuned!