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Getting the Six-Figure Advance

By Cheryl Bolen

Long-time agent Natasha Kern, who got six-figure advances for 12 of her authors this spring, spoke on that topic at the national Romance Writers of America Convention in Dallas in July.

In fact, Kern said, one of her authors has a seven-figure contract that is for multiple books through the year 2010.

Though Kern likes to build her authors to the point where they can get big-money contracts, she said it is important to her that her clients be as successful at the end of a contract (with high earnouts) as at the beginning. Before Kern works with an author she asks the author to fill out a marketing questionnaire.

To ensure an author's success at the end of a contract, Kern is involved at every stage of the book. "Seventy-five percent of the time, I demand my authors' covers be changed," she said.

Overseeing the covers, the marketing (which includes promotion and publicity), and getting good cover blurbs are all things that will contribute to a book's good sell-through.

She briefly discussed preempts and auctions.

"It takes a very experienced agent to do preempts," Kern said. "They're very tricky."

A preempt is when an interested publisher makes a high offer for a book in order to eliminate competition from other houses. The trick is knowing how high to set the price.

Could a book go for more in an auction? That is what the agent has to gamble on.

Regarding auctions, Kern said a book only needs two bidders to go to auction.
The agent determines how many rounds of bidding will occur.

There are some drawbacks to auctions, Kern said. What if the high-bidding agent is pregnant? Who will take her place? Will she work as well with the author?

Kern has been known to take less advance money for other considerations. Perhaps the publisher is buying bookstore real estate to promote the author's book. Perhaps the editor at a lower bidding house is much easier to work with. There are many factors to consider besides money.

Kern is very demanding with publishers every step of the way during a book's life. She has even been known to demand a book be reedited and repackaged.
By the same token, she is also demanding of her authors. She represents an author of a forthcoming book titled A'ish, Beloved of Mohammed, which is the story of the prophet's first wife. The book has already earned out its significant advance on the basis of foreign sales.

Kern worked with the author for two years before she ever tried to sell it. She even asked the author to work with a book doctor whose work Kern admires.

A couple of other interesting items came up in Kern's workshop. First, she only reports a small percentage of her deals to Publishersmarketplace. The reasons for this often have to do with an authors' prior contract. If the author is changing publishers, Kern does not want the former publisher to know about the change until after the release of contracted books. Oftentimes, publishers won't support a book with a marketing package if they know the author is moving to another house.

Secondly, Kern said she makes very few deals in the summer because so many editors are on vacation. She would rather wait until all are in place.

Then, hopefully she can get them in a bidding war!

- By Cheryl Bolen, who - after 10 sales - is still waiting for that six-figure advance.

This article was first published in
In Print, August 2007.

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