Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Eagerly Seeking...

Having survived Comic-Con here in San Diego, I want to let readers of this blog know that I am currently eagerly seeking military science fiction written by veteran military personnel who can make the military parts seem exceptionally "real."

I am also eagerly seeking urban fantasy with adult, male protagonists.

If you are an author with a project that falls into those two areas, I'd very much like to hear from you a.s.a.p.


More on Agent Termination

I'm curious about contracts that have an expiration date (say, one year) but stipulate you must both agree in writing if you wish to terminate before that date. Any thoughts on how one would approach that scenario? And what constitutes "agreement"-in your nonlegal personal opinion, of course.

No agent can "force" you, contractually or otherwise, to allow him or her to represent you. What
can be the case, though, is that you will owe the agent a commission on any offer received or deal concluded prior to the end of the term, depending on the wording of the agreement.

As there is no "standard" agency agreement, just as there is no "standard" publishing agreement, it's impossible for me to be more specific. Most agent-author agreements state that the agent is due a commission on anything ranging from all submissions made to all contracts signed. Of course, there has to ultimately be a contract signed in order for a commission to be due.

Where problems arise is when an author terminates an agent and then a submission made by the agent turns into a deal, perhaps before the author has a new agent, perhaps after. Potentially, the author now has to pay two agents. And while an author may find this unfair, it may simply be the legal reality of the contract. Thus, it is important that you read and understand your agency agreement. And if your agent doesn't work with an agency agreement, consider writing your agent a letter that outlines your expectations of the relationship. There are books with sample agency agreements and you could ask your agent to sign one. Keep in mind that there is likely a reason your agent does not work with agreements and asking one who does not to sign one you present could be a bit like offering a prenuptial agreement to your fiancée.

I advise authors in general to try and clear the decks prior to terminating a relationship with an agent. Try to make the parting as amicable as possible. Unless the agent actually did something unethical or actually illegal, you should try and look at the situation from your agent's perspective. Most agents are working quite hard for their clients and the news that a client wants to leave him or her is shocking.

I once had a client leave me after I spent at least two years shopping his book and got him a two-book deal. The first book came out and became a regional best-seller. Then, just as the second book was about to come out and the first was starting to pick up steam in the foreign markets, he terminated representation. My wife and I had just bought a new house and I was unbelievably busy and stressed. We were trying to start a family. And throughout it all, my first course of action every day was to make sure I was staying on top of this guy's business. And yet he quit me. I was shocked and angry, to be honest, and to this day I simply look at the experience as a lesson in how disloyal a person can be.

So if you are contemplating quitting your agent, ask yourself is it because of the agent or is it because of you? And if it is because of you, then perhaps you should focus on the "you" part of the equation. I have had authors leave me and come back. One even left me again and then wanted to come back again! This says something, I think, about why they may have left in the first place and that it must have had less to do with me, than with them. Very few clients have left me and I take that as a great compliment and I deeply appreciate their loyalty.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Saying Goodbye...

have you ever done an essay on how to dump an agency and how an author should go about doing that before moving on to another agency?

I don't know if I've actually blogged on this subject specifically, though I've advised potential clients on it.

Leaving an agent is actually fairly easy. Simply look at your written representation agreement and follow whatever termination and notice clauses are contained within it. If there are none, or you have no written representation agreement, then you could simply send a letter via Certified Mail, with a copy sent First Class Mail also, in case the agent doesn't claim the Certified letter at the Post Office, to the agent, terminating the relationship.

Here's a sample letter, along with the necessary disclaimer:

The following suggested letter regarding termination of representation is provided without any warranties or representations. Neither The Zack Company, nor any employee thereof, is engaged in the rendering of legal services or opinions. If you have any concerns regarding the legal nature of this language, you are urged to seek competent legal counsel. In no way does The Zack Company assume any responsibility for the use of this letter by any individual or corporation in any way.

{Your Name Here}

{Your Address Here}

{Your Telephone Number Here}


{Name of Agent}

{Name of Agency}

{Address of Agency}

RE: Agreement dated {Date} between {Name of Agency or Agent} and {Your Name or Your Corporate Entity's Name}

Dear {Name of Agent}:

This letter shall serve as official notice of my termination of the Representation Agreement referenced above. Said Agreement is hereby terminated, effective {immediately/30 days/some other period detailed in the Agreement}. You are hereby directed to cease and desist in any activities in which you may be engaged on my behalf, including but not limited to, the marketing of rights to any of my Work(s) anywhere in the World. You should, effective immediately, no longer hold yourself out as my literary representative or agent with regard to any properties in which I am involved and you should make no further submissions or contacts with editors or publishers regarding those Work(s). Any unsold rights in and to my Work(s) shall henceforth be handled {by myself/my new Literary Representative}.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, I understand and agree that you are the "agent of record" on the following Contracts with Publishers and that you shall be entitled to receive Commissions on such Contracts, as per the "Agency Clause" which appears in those Contracts, provided that you continue to fulfill your fiduciary duties with regard to such Contracts, including but not limited to the administration of any advances, royalties or other income generated by such Contracts.

{List of Contracts}

In order to effectuate the proper transfer of information regarding my Contracts, please forward a list of any and all outstanding submissions on which you intend to claim Commission within ten (10) business days of your receipt of this letter. If I do not receive such information within that time, I will conclude that there are no such outstanding submissions.

I appreciate that you have been a passionate advocate for my Work(s) in the past and I expect that we shall continue to have a professional and amicable business relationship with regard to any Contracts on which you are the "agent of record." Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions or problems.


You may wish to "cc" your attorney, if you have one.

Now, it is worth noting that simply terminating representation might not terminate your obligation to pay a commission on other sales. Some agency agreements state that an agent keeps representing the subsidiary rights to works that were sold during the term of the agreement (the works, not the subsidiary rights). Thus, you could have sold a novel in the US, then terminated representation, but the agent could still be your agent on foreign rights or TV & film rights to that book, even though you terminated representation. The Zack Company does not operate this way, but some agencies do.

My understanding is that you cannot be forced to allow an agent to represent you if you don't want that agent to represent you. However, you may still be legally obligated to pay the agent the commission on any deal you do. For example, if your agency agreement says that you will allow the agent to continue representing and earning commissions on rights to works sold during the term of the agreement, after termination of the agreement, but you don't want that agent licensing rights or representing you, you might be able to stop him or her from actually doing the selling, but if you get a new agent and he or she does a deal for, say, the film rights to a book sold to a publisher by the original agent, you might find that original agent comes knocking and looking for his commission on the deal, even though he didn't do the deal. Because, you see, you may have obligated yourself to pay commission, even though the agent is no longer your agent.

Thus, read your representation agreement carefully and consult an attorney if you feel the need, because things are not always as cut and dried as you think.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bye-bye Plaxo

Well, it finally happened. Plaxo has started to charge for Outlook integration. Want to download the Plaxo toolbar for Outlook, get out your credit card.

I have had a love/hate relationship with Plaxo for years. I loved it at the start because so many folks in publishing move around that it was great to be able to use Plaxo to email a request for updated information every quarter or so. I regularly got close to a hundred or so updates that changed titles, phone numbers, or addresses.

Then Plaxo took away the ability to email a request for an update to folks. Now you had to "connect" with folks and then you could get their updated information...if and when they updated it. This, of course, was far less effective.

Plaxo has made its goals clear. It wants to be Facebook. Alas, Facebook already exists and no matter how much "connecting" Plaxo offers, it will never be Facebook. And a recent partnership with Facebook, in which your Facebook posts are ported over to Plaxo, makes it clear that Facebook has no fear of Plaxo. Likely every Plaxo user is already on Facebook, or soon will be. The partnership between Facebook and Plaxo merely ensures that those who aren't already on FB become aware of it and soon realize that they would be better off posting their "status" on FB and not Plaxo. Inevitably, traffic on Plaxo will die and FB might generously offer Comcast (the current owner) a few shekels to buy it, absorb anything decent on it (if anything), and then shuttle it off to its own version of Warehouse 13.

And this is a shame. When I recently suffered a fatal computer error, my contacts' information was readily available on Plaxo (yes, I had other backups, but they required a working computer with Outlook installed to which to restore them). That certainly saved my bacon a few times in the three days it took me to reformat my hard drive and restore all of the programs and data.

But is it worth the $50 or so that Plaxo wants me to pay for what was previously a free service? And a free service that, IMHO, is actually worth a lot less to me than it was when I could email folks requests for address updates? I think not.

So bye-bye, Plaxo. If you see Netmanage Ecco Pro around in that place where good software goes after people stop using it, please give it my regards. I still prefer it to Outlook.


Monday, July 13, 2009

More QuickBooks Suckage

Here's a bit more QB suckage:

"Beginning on August 31, 2009, the price of your direct deposit feature will increase from $0.99 per paycheck to $1.05 per paycheck."

Worst economy in decades and QB is jacking up service fees? Why? Just to annoy us?

Let's face it, six cents isn't going to break anyone and it's not going to cause folks to stop using Direct Deposit, but does anyone at Intuit put any logic to work on the subject of customer satisfaction and morale? Yes, morale.

Businesses talk about customer satisfaction a lot, but maybe they should start thinking about customer morale, the same way companies have to think about employee morale and the military has to think about the troops' morale. Because customers are depressed. Their incomes are lower, business in general is slower (or just sucks), and people can't afford to buy the things they want to buy or even need to buy. But Intuit keeps chugging away, spending millions or billions changing software that works just fine into software that doesn't work (see my post and the many, many responses about how badly QuickBooks 2009 sucks below) and that is alienating users and leaving them desperate for an alternative.

Well, if you aren't one of those folks who thinks Bill Gates is the Anti-Christ and that Microsoft is secretly a front for the Knights Templar, you might want to check out Accounting 2009. Sexy name, there, eh? Must be the marketing geniuses at Microsoft at work again. Anyhow, I think we are all confident Mister Softy isn't going anywhere anytime soon, so making a switch to their accounting package should be a safe bet. It's just going to be a bitch of a learning cure.

But let's get back to Intuit. I'd like to send them some books on history. You know, ones that talk about the serfs rising up and killing the unfeeling leadership. Because, Intuit, that's what could be about to happen to you. I mean, if MS or Peachtree would just wake up and smell the small-business owners' dissatisfaction with everything Intuit, they could get folks to switch in droves. Make converting cheap and add inexpensive or free services like Direct Deposit or a year of free Merchant Services and folks would leap with glee to make the switch.

And if you want to stop the growing dissatisfaction, Intuit, you might want to rethink this annoying increase on Direct Deposit and cut the number of ads in your program, not to mention the cost of some of those things you advertise (Costco checks are half of what yours cost). And, for QB 2010, really, really ask your users what they want, instead of just changing things around so you can claim "improvements" that will get users to pay for an upgrade. And, while you're at it, every owner of 2009 gets a free upgrade to 2010.

For example, I want the invoices and sales receipts to have calculating fields, so that I can create an item that is X% of another item, but the program won't do that. I have asked for years and years to have Customer:Job show print on check stubs and to have the Job Description show up as a column any place you have Customer:Job. You can add it into the Customer Center, but not into the Memorized Transaction list. Seriously. I'm not kidding. Apparently Intuit understands that the Job Name field is too short to accurately describe all jobs, so they add a Description field, but they don't let you use the field anyplace you want. Only where they think you should. This is not how your customers want you to think, Intuit. If I can use the Job field, I should be able to use the Job Description field as well or instead of the Job field. Adding this would be a useful addition. Screwing around with what works already is not.

So, Intuit, you are welcome to my six extra cents for Direct Deposit, but I expect you to put it to good use, making the improvements to the program I outline above, and not just to line your pockets.


"High Concept"

Dear Mr. Zack,

What does 'high concept' mean?

I've seen it attached to YA fiction, women's fiction and fantasy.

Is there such a thing as 'low concept?'

Thanks for your time.

Jennifer Rinehart
Concerned Author

Dear Jennifer:

In most conversations I've had about the meaning of "high concept," it boils down to a concept that can be explained in one or two sentences and the user will get it.

As for "low concept," I can't say I've ever heard the term come up. However, I do believe in stories that hit the low common denominators, either in terms of the writing, which will often been at a lower reading level, or the plot, which may be simplistic rather than complicated.


Wednesday, July 01, 2009

June: The Monthly Round-up

Hi, I'm Crystal, Andy's new summer intern, and here is the June monthly round-up:

• 43 queries received; 27 declined
• 6 sample chapters received; 2 declined
• 0 proposals received; 1 declined
• 4 manuscripts received; 1 declined

We are currently waiting on:

• 8 sample chapters
• 1 proposal
• 0 manuscripts

We currently have on hand and need to read:

• 6 sample chapters
• 1 proposal
• 8 full manuscripts, plus 3 full manuscripts from current clients

The sample chapters and proposals still under consideration, in the order in which we expect to read them, are:

1. Salpeter
2. Stojak
3. Barrett
4. Markowitz
5. Rogers
6. Katz
7. Corsini

The manuscripts still under consideration, in the order in which we expect to read them, are:

1. MacKinnon
2. Perrota
3. Hanford
4. Fett
5. Schrader-Seccatico
6. Wexler
7. Mulrooney
8. Dracoules

If your name is on one of these lists and you have accepted representation or found a publisher, please let us know immediately so that we can remove your material from our reading list.

In June, Andy did not offer representation to any new clients.


A Quick Reminder

As noted on the Comments page, we don't publish anonymous posts or comments. You don't have to register with Blogger. Just sign your post with your full name, city, and state. However, if you are registered with Blogger or another site that allows log-ins to Blogger, you can just use that log-in.