Where Personal and Professional Life Collide...

My life in 8 words: Organized chaos, by preference. Exhausting, but never boring

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on writing: thinking about more than money
citron presse
Normally, deal announcements are made, and everyone says conga-rats, and we draw a blackout curtain over the fiddly, sweaty bits of What Happens, and Why. However, since the process may be of academic-or-otherwise interest to some of you, I hereby lay bare my portion of it... (Agent Jenn and Editor Jen may share their takes, as they see fit/are comfortable with)
This project was born, quite literally, during an e-mail exchange between myself and Madame Agent about a food and wine expo I was trying to coax her into attending. I said "Me, I'm thinking of a way to make it into a tax-deductible work expense. I wonder if there's room in the genre for a cooking or wine-based fantasy?"

Madame Agent responded: "Cooking or wine-based fantasy... I am *so* there. Write that for me."

I laughed. I had Some Thoughts. It sort of, um, grew from there.

Fast-forward a few months (or click on the posts tagged "TPEMB").

In February 2008, Madame Agent sent the initial submission out to four editors, each of them on my "first choice" list. There were other houses where this would have done well and I would have been quite pleased with landing there, but each of these four had something particular that I wanted for my book -- enthusiasm for a sub-genre that's not currently hot-hot-hot, enough knowledge [and humor] to appreciate the premise, and the ability to kick my ass into making this project FABulous.

One of those editors backed out relatively early, saying that they liked the idea but not enough to offer on it. Time passed (about a month, I think). Then Editor 2 came back with an offer that, while not enough to take me off the table, showed enough enthusiasm to make me happy. But there were still two editors who hadn't responded.

Editor 2 said she didn’t want to get into an auction situation, but was willing to give us the time needed to hear back from the others, without pressure. Fair enough.

Everyone was at London Book Fair, so it took a few days. Editor 3 came back with a no. Editor 4 came back with an offer that was in some ways comparable to Editor 2's offer, in some ways better, and in some ways worse.

At that point, the flailing began. On my part -- Agent Jenn does not flail. Evah. (at least, not in public)

And here we draw back the blackout curtain, and talk about WHY one offer is chosen over another -- at least, this offer, in this instance.

Note: I was already under contract for another series. This gave me a flexibility other writers may not always have -- I could choose the best offer, not just the one that offered the most money up-front. Because, hard though it is to remember in the heady moments of “offer! I can has offer!” – money isn’t always everything. I (you) needed to be thinking about my (your) career.

So I drew up a list, on a piece of scrap paper, to compare the offers.

Both sides had enthusiasm for the project. Both sides had comparable money and royalties, overall. One had offered for all the proposed books, one had offered for fewer but more $$ per-book. Neither was committing to format (and I was fine with that – it’s a decision that will be made according to the market, not to pander to my ego).

So what was the difference? Expectations.

Editor 2 would do a very good job publishing this project. The imprint is strong, they know the packaging needed, and have a sales force that can get out there and get the books on shelves… within the genre.

Editor 4 was offering a less established platform, but a more ambitious outlook, with the potential upside of reaching beyond genre shelving – and readers.

Editor 2 offered very little risk – I could practically chart exactly what the books would do, within a certain range. Editor 4? More risk, and, with the fewer books, less commitment (if the first book took a while to take off, a second book would suffer. If there were three or more books, the publisher would have more reason to push book two and allow time for sales to build). But the offer from Editor 4 also had that possible payoff that was much to be desired, in terms of expanding my readership.

I was uncertain, and thought out loud to both Madame Agent and a few trusted advisors about back-end monies, long-term committments, and publisher expectations, and thus decided on what I needed to be satisfied.

That's when Agent Jenn did her Thing (and is why you NEED a good agent), bringing my needs and Editor 4's offer into agreement.

I gave up stuff to achieve this, yes. But we met halfway, and that's what a good negotiation does, gives everyone enough of what they want, at a price they can accept.

Do I regret saying no to Editor 2? Absolutely. Editor 2 came to the table first, and had great enthusiasm, and it would have been a good fit. But there will be other projects, and Editor 2 understood my decision, and knows that she will remain on my 'first choice' list for new projects, too.

Meanwhile, I am amused as hell to be working again with Jen Heddle (hereinafter known as “Heddle” or “JH” because it’s too damn confusing otherwise), who not so many years ago was my assistant -- if I become annoyed at her editorial direction, I have only myself to blame (and yes, that is breaking my brain just a bit. But in a good way). I know for a fact that she takes no prisoners, and I'm looking forward to that. An editor who will kick your ass is an editor to be treasured.

So. Now I have to balance my brain between an urban, contemporary, romantic fantasy, and a much more sprawling, second-world, decidedly UNromantic fantasy. Both of which require completely different voices, world-building, and research.

Bigger boat. Yes.

Also, more caffeine.

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When a book goes to auction---what exactly is that? It's obviously not a stockyards auction with an auctioneer and the books running through--- (though, half the NYC book-biz in cowboy hats, boots, and spurs is funny...)

Is it a listing somewhere? Is it separate for each agent? Do all agent represented books go to auction or just certain ones? The rest go to direct query (paper,electronic or otherwise...)?

Oh dear. I suspect this is one Agent Jenn might want to take on, but short answer is that an auction happens one of two ways:

1. a submission is sent out by the agent with a formal respond-by date set. Interested publishers have to make their offer on that day (and there's a traditional escalating auction, or a best-offer auction, and possibly other variations as well), and the best bid wins ('best bid' usually but not always being the highest advance offered).

2. a submission is sent out by the agent, and a number of publishers are interested. Massive counterbidding results, until only one publisher is left standing, oten having overpaid on the value.

In both cases, from the editor's point of view, it involves a lot of fast meetings with your boss, often in the hallway outside the bathroom or kitchenette, hastily-reworked P&Ls, and much snarling.

Spurs, as always, are optional.

Auctions are the exception rather than the rule, and usually happen at the high-end of Name Recognition Scale. It has nothing to do with submission format.

Edited at 2008-04-25 11:50 am (UTC)

Auctions are the exception rather than the rule, and usually happen at the high-end of Name Recognition Scale.

I was just curious as to the modality --- yanno, here in the digital age --- as to how that was generally accomplished.

Now, maybe an amplifying questions that may borrow a bit from your experience as an editor:
let's say an acquisitions editor wants rights for a book that is auctioned, being the exception rather than the norm is this handled differently from the normal acquisitions process? Meaning, is there more latitude given because of Agent's reputation and the "high-end Name Recognition Scale?"
I ask only because my understanding is that a lot of times said acq. editor must bear some burden of proof that buying book will sale at the round-table discussions. I'm sure mileage may vary at each publishing house. (I'm also assuming that auctions are presented to senior acq. editors, senior editors and the like---if that makes a diff.)

I'm not sure I'm understanding your question -- modality? It's accomplished by sending material in any format as per the editor accepts, and saying 'this is how we're handling the sale of these rights.' Paper, ether, or plastic makes no nevermind.

And the editor ALWAYS must bear the burden of proof, just to get the approval to spend money on a project. Hence the P&Ls and the meeting with bosses!

I should probably hand this over to Madame Agent, at this point, since it's more her Thing than mine (I participated in a few auctions, but that's coming up on 5+ years ago, now...)

I'm not sure I'm understanding your question -- modality? It's accomplished by sending material in any format as per the editor accepts, and saying 'this is how we're handling the sale of these rights.' Paper, ether, or plastic makes no nevermind.

Sorry, it's probably because I don't fully understand the process.

It's really a minor point (as you've pointed out) as to how auctions are presented or announced. I was just curious as if there was a "beat-sheet" so to speak. An editor for example, struggling through the morning slush-monster despairs and decides to checks out the "NYC Agent Hot Auction List" instead. Or if it was more of a word of mouth, agent&editor lunch or --- yeah, minior point, just obsessive curiosity as to the how and why.


It works the same way all submissions do: The agent chooses where to send it ((hopefully with input from author) and sends out the submission. An editor's job is to get on as many of those "first choice" submission lists as possible, through lunching and shmoozing and general Good Reputation. But that's an acquisition editor's job no matter what the style of submission (auction, multiple, exclusive, etc).

Gratzi. And apologies... inherent need to understant all. Even the minutea.

Fascinating. Thanks for the peek behind the curtains.

Admit it, this is all about the wine-as-research tax deductions, right?

Damn, you're smart.

I believe in combining work and passion as often as possible. Taking a tax deduction off it is just a bonus.

(more seriously and in case anyone was wondering: no, wine purchases cannot be used as a research-deduction. Pity, that.)

Edited at 2008-04-25 12:34 pm (UTC)

true, but... trips to the vineyards? visits to wineries? a much needed research trip to the south of France for a character study?

if not, I think you need a new accoutant.

Only inasmuch as those trips don't interfere with actually getting the work done...

(I know what you're saying, and yes, there will be muchh Research. But the idea came out of what I already know, from years of research and learning, and -- joking aside -- I don't want anyone thinking this project isn't serious business to me.)

Edited at 2008-04-25 12:52 pm (UTC)

I don't believe that anyone who knows you doubts you'll take this project seriously. You'll have fun with it too, but only after the work is done.

Joking aside, as someone who spent years making wine (as opposed to drinking the stuff), I'm looking forward to seeing your results.

Hey, it worked for Iain Banks.

Wrong angle. She's trying to get vinyards to give her wine for free!

I considered this angle, but surely it would be far easier for her to simply write a review column for Wine Spectator or some such if free wine was her goal. She's sneaky though, so ya never know...

I figured that she'd have an easier go in her own publishing field than she would in the oenophile space. Plus, pun notwithstanding, I suspect there's more shelf-life to writing a novel or series than an article.

Wow. Very cool to see behind the curtain! Thanks for lifting it!

I figured that since you made this a public post, I'd forward a link to a writing e-mail list I'm on (Dean Wesley Smith's writing community) so they can get a peek inside the process of selling a book on multiple submission via an agent. I've told them that if they have questions but no LJ account, they could relay them through me and I'd ask on their behalf. Hope that's okay.

And by the way? Congratulations again. This all sounds so cool.

And PS-- Answering your e-mail this AM>

Edited at 2008-04-25 02:25 pm (UTC)

So there's not just a short bald guy behind every curtain. Thanks for the look into the motivations behind the deal making. It's an edge of the business I hadn't considered, hadn't had to consider yet is probably a better way to say that. Thanks.

By the way, the story I saw as I read your post was a fantasy world story where everyone is at least a little magical and every style was a discipline with a guild. She of course was a chef and her heart throb was big and dark and could move mountains with a thought and a complete ass. She would cook when depressed (could be chocolate or ice cream or something spawned between the two, a crepe on fire maybe). Her true love is the guy who uses his power to grow food, her food. Anyway, thanks for the morning story premise. It's not normally my cup of tea, but it was fun to play along.

Great Post

Laura Anne, that was a great post. Congrats on the great sale.

It is great to see professionals in your position give an inside look into such a deal. Kris and I will be teaching a marketing and agent workshop in a week. All right if we point the professional writers attending to this for an example of how to do it right? And why everyone MUST have an agent on a book deal?

Again, congratulations on the sale and thanks for the great post.

Dean Wesley Smith

Sure -- I made it public for a reason!

(although I think the lesson is not so much "have an agent!" as "have a good agent, who listens and acts appropriately." A bad agent is often worse than no agent a'tall...)

on a side note, I think I bought the last new trade paper copy of Staying Dead & now I can start reading the series (since I had already gotten the later books in Trade Paper first)

This is one of those things that I would have never considered until it was actually happening.

Thank you for sharing with us.

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