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. We launched our first 12 titles in February of 2014 and so far the eBooks are selling well on line. 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.