The Novel Project

Hello, readers —

Many, many thanks to the kind souls who have been writing in to let me know how my recent contest postings have (or have not) been helpful in getting contest entries out the door. Part of the difficulties of writing for a nebulous audience with a broad range of experience is that it’s hard to tell if I’m telling readers what they already know, so the feedback’s been very helpful.

For those of you who missed yesterday’s post, a novel of mine is just passing into the submission phase of its existence, the nail-biting period where editors shake their heads over it and, I hope, guffaw from time to time. I thought you might like to hear about what happens to a novel after an agent takes it off the author’s hands. So greetings from the Novel Project, Day 3.

Have you ever wondered what that notation in the agents’ guidebooks, “charges for photocopying” means, and why some agencies seem to do it and some don’t? Are some just nicer to authors than others? And what precisely are they photocopying? The book contract, or the Manhattan phone book?

Actually, the distinction is not between an agency’s charging for photocopying and not; it’s between whether the agency DOES photocopying or not. This may not seem like a major issue, but think about it: these people are dealing with many, many manuscripts. Where does each submission copy come from?

An agency that charges for photocopying will handle producing all of those necessary copies itself. Rather than asking for that money up front (copying deposits from writers used to be not uncommon), the agency will wait until the book is sold, then subtract the copying costs from the first part of the advance. (Depending on the agency, similar arrangements may exist for postage and/or messenger costs.) Basically, this kind of agency is demonstrating its faith in its clients’ books by fronting office expenses.

From the writer’s POV, there are definite plusses to this arrangement. It’s a lot less work, for one thing, than when the author handles making the copies herself. In most cases, if the book does not ultimately sell, the author never gets a photocopying bill. And often, the per-page price is quite reasonable, perhaps a bit more than your local Kinko’s, but then, you save the cost of shipping all of those copies across the country.

Do check before you sign, though, because sometimes it’s quite a bit more. (This is a perfectly legitimate question to ask an agent who is interested in representing you.) I have known authors who have opted out of the arrangement, choosing to make the copies for themselves, because it was cheaper.

There’s another reason that you might want to consider opting out. If you are a writer who is prey to last-minute qualms, rewriting and rewriting, it is not beyond belief that at some point, you will want to make a change after your agency has gone ahead and photocopied a previous draft — which would leave you with a double charge. And if we’re talking about 15 copies of a 300-page book… well, you do the math.

The other kind of agency does not photocopy, except in cases where instant production of a copy is deemed essential. Your agent was pitching something else, realized she was having lunch with the perfect editor for your book, but you were deep-sea diving off Costa Rica and could not be reached… that sort of thing. When this type of agency wants to submit your work, your agent calls you up and says, “Gee, can you send me 20 copies of your book proposal?” You make the copies yourself, then ship the whole shebang to the agency.

Yes, it’s more work, and yes, you do end up paying the shipping costs, which can be considerable. Paper is heavy. However, you have control over the type of paper used, the print quality, and even the number of submissions. When your agent has to ask, you can negotiate. You have absolute control of how much you are out-of-pocket — and even though all of these expenses are tax-deductible (even if you have a day job, writing can technically be your small business), you may very much want to make sure you don’t go too far into debt for them.

I’ve been with both types of agency, and I have to say, I prefer the latter. But then, I don’t feel that the paper generally used for photocopying is high enough quality to present my work well. Unless I’ve been asked to provide a zillion copies, I prefer to print them myself.

My writer friends have a name for this: obsessive. And perhaps it is. But something happened when I photocopied my master’s thesis that shook me to the core: unbeknownst to me, a copying machine ate pg. 42. So I turned in a thesis that was missing a page, one that I like to think was rather important to my argument. Woe and uproar ensued.

At the risk of making everyone paranoid, tell me, when you photocopy a long document, do you generally go through it to make sure that all of the pages are there? That none of them are smudged? Or that there aren’t extra blank pages tucked inside?

So that is why today, after yesterday’s little chat with my agent, I spent today printing up eight copies of my 395-page novel on bright white 24-lb. paper and stuffing them in a great big box. (In case you’re curious, it required an 18″ x 12″ x 10” cardboard crate.) Yes, it would have been substantially quicker just to run up the hill to my adorable little neighborhood copy store, but do you have any idea how much they charge for higher-grade paper? Or how they look at you when you want to go through each copy, page by page?

Okay, so maybe it IS a tad obsessive. But these copies are gorgeous. They feel good in the hand. The paper is blinding white; every letter on every page is dark and sharply-defined. I was able to catch that typo on pg. 361. And I assure you, pg. 42 is in each and every copy.

Besides, all of that printing time gave me leisure to punch up my author bio, which needed to accompany each copy. Of that, more tomorrow.

In the middle of the process, watching myself check margins for stray ink smudges, I had to laugh: after all of my months of urging you all to pay attention to the cosmetic details, this is probably how many of you picture me spending every day. No, just when a submission has to get out the door, but then, I truly do practice what I preach.

Ah, the glamour of a writer’s life…

Keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

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