Monday, March 16, 2015

Question: pre-empts and auctions

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.  


french sojourn said...

As always, a most informative post.

The last couple of weeks have been staggering with all the info. Hard to keep up, as with the comments as well.


Colin Smith said...

Excellent! I've often wondered about these auctions. I assumed they just "happened" when multiple editors expressed interest. It never occurred to me there would be rules, nor that there could be an auction where no-one bids. Interesting. Of course all the woodland creatures are thinking, "Yes, the no-bid auction--that would be mine!" :)

Craig said...

Interesting. Is it something that writers should aspire to? Or is it something that should cause an emotional Lesley Gore moment? Do these kinds of things happen to normal people or is it reserved for things like the Patterson Franchise?

Like all things in the business of writing it raises more questions than it answers.

Lilly Faye said...

Janet, thank you for answering my questions about pre-empts and auctions. Some of your answers are not what I expected. (#5 actually happens? Yikes!)

As always, thanks for the enlightenment.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

How many books a year go to auction? Colin already asked my second question.

I'm turning into a squirrel.

Colin Smith said...

Lilly: Thanks for asking your question. Clearly a number of us had wondered the same thing but never thought to ask!

Angie: Did you mean Craig?

Colin Smith said...

BTW, added to my "bucket list": to hear Giada De Laurentiis say Angie's name. :)

Lilly Faye said...

Colin, you're welcome. I'm glad I finally had something to contribute, even if it was only in the form of a question. I usually just lurk and learn.

Re: Your Giada comment...too funny!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

1.The stuff of dreams.
2.If you’re not with the one you love then love the one you’re with.
3.Repeat #2
4.Heart to hearts suck.
5.Back to
Just because nobody asked you to dance does make you a klutz.

Julie Weathers said...

Holy crap, I despise Google+

I've actually been auctioned before. It's kind of interesting. Way back in my misspent youth, I worked for Billings Livestock, an auction sales yard. I worked the alleys along with two other girls, which means we shifted livestock around to proper pens. It doesn't sound important, but the sale couldn't go on without us.

One day we were having a large registered Hereford sale and broke for lunch. Me and the girls were a a few minutes late getting back and had to walk through the sales ring to get to the back lots.

The auctioneer, thinking himself a bit of a comedian, welcomed everyone back to the sale. "Welcome back folks. First up for sale is this fine lot of three, nice young heifers. What am I bid?"

The bidding was pretty lively by the time we exited the ring. We sold well considering price per pound and us being grade heifers with no registration papers and all.

I suppose that's the wrong kind of auction. Wouldn't it be great if you could get a herd of editors to a sales ring, though?

Maybe my agent would at least play the Auctioneer song over the phone to them if that ever happened. Hey, a girl can dream.

Colin Smith said...

Julie: I can't decide if that says something flattering about you and your friends, or something creepy and sinister about those that would bid money on you! Let's go with flattering. Be positive. :D

And here's Julie's link as a link:

BTW, as one who was raised in Hereford, England, hometown of the aforementioned cattle, the city name is pronounced "Herry-ford," not "Her-ford" as I've heard so often in the US.

Julie Weathers said...

This is great post. I've never considered the possibility of going to auction, but it's good to know how it works.

I sent a withdrawal to Agent AA. It was hard. I like Agent AA, but Janet is right. The query stage is just the first step in communication. It's like an ongoing writer's boot camp here every day, for which I am very thankful.

I'm also thankful to the shiver, though Colin is on the naughty list. "to hear Giada De Laurentiis say Angie's name. :)"

Indeed. Now I have that cycling through my brain instead of how many seeds does it take to kill someone and what shape should they be? The devil's in the details and apparently Carkoon.

LynnRodz said...

Omg, Julie, sometimes your comments are priceless!

Hey, Hank, where have you been? Don't tell me in one of the neighboring caves in Carkoon.

An auction? From my keyboard to God's eyes!

Julie Weathers said...


Well, you have to be familiar with cowboy humor. It was a joke. We all laughed, but I'm sure some people would get offended. We were never late again, though.

Yes, we know we've butchered the pronunciation of Hereford, but we do call it Her' ford. There was a John Wayne movie with a scene about correct pronunciation. Heathens we are. *hangs head*

Colin Smith said...

Julie: OK. I bet you weren't! And I quite understand the mispronunciation. It's a cattle breed, so it's not like they ship them all over from the UK with a native speaker and a pronunciation guide. I've been over here long enough to be used to US pronunciations. I know I've adopted some myself! :)

Julie Weathers said...


At least he didn't auction off a lot of fat heifers. That might have stirred us up.


Christina Seine said...

Oh you guys. That auctioneer song. Day made.

@Julie, good for you. Now on to (ahem) greener pastures. (No cows or Carkoonians were hurt in the making of that pun).

Being at auction is just another terrifying step in the publishing process, which I'm convinced was instigated by whiskey and scotch-making companies needing to shore up their week bottom lines. I imagine an agent leading their writer around an auction floor on a leash as the poor writer holds up their MS, jumping fences and moving concentrically around small orange cones. Sort of like the Westminster dog show ... which I've also probably pronounced wrong all my life. Come on now, how can a word like Worcestershire (as in sauce) only have two syllables? Are you Brits just messing with us?

REJourneys said...


I have dodged the reef police and the one way train to Carkoon to post again. (Sorry, Craig, I heard they almost caught you).

Christina, I wonder if the agent would lead the writer, or if a handler/trainer needs to be found instead.

To the post: This was wonderfully enlightening. I have seen agents mention auctions on Twitter, but never asked what it was all about. My woodland critter mind imagined my MS, along with others', going up to the block for auction. Then the seated editors/publishers would bid when their desired MS came up. Thank you for clearing this up!

Anonymous said...

First off, a big THANK YOU to all who thought of me while I wasn't *here.*

I'm doing all right. I've been in the midst of helping Mom with estate administration which has been eye opening and a lesson in general.

As to the topic du jour, I kinda/sorta knew about auctions/pre-empts because when I'm in dreamlandia I tend to go off and read as much as I can about all things publishing.

I think the only question I have is this; if a book has been on submission for a while, is there any likelihood of either of these happening?

For example, I have to imagine reading schedules differ greatly. Maybe one editor reads it after 2 months of having an ms, but if they're the first editor to get to it, and they make an offer, does the agent then tell the other editors who still have it there is an offer, which then could prompt either a flurry of activity from the rest to read/hold a hand up they want a chance to make an offer, etc?

Or is it the case that as time goes on, the chances of pre-empts/auctions are less b/c this really only happens within the first few days or couple weeks time?

I don't even know if I'm making sense. I just got off the phone with a lawyer and my head hurts. (sorry Dena)

Colin Smith said...

Christina: No, Westminster is pretty much as it's spelled: West-minster. Worcester is close to Hereford, and like Gloucester, the spellings vs. pronunciation were drilled into me earlier.

Worcester = Wooster
Gloucester = Gloster

The "problem" is that these city names have their spelling foundations in Latin and Old English, and their pronunciations are the result of centuries of use and abuse. As I'm sure many of you medievalists will know, "cester" is probably adapted from the Latin castra, indicating a military camp.

Hereford got its name from Anglo-Saxon, since it was the city where soldiers ("here" = army) would cross (or "ford") the River Wye on their way to dealing with the Welsh barbarians. It was a very strategic military encampment back when the years only had three digits. :) And, yes, there has been a lot of archaeological activity in the area. There's even a Roman Road through Hereford that is still in use (widened and paved over, of course). If you love history, it's definitely one of the places you should put on your "visit to England" itinerary.

Colin Smith said...

"drilled into me earlier" should read "drilled into me early on." Oops!

DONNA! Glad your back with us. Big hugs. :) And that's a good question. Is the agent submission process like the author submission process? For example:

Agent Poelle requests ms. I submit. Agent Shark requests ms. I submit saying another agent is looking at it.
Agent Sinsheimer requests ms. I submit saying other agents are looking at it.
All three offer rep (one can dream), and I go back to each agent, perhaps saying I have multiple offers of rep, and I need time to decide. Maybe I will go to each agent and ask questions (e.g., who would you submit to? what's your vision for this book?) to help me find the one that's the best fit for me, my vision, etc.

Editor Penguin requests ms. QOTKU submits.
Editor SohoCrime requests ms. QOTKU submits (and indicates another publisher is looking at it?).
Editor Minotaur requests ms. QOTKU submits (and indicates other publishers are looking at it?).
All want the ms., so QOTKU sets up an auction wherein each editor vies for ms. The one with the best deal (according to the Agent and Author) wins out.

If this parallel is anything close to reality, that would be helpful--at least to me. :)

Christina Seine said...

It's a slow day at Fuzzy Print Literary here in Carkoon (my new permanent abode) so A present to you An Ode To British Pronunciation:

There once was a rooster from Worcester
Who wrote about Saxons in Gloucester.
His MS went to auction
But got no real action.
Since they’d recently published a lobster.

Christina Seine said...

Argh. Spelle Czeque despises me. That's "I present."

Also - Colin, you have excellent taste in theoretical agents.

Also, (hugs) to Donna.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Colin: love the history lesson.

Christine: you crack me up! What a great limerick.

Donna: glad to see you back here and sharing your pearls of wisdom.

Julie: wish I had stories or the ability to tell stories like you do.

I'd be one of the woodland creatures fearing my ms would fail to garner any bids.

Colin Smith said...

Christina: I just assumed that was the "Queen's English" (say "A present to you an Ode..." aloud--that's how the Queen sounds. "A declare this building open!") :) That's a great limerick too!

There are a lot of great theoretical agents out there. Of course, the best is the one that becomes my actual agent. ;)

Julie Weathers said...


Well, thank you, but as I said, the product of a misspent youth.

What does your daughter do?

She's a teacher!

She's a lawyer!

She's a doctor!

She's ankle deep in manure pushing cows at a stockyard!

Colin Smith said...

Julie: "Oh, so she's a writer!" ;)

Anonymous said...

Thank you all - feeling loved. :) But then, I knew I would - long as I don't mention the *unmentionables.* Ahem.

Anywho, Colin's submission breakdown from Author/Agent perspective has actually slapped another question into my noggin' and it's this; do publishers actually ask for an ms?

To clarify, does an agent chat up an editor about a ms to assess their interest, or, do they just investigate editors for suitable interests (much like authors search for the correct agent to read their work) and then simply send the submission package to them?

My nose is twitching in that inquisitive little woodland creature way over this.

Jed Cullan said...

I overheard a conversation today between two Americans about the upcoming burial (on Sunday, I believe) of Richard III, and how they were thinking about attending. His remains were found in a Leicester car park, and he's being buried (re-buried) in Leicester again, for the third time, in three different places (I have so gotta do a blog post about him). I kept wanting to point out about them mispronouncing Leicester. But I just couldn't bring myself to do it.

Jed Cullan said...

Oh, and Julie, I hate google+ as well. And oranges. And spiders. And the lorry driver who nearly killed me today. And Hitler.

Colin Smith said...

Donna: I know Janet's response is more valuable than my thoughts on this (not self-depricating, that's fact--she's an agent, I'm not!), but I've read more than one agent say that they often take the author's query and adapt it to use as their pitch to editors. That tells me agents pitch novels to editors before sending ms., much the same way we query agents before sending partials or fulls.

Colin Smith said...

Jed: They didn't say Lie-cester did they? *sigh* Bless. :)

This Sunday? Is the ceremony being live-streamed? I'm sure Diane would be interested too if it is. It would be even better if they did it on the 24th. My birthday. It's always nice to have cool historical events happening on your special day. :)

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Oops, Colin it was Craig's question. I guess I should be pelted with oranges like in Ivrea at the Battaglia dell'arancie

@Colin, I'm over the moon that making Giada de Laurentis say my name has made your bucket list. I owe you a cartoon for Carkoon.

Anyone who can talk as fast as Leroy Van Dyke, the auctioneer, should be hired by Carkoon's PR department.

@Julie did you get six digits?

@Frank The last few weeks on the shark's blog have been info-packed. How does she remember all these things? And the generosity of sharing the insider info, it's sunlight in the forest.

How are these auction's held? By email?

Jed Cullan said...

Colin, I'm afraid they did say Lie-cester.

Can't seem to find if they're showing the ceremony live, although Songs of Praise are backstage during their Sunday show on BBC1.

Your birthday's next week? Will there be cake?

Craig said...

I would apologize for highjacking this thread but Colin already did it. I got foist off to Carkoon on Sunday on totally trumped up charges but that is how life works.

I contacted the gang from my fourth book to give me a ride with my tons of crap.
“Man, you’re the one that said we only had 168 million people on the whole planet. What will you do for us?”
“I’ll write you some new technology for the fifth book. If it wasn’t for me you might not have a life someday.”
“Yeah we do owe you.”

With the Doppler time advantage of going faster than light we arrived in Carkoon on Saturday morning. The Real Estate lady said something about an auction or being auctioned and hung up.

For a case of beer a local pointed out a cave. He said the next door neighbors were kind of weird but seemed to be alright. We started unloading stuff at the cave. I had picked up a TMSR from my second book, one of the things that led to the assassination contract that went bad so power is no problem. Bring your extension cords, I have too much power.

The cave was too small so I started to expand it and worked all night. I was pounding the beer making stills together when I heard a pounding at the door. I went and answered it.
“I’m looking for the big hairy monster from the cave next door.”
“I didn’t take the time to shave for a couple of days so it might be me.”
“I’m here to evict you. You are making too much noise.”
“You want a beer and we can talk about it?”
“Are you trying to bribe me?”
“No, I’m asking if you want a beer. You sound familiar.”
“I need your name to fill out the eviction notice. Big hairy monster is just a legal description.”
“I’m Craig.”
“No you are not. Craig is a nice little guy with affection for Romance Writers with a deer in the headlights look.”
“How would you know?”
“Because I’m Dena. This is my day job.”
“Does that mean you are di-polar?”
“I’m straight. In fact I have a passel of children. Are you trying to say that I have mental problems?”
“You are a writer. That should be self defining. I too write so it takes one to know one. Want a beer?”
“No, I need to evict you.”
“You work for the neighbors?”
“Have them come over for lunch. I have a vegetarian lasagna cooking and my special pecan pie for dessert. That pie is absolutely addictive. I even gave the QOTKU the recipe though I don’t know if she has tried it yet. In two weeks the bistro will be open and they can start working on trying to forget all of those Vegemite sandwiches they have been choking down.”

Christina Seine said...

Angie, brilliant question about how they're held (I assumed e-mail too, but I remember what that funny Brit Benny Hill said about assuming).

And I totally agree with having so much gratitude for all this important information being shared here. It's wonderful. I've learned more about the publishing industry from Janet than I did in earning a BA (and half a Master's) in Creative Writing.

Anonymous said...

Colin, your comment made me remember I've read that before somewhere too, but wasn't sure it happened for every submission agent to editor wise. Still, it was worth repeating here, however! If I only had a nickel for every time you've said you're not an agent..., I'd be taking off for Amy's paradise.


Colin Smith said...

Craig: "I would apologize for highjacking this thread but Colin already did it." Yes, I have apologized numerous times for hijacking the thread. I don't mean to... I just like talking to you all! :D So YOU'RE the new neighbor! Well, I think we can accept the terms you negotiated with Dena. Veggie lasagna sounds good to me. Who knows, we might even have work for you. How are your editing skills? We have some darlings that seem to be set in stone. They need to be removed and killed. You seem to be quite handy with a chisel. :)

Donna: Seriously, I feel like I need to caveat any comment I make about agenting with that so any agents reading will understand I don't presume to know their business. I only know what I read, and what they know from experience is infinitely more valuable. I would almost rather say nothing but a) this is me--say nothing? b) what I say MIGHT be right, or might prompt you to remember something you heard from an agent, so it might in some way be helpful. :)

Anonymous said...

Craig, your dialogue is snappy and genuine! Loved it.

Personally, when it comes to accents, dialogue, word pronunciations etc, my father, who was born in Raleigh NC as I was (not many of us natives left) spoke with what was called old Raleigh dialect. Example: "daughter" was pronounced "dorter" rather than "dahter."

Lilly Faye said...

Gloucester, Virginia is also pronounced "Gloster."

Interesting about the Raleigh dialect. People in some parts of Ohio also add an "R" to words. After dinner, they do the "worshing" up. They are also governed by those rascals in Worshington.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lilly Faye - well, funny (weirdly maybe?) we say or some of my utmost southern buddies say "worsh" too. My dad said it. My hubby's from Ohio, but he must be from the other part - he doesn't add in the "r". My mom is from Maine, so I say "wash" as in "wash" not "worsh" My dad used to say Massatwosetts for Massachusetts, but I think that was more bad habit than accent related. He used to draw out his "i's" and "a's" too.

In the upper eastern corner of NC, folks have what is called a tidewater accent - and say things like "oot" for "out." Similar to our Canadian friends. I.e. "oot and aboot," for out and about. My brother in law is from this area (Gates County) and refers to one's head as an "onyon," (onion) and the trunk of a car as a "boot." Like old English I think...(Colin?)

I LOVE stuff about dialects.

Colin Smith said...

Lilly: I'm glad to hear that! Though since the original settlers probably named the town after the English city, I would expect the correct pronunciation to have been passed down.

Donna: Is it the Tidewater accent that's supposed to be closest to how the Elizabethan English would have sounded? I know there is a place somewhere in NC, maybe further out on the Outer Banks, for which this is supposedly true of the local accent.

And, as far as I know, the Brits still call the trunk of a car the boot. :)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Hey Colin,
Worcester = Wooster
Gloucester = Gloster
Both In Massachusetts, right.

Ask a Brit how to say Massachusetts, it will make your day.

Glad you're back Donna.

Colin Smith said...

2Ns: I never had a problem with Massachusetts (at least saying it). But I have the Bee Gees to thank for that. :)

Craig said...

Colin: My editing is coming along but I have a problem. A Literary agency promoting its own editing sounds rather dodgy to me. I'll pass.

I do have to do some blasting tomorrow night. My pet spaceship had to go and save the galaxy so I went looking for a farmers market. There is no such thing around here.

If I want fresh veggies I am going to have do some hydroponic gardening. To do that I need to expand the cave.Please don't leave anything breakable in high places when you close up tomorrow.

Damn, I just remembered that tomorrow is St.Paddy's day. I'll have to put off blasting for a day. Green beer with corned beef and cabbage for all. I'll corn some tofu for you, Colin.

Donna: Nice of you to visit and I hope you are getting closer. Don't try to rush yourself.

Dena Pawling said...

Well today's comments are VERY enlightening -

My parents are from Connecticut, of the "pahk the cah" speaking variety.

When I was 12, my dad almost got transferred to Raleigh but he declined.

And I need to edumacate y'alls on what I do. I do NOT show up at the door and forcibly evict people. The Sheriff does that. For the reason WHY, see this page

I show up in court, either settle the case or try the case, and [hopefully] obtain a judgment. This morning I obtained judgments at two bench trials [non-jury], settled one case for a 30 day move-out, and set a jury trial for Thursday. Hopefully that case will settle tomorrow.

This is awesome -
“Are you trying to say that I have mental problems?”
“You are a writer. That should be self defining. I too write so it takes one to know one. Want a beer?”

All this in-fighting, or maybe it's my mental problems, has me sooooo confused. I think I'll just say I represent FPLM [that's Fuzzy Print Literary Management, is the acronym trademarked?] for BOTH of the offshore offices. That way, I don't have to remember whose side I'm on :)

And yes, I think I'll take that beer. If I wait a few more hours, it can be a green beer.

Julie Weathers said...

Colin: Julie: "Oh, so she's a writer!" ;)

Yes, wading through manure is great training for being a writer.

Angie_@Julie did you get six digits?

No, but I did get a date with a cute cowboy out of it. Well, a few dates.


"All this in-fighting, or maybe it's my mental problems, has me sooooo confused."

If you move to Montana you can get a card proving you're sane.

Dena Pawling said...

Seriously? I can get a card from the State of Montana that lies?

Julie Weathers said...


Well, you sort of have to earn it.

Years ago my father and uncle were partners with a man named Carl on some gold claims that were next to the Pardner Mine, which was theirs.

Now Carl was admittedly a bit odd, but a lot of miners are. Carl was a few bubbles past the norm even for a miner, though. He'd run out of money, go to town and paint stripes in parking lots and earn more money so he could mine gold.

In that respect, gold mining is sort of like writing. You often have to do something else to support your habit and it helps to be at least slightly crazy.

Carl would usually do a little drinking while he was in town and get even more off kilter. Then someone would say something about him being crazy. He'd respond by pulling a card from the state of Montana out of his wallet that certified he was sane. Carl would flash his card and say, "Oh, yeah? Well, I've got a card that says I'm sane, do you?"

The hitch is, you have to be committed to the state insane asylum to get it. BUT, when you're released, they'll give a card that says your sane and you too can impress friends and strangers at parties.

There you go. Easy peasy.

Julie Weathers said...

And that should be "you're" of course.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

@Craig that "Writers with a deer in the headlights look" must be what happens when the agent calls to say their book wasn't bid on.

Kelsey Hutton said...

Re: "Similar to our Canadian friends. I.e. "oot and aboot," for out and about."

Two summers ago I spent three weeks travelling with 12 Americans, and I did notice differences between our accents (although it was more in the word choice--the kids all made fun of me for "washroom" although they didn't seem to notice my "eh"s.)

Actually the accent I noticed most was how flat a lot of their "a"s sounded to me. (One guy I thought was Denny for ages who turned out to be Danny; another person asked me if I'd ever played hockey and honest to goodness, I heard "hacky," like the '90s hacky sack footbag craze and, genuinely confused, said No.)

But... but... my friendly fellow American writers know that most Canadians don't REALLY say "oot" and "aboot," right? There is more of a twist to that gliding vowel in Canadian-speak, but when I say "about" it does not rhyme with the pretty leather encasement that keeps my foot warm.

Her Grace, the Duchess of Kneale said...

I know how to pronounce "Lisht'r", because that's where Richard Armitage is from.

french sojourn said...

Hey LynnRodz;
I'm here every day, but it's now before I sleep that I read the post and comments. I had to take care of my vines and a friends vines,( for the last three weeks) as his wife was sick.

I must say this is the only blog I follow religiously. Love all the effort the finned one put's into it, and the world building the minions provide in the comment section. Be well all.

(first day off in a fortnight.)

ooof! cheers Hank.