The Publishers Lunch Weekly newsletter often reports deals made "in a pre-empt" or "at auction."
What is a pre-empt? (1)
I find the idea of an auction fascinating. Is there a formal set of rules for holding an auction, or does each agent have their own way of handling them? (2)
Does the author have to accept the highest bid? (3)
If all the offers are seriously below expectations, does the author still have to accept one of them? (4)
What if an agent holds an auction, and nobody bids? (5)
An auction seems like a big risk that could either pay off spectacularly well, or fail terribly, tainting the author, the book, and the agent.
(1) A pre-empt means an editor offers enough money to take the project off the sales block without going to auction, or taking further offers.
(2) Each agent has their own, and auction rules are sent to each editor who's in the scrum.
(3) The author does NOT have to accept the highest bid. If a project goes to auction it's very common for the editor to loop in sales and marketing to show their plans for the book, and have a conversation with the author about their editorial vision, and plans for success
(4) There's usually an established floor in an auction, but sometimes numbers come in that are seriously under what we thought. That's when the agent and the author have a very serious heart to heart.
(5) That does happen. It's A VERY unhappy day. You dust off your britches, and get back on the submission pony and send to publishers not in that previous round of submissions. An auction isn't really a risk. It's a way to handle interest from multiple editors. Nobody goes to auction if the editors are snoozing on a book.
And a "failed auction" doesn't taint a book cause no one really knows about it at other publishing houses.