AISFP 148 – Joshua Bilmes

THE BRAHMS DECEPTION, by Louise Marley, tells the story of Frederica Daniels, a time traveling musicologist who visits 1860s Venice and inhabits the body of Clara Schumann, lover of the brilliant musician Johannes Brahms. Will her travels threaten the career of Brahms and time itself?  The newest novel from Louise Marley is a time traveling alternate history praised by The Romantic Times and Visit her website to hear music samples that inspired the book.

Kaden is a teenage boy who can open wormholes to far away worlds. Aren can see into the memories and souls of those she knows. Together, they will be plunged into a world of war where their abilities threaten the existence of multiple universes. Charles M. Pulsipher presents THE CRYSTAL BRIDGE, a novel of science fiction mixed with just a dash of fantasy. Please visit Charle’s blog, and click HERE to visit his Amazon page.

The first of our World Fantasy Convention 2011 interviews features agent Joshua Bilmes, the President of JABberwocky Literary Agency. Moses spoke with Joshua about his recent blog post that discusses whether ebooks are killing the publishing industry, which led to some discussion of agency model ebook pricing. We discussed the agents working under Joshua at JABberwocky, how Joshua acquired Brandon Sanderson, and whether the Mets in 2007 or the Braves in 2011 suffered the more epic collapse.

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  1. Bilmes has some good things to say, but he’s off on other things. For one, the Kindle Fire is probably not being sold at a loss. The profit margin is said to be between 10 and 50 bucks a pop.

    I am also amused at his whole “if ten publishers say something isn’t good, maybe then it isn’t” line of thinking. I hope for the sake of his clients he doesn’t stop at ten rejections on a book. Ten is nothing. And how many self-publishers do we know of who got far more than ten rejections (or never even got to that point) who are making thousands on their books? An editor’s opinion is just that, an opinion.

    It was interesting to hear this stuff from an agent, especially someone considered one of the top agents in the biz. I look forward to the rest of the WFC interviews!

  2. I am listening to the podcast now and perhaps I have missed things along the way but it seems like this guy is too steeped in his own world to comment on the changes that may well be making his world obsolete.

    He has faith that a gatekeeper still has value. Faith is a good word to use because it’s something used to sustain belief that is not based in fact. I have read a fair amount of independently published stuff and some of it is good and some of it is not. I don’t need him or anyone else to tell me the difference.

    Also in the discussion of agency pricing, didn’t he say that because Amazon’s previous pricing scheme was unsustainable for Amazon authors were not going to be able to afford to produce literature. And then later he said that authors actually make less money on the agency pricing model.

    Here’s the thing. The bottom line point of the independent publishing of e-books is that agents and publishers are charging too much for their services. When Christopher Bunn can sell his entire Tormat trilogy for less than one agency priced e-book and make more money off of it, I find it hard to argue with the method he used.

  3. Annie, I have to say that that link doesn’t prove that Amazon is making a profit on Kindle Fire, although it does put forth some good arguments. Since this interview, I’ve also read in a few places that Amazon is selling these at a $10-$20 loss, but I really don’t know. This link uses similar logic to the link you posted, and it suggests that Amazon is losing around $10 per Kindle Fire: Link. I’m much more inclined to believe that Amazon is losing $10 per unit rather than making $50 per unit. Amazon’s strategy is always to undersell and hope to build longterm customer loyalty while annihilating all competition.

    As for ten rejections per book, I’m not sure how many really good publishing houses you can submit to with a SF/F book, but I don’t think it’s much more than ten. The pickins are fairly slim. If you want to try to name 20, be my guest. 🙂

    Personally, I think it’s fine to publish something that 10 or 20 editors rejected if you really believe in the work, but I can understand Joshua’s point of view on that issue from his place as an agent who is mainly focused on selling books to major publishers.

  4. Joshua was my agent a little over 20 years ago when he was starting out with Scott Meredith. He spent 4 years sending one of my novels around; he sent it to every publisher he thought would be interested and even one I recommended–before he finally gave up. I gave up writing long before he gave up on trying to sell my novel. Looking back on that–I wish I had asked him to pick out the five houses he had the best chance with, and give up after those five. In the meantime I could have written another novel and he could have sent that one around. I’m pretty sure he would have done that, and I wouldn’t have given up writing.

  5. Why would you limit your submissions just to F/SF specialty houses? Why not send to the bigger ones as well? I know my fantasy novel got about 20 rejections from editors before I self-published it. The bigger houses give you bigger advances, too. No reason to limit yourself to just a handful of places.

    But yeah. I never used an agent, either. So I’m irrelevant to the discussion of how agents will survive or not. I have no use for one and don’t see myself ever using one.

    I don’t know, I see Amazon as selling it at probably a slight profit. They might be taking a loss, but it seems counter to their usual “follow the money” policies. No way to know for sure though, alas. This holiday season is definitely going to be an interesting one for ebook sales though, I think that’s a given. 🙂

  6. He has many good things to say, but I don’t know how he can talk about bad self-published covers without being struck by lightning. I looked at the JaBberwocky ebook covers and almost all of them are bad. Not terrible, but definitely bad. For several of the authors they used the same piece of artwork for multiple books in a series, just changing the title. In a couple of cases, they played with the color but it was still the same piece of artwork. This is far from the first example I’ve seen of an agency putting out on the author’s behalf a mediocre product. I understand that some authors don’t want to be bothered with the details of self-publishing but I think JaBberwocky can, with little effort, do better for its clients.

  7. Shaun Farrell says

    Rex – it’s never too late my friend. If writing is something that you are still passionate about, give it another shot. With ebooks and podcasting, there are more ways than ever to share your work, even when an agent can’t sell it. And, please, let us know how it goes!

  8. Shaun Farrell says

    Annie and Moses – The number of houses available to an author obviously depends on the story itself. Some SFF novels can be packaged as techno-thriller or medical-thriller, even a mystery. A story about a space ship explore a nebula in another galaxy and finding an alien race living within the cloud. . . . well, the number of potential publishers certainly shrinks for that work!

  9. DAW
    Night Shade
    Del Rey Spectra
    47North (new one from Amazon)

    That’s 11 that I can think of. I don’t think there are many more places you can send a scifi or fantasy book and hope to sell it for a good advance in the US. But I don’t know for sure. I only play a literary agent on the internet. 😛

    Amazon was selling most ebooks at a significant loss (as we talked about in this interview) before Agency Model pricing, so they have an established history of undersell the competition even when it means that they literally lose money in the process. Amazon’s overall strategy is to gain market share by selling things cheaply, but maybe it’s a mystery whether they’re losing or making $10-$20 per Kindle Fire sale. Neither would surprise me.


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