Monday, October 14, 2019

offer in hand, what the hell do I do now?

I've been reading your blog as well as Query Shark for years now. Much of what I learned there helped me shape my queries and pitches, and also taught me a ton about the publishing business.

I searched the blog but couldn't find an answer to my specific situation, though it probably exists and I just missed it or am bad at Search Terms.

I wrote a novel and queried extensively. To put it simply, I wrote a dystopian vampire book. I knew when I wrote it that most people were over dystopian AND vampire, myself included, but that's the book that came out of my brain. Surprise! After 70+ queries, I didn't sign an agent.

Then, this past spring, well known SFF publisher announced that it would take unagented submissions for one month. I found out about it via Twitter and sent my query/synopsis on the final day. They got over 600 subs! They asked for my full, then three months later an OFFER! A real one. With an advance!

So I'm sitting here with a contract. I consider myself *informed* and not entirely ignorant of publishing contract issues, but now I wonder how I should proceed. Few considerations:

Optimally, I'd have an agent, but I don't.

(1) Should I try to get an agent before I sign the contract, and
Yes.
(2) How the heck would I do that? Dear Agent Bathory**, I already secured a book deal. Want to be my agent now? I assume I don't do it in standard query form. Or do I? 
You put "offer from X(name of publisher) received" in the subject line of the query. And then, your query is in the email.

I hope you also told the publisher you were going to secure representation. Don't just leave them hanging.
(3) If they do want to be my agent, what is the correct way to address the agent's percentage on this first book, considering that I secured the deal without said agent? Is it just one of those things where I say good for me, but the agent should still get their 15% going forward?
Your agent is going to do a lot for you, even if you got the offer before you got the agent.
They get the entire 15% and you're going to see why they deserve it after you see the contract offer, and the negotiated contract.
(4) If I go ahead and sign the contract without an agent, how does that change my approach in looking for an agent going forward?
Under ZERO circumstances should you sign this contract without seeking advice. An agent taking you on is ideal, but if that doesn't happen, you need someone to review the contract and make sure you're not signing your life away. Or more likely, f/ing up your career. Publishers write contracts in their favor. Signing it as is is almost always a terrible idea.

**hilarious!

24 comments:

nightsmusic said...

First, OP, Congrats!! What a feeling that must be.

Second, unless you understand every single thing in that contract, Janet is right as usual, Do. Not. Sign! If you find yourself unagented after sending out several emails, get a good publishing contract attorney to go over that with you. Yes, it costs money, but the up front price will be much less in the long run than signing without anyone advising you and finding that, other than the advance, you get nothing else. Or you no longer own your story. Or you've had to give them your first born.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Great job, OP. I think you will have no trouble getting an agent now. Pick carefully. Keep in mind whatever you are writing in future. Enjoy the ride.

Amy Johnson said...

Hooray! Such great news! I'm so happy for you, OP. And very glad you wrote to Her Sharkliness.

Ellen said...

Congrats, OP!

Janet, would it make sense for the writer to ask the acquiring editor to recommend a few agents?

Lennon Faris said...

Could the publishing company back out at this point?

Say OP secures an agent, and the agent negotiates well for better terms. Could the publisher decide to go with their #2 choice? Hopefully not.

Good luck, OP! And congratulations.

Theresa said...

Congratulations, OP. This is great advice from Janet.

K. White said...

Congrats OP. This gives my SFF heart hope.

Based on the fact the "well known SFF publisher announced that it would take unagented submissions for one month" as well as the description of the novel, I think I know which publisher this is (but I won't include their name since Janet always deletes them).

If publisher X is who I think, I'm surprised they didn't suggest some agents to approach. I've read about other authors taken on by publisher X in similar situations and they always suggested agents because X prefers working with agents vs green newbie writers.

Thujone said...

Hey- OP here. K. White- I'm guessing that you are guessing correctly. The publisher has been very forthcoming with all of my questions, etc. I went back to them with some numbers I wanted changed on royalties and so forth (contract is still in negotiation) and they assented to them. They even when beyond that but I won't detail here.

Thanks Janet and to all the others with your congratulations! I appreciate it!

Fearless Reider said...

Way to persist, OP! I hope you’ll quickly find an agent who will look out for your interests. I’d happily open a capillary and relinquish 15 percent to Agent Bathory to avoid naively giving the publisher unfettered access to my carotid. Congrats — I hope we’ll see your book soon!

Fearless Reider said...

Oops, should have refreshed comments before I posted — congrats, Thujone! So glad the publisher has been good to work with.

Karen McCoy said...

Congrats, Thujone! This also makes me wonder how the relationship between publishers and agents might be changing if well-known publishers like this one are willing to take authors un-agented. Perhaps some markets, like SFF and/or Romance might be migrating toward a different model? I'm also wondering how agents determine marketability and which authors they're more willing to advocate for.

And, hoping I'm not getting too personal here, but I'm curious about more details from your query journey (not that you need to share of course!). Basically, if you received "I can't sell this, but please send me something else" versus "Not a good fit." Perhaps that might inform what might be the best path for a particular book.

Thujone said...

Lolol yes more blood analogies! Yay! Thank you!

Thujone said...

Thank you Karen! This particular publisher has a reputation for being very author and reader friendly. They are a bit of a different model as they cater to cross-genre work like mine, which is squarely SF and F. I’m not sure we can speculate that they are pursuing a different acquisition model on a large scale or anything like that. I think they know that some work that turns out to be good might filter through the cracks of agenthood and so hope to have their own little slush pile that hasn’t been viewed from the agent perspective.

The truth here is that my story hit strongly with the acquiring editor. That’s what it took. The cliche is that it takes one person and that was true for my novel. She was the book’s champion through the acquisitions meeting and made the offer happen!

Before this, out of 70+ queries, I had 5 or so partial/full requests. Very low hit rate. I’m convinced it was the particular subject matter and the perception that vampire and dystopian are saturated. Had they not invited open submissions, this novel was basically shelved.

Karen McCoy said...

Thanks, Thujone! Very helpful! And congrats again. So glad this book isn't "shelved"...and hope to see it on a shelf when it comes out.

Jill Warner said...

Congrats, Thujone! This is awesome!

Would it be appropriate to give agents a deadline to respond in this kind of situation like you would with an offer from another agent? Or would it be better to wait for the right agent and keep the publisher waiting (or even let the offer go)?

Barbara Etlin said...

Awesome story of persistence! I think interest in topics such as vampires and dystopia is cyclical. They go out of fashion, then someone writes something a little different, and they're hot again.

Congrats, Thujone, and good luck! Also, thanks for causing me to learn about Bathory.

Leslie said...

Congrats, Thujone -- what an amazing accomplishment!

Even the most reputable publishers have their contracts written to favor themselves, not authors. So yes, you need someone who is looking out for your best interests to read the contract.

In my case, I used an attorney who specializes in literary contracts because I'd already had an agent who pitched my proposal (nonfiction) to about 30 publishers and came up empty. He suggested I try the smaller publishers on my own (because the advances they offer generally aren't worth it for him), and that was my sweet spot

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Livin' the dream, OP, you better come back when your book is coming out and tell us what it is, where we can buy it!

I've also had pretty much this exact question in mind (minus the offer in hand) so was pleased to see it!

Thujone said...

Jennifer- I will! Promise. I have tried to truly experience every second, because those payoff moments are so short lived. It's always on to the next thing. I love writing and so I make it a point to remember that, published or not, I'm happiest when I'm creating. Just very fortunate that things broke the way they did.

Colin Smith said...

Congrats, Thujone! I've nothing to add to the advice you've been given. It all sounds pretty solid to me.

I do want to say, though... people... before searching Janet's extensive archives, PLEASE CHECK THE TREASURE CHEST!!! There's even a page of "Gems"--links to a selection of Janet's blog articles grouped by topic ("Agents & Agenting", "Conferences", "Querying"...). I'm glad to maintain this, but I don't do it for my own health you know! And if there's an article missing you think should be linked here, PLEASE let me know!;)

NLiu said...

Wow, congrats Thujone! That is a big deal, especially after getting so many rejections. A similar thing happened to a friend of mine. Never give up! Never surrender!

P.S. I think your dystopian vampire story sounds kinda fun. ;)

John Davis Frain said...

Way to go, Thujone! Happy trails.

Good luck with your Dear Agent Stoker letter, it should be the most enjoyable one you've ever sent.

Brooke Johnson said...

As someone in the near exact same position five years ago who decided not to get an agent, GET AN AGENT. You need someone to advocate for you and help you navigate publication and what comes after. I thought myself well informed, and I was woefully mistaken. Besides, there's no guarantee that this offer will turn into a career, which is what I thought with mine, and now I'm sitting on a half-finished series with no interest from the publisher to finish it, no agent, and very nearly back to square one, trying to finish a new book to query. If I had gotten an agent when I had the book deal in hand, I would not be in this mess.

Gingermollymarilyn said...

Congratulations, Thujone, very inspirational!