Getting the Six-Figure
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
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
Regarding auctions, Kern said a book only needs two bidders to go to
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
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
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
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
Then, hopefully she can get them in a bidding war!
- By Cheryl Bolen, who - after 10 sales - is still waiting for that
This article was first published in In Print, August 2007.