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Neubauer's Nuggets
By Joan R. Neubauer
August, 2005, 11:47

Each month, award-winning author Joan R. Neubauer will answer questions from you, her readers. She will answer questions about writing, promotion, publishing, and any other aspect of the publishing industry you can think of. Send your questions to her emailbox at SUBJECT Neubauer Nuggets and maybe yours will be the question she answers next month.

Fifty Cent Cut

Q: Dear Joan,

I'm new to the publishing game and am trying to learn the business end of it as well as how to write better. Right now I don't understand the concept of discounts, distributors, and booksellers. How does all that work?

Miriam Bennett
Joliet, Illinois, USA

A: Dear Miriam,

The whole idea of discounts and distributors can be confusing. But let me explain it based on a book that retails for $10.

If a book retails for $10, and the distributor takes a 55% discount, that means the distributor takes a discount of $5.55, which means he only pays $4.50 for it, which goes to the publisher. The publisher then splits it with the author according to their contract (usually about .50 on this deal).

When the distributor then sends the book on to the retailer, the retailer takes a 40% discount, which means he pays $6 for the book. The consumer then buys the book for $10. So, in this scenario, the book seller makes $4; the distributor makes $1.50; the publisher gets $4; and the author gets about half a buck U.S.

This is largely how a royalty contract works. In self-publishing, the discounts work the same, but the author gets not only their .50 but the publishers share of $4.

Clamming On Agents

Q: Dear Joan,

I belong to an eclectic writer's group in Colorado. Some of us are just starting out, and some of our members have published several books. I'm not published yet, but I'm getting close to submitting something to an agent. Whenever I ask one of our published authors about their agents, they clam up and tell me they'd rather not give me their agent's name, or give me a referral to their agent. What's up with that?

Donna Smith
Denver, Colorado

A: Dear Donna,

Been there. Done that. Got the T-shirt. I know exactly what you mean. When I was new in the business, I experienced much the same thing. Let me share some insights with you.

First, established writers feel they need to maintain a good relationship with their agent. That means not giving their name and address to anyone who asks. They don't want new writers who are mostly "not ready for prime time," to inundate their agent with material that may or may not be appropriate or of a high enough quality.

Second, a referral is not necessarily the best way to find an agent. An author may love their agent and the way the agent handles and represents their material, but the agent's style may not be a good match for you.

Third, you may not even need an agent. Depending on your genre, you may be able to represent yourself. In fact, some markets will not deal with agented authors. They prefer to deal directly with the author. Generally speaking, you need an agent to represent you in the mainstream market, and to the largest publishing houses. Other than that, you're probably better off on your own, until you make a sale.

In the meantime, I encourage you research agents in books that list them such as the 2006 Guide to Literary Agents by Katie Brogan. Go to conferences that feature agents. Meet them. Talk to them. Discern their style, personality, and philosophy. Then decide, if you could have any agent in the world, who would it be? Keep that agent's name and phone number close at hand.

When an editor finally calls you to say, "We want to buy your book," respond with, "Thank you. I'm so happy you like it. I'll have my agent contact you to negotiate the contract."

Then hang up the phone and immediately call that agent. If you have met that agent at a conference, make a brief comment about your meeting. If you've researched that agent, say that you've heard good things about them. Then utter the fateful words: "I've just sold a book to a publishing house. Would you represent me and negotiate the contract?"

The odds are that agent will answer with a resounding, "Yes, I'd be happy to." After all, it's a done deal, and they stand to earn 15% of your earnings. From there, you can develop the relationship with this agent. You may decide that you absolutely love working with this person. If that's the case, congratulations. On the other hand, he or she may not be all you thought. In which case, start looking again.

Keep writing everybody!
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Joan R. Neubauer is an author and works as a publisher at Joan invites you to visit her website at or to drop her an email at You can sign up for WordWright's monthly email newsletter at the site as well.

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