I drove “down the hill” (as we say up here on the hill) to speak at the (for Dummies) Authors’ Unconference on Saturday and wanted to share my brief impressions.

Good: Conference organizer Alan Rubin and crew did a great job of attracting press notice and scheduled numerous author book signings and media events throughout the area.
Bad: The loneliness of the poorly attended book signing.
Ugly: Some signings were scheduled during the panel sessions.

Good: I missed this session, but Wiley execs made a point of showing up in force and sharing lots of info about the Dummies brand and the company in general.
Bad: some of the authors told me that they felt Powerpointed into submission 😉
Ugly: I wasn’t able to stay for the Wiley cocktail party or dinner.

Good: I had fun on the agent’s panel and I hope I gave a few helpful answers (and thanks to Carol McClendon from Waterside who shared the panel with me).
Bad: I rambled before the Q&A came back on track.
Ugly: I didn’t follow my notes at all, here they are —

A good agent can help you to:

– Find books you might not hear about yourself
– Develop your book proposals
– Submit proposals to publishers you can’t approach on your own
– Negotiate your contract
– Choose which books to do
– Manage your schedule
– Manage co-author relationships and contracts
– Coax your publisher on all fronts
– Manage and sell your sub-rights
– Manage your expectations

Good: Authors sharing.
Bad: Maybe too much sharing at some points. It’s wise to be careful in what you say about your publisher (in public).
Ugly: “My last agent thought I was high maintenance.”

Good: Paul Aiken, Executive Director of the Authors Guild, led a great discussion about the Wiley contract.
Bad: Nothing bad here but the ultimate question is “how many Dummies authors does it take to change the Wiley contract?”
Ugly: You could see authors deflate when they understood the difference between “net” and “list” royalties.

The guild discussion was great. It’s too bad that some authors missed it.

Regarding the guild discussion, I am poised somewhere between the idealism of the guild and the realism of an agent who often works with series publishers.

Paul noted that reasonable author contracts create a profit sharing relationship between the author and publisher, and that after all expenses are deducted, in the trade at least, that ideally balances out to around a 50% share of the profit for each side. So far, so good.

But a series publisher often holds substantial (and expensive) assets: trademarks and trade dress, style guidelines and templates, a large editorial machine, existing licensing partners, and hopefully, a successful sales and marketing team. The author may hold fewer cards in this situation, and the publisher itself may have higher costs (editorial development, especially).

If you choose to work with a series that has its own strong brand and infrastructure you become a “franchiser” of sorts (i.e. you “rent” the brand) and it can skew the ultimate deal percentage.

This doesn’t mean that it’s a bad idea to write a series title, not at all. I love series publishing. These books can do very well for their authors, and can help an author to create their own platform and brand that they can leverage into future books, and even at a reduced rate an author may make more money on the series deal. There are plenty of publishers who can publish your book on wedding planning, but there’s only one that can publish Wedding Planning for Dummies.

With any agreement, you need to understand the pros and cons of your contract before you sign it, and it’s equally important to understand and appreciate what your publisher brings to the table. Use the Guild attorneys, use an experienced agent, or hire a publishing attorney, but make sure you understand your contract. Change what you can, live with what you can, and remember that you can always walk if the deal doesn’t work for you. Just make sure you walk for the right reasons.

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