Kimberley Cameron is a great example of how one innovative agent is dealing with the stonewalling risk-averse attitude these days of many mainstream commercial book publishers.
“Traditional publishers are rejecting so many quality books we’re submitting, by both debut authors and those with a solid track record of successful titles,” Kimberly told me recently. “We’re convinced these books have a market, so we started a new in-house imprint called Reputation books, with the tag Books we stand behind.
We’re publishing new titles and rights-reverted backlist books, and releasing them as eBooks, print-on-demand paperbacks, and even hardcover.”
Kimberly Cameron has been a player in the book world for more than twenty years. Writer’s Digest calls her a superstar agent. She’s President of Kimberley Cameron and Associates Literary Agency, and CEO and Publisher of Reputation Books. Her main office is in Tiburon California, across the bay from San Francisco.
I interviewed Kimberley recently about the changing role of the agent and the new position she’s taken on as an entrepreneur on behalf of her authors.
How long have you been an agent?
22 years…Hard to believe… I worked for MGM developing books into motion pictures, and as an actress, including playing Snow White to seven dwarfs in a Chrysler commercial. I was in “The Jerk” with Steve Martin for less than a minute on screen (laughter). But I’ve always loved books more than anything.
What percentage of writers who get in touch with you do you take on? And how many are debut authors?
We get thousands of submissions every year, mostly through email query letters, some through attending writers conferences, and take on less than one percent. About 80 percent of them are debut. I personally have about 50 to 100 authors at various stages of development, submission, publication and marketing. I wish I could clone myself and represent more.
What kind of advances are you getting these days?
Advances have gotten lower as the industry has changed, so sometimes I’m content with a few thousand for an unproven author. But I made a two-book $85,000 deal recently for a debut author. It was so satisfying to make that call to let her know. We’ve also made deals for more than $100,000 but not for first-time authors.
Why did you start Reputation Books?
We continue to sell books to the various big conglomerate imprints. For example, I recently sold a new author’s first thriller to Minotaur at St. Martin’s for a solid advance. But we also spend countless hours sending out manuscripts we love and believe in without finding a home for them. It can get frustrating to wait and wait and then be rejected. It’s not only a question of time, though, but an instinct, a feeling that we’ve exhausted all the old possibilities. So I believe that agents have to adapt to myriad transformations in publishing. Our role is constantly changing. It makes sense to step in and rescue those books that might never be published, and I like being a publisher.
What author services does Reputation Books provide to authors?
To be clear, we only publish our own clients. I’m not interested in soliciting outside authors. This isn’t self-publishing – our books have a brand we are proud of. We provide copy-editing, conversion to all formats, cover and internal page design, in-house and online marketing and publicity. We pay royalties of 55 percent on sales in all formats with a one time fee out of earnings of $200 for our costs. We also handle subsidiary rights – translation, TV and film.
How do you project the future of Reputation Books?
Starting a business, especially in publishing, is always risky. It’s also not just about getting your authors’ books out to the public but you have to manage a group of employees and foster a positive culture too; there’s a constant need to come up with ideas to boost employee morale to ensure that everyone’s satisfied with their work. Not only that, but you’re run off your feet from all the behind the scenes entrepreneurial stuff, as well as being on the frontline of publishing. Much of the behind the scenes stuff can take up a lot of your time, such as working out payroll for staff, which can result in working very long hours. Fortunately, there have been technological advancements in recent years, such as payroll software, which means you can focus more on publishing and less on finance, without the worry of there being a mistake in the system.
As said, being a business owner in publishing is difficult, but there are ways to make it easier. You’d do exactly the same if you were starting your own business of any kind. For example, my friend has recently launched her own marketing business, and she did it with the help of an online formation agent, similar to those you can find at Your Company Formations, (visit yourcompanyformations.co.uk website for more information) who assisted her when it came to registering her business, as well as doing everything that the process required. She never realized how straightforward it could be, and the same applies when you’re in the publishing industry. There are always things you can do to make your life easier. One of the most important things to do when starting a business is to trademark the name of the business and logo so that no other business can use it without your permission. A lot of new publishers think this is a tough process but it’s really not, especially with the help of the best trademark attorney denver offers! Once all the paperwork is over and done with, it’s plain sailing from there. With that being said, we launched our first 12 titles in February of 2014 and so far the eBooks are selling well online. Our print books are being distributed through Ingram. We’ve been able to get hardcover editions of Dr. Suzana Flores’s Facehooked on the tables at Barnes & Noble and independent bookstores like Book Passage in Northern California have been supportive as well.
So we’re optimistic and continue to welcome submissions to our agency. If we sign up an author with a book we love who wants to go the mainstream route, we’ll start submitting to the big publishers. If our new author becomes frustrated after not selling the book in a reasonable amount of time, we’ll suggest publishing it ourselves at Reputation Books. And we also sign authors who want to go with Reputation right away, preferring quick action, total control, and a larger royalty.
It’s tougher than ever for a first-time author without a platform to get a decent offer, and the same is true for formerly successful mid-list authors who don’t have big recent sales numbers (or aren’t celebrities). It takes an agent with guts and smarts to break out and try something new. Hat’s off!
What about you?
What has an agent done for you lately? Any war stories to share? We look forward to hearing about them.
As a newbie to this business – I’m in sponge mode – the discussion here has been enlightening. With my first manuscript completed, the proposition of publishing my novel is overwhelming. Thanks for the insight. I will continue to follow your blogs.
It sounds like Reputation Books is differentiating itself by going after the cast offs from tradition publishing houses. I wish your company much success; perhaps RB will help break the mold and open more doors for aspiring authors like myself. Thanks.
Jim Snell says
Good Q&A. Interesting info.
Keep up the good work.
Maureen O'Connell says
For me, Kimberley Cameron is just plain awesome! No other words to describe her. Have been following her work for many years now and the dedication and passion she has for the job is simply unparalleled.
I would love to have an agent this committed to her authors. Reputation Books sounds like an innovative way to help debut authors get their books out in the world. Traditional publishing seems unwilling to take risks and as a result much of what is published smacks of the same tired and worn plot lines that have been used before. I hope Reputation Books is successful and someday maybe they’ll even take a chance on one of my books.
DP Lyle says
Kimberley has been my agent for nearly 20 years. We have done 14 books together as of now and more to come. Four were with Reputation Books and I love the quality of the editing and the product. As good as any of the traditional publishers I’ve worked with.
KC is simply the best agent around—and I know a lot of them.
DP Lyle, award-winning author of the Samantha Cody and Dub Walker thriller series
We are Literary Representatives first, and will always do everything to get our authors traditionally published, even if it takes years sometimes (and it has:-). This is only an option if one of our clients decides they would like to get their work published sooner than later. It’s completely their decision.
Authors tend to feel alone in the frustration of waiting and being rejected, and it’s refreshing to hear an agent see value in manuscripts that the mainstream publishing world doesn’t believe in. So much value, in fact, that she’s willing to invest in them herself. Thank you for sharing this, Alan, and kudos to Kimberly for being so committed to her clients. Much success with Reputation Books!
Alan Rinzler says
Dear Robert and R.E.,
From my perspective and experience, Reputation Books isn’t self-publishing. They’re doing everything a traditional publisher does. They provide copy-editing, jacket and page design, in-house and online marketing and publicity, distribution to bookstores, inventory control, and royalty statements. They also handle subsidiary rights, including translation rights, dramatic, TV and films. These publishing services go beyond self-publishing conversion.
R.E. McDermott says
Well, actually Alan, I’ll go with RGB’s post above. Not only would I not ‘love’ to have an agent like this one, I’d run away from that deal at full speed. While the royalty share might seem generous by trad pub standards, this arrangement has ‘conflict of interest’ writ large across its face. And then there’s the huge slice of the pie for work that any reasonably competent person can manage independently. Also, though it’s not mentioned, I’d be very surprised if these weren’t ‘life of the copyright’ agreements.
I’m certainly not averse to authors pursuing the traditional route if it makes sense to them, as the BPHs hold out at least the possibility of wide print distribution. However, Ms. Cameron’s imprint cannot offer even that slim hope, and the price of entry is unreasonable, at least in my opinion.
We barely break even and take the responsibility off the shoulders of the author – most of our clients don’t want the headaches associated with publishing: editorial, formatting, design,marketing etc. We bring the professional expertise of our team to the table. If you want to self-publish, go for it! And best of luck.
Robert Gregory Browne says
$200 plus a 45% cut for the agency? For, essentially, formatting and uploading your books to the various indie publishing sites?
That’s not a deal it would be easy to say yes to, particularly when, yes, it IS self-publishing. The author is merely hiring his/her agent to do it instead of doing it him/herself.
Self-publishing isn’t difficult. Why give your agent a huge chunk of your income to do something that will essentially take you a few hours to do yourself?