Tuesday, November 28, 2017

an offer direct from a publisher

Could an author contact you if they received an offer directly from a publisher - and what kind of offer would it have to be to make it worthwhile for an agent?

Sure, I hear from authors with offers in hand all the time.
I've only signed two, and it was a long time ago, when I was eager to build my list.

The problem with offers in hand is that many times the author has already agreed to the terms and there's no way to go back and renegotiate to improve the deal.  [Unless you know what standard royalty rates are and the difference between World, World English and what's on the Open Market list for the UK and what's on the Open Market list for the US, chances are you've agreed to something you don't understand.]

The other problem is that with an offer in hand, there's often a deadline for yes/no before an agent can shop the book to anyone else. That is, you can't leave an offer hanging while you go out to try to get a better deal.

And often the deals are with publishers who simply can't sell enough books to have any hope of building the book into good backlist; the publisher doesn't have a distributor, there's no sales or marketing plan in place; there's little or no chance of trade reviews; there's very limited chance of library sales.

Those are all the things I look at if someone arrives with an offer.

And a lot of times, the offer is so low that it just doesn't make financial sense to take it on. Remember, my commission is 15%, so your $2000 advance nets me $300. The opportunity cost for a small deal is what I give up to work on the deal. I'd rather wait for a big deal to pop up than commit myself to a smaller one. In other words, it's not just what I earn, but what I could earn if I took on a different book.

Of course, all this varies by book, author, publisher, and deal. There's no one answer to this question.

Generally a publisher will give you some time before they need an answer because most publishers prefer to have an agent do the deal. There's less to explain, agents understand boilerplate (like all the stuff I mentioned above) and we can handle the author's questions rather than the editor needing to do it.

Of course there's a publisher doing click bait tweets with the quite the opposite point of view

which cracks me up completely.

I had a conversation with a client recently in which the subject was all the ways a publisher could tank a good book and my client was aghast. He had no idea of problems like publishing too quickly, or pricing a book too high just to name the obvious things.  The value an agent brings to a book deal for an author is expertise and knowledge. A publisher who doesn't value that, to my mind, is a publisher who either doesn't understand their interests are not the same as the author's, or who do understand and want to exploit an author's lack of knowledge.

But, this is America, and you get to run your business on any moral compass you want to.

And that's actually beside the point of this question so I'll get off my soapbox now, and go back to crushing hopes and dreams (and annoying publishers.)

Bottom line: If you have an offer, email the agent/s you'd like to work with using the subject line OFFER from Publisher/Title. Generally I respond to those emails pretty quickly cause I know you're in a time crunch.

Any questions?


Kathy Joyce said...

I'm curious if agent decision-making is similar in this situation. The agent would have to want to work with the publisher, of course. But, is the agent still focused on whether they love the book? Or, is it just about contract mechanics at this stage?

I've read horror stories about how authors flay themselves when they contract with publishers sans agents. Finding an agent is hard work, but flying solo sounds worse.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I am getting an agent. Somehow I will overcome my query dysfunction. I will finish my synopsis and revision and I will hook some dear unsuspecting agent. And all will be okish.

Kathy Joyce said...

Fabulish, EM, all will be fabulish! (Yesterday, I wrote a query only as a character arc. Today I'm going to add
a few story and MC description details. I'm loving the result.)

K White said...

I have two friends who sold their first three books directly to publishers (one to TOR and the other to St Martin’s Press). They both felt they were treated fairly but also say after securing representation they got much better deals for their future books.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

"Any questions?"
Yup. Where were you in 1973?
Probably learning how to hold a pencil. Oh well.

To my Reider-friends.
Here's some advice. Take it, leave it, throw it out with the trash.

Pay attention,(especially here), be astute and don't jump too fast. Life and our paths to success are NOT paved by talent, hard work and luck, they are paved by the choices we make.
CHOICE rules the future.
All that other stuff helps but turning left, going right, saying yes or no, going forward slowly, hanging back or racing ahead at break-neck speed is what gets you where you want to go.

Never forget, JKA, Janet knows all.

Nathan Holland said...

Excellent response. There are so many things that agents do that we newer writers don't think about. Always growing, always learning. It is the way of life.

Ashes said...

I think a relevant question here is, how would one tentatively accept such and offer (or at least not lose it) with the caveat of 'hold on let me furiously query with offer-in-hand'? The knowledge here, that most publishers want their authors to be agented is reassuring. I always figured they could get away with more if the author was unagented. Since the agent's perspective seems to be 'I might have gotten a better deal', I imagined the publisher would be thinking 'best to lock down this better-for-me deal'.

Lennon Faris said...

As a writer who will want an agent, it would stress me to no end to have a publisher's offer in hand. What happens if NO agent says yes by deadline? Then you have no agent.

Julie Weathers said...

Dear heavens. So I can't inundate publishers with my masterpiece and hope to have agents snap me up. And now I learn Tyrant New York not only won't accept agented manuscripts, but are also closed to submissions. I responded to their snarky tweet when they put that out. I should know enough to keep my mouth shut on social media, but I don't.

Anyway, to Tyrant, Sic Semper Tyrannis.

Karen McCoy said...

My goodness. "Tyrant" indeed! Not a misnomer.

2Ns: Preach!

Sam Mills said...

I saw that unfold on Twitter and oof. They seem more like a vanity press for friends of the staff, but baby writers reading this kind of advice online will still go away with the wrong idea.

There were some ruffled feathers by authors who said they didn't need an agent so who cares, but the best analogy I saw was: the difference between *accepting* unagented submissions versus *requiring* them is the difference between allowing you to represent yourself in court and forcing you to do so. If you know enough about the system, good for you! Otherwise, yikes, give me my defense attorney. D:

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Karen McCoy Finally someone recognizes my true hallelujah nature. Off to my pulpit...a wooden box which used to hold bars of soap.

Kathy Joyce said...

2Ns and Karen, reminds me of a priest I know. One week, he introduced his homily saying he would be preaching on his soap box. The next week, he said that after the previous sermon, someone left a wooden soap box outside of his office. "So, this week I'll be preaching about Mercedes Benz." The church cracked up!

Karen McCoy said...

Kathy, that's brilliant! And 2ns, I'd be happy to listen to you preach on your pulpit anytime.

I'm reminded of a joke my grandfather used to tell. Once, a priest had a parrot, and all it would say is, "Let us pray." His neighbor also had a parrot, and all that parrot would say is, "Let's cuddle." The two decided to put their two birds together in the same room to see what would happen.

First bird: "Let us pray."
Second bird: "Let's cuddle, let's cuddle."
First bird: "Hallelujah, my prayer's been answered!"

Craig F said...

Cool, we now have a name and face for the bad guys of publishing. If they won't talk to agents and don't take unsolicited submissions, there is only one place left.

These are the pervs who haunt twitter pitches and writers groups pitch sessions hunting for wide eyed kids to chew up.

Then again their fourteen published books show an awful judgement problem. Maybe that is all it is but the face they show and try to sell on a tee shirt sure looks guilty to me.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Kathy now that's my kind of holy man.

Alyssa Carlier said...

I'm curious: what ARE the ways a publisher can tank a good book?

Sherryl Clark said...

"I had a conversation with a client recently in which the subject was all the ways a publisher could tank a good book and my client was aghast. He had no idea of problems like publishing too quickly, or pricing a book too high"
I'd love a post from you on this topic. I've had a book tank for that second reason - they priced it too high. It was a children's novel and the publisher priced it at $3 above the price of most other books in that market, and I knew it would be an issue. I received a lot of comments from potential purchasers (those wonderful library people especially). It was a good book but not worth an extra $3. It sold OK but not well compared to my other books, the second book in the series was priced the same and sold badly. No Book 3.