Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Straight Dope on PM

There are several ways and places that a book deal might be announced, from a blog announcement, to a newspaper or magazine piece, to an online listing. Probably the most ubiquitous of the online listing services is called Publishers Marketplace. I get questions from people who are confused about this service all the time, so I'm going to tell you all about it, and maybe bust some myths, too.

UPDATE 5/31/14 - Michael Cader, PubMarketplace Guru, stopped by the blog and left a very nice comment clarifying some of my points and giving a peek behind the curtain. So I've corrected the post a tiny bit accordingly - and if you want to know more, please do check out the comments section!

Publishers Marketplace (hereafter known as "PM") is a subscription-only publishing news website that also has a listing of new deals updated daily. This database is a quick way to tell who has sold what and to which publishers, and who might rep the kinds of books you write. There's also a much-more-basic free daily roundup, "publishers lunch" available by email -- but to get into the full site and really dig around, you'll have to subscribe. It costs $25 a month, and a month-long subscription is a tool that might help your agent search a lot. I personally use PM to look up book world news, editors interests and see who-reps-who nearly every day!

However - there are caveats:

* The PM deal database is a very good resource - but it isn't the only resource. Remember this is a self-reporting service, and not all agents report all sales. In fact, I'd go further and say that most agents don't report all sales, and some agents don't report any sales at all. A sparse record on PM is NOT necessarily an indication that a given agent is "bad" or a schmagent. . . plenty of EXCELLENT agents and agencies do not report regularly.

* Use your good judgement and follow up questionable claims with more research. Each of these announcements is read by the PM staff, but they are not the deal police. If Josie Q. Schmagent "sells" a book for $1. to Joker's Wild Press in Someguysbasement, NV and wants to report it, she can. A record on PM does NOT mean that an agent or publishing company is automatically good, or good for your book. If something sounds dubious, dig deeper.

So why DO agents report sales?

* It can sometimes be a way to drum up some early foreign or other subrights interest. Sometimes.

* They are agents who are still establishing themselves and want to show that they have a number of sales to big-5 publishers.

* Or they are agents/at an agency with a specialty or who otherwise want to be sure that potential queriers can easily discern the types of books they rep.

* Or they simply have a competitive streak and enjoy seeing a good number next to their name - (Guilty!)

* They have clients who have a big social media presence and they want to have something "official" to brag about.

* Habit.

Why might agents NOT report sales?

* The publisher has asked them to hold off for some reason (for example: they want to do a big publicity push closer to the date of release, it's a new imprint that hasn't been announced, etc).

* The author has other stuff going on that might be considered competitive or deadlines for other books coming up or some other conflict that the agent would rather not get into a scheduling tango over.

* It's a topic/theme that is SO timely and important that they want to be sure nobody knows about it in advance.

* The agency or the author are old-school and prefer not to air their beezwax in public, or they or their author are superstitious and prefer to wait on bragging until the book is closer to being available.

* They don't need or want new clients, and don't care what the interwebs say or don't say about them.

* They are busy and forget.

* Habit.

What else should I know about PM?

* PM has it's own "house style", to wit, all deal reports have to be in one long sentence without superflous editorializing; Agent-submitted reports are edited by the PM-sters, and the agents can't get in and re-edit the listings themselves -- so, if you notice sometimes the listings sound peculiar, it's not that the agents are just dum-dums who don't know how to sentence.  (See what I did there? It's hard to put a lot of info in one sentence, y'all!)

* The infamous money ranking system is not used by everyone. What do I mean? There's a place within the deal where PM encourages the deal reporter to use their lingo to rank the size of deals.  

"nice deal" $1 - $49,000 "significant deal" $251,000 - $499,000
"very nice deal" $50,000 - $99,000 "major deal" $500,000 and up
"good deal" $100,000 - $250,000

So my own reasoning for rarely using this wording:  There is a HUGE FLIPPIN DIFFERENCE between ONE DOLLAR and FORTY-NINE THOUSAND DOLLARS. How are those two the same category? Also, what exactly constitutes a "deal"? There's no saying that that "major deal" is really what you think it is -- an agent might include every possible award and bestseller bonus as part of the "deal" even when it isn't officially part of the advance that the author will actually see, just so it will sound grander and knock up into the next category.

Personally, I prefer to leave the money part off the announcements -- but privately I do refer to this oldie-but-goodie from Scalzi: Real World Book Deal Descriptions.

* PM is not aimed toward writers. If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say the majority of people who read PM are agents, subrights agents, scouts and editors. Then writers. In other words - while this might be a tool that proves useful to you, is not necessarily FOR you, and it might not always be interesting to you. If you want writer-oriented info, there are other places to obtain it.

* PM is not PW -- easily confused, I know! PW = Publishers Weekly. This is a print and digital trade magazine that also collects and reports on book world news but is read by lots of booksellers and librarians as well as editors and agents (and writers). Subscriptions to the proper magazine are quite expensive but you can get newsletters like the "Children's Bookshelf" twice weekly for free, and some big deals are announced there as well. This is more like a press release for the general reading public -- listings in PW tend to be more detailed and have author photos and such... So, PW may be more fun to read - though less useful as a down-and-dirty research tool.

Hope that helps! If you have other questions, put them in comments. xo


  1. Like your post on word-counts, this one will become a classic for those of us navigating the business of publishing and its codes.

  2. It's like breaking a code, learning to read hieroglyphics, talking to 10-year-old boys. Without a guide like this, I would be clueless. And now, I feel so much more competent! Thank you!

  3. Thank you for answering many of my questions and clearing up some confusion.

  4. Dionna5:06 AM

    I'm too cheap to pay $25 a month for PM, when I can usually find out the same information by checking Querytracker (LOVE IT!!) and by going to an agent's website and/or blog.

    One thing that's annoying is that many agency websites list the agency's overall clients, but not which agent represents which client.

    If I start with a book title I like, I can almost always find who represented that title by noting the dedication page, or by doing a simple Google search of the author.

    I did, however, assume that if an agent posted a sell on PW (not PM), that they were legit. I have queried several agents after seeing what they sold and to whom on PW. (I LOVE PW's weekly Children's Bookshelf. It makes me feel connected to the electricity of children's publishing!)

    Thanks for the informative post. Now go make some nice, major deals!

    1. Dionna, you are quite right - because PW *does* pick and choose, it is less likely that a fly-by-night agent or publisher will get in there. (And of course this isn't a HUGE PROBLEM with PM or anything, either - you just have to be aware that it CAN happen.)

      Also: I don't see any reason why a group of writers who all want to do agent/publisher research couldn't share a PM subscription for a month to save $$ . . .

  5. Anonymous7:49 AM

    Thank you very much for this informative blog. I only get the free daily free Publishers Lunch and like to read the section about People. Good luck in getting as many deals as you can handle, and every deal above Nice Deal is great. If readers like the book, the Nice Deal is only the start. Major deal can backfire if the book doesn't sell as expected. I once talked with an author from Scotland. She got a big advance, her book didn't sell well and her publisher and others were reluctant to publish her second book. It might be better to be a Turtle moving slowly, starting with a Very Nice Deal and collecting more royalties for the author and agent as the book start selling, making everyone happy. Chantilla the Nun.

  6. Thanks, Jennifer. Since your readers sound interested, let me add a few subtle points:

    - Deals are not reported just by agents. Any legitimate deal participant can report -- so a lot of our deals come from publishers, and a smaller portion come from authors, and rights licensors.

    - As a result, we generally have at least some data even on agents who tend not to report themselves. Because most big publishers now report a good portion of their deals of significance.

    - So I would say the idea that "plenty of EXCELLENT agents and agencies opt-out entirely" and would have nonexistent PM Dealmakers records is overstated. Probably significantly overstated. I do know well all the major agents and agencies.... Feel free to communicate with me privately on this; I'd be curious to know whom you have in mind here.

    - "There is nobody policing these announcements." This is not true. The context in this graph is correct -- we are not the Publishing Police, as I often tell people. There are sites like Writer Beware that can provide helpful context. As you note elsewhere, the PMsters review and edit every deal. We are not placing a judgment on any particular actor, and are not conveying "approval" or the lack of same to any reporting actor. Transparency has always been one of our core values. If Josie Schmagent wants the world to know she regularly sells to a small set of digital-focused publishers you may never have heard of, so be it. That is a telling piece of information by itself.

    We try hard to remain open to the changes in the publishing and reflect them suitably. A few years ago, many people would have put Entangled or Month9Books in with Joker's Wild Press

    - Our sometimes "peculiar" sounding style was the answer to creating a database entry that reads like text (a little). Each deal is an individual report, but together they comprise a structured database of about 90,000 entries and they populate 10-15,000 Dealmakers pages and many dozens of searchable categories/lists. That all flows the peculiar structure. Also, we wanted people to always be able to scan a deal listing and know they could find the same information (author, title, description, editor, agent, pub date, agent, agency, rights sold) in the same place.

    - On the deal categories, as you acknowledge, many people are uncomfortable revealing their advance size, but we believed strongly that providing some comfortable level of transparency/reporting would be *very* helpful to the community. And we realized that, when you're talking how the professional community assesses/reacts to deals of different sizes, knowing a rough range was sufficient and made it more likely people would report. Anyone is welcome to report their exact deal size if they want, but they don't. As the recipient, yes a $35k deal is much different than a $5k deal, but for the reasons we're signaling deal size, they really are essentially the same "kind" of deal. We never wanted to shine a light on the "meh" deals, but I agree that Scalzi's post is a hoot.

    - You're right that PM is not aimed towards writers; it's aimed towards all publishing professionals, and we treat authors exactly like all other publishing professionals. We have a substantial number of author members -- some stay for long periods of time, and some cycle in and out regularly as suits their needs and interests, which our monthly memberships make easy.

    - Deals are one of the main things authors like about our site, but not the only thing. They use our Contacts database, our Book Tracker, our Member Pages and Rights Board, and often enjoy our industry-leading news reports, too. Just saying....

    - To say that PW picks-and-chooses deals is incorrect. They basically take what they get, while insisting that what they get is given to them exclusively or some simultaneous first release with us. Because we pioneered this massive multi-function database and flow of deals, they get very little to post on their terms.

    1. Thanks for the clarifications, Michael. Very useful to get it from the horse's mouth! I'm a big fan of this database, and as I say, I use it daily, so hope you didn't think I was being insulting with "peculiar" etc -- "particular" might have been a better word. :-)

      Thanks for all you do!

  7. Such an informative post! Thanks, Kelly


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