Daily Archives: June 15, 2010

When to sell your writing. When to pawn it.

Last night Igot sucked into the show, “Pawn Stars”, with DH.  It was more intriguing than the book I was trying to read.

The premise is to highlight the great treasures people bring in to sell.  The pawn shop owner seemed to have integrity and called in professional appraisers for items that might have been of significant historic or financial value. 

One guy popped in with a bar of gold.  After Granny passed away, the fam was going through her estate and found a hidden bar of golden goodness.  Pawn Shop Owner’s eyes bugged.  He held the bar and said, “Eh, you’ve got about $24,000 worth of gold here.  But…”

Yeah, the crusty white stuff on the bottom of the bar?  Coral.  The 1500’s bar was from a ship wreck.  Apparently, Granny and Grandpa hid the gold during the depression to save it from Roosevelt and his gold ban.  This little gem was found almost forty years after the ban was lifted in 1974.

The surviving family had no clue of its existence prior to dividing the estate.  The appraiser valued it at roughly $48,000.  Pawn Shop Owner bought it for $34,000–cash.  Gold Guy walked away with crisp $100 bills and a slight scowl.

Other people brought in worthless junk that Pawn Shop Owner wouldn’t touch.  Only one person with an offer walked away with her goods.  When Pawn Shop Owner didn’t settle on her price, she packed up and went home, believing she could find a more lucrative deal somewhere else.  One dude brought in his $100 artifact and walked out with a grin and $1,500.

Of course this got me thinking about the road to publication.  The process is really no different.

Fair market value (manuscript worth) is an estimate.  The real price is not known, can never be known, until the product is sold.  Anything is only worth something if someone is willing to buy it.  Period.  We might write up the cure for cancer, but unless someone will ante up cold hard cash for it, the formula remains worthless.

Take Gold Guy for example.  He wanted the entire $48,000 for his ship-wrecked gold.  Who wouldn’t?  After all, if it’s “worth” that much, why not pocket that much?

What Gold Guy needed to understand was that Pawn Shop Owner had the connections to sell the gold bar–something Gold Guy didn’t have.  Also, PSO was taking a gamble by purchasing said gold bar.  He still had to sell it and make a living in the meantime. 

Chances are Pawn Shop Owner will walk away with a hefty chunk of change for his effort.  But he has to work for that change.  He has to contact his buyers, haggle over a price and sign on the dotted line.  He may only sell the bar for 41 grand.  This can take time, energy and money.  In the interim, he has to pay for the lights, heat, rent, employees and those little trinkets that he loses money on. 

My assessment: Gold Guy wanted the full value–which can never be valued until after the final sale.  He was disappointed, yet sold anyway because on some level, he understood he couldn’t move that kind of artifact on his own.  Seriously, what’s he gonna do, sell it on ebay?  And get raked over the coals by someone with less integrity than the Pawn Shop Owner?

If we are smart, we will follow Gold Guy’s path.  We will realize our limitations within the industry and defer to the expertise of those more seasoned and better connected.

But sometimes we are like the lady who walked away.  We want what we want–ie, sell it now to the biggest publishing house in the world and get it on the NYT Best Seller List, yesterday.  We get grumpy when we our demands get turned down.  We pack up our manuscripts, shout invectives (from the comfort of our home) and covet our runaway debut novels because we know something great when we see it.  Even if the agent doesn’t.

If we are in that 2%, we are surprised to have our writing’s worth validated.  We hit the right agent who hits the right editor backed by the right marketing department that wants the publisher to print.  We hit the jackpot and end up turning our $100 worth of paper into a $1,500 advance.

Agents have the contacts that we don’t have.  They have the experience in negotiating contracts.  They have a far better understanding of the market value of our work.  Editors have a marketing department, and publishers have the cash for printing.  They can get our books on shelves where we simply cannot.

We need them as much as Gold Guy needed Pawn Shop Owner.  He could have taken his gold bar and gone home.  He could have told everyone he had a bar of golden goodness worth $50,000.  But really, until he had cash in hand, Granny’s hand-me-down gem was as worthless as our unrepped manuscripts.  

Conversely, he could have pawned it (left it sit in the shop until someone paid his $48,000 price) and paid a preset commission.  In this respect, he could have pocketed more money–whenever someone with a cool $50,000 stumbled into the store.  In other words, without active marketing, the gold could have sat unsold for an undetermined amount of time–and maybe even forever.  

Some publishing options sound frighteningly similar to this last scenario.  Unreputable agents and publishing companies can tie up manuscripts and rights and return little or no profit to the author.  Sometimes “repped” and “pubbed” manuscripts sit on the shelf collecting dust.  Self-publishing can work if writers are astute about the industry and know how to find buyers on their own.  Often, it fails and writers are left holding a gold bar with no customer base.

So, in the game of pawning your writing, how do you know when to sell or when to pack up and walk away?  At what point do we list our writing on ebay?  Do we go straight to the publishers and bypass the Pawn Shop Owner so we can keep a bigger cut, or do we trust in the value of an agent to have the better contacts?

All P’sOV are welcome here as long as comments remain respectful.

~cat