Wednesday, January 25, 2006

An Agent's View: Category Romance & Contracts

Agent Michelle Grajkowski of Three Seas Literary Agency weighs in on category romance vs single title and contracts. She loves answering questions, so please feel free to post any questions for next week!

Last week I was faced with an icky case of writers block. This week, I am sooooo thankful for Wendy who has totally eliminated my need to stare at a black, blinking line. Fortunately, I can get right down to business!! So, thanks, Wendy, for helping me to put my thoughts in order!

1.)In today's category market (proliferating lines, shrinking sales), do you think category can aid and abet a single title career? If so, how?

It's been really interesting to see the changes in the category market over the past few years. Harlequin is an extremely innovative publisher, and has always tried to be on the cusp of the latest trends. Luna is a prime example. When Harlequin first launched the line, other houses quickly followed suit.

And while the series lines may be shifting, they truly are Harlequin's bread and butter. NEXT has been a tremendous feather in Harlequin's hat, and the books seem to be doing well in the marketplace. There is still a demand for traditional contemporary romances and romantic suspense and Harlequin will soon be launching a new paranormal imprint to capture that segment of the marketplace as well. So, growth is still a big part of Harlequin's business model.

My best advice to series authors, and to writers who are aspiring to be, is to learn to adapt. Across the board, Harlequin is trying to modernize their lines. They are eliminating romantic cliches and want readers to easily identify the characters and the plotlines in the stories they publish. Many of the books are starting to have a more single title feel, which is good news, especially if you want to move in that direction.

I've seen many authors who have had successful category and single title careers. But, I've also seen category authors who have tried to break into the single title market unsuccessfully. The key is to study and to understand the differences in tones between category and single title. A single title book is not just a longer book. Today's single title romances are extremely multi-layered. While the romance is still the key component, other important elements such as plot and characterizations need to be threaded through. As a category author, you sometimes have to work extra hard to prove to a single title editor that you can pull it off. But, it definitely can be done!

2.)What is the value of accepting single title contracts with low (ie, four- or five-figure) advances?

I think everyone dreams of hitting it out of the ballpark at least once in their writing career. And your family and friends may think that since you are a writer, you are rolling in the dough. However, very few authors are able to quit their day jobs with their first sales.

It may be hard to accept a lower advance than you would like. But, unfortunately, oftentimes until an author has developed a name and strong numbers, publishers like to offer low advances. They do so with the excuse that they do not have any numbers on the particular author. And unless the agent has any numbers in her hip pocket, we can only fight with the promise that our author will deliver a manuscript stronger than they ever thought possible, and that our author will do whatever she can to make this project a huge success.

Some things to ask yourself as you evaluate an offer:

1) Will this contract help my career in 5 years?
2) Can I legally sell my project to another house (some contracts have confidentiality notices)?
3) What sort of numbers can I use to help me negotiate a great deal?
4) Where will I be placed on the list?
5) What type of marketing will the publisher do for me?
6) How many author copies am I receiving? (if you negotiate from 25 copies to 50, you are getting bird in the hand.)
7) What is the non-compete clause?
8) What rights can I keep?
9) How dedicated is the publisher to me and to my career aspirations?

Sometimes publicity and promotion can trump a lowball offer. For example, if the publisher has fantastic plans in mind for promoting your book, chances , are you will more than make up your advance on the flipside.

Good luck!!! Please feel free to email me again if you have more questions!

Until then,
See you next week!


At 5:05 PM, Anonymous Wendy Warren said...

THANK YOU, MICHELLE!!! As always, such interesting reading.

It is so generous of you to take the time and energy to speak to us weekly in a public forum. What a great opportunity for us pupped and potentially pubbed. Like a workshop each week.

(I shouldn't be surprised; I met you in Reno, and you were soooo gracious and genuine.)

Your take on the H/S category lines is very uplifting.

Warm wishes for a super week!



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