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2009 Formula

I was reading this interesting book on benchmarking (which if you have spent more than a few hours with me over the past few years, you would know I'm a little metrics-obsessed) and it had an interesting/simple formula to use as a guide (as this was a sales person tool, I had to tweak a little for publishing -- all flaws are, then, obviously my own): 

The number of projects you send out (each month) x the sale-through percentage (the average percentage of successful sales) x the average amount per sale x the number of months you are actively submitting (10... approximately, in our case) x  1/2 your percentage = your income.

This stuff is kind of obvious, right? Obviously you're not going to sell more than you send out and obviously if you send out more, you have the opportunity to sell more.

What this basically says is that if you send out two projects each month, and you sell 50% of the material you send out (...math? that's 1) and then the average you sell those projects for is 50k x 10 months (500k) -- you sold $500 worth.

If you then multiple that by your percentage (15% -- or 10%, let's use ten, it's easier) that's 50k for that year, except most payments are split up, so let's do an average on signing amount which is half.

So the agent who sold 500k worth of books, made approximately $50k that year.

Which is a nice amount of money (unless you live and work in NY). 

Let's say you want to make $75k a year, you can't really add more months to the year (let's stick with 10 to counter the "deader" months of August and December, projects sold in those months will be "bonus") - so that number stays the same. Then what you have is: 

# of projects out x % sold x average amount per sale x 10 months x 5% = 75k

To make 75k this year, you'll have to sell approximately $1.5 million in deals (if my math is right...).
((if you're feeling sadistic, go check out Publisher's Marketplace and see how many agents would have made over $50k their first year))

Anyway, these are the numbers I follow to see how many projects I need to send out on a monthly basis - at which point, you always realize you need more clients...

((of course, there is another formula for how much time you can spend on each client, how much time you have at your disposal, and what types of clients you can take on because of that: "Do I have time for a client that will need multiple massive revisions?" -- or is this a project I can hip-pocket? (i.e. send out in almost the same version it comes in as). ))

I think every agent does something like this - mostly in their heads (unless they are as nuts as I am, and fill their books with goals and numbers and little calculations... I like seeing how tweaking one number will change the bottom line, it helps you work smarter).

But, I find that most people who BECOME agents don't think about this their first year. They are thinking about their love for books.
Trust me, the love for books is great and awesome and will carry you through the times when you are thinking, "I could have become a lawyer/hedge fund manager/doctor/garbage man and made more money than this!"  but knowing what you have to do to achieve your goals can be a great motivator (or it can keep you in a safer, more traditional occupation).

---

For any writers reading this post -- I have to admit, this isn't really a post for you. Most of these posts won't be "for writers" - I used to blog for writers and had a lot of fun doing it... but there are so many other great agents out there blogging about how to write an awesome query letter, etc... that I didn't want to add to the internet-noise.

But, I hope that anything I write here can be applied to you too... I hope that if you figure out your own formula (how many books can I write each year x how many can I actually sell/should sell x how much will they sell for x what percentage of the money will I receive each year) you will start getting closer to achieving YOUR goals.

If that means writing a book that will sell for $100k rather than $10k. If that means completing a novel rather than submitting on partial. If that means writing for multiple houses. If that means that you won't be able to become a career-author until you can live off your royalties (this is the best advice anyone can give you, fyi)...

Figure out your own formula and see where it leads you.

New Year's Resolutions

What are they - how do plan on meeting them? 

Interesting sites that may help: 

www.stickk.com
or
dontbreakthechain.com
Forget the doom and gloom -- 2009 will be a great year for great books.

Aside from the fact that I now cannot hear the phrase "position made gratuitous" without flinching, industry-wide lay offs do have an upside. For the people who remain employed, there will be more work to do - no doubt - but there will be more opportunities to learn and more opportunities to get promoted (although, in 2009 "waiting for a raise" will be the new "waiting for a promotion").

Those who were downsized, laid-off, 'let go' and all the other unnerving epitaphs for being fired, they will become the primary competition for corporate publishing in 2009 and beyond. Think of all the experience, intelligence and talent floating out there right now! Industrious start up companies will be phoning up these veterans and begging them to sign on - 'We need your expertise! We need your vision!' . Entrepreneurial ex-employees will connect with one another on a mission to fill the gaps left by corporate publishing that they are oh-so aware of.

Sales people will create benchmarking systems for publishers, so that their numbers will actually have contextual meaning - and if they are smart, they will figure out a way to get the entire community to share. Marketing will find new ways to promote books through the web: marketing them, not just advertising them -- offering innovative ways to provide readers with free content that is then supplemented by the book (and not the other way around). Marketers will be able to provide authors (and publishers) with evidence of what they've always known: people use the internet to find information, if they can't find information on the web without starting from the URL in the back cover of your book - you've failed so many times over.  Editors will start their own lines of books that will start producing the "indy" books, the mid-list that will be so neglected by houses in 2009 will blossom in these lines, they will learn how to create distribution lines with the corporate houses and they will learn that there is a place for every book they love.

I can't believe I'm about to quote myself (who am I kidding, I do it ALL the time in the office), but I wrote this to a friend in response to him sending me Saturday's WSJ article:

"...And [corporate publishers] are going to be eaten up, slowly at first, by the new guard who can do it better, smarter, faster, cheaper -- and who already have a pipeline directly into the computers/eyes/brains of their readers."

Yes, I sound that pretentious even in my emails to friends...

Anyway.

In 2009, we're signing books, we're selling books, we're looking for new opportunities to promote our projects and authors, we're interested in hearing your ideas on how we can do (any of) this better and ... we're hiring.



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Nadia Cornier's "Not Quite Brown Bag" Luncheon Series is proud to present: 

Speaker: Richard Laermer, author of Full Frontal PR, 2011: Trendspotting, Punk Marketing
Topic: FAMING: How to Create Pragmatic Notoriety and Become the Go-To Person
Audience: Publishing Industry Professionals

Description:

Everybody wants to feel special. A little bit of harsh truth:  we all want a kind of extra push. But no one has taken the time to demonstrate how, show us the way to Fame.  Well, this book will. We’re not talking about red carpet Pamela Anderson freaking Paris Hilton FAKE famousness or the phony constant hype. It’s in the way that folks view you minute by minute. Don’t kid yourself either. They are looking.
 
Remember life is a competition now–particularly now with the networked society we created.
 
So take a seat as Richard Laermer brings you to a sense of Fame that you can use to get you the pragmatic notoriety that you need to get you up the next few rungs to where you want to be professionally, gets you the exact kinds of projects that you are looking for and helps you teach others on your team to do the same. Because "faming" means being consistent, being “on,” and always being remembered. Day in, day out. You otherwise lose out on opportunities and might as well turn off your phone. And just pout.

Place & Time:  TABLA has been kind enough to host us, again, with a wonderful pre-fix menu on January 13th at 11:30 (lunch begins at 12:30 and there will be plenty of time to schmooze, or if you prefer, just enjoy the really yummy food).

Cost: $55.00 per person, either in cash on the day of the event or via pay pal credit card prior to the event. The cost covers the food only. I'll be donating the cost of all beverages. The speaker, as always, is kindly donating his time.

Limit: There is a space limit, so it's by invitation only and then on a first come, first serve basis. If you'd like to be on the invitation list for this or future luncheon dates, please email Nadia at nadiacornier@mac.com (I'm always looking to meet and engage new speakers, so if there is someone I really need to speak with, please email me those suggestions, too - Thanks, Dia).


TABLA SAMPLE PRE-FIX MENU*
Chef Cardoz will finalize a menu based on fresh market ingredients before the party

Appetizer
Goan Crab Cake
  Papadum, Avocado Salad & Tamarind Chutney
-or-
Grilled Coriander Cured Venison
  Rocket Arugula, Cabbage-Apple Slaw, Pickled Ramps 

Main Course
Seared Scottish Salmon
  Rice Flake Pilaf, Leeks, Market Beans, Peanuts, Tamarind-Jaggery Glaze       
-or-
Roasted Black Spiced Chicken 
 Celery Root Puree, Roasted Local Cauliflower, Sour Plum Jus  
 
Dessert
Saffron Poached Pears
   Cinnamon Cream, Saffron Reduction, Almond Sorbet
-or-
Vanilla Bean Kulfi
  Lemongrass Curry Leaf Consomme, Lychee Sorbet


The Problems with Great Change

“We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up in teams we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing. And a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress whilst producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralization.”

–Gaius Petronius, AD 66


In our small piece of the world...

- President of S&S Children's Publishing leaves S&S.
- Ginee Seo leaves S&S.
-  Becky Saletan resigns as publisher and v-p of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
- 110 Scholastic employees take retirement, hiring freeze apparently still in place.
- HC -  Laura Geringer and Joanna Cotler leave their positions as head of imprints at HC.
- Bloomsbury laid off Jill Davis.
- S&S restructures a little here and there.
- RH adult seems more affected than RH children's.
- Hyperion loses two big guns to HC.
- People are moving around like crazy.

2009 is going to be interesting.

The Cost of Getting From Here to There

I once had the benefit of learning from a non-profit organization whose operation depended on transportation - and whose solvency depended on the associated costs of travel. I remember that as gas prices rose during the early 2000s there were constant conversations about how to off-set the cost of raising gas prices. What were the possible ways that the organization could remain solvent in times that were tough on transportation costs? More fundraising, an endowment, short selling stocks against the national cost of oil? 

Another example, I once corresponded with a gentleman who tried (albeit not too successfully) to explain how you off-set the dip on a real estate investment. Nadia, he wrote, if you buy an investment property in New York and the real estate market begins to slow (or worse, crash), how do you shore up that investment? His complicated answer (that I tried my best to follow) can be summarized as: when one market slows another picks up. It's your job to figure out where the fluctuations are and properly prepare yourself.

In any given market: transportation costs, real estate or the publishing industry - there are going to be fluctuations. There are going to be market cycles - prices and sales go up, they go down. But there is always a correlating fluctuation, it's your job to find out where they are and properly prepare yourself.

Now's the time to take a closer look at digital rights...
Know the market for digital rights: read about what people are doing and how they are doing it, read an article on how Amazon is changing the way Publishers sell e-books, research the different audio formats that are available now, figure out where the holes are in your contracts and shore up those rights.

Now's the time to take a closer look at how you are managing your business...
Are you spending the majority of your time and money on the things that make you happier and richer? If not, why not? 

Now's the time to take a closer look at your plan for moving forward...
Is the position you are in right now a stepping stone to something greater? Are you on the right path for where you see yourself in five years? 
What "added value" can you add to your position (either in terms of experience, benefit to your house/editor/long term goals) that not only makes you invaluable but keeps you moving in the right direction?

There are so many opportunities to grow right now - be fearless! 

Outliers

If you believe the premise behind Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers (and I'm buying in, at least for the duration of this post), as an agent you have to close about four hundred deals before you really know what you're doing (that's based on the assumption, of course, that you spend approximately 25 hours on each deal over the course of the book's lifetime).

That's an interesting (painful) number.

Most agents don't last the time it would take to complete four hundred deals.

I wish I made people spend money

How does an editor define the value of a book? 
How much is a good book worth? How about a celebrity book

In arguing how to value books (in terms of advances), a publisher is called upon to predict the future:  expected sales, the interest of buyers, the enthusiasm of the book-buying public (and in these "interesting" times, even the future of books). They throw all these numbers into a P&L, add a little magic algorithm and suddenly the advance pops out: all shiny and new like a freshly minted penny.

The internet is a buzzin' with talks about how Publishers are killing the industry by fudging (or completely throwing out) P&Ls in order to acquire this season's big book.  They question why so much money is spent on celebrity books that will never be able to earn out their super-high advances (you mean they don't expect to sell 1.8 million books?)... when they could be spending more money on mid-list titles.  

But if we're going to be honest, shouldn't we also be questioning why so much money is spent on publishing mid-list books that will never be able to earn out their mid-list advances? 

We're not publishing too many celebrity books. We're just publishing too many books.

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Networking Events


If the idea of showing up at an industry party or networking event makes you feel a little light headed, don't stress. Meeting new people is not a natural skill for most individuals - and dare I make the joke about how the ones in school who always had their heads buried in a book are now the same people who are forced (nay, encouraged) to network for profit? 

Networking is not the art of seeing how many business cards you can collect.
Networking is the art of connecting people. It's the art of adding value to associations, so that they can grow into relationships.

-- Mixers and parties aren't the only place to meet new people.  Before you head out to that conference, see who else is on the bill, read a little bit about their interests and if you have the inclination, email prior to the event to introduce yourself (or to re-introduce yourself) and make a date to grab a drink/coffee during the conference. 

-- Think of someone you've worked with a lot in the past, but haven't worked with lately - make a list of five people they really should meet and call them/email them and offer to introduce them.

-- If you want to be really crazy, take two people who don't know one another (yet) out to lunch.  Make sure you give each one a great introduction that can help spur conversation.

-- If you're headed to a dreaded party, bring a "party-date."  Someone who will keep you from sitting in a seat (close to the open bar) and ignoring the opportunity of connecting with new opportunities. A friend of mine and I went to a party together and we each introduced the other to a half dozen people who didn't already know. Neither of us had to awkwardly introduce ourselves (the in-person 'cold call'), and we were able to introduce the other person with enough information that allowed us to slip seamlessly into conversation (for example, "Susan, have you met Dave? Dave is the editor of WONDERFUL TITLE that you were saying had that amazing cover...").

For some great advice on creating and maintaining relationships (and, eeps, networking), go hunt down a copy of NEVER EAT ALONE.
Interesting book. Plus, with a great title like that.... (anything that implies that there will be food, sounds good to me.)