On Publishing as a Form of Value Investment

value investment (n): a form of investment in which those who invest select companies’ stocks or other forms of financial receptacles that are either undervalued objectively on the market or have a yet-undiscovered or yet-unactivated potential, both relative to the potential as understood by investors

Value fund managers look for companies that have fallen out of favor but still have good fundamentals. The value group may also include stocks of new companies that have yet to be recognized by investors. (from this post on Merrill’s website)

As an example:

Say you have a human person who identifies a need, and then the mind model or conceptualization for the product that can meet the need.

I’ll share one company which I follow on Twitter, to which I gave a shout-out, given that great thriller or speculative writers might find something very interesting for themselves in this company’s work, if their plot development depends in any shape or form on cool IT or tech developments that have never been treated before in fiction: Axon produces technology to help protect the lives of police officers and others working within the public safety realm. (Check out the video on this page. Isn’t this the coolest?)

Using Axon as a purely theoretical example–I do not know the details of Axon’s own strategic planning or history, in terms of conceptualization-to-patent-to-product-development–this can be said: Before someone thought about the time that it takes a police officer to identify a person who observed a crime, to taking notes in an interview, to transcribing those notes for their own chief, to then moving on the transcription–a product did not exist that could aide police officers in saving this time.

Then someone figured the genius idea out, and then Axon moved on the concrete product development, and then it had to launch its own public stocks, and then people had to identify those stocks, and then invest in them. Before these stocks took on some form of public urgency, though–and certainly before the product was ever developed–the value of the product and thus of the stock was undervalued; by value, here, we mean its financial weight relative to other stocks on the market (it’s valued less than it ought to be, given the definition above). A good value investor, in doing his/her research, will identify products of this kind.

Find the newest, coolest need; respond to it; invest in it; and then watch your investment return significantly greater funds than investment in a product that meets a need that isn’t really a need.

Besides this form of dynamic financial value, measured at the level of the stock, there is also the value of the product or company understood in its human or aesthetic sense–the value met, in a personal way, of a product developed and used. It’s an interesting matrix, to think about both the value of the stock as it is, financially, and also the value of the product in human terms.


A long time ago, during my undergrad, I took a course in international development, and one of the questions treated in the course was micro-financing. I was fascinated, also, given that it made sense–both on paper and in experience, given huge case studies abroad–for an investor to pay $250 for a sewing machine, and give a woman a sewing machine, so that with apt sewing skills, she could maximize the value of the $250 over time with the development and sale of her own products (and the investment serving as a sort of guarantor of that kind of value-maximization over time), than to just give her $250.

Shocking, isn’t it, what a basic “mind model” distinction between pure funds and product value, in one form or another contingent on funds, can do to investors–as well as to the creation and maintenance of healthy infrastructure, over time?

If you think about it, book publishing is sort of like this–or could be like this, if writers, agents, editors, publishers, and investors in the book publishing realm thought about their own work with this kind of an acute sensibility and analysis of the kind of product being pitched. This applies, in a particular way, to non-fiction, especially non-fiction that is built and ordered toward the development and maintenance of longevity in infrastructure–a good book about tobacco as a public health concern will aide federal and state governments in responding to these public health concerns in actuality, beyond the theory about the issue and the theory about the necessary public health response contained within the book.

The book is both a product of theory as it is a product that opens up a demand–an undervalued need, say, before the book is published–among readers across the world.

One way to think about agenting on the non-fiction end is this: A primary underlying task involves sifting through huge quantities of research of diverse kinds (financial, creative, regional, personal, and more) to place the highest-quality products, unique in their content, before publishing houses for purchase, given the model above. The research is key to finding holes in published products. Why has the whole planet, for example, never published a book about some of the world’s most key, individual historical icons? You might be surprised about the depravity in biographies.

I, for example, with regards to the development of proposals from the ground up for non-fiction books, help academics sift through large quantities of data and their own research to shape an argument for popular/trade publication (think your big five publishing houses: Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, etc.). Buy this, because it is genius, and it needs to be published; it fits a need, and it creates an experience, and it moves readers over time to remain committed to a product and an imprint, to an idea and to a conversation.

[Read: At its heart, agenting and publishing in this way is a project of ‘long-term, value-only investment’ applied to a different form of creative work. I spend time with ‘companies’ (books) to place before ‘analysts’ (editors, publishers) to maximize authors’ returns (royalties, post-advance earnout) over time. Fun, isn’t it–what it does to the mind?]

So much more could be said, but this is one of the reasons why I came back to book publishing. Really good books, fiction and non-fiction both, have a huge potential to save the world–good fiction aides culture, creates minds and hearts in a vision of humanity and the good; genius non-fiction helps us understand the structures we create and adopt, and helps us also run a thousand miles in the direction of change that brings true joy, and freedom, collaboration and acute responses, and moves those with minds and hearts for good conversation into those exact conversations.

I’ll leave these musings here.

“The Person Project”: A PDF That May Pose Hard Questions

Dear Beloved Readers,

I am fully aware that, if you put my name into Google, you will find quite a breadth of resources and links and articles and posts–over hundreds of different territories–about my life, including my work in agenting as well as my work in different contexts.

There is nothing that I desire to hide about any of it, even if some of it may require being put into context–especially given that we come to understand those things we do, and the ways in which we engage in them, in our own way. For me, my understanding of everything that I do has been shaped infinitely by a fundamental commitment to unconditional love, a radical preference for the other, and a radical preference for self-sacrifice.

One post that you might stumble upon in your research is this one, for a project that I designed and taught, this past April, at the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C. The project was called “The Person Project,” and it was styled after my undergrad degree.

I spoke about it to an agent friend of mine at a conference earlier this spring, and wanted to put this out there, so that there’s context to what I have done, who I am, and the disposition that I bring to the work I’m doing in book publishing today.


This is not an evangelical post, if we understand ‘evangelical’ to mean an imposition upon you of some kind of principle, or a movement toward an ideology. I define ‘ideology’ here as some kind of disproportionate or self-selected vision of the world, one that doesn’t fully correspond with the way and rules by which it’s structured, and in which it operates and unfolds; in other words, the adapting of some kind of a premise or truth that doesn’t actually show up in the world unless we imagine it, or force it to be there, because we want it to be.

I also think ideology arises when people aren’t honest about the content of their own experience, and those dimensions of experience that could be integrated, healed, or directed to a different end or content. For example, if you have anxiety, why not this question: Is anxiety all there is? And that’s it.

That’s all I do. I ask hard questions, and I look for answers that fit.

My work, therefore, is not evangelical work, if understood in the way above. Whether you profess a faith or not, whether you profess mine or not, I love you, and I respect you, and I appreciate your experience, and I want to know you and to understand you; to know you and understand your experience. If you don’t make sense, though, then you and I will have a bit of a pickle–and I’ll ask more hard questions; I prefer thought that fits, and thought that coheres what it itself professes, especially on the non-fiction end.

There is no writer, no agent, no editor, no publisher, or otherwise in this business who should be afraid that I would impose upon you a reality that you yourself have not chosen.

Ultimately, therefore, this is a post that is designed to prompt questions–and to share some new ideas–not with the intent of imposing, or ‘converting’; it is certainly not a post designed to judge, discriminate, or to condemn, because in this heart of mine there is no movement of this kind and never has been. It is a heart that loves your experience as it is, and is prompted only to ask, Can there be more? Do you have everything that you need and desire? Have you ever tried this experience, and is the pursuit of a new kind of experience something that might change your life forevermore? It might be worth it.


I was raised Catholic, by Polish Catholic parents; Poland is a country deeply Catholic at heart, and so it was a deeply cultural reality (in addition to being a deeply theological one), with Poland’s different political, social, and cultural movements informed by its profession of faith in a god: God, the Other, a trinity/unity of three persons, ‘person’ understood as a ‘phenomenon of relativity.’ In other words, to be person is to stand in relationship; to have relationship as something at the core of your very being, and that this relationship is a necessity for you and your life.

When I was an undergraduate in college, I had the privilege of taking an independent study course on the human person, from the perspective of the Catholic Church. Prior to then, I–despite being Catholic–did not know that there was a huge trajectory of philosophical, theological, and psychological content that underlies this understanding of the human person and human life, as well as the Church’s understanding of human potential.

To be a saint, as the Church understands it, is to love much. I fell in love with this concept, and to this day remain utterly fascinated with it: I want to love much. I want to love you, and to love you much. My heart is that you be fully provided for, and that I be present fully to you. I want to not come to you with any preconceived notion of who you are, or how or why you are the way you are; I want to be able to ask questions, and not offend you, and promise a lack of offense about any kind of question which you yourself might want to pose me.

I want to make sure that you are healthy, and integrated and whole, and happy. I want to make sure that you are spontaneous, and that nothing binds you, impairs you, or imprisons you; I want to see you free of guilt and shame, which are two realities inside of us that bind, impair, and imprison us, among others.

I, as I mention in my bio, reject any and all discrimination; I also reject any and all ideas that are proposed without a deep, thorough examination of their rationality and their consequence upon the person, with his/her experience.


Knowing that there are contentious questions that are always prompted, I will say simply this: When it comes to questions of trauma; sexuality and gender; abortion, euthanasia, etc.; and otherwise, I am beyond persuaded that persons’ experiences of these items and the related actions they take are so complex, and diverse, that there is no easy way to articulate their ‘structure’ universally (from where this action comes, how it’s taken, the degree to which one is conscious of it and a volitional participant in it). The structure of the experience in context of any of the specific actions taken is vital to determining the ethical value of that action, taken on behalf of any individual person.

Pre-requisite to any action is the inherent goodness of our person (which takes a particular kind of experience to fully know, and to internalize–modern psychology gives us this evidence, showing that without affection and tenderness, human beings wither), and I would agree with the fundamental position of Karol Wojtyla, later Pope John Paul II, who argued that we become who we are as ethical agents through the choices we make/actions we take. We make ourselves, in some sense, who and what we are. If, then, there is any reason to think that any of the actions related to the phenomena above decrease love, integrity, unity, and a healthy, spontaneous participation in relationship, I would say there is grounds, right there, to start asking hard questions.


Over the years, I’ve done my research–across dozens of different religions, different experiences, different ways of experiencing reality, of different positions on the nature of ‘virtue’ (which I have come to understand as nothing more fundamental or interesting or difficult than actions that create and maintain in us the experience of unity), of different positions on ethical questions and issues, and more, and I’ve come to a place in which, tested by intellect/reason and experience and choice, I have come to personally prefer a whole series of positions on these questions, and I wanted to share them with you.

I trust you to respect me for these positions, if you were to consider them. I consider every position that comes my way, ask where it comes from, and “mind model” it into a logic model, as best I can.

I prefer them because I have tested them by experience, and they have crystallized my mind–I have experienced a greater clarity over my mind, my choices, my commitments, my friendships; they have taken away fear; they have prompted and opened me to generosity and love, in a freedom and a self-possession that I did not know was possible.

Here’s the PDF with resources.

All of the content within the PDF is mine, unless otherwise noted (in other words, the overview/outline, the annotations, and the overview of the resources are all written by me; the excerpts from Attachments, the spiritual theology manual, and the Heart of the Father ministry resources were generated by those cited). It was a project I launched in a former workplace, but never completed there, given that its design and implementation was rooted in my own degree and experience; I now house it on my own.

Read the PDF this way:

+ In the outline for the content, which I taught from memory, you’ll find this: The Church teaches that there is a structure to all things, and a cause for all things. All things come to be because of something else, and thus we are and become causes for things we bring into existence–including our books.

+ In the excerpt from the book on attachments, you’ll find this: The degree to which we have been loved informs the degree to which we have an easy time being in relationship with other human beings, and the degree to which we have an easy time in relationship informs the degree to which we have an easy time in romantic relationships and marriage, especially.

The degree to which we have an easy time in these relationships is the degree to which we have an easy time raising our kids, and if we cause things, then the way we are as parents informs the way we create/form/shape our children. I owe my love of my life to my mother and my father, and my mother in a special way, given her radical and heroic peace during years of ovarian cancer; she testified that a peace that surpasses understanding was possible, and I have sought it and love it and know it and prefer it.

+ In the account of ‘sin’ from the spiritual theology manual (which can sound like it’s judgmental and condemning, when at its foundation, it is a reflection on a spectrum of different kinds of experiences as understood by saints of the Church), you’ll find this: The promise of an experience of deep prayer that is formative and creative, received and deepened over time; a form of prayer that leaves an impact. I know this kind of prayer by experience.

+ In the account of different lies or forms of spiritual bondage (which can sound a bit dramatic, but is not, if you know people who are deeply wounded–and/or if, in thinking about it, you acknowledge that you have had or even now have something of this interior experience), you’ll find this: An account of people’s experiences, this way understood; these kinds of experiences manifested, in some kind of bondage, or denial, or pain, or otherwise, about which the Church would say, to your heart and mind, This is not everything there is; there is more, and you can be free.

+ In the booklist, you’ll find this: An account of my own understanding of reality, in simplified form, which has proven true to my intellect/reason, to my will and the choices I have made, and to my entire life, with all its experience and its desire for integrity, because integrity gives me peace, makes me happy, perfects love, and gives me an energy that is unceasing–I love the life I have led, and I have lived it with no regrets.

+ In the resources, you’ll find this: A list of resources for different kinds of healing; know that some of these ministries are contingent upon what Christians may call the charismatic or spiritual gifts. This offers an interesting set of experiential testimonies; I know the fruitfulness by experience, also.


I don’t need you to ‘convert.’ I just ask that, if you have some free time, you take a look at some of the books. I love The Religious Sense, and I love Theology and Sanity, and I love I Want to See God and I Am a Daughter of the Church, and you might just be surprised to find something much more intelligent, and clever, and broadly-minded in Catholicism than you might expect.

Note also that I offer this as a post to any of you who have been damaged by the ideology that persons who profess a faith, be it Catholic or not, sometimes create and induce in the lives of human people; they say they believe, but they do not, and they say that they love, but they do not, and they say that they will be unconditional before you, but they are not. They dismiss testimonies of experience, and they dismiss their own experience; they dismiss their own limitations. I would go so far as to say that deep prayer, over years, imprints in me the experience of total, actual, easy unconditionality, and the lack of any kind of emotional or other trigger before others.

“There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979)

Fiction, of every kind, has opened my entire life to each of you–to the life and imagination of my clients, and to my favorite authors, and to authors whom I have a hard time internalizing, all at the same time–and so while I partake in fiction, also, I offer here this more extended list of non-fiction loved and internalized over the years, to add to that list of non-fiction for which I am seeking actively: anything that starts a conversation, and anything that really challenges you, as everything that I have ever read and preferred has challenged me.

With all my love,

Dubz

P.S. This is partially inspired by the work of Rachel Wahl, PhD, on receptive learning during political crisis:

Drawing on Charles Taylor’s conception of the primacy of moral identity and his assertion that ideals can be best understood through the study of how people enact them, Wahl argues here that some aspects of the secular liberal imaginary can hinder noninstrumental engagement, but that such engagement may be precisely what is needed to bridge the deepest divides.

P.P.S. I also would encourage reading something like Love Thy Neighbour (Convergent/Penguin Random House, 2019), a beautiful testimony from a Muslim medical doctor about his own profession of faith, in small-town MN. Derek, its editor, recommended it to me weeks ago, over coffee, as a testimony worth hearing.

RAINBORNE: Excerpt

Once upon a time, a little girl wrote a novel, and she thought it was brilliant. Said little girl sent many a query, and received many a pass in a self-addressed, stamped envelope. (So were the days, once upon a time.)

Today this little girl reads and sells terrific novels, and maybe just a little bit, in her spare time, tinkers with a new one of her own.

Just maybe.

About:

The heart of Emperor Lukas has rotten black, and he moves to finish the thousandth year of imperial ethnic cleansing—secretly seeking artificial means to extend the lifespan of royal blood, beginning with his own.

Desperate to forever secure this imperial dynasty, what remains is for him to destroy the impossibly-traced diaspora of the Vanished: gypsy believers in the legend of a living flame that creates life itself. Were its power salvageable, off-the-grid gypsies could rise to thwart his persecution and imperial destiny both. He will forfeit no end to find the last of them, including manipulating the galaxy’s rain to dehydrate them into extinction.

What Lukas does not expect is that the flame is working out an end of its own, and its chosen instruments lie in a past-less rain tracker from inside the imperial kingdom—of all places—and a gypsy girl raised by the flame itself.

Soon, all will discover that imperial pride bears no match to this flame, and unless the galaxy is returned to right order, skies will turn to fire, stars will fall like ashes, and all its people, royal blood or no, will drop like swamp flies.

RAINBORNE is a 140,000-word epic science fantasy, a deep thriller element integrated, Hayao Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky meets Treasure Planet for adults.


PROLOGUE

DUCHO

Before men forgot, they spoke of me in whispers.

Whispers, which bestowed power over the earth.

Bestowed glory, for they were to be like gods.

*

I hear different legends now.

Mothers to daughters, fathers to sons.

They are legends of men who bear within them a kind of dying living. Men who survive in body, eyes empty of softness and light and destiny, and pass living death from one generation to the next. Their hearts no longer live, and they would be corpses were it not for the unity of body that keeps integrated their organs, their mind and their will, their heart despite its death.

These hearts have ceased to live in the fire, and so it is that—where otherwise the world inside of one truly alive brims with flames, releases the sweet perfume of union with others, and bears an infinitely full presence—the dead know none of it, walking the earth as shells dark with emptiness.

-1-

RAPH

The sniper comes to the academy with the sandstorms.

Raph watches from the observatory as she emerges over the gates, small and cautious, a pack over her shoulder, and leaps to the cobblestones in silk moccasins. Swirls of bronzed gold heave behind her, alive and roaring against imperial walls, a crystal sky their very distant backdrop. Sand wipes across her cheeks, and she tucks her face into the linen of her shoulder, seeking an angle at which she can breathe.

It is Lukas III who has called her.

He will soon send her with a rifle to strike against diasporas beyond these walls: bullets through brains and hearts and muscles, guaranteed expulsions of blood, bodies skinned in statements of royal hegemony.

Stories of the martyred ones leave sulfur along the lining of Raph’s stomach. He has never seen them, but the very promise of more stories of ravaged bodies turns him to his post. His palm tests his lamp for its heat as pieces crystallize in his mind: The grander ships, docked more often. A constant flow of military gear through hall arches with long, lean rifles. Shackled prisoners shuffled in behind guards, with skin shades new, some a darker, richer hazel, others so pale that Raph muses whether sunlight ever touches them.

He moves the flame housed in the lamp to the thread that runs through the wiring of the wall, lights it, and watches it shred eastward toward the imperial tower, gentle beneath the sandy onslaught that threatens to kill it.

Awake, this flame says.

For she has come.

-2-

NEL

In a shack built into a deserted island, the Vanished track oncoming rainstorms in the height of black nights. When rainfall moves closer to the island globe hanging in mid-sky, the commune of the Vanished emerges in forbidden quiet, in hidden solitude, to hold vases open to the gift of life that falls.

Their arms loop around ceramic and gold, vases etched and marked by use. When the Vanished feel the tears of rain over the vase rims, and know them to be full, they descend to store supplements in dark, musty cellars.

Quiet, and solitary.

Cool to the touch.

In cellars the vases stand, from which the Vanished draw when the rare drought slams its impact over territories lost to imperial maps. Nighttime militia never checks these posts, but were the commune to be found stealing rain, the emperor would drive his stake home until their heads fell.

In the autumn watch a year prior, rain did not come: a drought. Droughts can be expected, in the same way certain years pass without snowfall to enchant the inhabitants of islands lost to memory.

Now: the second season passes without rain, and the skies stand empty.

Nel of the Vanished bends her head before the thought. The commune has never risked dehydration, and certainly not extinction by dehydration. But vessels in the cellars have stood dry for weeks.

Just one vase, lined with gold centuries old, holds in a fresh collection left sunsets ago by nomadic fishermen in thanksgiving, ese molecules from the isa yet to split. Another six weeks shall pass before this split, and in that time, cups of it will evaporate, victim to time.

That will be too long.

Po needs isa to brew hleb, to enflame human hearts.

Go too long without it, and the hardening of the heart begins. Nighttime screams escape as lungs and brains of the Vanished suffocate without nourishment, the integrity of heart to mind to body shattered.

Gifts weaken, then cease.

Love, with its union, crumbles—the last of the heart before it dies entirely. Then, death lurks upon the members of the commune, final.

Nel’s heart clenches.

Behind her, the Vanished stand, all heads bowed.

A mourning before firm skies impregnated with silence.

Where the Vanished once kept to the promise of re-awakening, re-appearing, returning home, this same promise now feels empty and impossible.

Po steps before all of them.

“And so it is,” he says. “We shall move.”

Move into the open, and risk, thus, life.

-3-

RAPH

Raph purses his lips as Andres slams down a card with a hand-sketched dagger, its length barely the size of the pointer finger, designed to rupture throats, and grins.

“Say it one more time,” Raph says. “You what?”

“Saw her, yesterday. We should fine her. Cobalt eyes, this one.”

The sniper.

The one about whom he is not permitted to speak.

Hairs on Raph’s neck stand on edge as memory flicks backward. He saw her also, sent he was to observe, but the rule Lukas always has is that only one observes whilst the others sleep. For many to catch her would be a risk to many a heart and mind; the men would seek after her in the mornings, and busy their gazes with her figure instead of their codes, the numbers with which they play, the dances which they prepare.

How Raph wishes to know more before the sniper leaves grounds: the chance for one question, or one story of past targets shot. The librarian this morning could not explain to Raph why Lukas insists on the return of skulls to hang in the throne room, and he wonders whether, in her arrival on imperial grounds, she brings with her any answers, any context, any stories from foreign lands that have gone untold in this one.

Perhaps she might even test a snipe.

It would be bloody worth it to find her.

From the west wall, with half an hour to spare before the next test, amid an attempt to salvage his honor, there is nothing he may do to realize his wish.

A naval cap hangs skewed over Andres’ head, an attempt to loosen the pieces of himself over which he has some control—in the hours free prior to the next training run, when it will be all perfect edges, ironed trousers, shoulders pitched back, fingers together. He reshuffles his cards, quick and sure, a toss of one set from his right to left.

Play,” he says.

Raph shifts his own cards, and lays out two imperial crowns. He knows that Andres, with his memory, has counted every card played, and has bets in his mind on each one that remains in hand. The plays are running hard toward his loss. Again.

Andres moves his hand halfway to the table with a card before he pulls his arm back to reconsider.

Raph snaps. “Oh, come on! Bollocks!” He slams his fist, and the table reverberates fury. “What do you mean, you saw a sniper?”

“Came in as the sun was setting…”

Andres, Raph thinks, needs a good whipping. The first target the smirk on his face.

“And?” Say more.

“She had the rifle and scope with her, and was carrying one of those full-length packs on her back.”

“Think Master will say something?” Raph asks.

Concerned. Andres saw her too, when he was not supposed to.

Saw more than him, maybe, but he cannot ask for the details. He has already crossed over his boundaries.

If we ask?

“Course not.” Andres gives Raph a hard stare, then sighs. “Ye always expect him to put more effort into telling the truth than ye ought, you know. The man doesn’t have it in him.”

Not that Master Tomas lies. He speaks only when he must. Which is, Raph thinks, very much a kind of lying.

They all lie.

The Master of Trackers, who trains him, and Emperor Lukas VI, who sends him, alongside the imperials guardians and their tomes that acquire library dust on shelves in backroom corners.

They all lie, if lying includes rewriting history—or denying events that make history up. A standing by, as if it doesn’t matter that a story told without all the details means that those details won’t survive. Or cannot survive, when the emperor burns whole passages of poets in their first and sixth editions both, alongside carved statues with such perfect etches that curiosity arises in Raph about the makers of the tools even before the sculptors who carve.

The first trace of the limits to storytelling he discovered with a streak of bitterness with the story of his own origins. Their status: unknown. Just an indecipherable letter, damaged in a pool of spilled tea, left with his little body upon an imperial doorstep eighteen years ago. Some mothers abandon.

The second trace lies in the tomes themselves, when curiosity about his own person opens a curiosity with all persons. He picks them up, shifts them from one hand to the other, and traces his hands over parchment ridged, a habit never old—then runs his imagination through facts contained within until they dance as living stories in his mind, to take shape when he awakens from slumber and follow him until he lies down again. Sometimes they blur even with his dreams, and on the days after, his heart aches to break through the structure of the academy, to step past the books and empire and see the facts beyond. To watch facts be written, so that he can better grasp the art of history-making as he has had twelve years to grasp the art of tracking.

Years into reading as a novice imperial historian he realized he wanted an answer to the one unasked question: Why an imperial history at all?

He dared to pose the question, to speak it out loud in words sounded with desire. Mistress Coralie, at the library front desk, with a bent in her back grown by years behind it, neglected him with a firm purse of her lips.

Raph tried once, twice, thrice more, and left her to records. The question persists.

Something in him inquires.

The highest of his cards is a double-rifle, so he sets it, and takes the cards on the table into his hands. Thirteen more to discard now.

Andres lays down a sniper—oh, the games chance plays on card players—and shines his teeth at Raph with a tip of his head.

“I can’t do this anymore.” Raph sets his down, and punches in with a fisted hand, a dramatic flair. The phoenix on his neck, calligraphy of the thickest paint, gazes out from unformed eyes.

“Ye mean it?” Half-serious, as if Andres believes him.

The poor bastard would not survive the academy without cards. Only reason Raph plays him.

“Not at all.” Raph muffles words against the table before he raises his head and slips the scorecard between them. “One hundred games played—and I’ve lost eighty-three.”

And wins are the ones you let me.

He has learned that Andres is the most excellent of card players, without habit of losing, especially with a game of crowns and daggers. “So much hope for me, Andres. So much. I had best absolutely give it up now, entirely, before you butcher this reputation I ought maintain. First on track for corporal, you know.” He juts his chin.

Andres laughs, and sounds his maturity, a small hint of pride in games won. Raph rises up and fists Andres’ head into the crook of his elbow, his uncut blonde hair loosing from its catch, the other hand hard against the other’s chin. “You’re lucky to have such a memory for cards, you rat, because otherwise there’d be no chance.”

The shaking of laughter in Andres’ shoulders loosens Raph’s grip.

Before he knows it, Andres has wrapped one hand up behind his back, onto his shoulder, and dragged him to the floor.

But Raph’s weight is light, and it takes just one adjustment, with Andres above him, to push this weight into his arms and flip back to the place of judge.

His hand rests against Andres’ throat. Tighten a little more, and he could kill him.

Bells ring from the eastern wall, then: high noon.

They are late—these the lessons they learn, and practice.

On The Link Between Queries, Pitches & Contracts

Q. What, exactly, is the relationship between queries, agents’ pitch letters to editors, and the contract that follows?


A. The query introduces the book to an agent. The pitch letter introduces the book to an editor and publisher. The contract finalizes the sale.

See these posts, which have already done the work to put this into foundational context, from former literary agent Nathan Bransford:

  1. What is a query letter from author to agent?
  2. What is a query/pitch letter from agent to editor?

Beyond Nathan’s wonderful posts, note that most writers cannot secure an agent without a solid query letter, which prompts the manuscript request and then an offer of representation to secure the writer as a client at the agency. Once an offer of representation between a writer and an agent is confirmed, that writer confirms agency representation status with a legally-binding agency agreement, and that agent can represent the writer before publishers/imprints with their editors.

An agent and an author can (and ought to) engage in systematic conversations about the nature of this relationship before the agency agreement is confirmed, given that, in signing it, the author confirms a formal, legal relationship for the duration of their career (or project-by-project, pending the structure of the agency agreement).

A query letter will almost always be the first encounter between a writer and an agent, and given that agents will read 5,000-20,000 or so queries over the course of the year, the letter has to stand out beyond belief in order to capture an agent’s imagination. Beyond the query, the manuscript itself, and where a non-fiction writer is querying also (many will come to the agency without querying, in that they often have a platform or expertise that surpasses the query trenches), the proposal, will also have to shatter the agent. An agent must be persuaded s/he can sell a project before s/he proceeds with its submission.

For a record of public query letter vetting, check out literary agent Janet Reid’s excellent blog, QueryShark.

Some clients will come to the agent without querying: through conferences, conversations begun by the agent or the writer, an agent’s active research and pitching to authors potential book ideas or projects, or otherwise. Especially with non-fiction projects, an idea may be pitched and conversations had before a proposal and an agency agreement are formalized, given that certain academics, experts, or otherwise may have never considered trade publication and sought it out.

One of my own agenting loves and strategies, of a kind, is this kind of non-fiction proposal development, given that I read broadly in the deeper academic or non-trade sphere (dissertations, journals, magazines of a more academic orientation, and otherwise), often encounter life-changing and mind-altering ideas and theory, and find much of it deeply relevant to the greater public sphere. This kind of brainstorming and development work is almost always the purview of the literary agent, even if certain editors do elect to pay close attention to news/social media/publishing outlets, to experts, and/or to writers, to then chase after potential projects.

It’s much harder to find a writer and pitch a novel, even if it does happen sometimes, as agents and editors pull novelists-to-be from the screenwriting or short story trenches; novels are harder to build from the ground up, are far more interiorly and existentially demanding, and the practice of craft manifests itself differently from more academic or factual writing. Memoirs are an exception.

When submitting a book, an agent will often include a solid pitch letter to the editors to whom s/he submits (even if one is not intrinsically required at this stage, in this degree of complexity, given the nature of relationships built over time between editors and agents). It is almost impossible for writers to place a project, let alone to place it brilliantly, without an agent.

A healthy submission–the right project, to the right editor, from the right agent–will then result in a sale, and open up the incipient contract negotiation. When confirmed, and signed, this contract legally binds the author to the publisher.

Thus agents become, and have always been, essential for the management of all the stages of the publication and career-building process: project submission and placement, contract negotiation [there is a need for fluency in the legal dimension, which is given/taught by the industry and mentors; contracts are not mere legal frameworks to protect the author, however, but are also tools of adapting to the industry, fundamentally contingent they are upon the book publishing market as a whole, from publishing models to distribution models (i.e., the royalty hierarchies for different publication forms, from trade hardcover, to trade paperback, to mass market paperback, to electronic, to audio, and more)*], marketing support, career management, and more. The vast majority of authors do not have, nor do they want, the business capacities to agent well for themselves.


*What is the nature of this distinction?

Standard contract language between two parties, to protect the interests of both parties, will be ‘transactional language’ here, identifying the nature of the two parties, the nature of the transaction, and the nature of the obligations due to one party versus another. Here a good contracts lawyer can help review/vet the contract (note: a good contracts lawyer), even though the best agents will be operating at a contracts lawyer’s capacity, if not beyond it; the work of literary agents, in this dimension, is supremely intelligent and demanding work.

Besides a kind of transactional protection, however, the publishing agreement puts forth and guarantees a market-based framework for this particular form/type of product (a book). Inserted into the agreement is not just language that negotiates the transaction between the Author and the Publisher, as two key contractual parties, but also between the Author v. Publisher v. Marketplace, in that the Publisher is going to be publishing within and responding to a Marketplace which he cannot control.

(To be particular, with examples:

A standard contract might mediate a simple transaction between two parties. For example: when you pay me $250k, I will sign over the rights to my house to you. This transaction can be and often is made independent of the state of the housing market, and the necessity of or the desire for this form of transaction often transcends or precedes the state of the market. If the housing market is poor, the house will sell for less, but it will still sell, and on the other hand, if the housing market is strong, the house will sell for more, but once the sale is made, the transaction is completed. If it sells again in another 25 years, the sale will be negotiated in an entirely different negotiation, with an independent set of contractual terms.

In book publishing, the publishing agreement does not only mediate this simple form of transaction; it also mediates the Publisher’s responsibility to the Author before the entire, ever-changing Marketplace, over the duration of the existence of the book in that Marketplace, across different forms of publication and distribution.

While contract language does, where appropriately negotiated, account for changes in industry standards, what it often does not do is protect against such large potential institutional changes that the entire contract base would need to be re-negotiated, to account for the marketplace infrastructure which will now affect the potential of the author and said book project. Systematically, ever-more-so, authors find it more viable to self-publish, for example, or to publish with smaller or medium-sized publishers that have perfected more sustainable marketing, digital advertising, and distribution models; if we understand your traditional publisher to be the publisher that sets the standard for the nature and quality of publication, no longer do ‘traditional publishers’ own all of the turf, nor do they necessarily consistently excel at the quality of publication. This is the space for agents to be innovative responders to the movements and limitations of publishers before them.

As another, fun little thought, to help put this into context: There are something like 3.5k+ companies with publicly traded stocks on the stock market. I’ve done some basic research here, so take this with some form of a grain of salt, and as merely a conceptual tool, but: Given that the nature of the products on the stock market is so broad and diverse, it is its own project to not only mediate the contract for funds invested between the Investor/Hedge Fund and Company, as example parties, but to also account for the type of Marketplace within which every kind of product is sold, beyond the time frame to which funds are committed as subject to changes at the level of the stock market.

To invest in tech is not the same thing as to invest in organic, hand-made soap, a sprinkle of cinnamon tossed in; in other words, beyond acknowledging that the marketplace for these things does and can change, it could also be possible and wise for investors to push for/pre-determine the outlets by which a product is sold and the medium by which it is produced. As far as I can tell, not all–if not very few–boilerplate contracts between investors and companies that are on the receiving end of this investment include this latter kind of structured contractual language, helping to shape and negotiate the state of the sub-industry for the product developed by any said company.)

Terms with regards to royalties, forms of publication, distribution models, publication discounts, and others are all subject to change–to a change beyond the immediate agency of the publisher who puts the product into the marketplace in the first place. Here, a hard knowledge of different infrastructural pieces within the industry, the degree to which they are subject to change, and otherwise, is fundamental to the highest quality of contract negotiation for authors.

On Deals

Q. What, exactly, is at the foundation of ‘a book deal’?


A. When a literary agent licenses a project (sells it) or projects (sells them) to a publishing house, this transaction (the Word .docx manuscript for the novel or non-fiction proposal in exchange for the financial advance, money paid upfront for the right to publish and distribute the content in any given territory or sets of territories) is considered a ‘deal.’

Once the deal is negotiated and the book sold, the financial advance must be ‘earned out’ (enough book copies sold to return to the publisher the money paid upfront) before the author ever earns royalties. Money that isn’t earned out, however, never needs to be returned to the publisher, unless the contract so stipulates it (depending on the circumstances); it is paid out in its chosen proportion as an intentional investment in the project, and an intrinsic endorsement of its quality and potential.

It is industry standard that the agency takes a 15% cut on any of the earnings involved, from advance to royalties, for base or domestic sales.

With some variance, this cut is anywhere from 15-25% on the negotiation of international/foreign and subsidiary rights, pending the use of a secondary agent or other, diverse factors; there exists a greater scope of difference on this secondary cut than there is in the preceding, domestic one.

It is also industry standard that an agent takes no money from an author until a deal is made; all the hours involved in preparation will, thus, go unpaid until this deal confirmation. A model like this one helps protect against financial abuse of the author, on one hand, and respects the entrepreneurial dimension to agenting, on the other. It is the case, however, that most agents will not seriously engage deeper developmental or editorial work until the agency agreement is confirmed, to protect the agent also from being abused in time–and, in a far more positive, brilliant way, to commit the agent and writer to conceptual collaboration and business partnership.

In multi-book deals, the author and publisher may agree on terms for book projects that have yet to be developed, or are negotiated based on just a proposal for fiction projects (a partial manuscript with a synopsis, rather than the entire book). The same goes for authors with a ‘backlist’ (a history of successfully published titles).

It is also the case that, in some models, an author may not be paid an upfront financial advance but will earn money just on a royalty structure alone; while more rare, this model is not necessarily less beneficial or profitable to the author and, by extension, his/her agent, given that the royalty structure may be and often is different across different deals.

How are deals announced? And how are those announcements structured?

Deals made by literary agents on behalf of their authors are reported on the database PublishersMarketplace. Not all agents report deals, and not all deals are reported. On the most part, however, this is the most comprehensive database of publishing negotiations available.

[Note: Publishing is a slow business. One of my writers and I (and the same may go for other agents) may spend time to prepare a manuscript for submission; it is not atypical for me to sign genius writers who need some tightening with their craft. Following preparation, submission windows can be months’ long, given that editors receive many submissions from agents, need to read entire proposals and manuscripts, and need to walk through the entirety of a multi-tiered acquisitions process before an offer is extended. This acquisitions process often includes getting second reads and reader reports, a profit-and-loss (P&L) and sales analysis, and vision-casting for the marketing and publicity capacity and potential at any individual imprint.

On the other hand, sometimes, given the right circumstances, an editor may read even overnight or during the day–and an acquisitions process can be pushed forward. It may be, but is not necessarily, a reflection on the quality and potential of the manuscript–sometimes it’s as simple as the perfect agent-editor mix, with an editor who has nothing else on their plate.

Once an offer is made and extended, the contract negotiation window can take weeks to months. The deal involved may be announced either once confirmed or once the contract is fully signed, pending the publisher’s preference. Once deals are announced, approximately 9-24 months might pass before the book is published and available for purchase. During this window of time, the publishing house works to lay out the manuscript for its published aesthetic, design a cover, determine a marketing/publicity plan, prepare bookstores for the book’s publication, and more.

After a deal announcement, the title may and the content of a book will change during its editorial window, prior to publication: In the case of novels and memoirs, editors provide editorial feedback immediately, edits are made, and the novels go into copyediting and final production. In the case of non-fiction projects, the manuscript must first be completed in full, once the proposal is accepted/purchased; editors tend to be intimately involved in the final development stages here, per the academic-styled argument that justifies the book’s development and placement.]

Deal announcements will include, with some degree of variance, the following information (note that, if a deal doesn’t include a certain detail, it doesn’t mean that the detail isn’t ‘present’ or ‘important’–there are many reasons for publishers and agents to not disclose all details in public, at any given time):

  • the author of the book;
  • some descriptor about the author’s expertise and/or his/her history of publications, where applicable;
  • the title of the book sold;
  • the description of the book sold;
  • the editor who acquires the book;
  • the imprint for which the book is acquired;
  • the number of books involved in the book deal (deals can be negotiated for single or multiple titles, pending the circumstances; it is usually the case that only the first is completed, where fiction is involved, and it is rare for non-fiction to sell in multiple-book deals);
  • the particular form of the submission or sale, where applicable:
    • exclusive submission: an agent sends the project to only one editor/imprint–usually on a very limited timeline, such as 2-3 weeks, before the project goes out wider–and the imprint chooses to buy it, which is indicative of the relationship the agent has with this editor and/or a strong degree of certainty that the editor would be interested in the project and the imprint will be able to extend an offer proportionate to the value of the project, given the lack of editorial competition; -OR-
    • at auction: an editor/imprint makes an/the first offer, additional imprints follow with offers and interest, and the imprints proceed to bid on the project (in different formats) until the agent and author select the best offer, for the winning imprint to take the project (side note: just because an auction isn’t reported doesn’t mean that one didn’t happen, and just because an auction didn’t happen doesn’t mean that multiple houses weren’t interested–there are other, more informal ways of mediating the interest of multiple imprints); -OR-
    • in a pre-empt: when an auction is set-up, one editor/imprint can provide, prior to the formal start of the auction day/time, such a high or quality offer that the auction never actually unfolds; if an imprint ‘wins’ the auction in this way, it is considered a pre-empt(ive) offer to/win before the auction itself
  • the financial advance for the book(s) (the advance will be paid out according to a complex payout schedule that includes, for example, a cut at contract signing, another at manuscript delivery, and a final cut upon publication, all per individual book; where multiple books are purchased, the advance will be split across multiple books, and a sizable advance for three books–as one example–might then be paid out in full over several years);
  • the intended publication date/season;
  • the agent who negotiated the deal;
  • the agency for which this agent works; and/or
  • the territory(ies) to which rights for any given project are licensed.

Potential (Base) Territories: There is always diversity in these options (technically, every individual territory can be included in or excluded from a contract), but these are the standard territory frameworks within which agents place projects

  • World [domestic (USA & Canada) English, worldwide English, & international/translation rights are licensed to the domestic publisher; the publisher manages all secondary placements in international territories via its own internal foreign rights department, where one exists]; -OR-
  • World English [domestic & worldwide English rights are licensed to the domestic publisher, often with some variance in the UK/New Zealand/Australia territories; international/translation rights are retained by the agent in order to manage at the agency level, often with the support of a foreign rights agent & licensing agencies in foreign territories]; -OR-
  • North America [domestic English rights are licensed to the domestic publisher, while worldwide English & international/translation rights are retained by the agent in order to manage at the agency level, often with the support of a foreign rights agent & licensing agencies in foreign territories]

Additional Territories & Subsidiary Rights: International/Translation (almost every country around the world has domestic, translated publication outlets, though not all are viable marketplaces for projects placed domestically, and the degree to which any given project can or will sell in any territory is subject to the individual territory’s economy; see one listing of the potential territories here); AudioFilm/TV; Electronic; Anthology/Serial Rights; and more

Records of Financial Advances: Not all publishers and agents elect to break financial advance information, for a diversity of reasons, but where included, the financial information is included according to this legend, available on PublishersMarketplace–

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You can find an ever-updated record of the deals I’ve negotiated here.

Editor Letter for GEARBREAKERS

What is the link between a good query letter, a pitch letter to editors, and the contract that should follow–in order to finalize the sale of the book?

See this blog post here.


Context for Zoe’s Query & My Pitch:

Zoe just broke her query letter versions for her debut, GEARBREAKERS (Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, 2021).

See the three versions of her query letter in the post linked to above, including the version that she sent me, back in the fall.

The query prompted a request for the manuscript (the first paragraph gave me a heart attack, so tight and intentional was the craft, so evocative was the voice!), a read in three days, an offer of representation, some basic editorial work, my move to auction the project, and ultimately a sale to Macmillan outside a formal auction structure entirely.

I can’t wait to see this cover, and to see this gem of a novel in readers’ hands. We’ve got a good 1.75 years to go.

Some thoughts, to help put everything into context:

  1. There are some query letters that are so deeply immersive, evocative, and stunning that they make your jaw drop and shake your mind. I think Zoe’s was maybe 70-85% there, by the time that the third query letter went out, given a lot of world-building elements in the query letter as well as a lack of immediate clarity about the plot arc. (Here’s where just reading queries means, in my experience, for many agents, the loss of an opportunity to capture something great in execution at the level of the actual craft and novel; it’s why I prefer to start with the pages, as genius writing can’t be taught, but plot- and arc-related crafting can be, where a novel needs it.)
  2. At the same time, what I understood immediately reading the query letter and the pages was that there was something atypical about the structure of the novel, and this is also true: it’s not a typical protagonist v. antagonist set-up. I won’t break more, but the plot movement was unreal.
  3. This is, ultimately, I think, a difficult novel to pitch–for all of the reasons above–even when, in reading it, it all fits together seamlessly and stimulates the reader’s imagination. Zoe’s voice is also distinct, and here’s one example of a teen writing to teens that leaves its mark.
  4. When I went on submission, I wanted to do two things: (1) to break Zoe’s voice, and a sense of the maturity and intentionality in this 19-year-old’s grasp of her own crafting; and (2) to try to capture what is otherwise a rather complex plot set-up, without departing too far from Zoe’s own grasp and intent–in that, her hold on the novel’s world-building and set-up is so distinct, and particular, to depart would be to pitch a different novel entirely.
  5. What I didn’t include in the pitch is the Pacific Rim comparison, because, after having watched the film, given the query, having never seen it before, I ultimately voted that the book reads nothing like the feel of the film–even as both share in these multi-story monstrosities of robotic tech.

My Pitch to Editors:

The Windups were created to protect this nation.

I was created to protect this nation.

Godolia needed me, and so the Academy pulled me apart and put the Mods in the places where there was once breath and life and color, and called it my evolution. They said I should celebrate the day the sky bled.

In an age of mechanical deities puppeteered by a power-hungry nation, the sole defense against the onslaught of false gods is a ragtag group of renegades—the Gearbreakers—headed by the infamous Eris “The Frostbringer” Shindanai. Her mission: infiltrate any Windups—a charming nickname for hundred-foot-tall bionic nightmares that dare to cross her path—and take the atrocities apart from the inside.

Opposite Eris stands Sona Steelcrest—a full-fledged Windup Pilot, built to destroy for the nation. She is expected to be grateful for the wires shoved through her veins, the microchips implanted along her brain stem, and the cable sockets puckering the skin of her forearms.

Yet: Sona’s actual loyalties lie elsewhere. When she learns of a new model of Windups that could mean the end of the Gearbreakers, she seeks out the Frostbringer’s help.

For the first time, Sona has found something to fight for, but, more likely—in breaking one loyalty in exchange for another—something to die for.

As cinematic and vivid as novels come, GEARBREAKERS is a 134,000-word YA sci-fi that blew my mind—part super-deep friendship, part Hunger Games-esque intensity, with a pinch of Cinder [note for readers: Cinder was also published by Feiwel & Friends!] and a commentary on tech tossed in.

The author, Zoe Mikuta, hails from Boulder, CO, and is an 18-year old freshman at the University of Washington-Seattle, where she studies English. She is also a kickboxer, a skillset that makes for some kickass action.

This novel is Zoe’s debut, and demonstrates a profound depth of voice, world-building, and intensity-in-friendship—all that far surpass her age.

[Not serious, but still serious:

Please buy the novel now. You won’t regret it.

Love,

Dubz]


Also, think this, just more ragtag orphan-y and vibrant. Zoe writes with so much color.