Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Looking for...Personal Finance, Management and....

Well, today is a good day. My wife and I have been anxiously awaiting the results of an arbitration hearing with a cabinet contractor with whom we, well, parted ways. Turns out we won and we're due some money. Of course, we still have to get paid, but at least we have the psychological reward of having gotten the award notice.

This experience has been interesting. I've learned far more than I ever would about California State Contractors law and my wife has learned there's a reason I often treat "personal" matters like "business" matters. After all, TZC is a family business but, more importantly, every family is a "family business." Because when you are doing business with a contractor or other service provider, you may be the customer, but you also have to approach it in a business-like manner. Cover your tail in documents and negotiations as you would if you were at work. Would you keep copies of every email of that important business deal? Well, why not the deal to sell your house? If that vendor screwed up, wouldn't you keep careful records of your attempts to get him to fix what he did? The same goes for that vendor at home.

All too often, people take less care in their "personal" lives than their business lives, and the truth is, your personal life is a business. It's the business of you and your family. Think of it as "My Family, Inc." Which brings me to the subject of this blog. I'm looking for....

  • Finance/Personal Finance
  • Management/Stories/History
  • Careers/Entrepreneurship
  • Globalization/Economics/Trade
  • Investing
  • Parables

Finance is an interesting one. When I hear the word, I think about MBAs and business school. And that's not quite what I'm looking for when I say that. I prefer books for the less technical audience. Maybe there's a middle manager out there who wants to get ahead. What does he need to know about finance? Let's say I'm a small businessman looking to expand. What do I need to know about finance? I might have just been promoted to Marketing Director, but what do I need to know about finance? That's what I'm talking about.

Personal Finance is another subject entirely. I have interns who come and go. But they all get the same speech: Lose your debit card. It was designed by the banking industry to lead you to overdraw your account and pay a pile of insufficient funds fees. Use a cash-back credit card instead, whenever you can. Then pay that credit card off in full every month. Next, balance your checkbook. Don't "look at it online." Actually sit down and figure out the outstanding checks or debits, etc., so you know how much money you really have. Get Quicken or MS Money and use it. If you have earned income, open a Roth IRA at Vanguard. Even if you just put in a few hundred dollars a year, it's better than nothing and will compound that much longer with low expenses. Yada yada.

I have no idea if they listen to me, but maybe in a year or five they'll be looking for a good book on the subject. I am looking for a good book on the subject to represent. Or several good books. How about a series? If you are a Certified Financial Planner or other suitably credentialed author, I'd be interested in hearing about your project.

Management/Stories/History. What's with all of the slashes? Well, let's just say I'm interested in Management Stories or Management History. Consider Henry Ford. Don't you think a book on his founding Ford Motors would be interesting? How about a book on his management philosophy? Would it be relevant today? How about the next Barbarians at the Gate or a book on the history of Google? Remember when all those books came out on the history of Macintosh? Are you a business journalist for the Wall Street Journal or New York Times? Have you appeared a dozen times on CNBC? If this is who you are, I'd like to hear about your book ideas.

I've read that the fastest growing segment of business is small business. More and more people are leaving or being let go from their big corporate jobs and end up launching their own businesses. And they need your help. Whether it's a new graduate trying to figure out what they want to do when they "grow up," or a corporate veteran caught in the last wave of cutbacks, there are always people looking for work...and for books on how to look for work, find a new job, improve their current career, or start a business. If you are a veteran career counselor, a specialist in human resources, have a rėsumė writing business, or other area of expertise that would apply in these areas, I'd be interested in your book ideas.

Ever hear about a little book called Freakonomics? How about Fast Food Nation? These are a couple of titles I wish I'd represented in the Globalization/Economics/Trade category. How about a book on the far-ranging impact of Wal-Mart or even Starbucks? Once upon a time, the most recognized American brand name was McDonald's. Now there are other countries making their global mark. What does that mean to the business world? What does outsourcing to India mean for the American consumer and American worker? Did NAFTA work, or is that sucking sound I hear my Gateway computer that was assembled in Mexico and never worked right? Again, if you are a veteran journalist or a professor who can write for non-academics, I'd like to hear about your book ideas.

I already told you about my interns and my investment advice to them. Now it would be great to find someone who can give investing advice to me. I need a "diet book" approach to investing, please. A few guidelines (no carbs!) and some recipes (Cream cheese roll-ups are yummy) and off I can go. So if you already write a column for Smart Money or Kiplinger's, and you want to write a book, please be in touch.

Parables are an interesting business phenomenon and I can't say I understand them completely. At least, I'm not sure why people buy them, other than that, perhaps, they put complicated issues into simpler terms. And by doing so, they make the reader look at the issues a bit more clearly. But I think you need a special kind of author for these. The author has to have not just the credentials to back up their writing the book, but also the ability to write well and communicate complex ideas in simpler terms. And that's a tall order. If you think you can fill it, please let me know.

More soon....


Looking for...Health & Fitness et. al.

The wife and I have been trying to get back in shape. It’s a sad story. Couple meets when boy has been riding his bike 150 miles per week. He convinces girl to get a bike and join him on a short jaunt of 109.3 miles in Tucson, AZ, and to raise thousands of dollars for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Girl does it and boy rewards her with a marriage proposal and a diamond ring. No, that’s not the sad part. The sad part is that boy and girl pretty much stop riding. Sure, girl goes crazy whipping herself into shape for that wedding, but not much riding happens.

Boy and girl get married and girl decides they must spend the anniversary weekend of their proposal doing the ride again. So, they do. They train and train and get back in good shape. All this is good. But then they come back to reality and the stress of buying a house and doing all that a new house requires. The bikes gather dust and the boy gets, well, fat. Well, in his mind, fat. Girl still thinks he looks good (or so she says).

So boy and girl start going to yoga, which is great, but not exactly burning a lot of calories. Which brings me to the point of this blog: I’m looking for more….

  • Health & Wellness
  • Diet & Nutrition
  • Fitness & Exercise
  • Yoga & Meditation
  • Mind/Body/Spirit
  • Alternative Medicine
As always, you must be qualified to write such a book. Preferably you will be a doctor, trained fitness specialist, or certified yoga instructor. And by “certified,” I don’t mean by your local yoga teacher; I mean by years of study culminating in national or international certification. For example, look at this site and all that it takes to become a “certified Iyengar instructor:” As a fitness specialist without a medical degree or other university degree, you should be at least ACE Certified.

If you want to write about meditation or mind/body/spirit, you should have similar qualifications, be they from a university, college, or national certification body. I am looking for years of expertise and an established platform on which to build with your book.

When it comes to alternative medicine, I’d like to see a DO (osteopathic doctor) or MD who has expanded beyond the strict sciences. The important thing here is to have the training to recognize the benefits of alternative medicine, but also the harm. Someone not really trained might advise a person to drink gallons of water a day to rid themselves of toxins. Yet a DO or MD would know that you can do as much harm over-hydrating as you can by becoming dehydrated. Hence, if you are going to write about alternative medicine, you should know about medicine to begin with, and then explore alternatives.

As always, it’s not just about what you write or how you write, but also about “Why would anyone want to read something you’ve written?” Do you have an existing platform? Are you the official doctor of the NY Knicks? Are you the Iyengar instructor to the stars? Is Oprah a personal training client? Are you the Chief of Medicine at Massachusetts General? Who are you to be writing this book and why will anyone else be interested?

That last question is a tough one and I think one that nearly every author fails to consider fully. It’s an unfortunate reality that some of what makes a book in these areas successful is not “what you know” but “who you know.” Someone like Oprah could have a personal trainer with little or no formal education or certification, but if he helped her lose twenty pounds and she put him on the show, publishers would want a book by him. Valerie Bertinelli is famous only for being a semi-successful actress who married a rock star. Yet Jennie Craig hired her and she’s on television losing weight. If she doesn’t already have a deal for some kind of diet and fitness book, I’m sure she will soon. (And, Valerie, if you don’t yet have a deal, please call. We can do lunch!)

So ask yourself the important questions:

  • Do you have the education or certification or experience to be writing a book?
    Will anyone not related to you want to read such a book?
  • Are there not already plenty of books on the subject by people better qualified than you?
  • Is there really a need in the marketplace for your book?
  • Do you have a platform on which your book will build? Or are you hoping the book will build your platform? (If the latter is the case, the reality is that most publishers want the platform first and the book second.)

More soon….


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Looking for...Outdoor Adventure, Religion & History, oh my...

Ah, the best laid plans….

I had intended to do a daily blog entry about what I’m going to be looking for, but the start of a new intern and a raft of contracts that needed reading has set me back a bit. But here I am, with a few more subjects:

Outdoor or Sporting Adventure, with an emphasis on sea-going stories or diving adventures.

Publishers like to call this “armchair adventure,” because you get to sit at home in your comfy armchair and read about some other poor idiot who lost his life—or certainly risked it—on the high seas or below them. There have been more than a few such best-sellers and publishers—and therefore TZC—are looking for more. So if you tried to sail around Cape Horn and got hijacked by pirates and left for dead on a deserted island, only to survive when you lashed together stale pretzels into a life raft, I’d like to hear from you. Or if you found yourself deep in an underwater cave, running out of air, facing off with a Great White, please let me know.

Also, if you climbed a mountain and had to eat your climbing partner to survive, or raced to the North Pole and wrestled a polar bear along the way, I’m the agent for you.

Or anything similar provided that the adventure is of the nail-biting type and the writing is compelling. Note, you don’t need to be John Updike in writing this kind of thing, but please don’t be Forrest Gump, either.

Nonfiction Inspiration and Spirituality.

Okay, I have to be careful here. I have no desire to offend anyone. But I also have no desire for crackpot religious types to be writing me. Everyone in publishing has seen these. If you don’t have a job, write by hand, and are sequestered in a tree house because it brings you closer to G-d, then I’m probably not interested. If you have faced a real trial and found that your relationship with G-d helped save you, then I would be interested. You can be Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or Pagan, I don’t care. What’s important is that others will be intrigued, impressed, and inspired. And remember, one important word above is “nonfiction.” I don’t believe in “creative nonfiction.” I believe in the real thing. So if you’re making any of it up, embellishing, etc., I’m not for you.

Religious History.

Are you a PhD in religious studies or divinity? Have something on Biblical history, philosophy, analysis, etc.? I’d like to hear about. I’m especially interested in works that explore the historical basis of the Bible or look at Biblical places or events and try to tie them into real history.

Judaism/Jewish Life.

Are you Jewish and writing about ancient or more contemporary Jewish life? I’d like to hear from you. Are you Anita Diamont? My phone number is…. But please, please, please have better credentials than just “I’ve always been interested in Judaism.” It’s not just about the subject. It’s also about the writer, and the writer has to have more going for them than a passion for the subject.

Ancient Cultures.

Maybe it’s because I’m addicted to ROME on HBO, but I would love to see more written about those times, but in an accessible manner and perhaps not weighing more than an anvil. Again, you have to have the credentials to write such a work, and not merely be “passionately interested.” Hence, if you are not a trained historian, your work is likely not salable to a publisher.

Also, I confess to being very interested in Atlantis and the Bermuda Triangle. While not exactly “ancient cultures,” if you happen to be the next Charles Berlitz, bring it on.

More soon….


Monday, August 20, 2007

Who pays for artwork, maps, and illustrations?

I received a question today regarding interior artwork for books.

Consider books like Steven King's Gunslinger series. They frequently
include B/W and color plates. How is this artwork handled?

Is it up to the author to negotiate with the artist, remit payment, and forward the work to the publisher? Is that something you would handle as the author's agent? Or is this handled by the publisher? (OK, Steven King might have been a bad example. So, consider a book written by
an author significantly LESS famous than Mr King.)

And what kind of compensation does the artist typically get? Are they paid a flat fee for each image? Or do they receive a percentage of sales (such as, perhaps, when the artist is more well-known than the author)?

—John Lawson San Jose, CA

The answer to this question isn’t that complicated. Generally speaking, the publisher holds the author responsible for providing everything that goes between the covers. This would include all artwork, maps, photos, and the index. Authors are frequently surprised by this, as some of these things can get expensive to produce or expensive to get permission to use.

That said, a good agent will attempt to negotiate a permissions budget, but that will almost always get charged back to the author’s royalty account. So, in a way, it’s sort of an additional advance. For example, the publisher might agree to cover $2,500.00 in permissions. The author ends up submitting invoices for $2,000.00. The extra $500.00 won’t ever come to the author. The $2,000.00 will be charged to the author’s royalty account, so if the author had an advance of $10,000.00, he or she will now have to earn out $12,000.00 before additional royalties will be paid.

If you are a very successful author or the book goes for a lot of money, your chances of getting a larger permissions budget improve and that may not be charged to your royalty account. For example, if you are Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist writing a new book, the publisher may agree to pay $5,000-10,000 in permissions, on top of your six-figure advance, and not charge them to the royalty account.

The same goes for maps or illustrations. If they are a “must have,” some publishers may get them done and not charge the author (maps in military books—fiction or nonfiction—or fantasy novels are good examples). Or they may charge the author regardless. It’s often not clear.
As for what the artist gets in compensation, that's entirely up to negotiation. A cartographer will likely have a set fee for which they will produce a map. An illustrator could get a flat fee for a specific use, or they could receive an advance and royalties. For children's books, the latter will nearly always be the case.

One thing to always keep in mind is that your contract should specify that you, the author, will pay for such maps, illustrations, etc., “that Publisher and Author mutually agree should be included in the Work.” Otherwise, the publisher could say they need maps and stick you with cost, even though you don’t think they are necessary.

Indexes are tougher. Publishers will tell you that not having an index will hurt library sales. And that may be true. But if that is their position, the publisher should, in my opinion, pay for the index or at least split the cost. I always try to put a cap on the cost of the index in contracts for my authors.

One could also argue that, in this day and age of various “inside the book,” searches, such as on or Google, that indexes are swiftly becoming obsolete. Certainly once we get to eBooks being a regular thing, an index will not be necessary, since an eBook is searchable.

Keep in mind that every major word-processing program will let you “tag” or “bookmark” terms in your manuscript and from there an index can be generated.

I marked a number of terms in this entry. The resulting index is below (keep in mind when I wrote this in Word, it was a two-page document):

agent, 1
artist, 1
artwork, 1
index, 1, 2
maps, 1, 2
permissions, 1
Steven King, 1

Clearing this is a small one, but you can get the idea. You can also create a separate file of terms you want indexed and there is an option that will generate an index using those terms. If you a nonfiction author, this is an important skill to master in your word-processing program.


Monday, August 13, 2007

Looking for... History

I’ve been promising for a while now that we are getting closer to reopening to queries. The update is that last week, I requested five full manuscripts, nine sample chapters, and four proposals. These requests were for more material from query letters or sample chapters that I had previously received (in some cases, wellllll over a year ago) and not yet responded to. Material has started to come in and we’ll be working to get through it in a timely manner.

Last week, I said good-bye to my two summer interns, Justin “How the Hell Do You Spell That?” Michitsch and Lauren Narasky. Justin spent the summer reviewing royalty statements and other general office work. A business major, he really dug into those statements and found real money for clients by questioning the reserves for returns being held by publishers. Lauren also did a lot of general office work, helping out on the website and with the database, and did a great deal of reading, helping knock down the pile, and reporting both to me and writing response letters to those we were not offering representation. I thank both of them for their hard work and wish them both good luck in their next school year.

Sometime in the next couple of weeks, I expect two other interns to begin, but in the meantime, I’ve got some “me” time to ponder the important question, “What are we looking for now?”

As regular readers of this blog know, I attended BEA in NYC in June. While there, I took about forty-seven meetings, with my major focus being to determine what the marketplace is looking for right now. When I returned, Lauren, Justin and I pumped all of that information into a spreadsheet and did quite a bit of sorting and filtering. In the end, we came up with a list of 120+ subject areas, including sub-areas. Over the next several weeks, I’m going to do a series of blog entries on these subject areas, giving more details so that you, the author, can focus in more closely and thereby improve your chances of delivering what we will be looking for when we reopen to submissions. I’ll say this, though, if it ain’t on the list, we really don’t want it. So don’t try and shoehorn your way in.

That said, we’re looking for more….

History, specifically….

  • American history and, in particular, 20th century American history
  • European and/or British History (especially Middle Ages)
  • Military History or History of Intelligence Services
  • Natural History
  • Cultural History

And, of course, we want you to be highly qualified to write history. You should not be just an amateur historian or someone writing about a subject that you just found interesting. You should be a trained historian or journalist. You should have a PhD or at least a Masters in an applicable field. You are, ideally, previously published and have received good reviews and, even better, good sales. You bring to the subject a new perspective or angle that has yet to be explored. You have access to primary source materials that have never been seen before. The subject of your book has not been nor will it be the subject of eight other books this year (Hello! Do we have enough books on the 1918 flu?).

But, wait, we’re going to get even more specific here.

What does “American history and, in particular, 20th century American history” mean? For me, that means events or periods in history that are “turning points” for society. Does your subject represent one of those? Are you a known expert in the area? If you can answer yes to these questions, then you likely have something that will interest us.

Now, on to European and/or British History (especially Middle Ages). Again, focusing on “turning points” is good, and being an expert is great. But also, exploring a truly “new” fact is best. My old history professor, Richard W. Kaeuper, at the University of Rochester, once told the story of how he was in a dusty archive in the UK and came across what he believed to be a “new” fact. This was incredibly exciting for him, as it is every historian’s dream to find a fact that no one else has found. Alas, he subsequently found that someone else had found this fact before him. But, if you have found a new fact, or at least a new perspective or approach to an event or persons at this time in history, we’d like to know.

In the summer of 1987, I took at class at the University of Washington (Seattle) on the History of Intelligence. I thoroughly enjoyed it and that’s part of what motivate me to make Military History and History of Intelligence Services areas I’m interested in exploring.

Let’s face it, there’s quite a bit of information going back to WWII that remains classified. Some day, we may find that FDR really did know the Japanese were going to attack Pearl Harbor. What secrets may still be untold about the Cold War? Were POWs kept in Vietnam or shipped off to Russia for interrogation? What would the archives of the KGB tell us?

Literally, military history or intelligence services history has to have this kind of impact. We’re not interested in the exploits of one unit on D-Day, though we might be interested in a unit history of the 442nd (if it hasn’t been done), given the cultural element of it being a Japanese unit fighting for America in WWII. That said, I remember reading THE LONG GRAY LINE and being fascinated. But the West Point class featured in that book was clearly part of one of those “turning points” I’ve described above. It might be interesting to apply that approach to the Class of 2006. Where are they? In Iraq, one presumes. But what is their take on what’s happening? How did they feel as freshmen in 2002? Did they ever imagine that four years later they would graduate into a real, live shooting war? I suspect not.

Natural History, to me, is not just about dinosaurs, though I like a good work on how a new dinosaur was discovered as much as the next guy. But I’m looking for serious discussion of new scientific theories having to do with evolution, paleontology, and the like. I am not interested in Creationism. I’m strictly a Darwinist.

To me, Cultural History can mean quite a lot of things. For example, you could look at the lives of Jews on the Lower East Side in the early 1900s, or you could look at life on a US Army base. You could examine the culture of the inner city high-school or a Montessori school. What’s important is that your subject is fresh, of course, and that there’s something there to intrigue, fascinate, and educate the reader. Combine those elements with terrific qualifications to be writing such a work, and I believe you’ll succeed.

Last but not least, if you are going to send us a work of history, it needs to be written in an approachable style that will engage the lay reader. While we may do a deal now and then with an academic press, we’re more often doing them with large, trade houses, and as such your work should appeal well beyond a marketplace of students or professors.

More tomorrow….