Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Question: Querying a book that already has interest from a publisher

I wrote a book A (description.)  Then I wrote a book B about (another description not related to Book A.)

Both political thrillers were purchased (and a small advance paid) by an independent publisher.  I had a literary attorney help me with the language in the contract.

Book A is already out as an e-book with trade paperback on the way.  Book B will be released as a hard cover/e-book on the 28th.

The publisher have the first right of refusal (the option) on my next book, which is already written and in the beta-reader phase.  I plan to hand it over to them this spring for consideration.

My wife thinks I need an agent before presenting the next book to the publisher.  My wife is smart.  I listen to her a lot.
What is the best form in which to query agents for a book that already has interest from a publisher?

The answer you're hoping for is "write a query letter and tell them just what you told me here."

That is the wrong answer, here are some lovely parting gifts, thank you for playing the Bewildering Game of Agent Enticement.

Let's assume for ease of discussion that both Book A and Book B are books I have read and loved. That the writing is stellar. And you are the cat's pajamas as an author, maybe even someone I met at Bouchercon and plied with liquor as we sat around with the Fabulosity and traded tales of woe.

In the words of my sainted Econ 101 prof in undergrad school: hold everything else constant while we look at this one variable.

And the variable is this: it's an option book on an existing contract.

When I hear those words, it's as though icy cold bilge water has been poured over my delicate little fin. 

Either you want me to sell to the current publisher for 15% of that small advance or you want me to try to sell it to HunkyPublisherWithWadsOCash for more money.

15% of small is not something I'm keen to take on generally speaking. I'd need to be convinced we are going to make a lot more money down the road.

And "the third book" means those first two better have sold well. And I mean reportable verifiable sales well.  In other words NOT Amazon-only cause those guys won't tell ya nuttin about sales so no one believes anything anyone says about the numbers short of photocopying the royalty check.

And a lot depends on who the small publisher is. There are a few very very good ones out there. There are a lot more that aren't.  But that's a variable for another day.

Query with sales stats and reviews. And this is where hanging out in the bar at cons is a GREAT idea. I'm much more likely to talk to authors I know about this kind of perplexity than I am to queriers in the slush.

You're essentially asking for a mid-career rescue. You're not just querying your book.


Kitty said...

And a lot depends on who the small publisher is. There are a few very very good ones out there. There are a lot more that aren't.

I'd love to read a post identifying the good ones.

Melissa said...

I work for a small publisher. Nonfiction only, sorry. When I see situations like this and the author comes back with an agent, usually the agent tries to negotiate the contract for more than the previous books—around 10 to 15 percent more. So you, the author, don't see anymore money but the publisher sees less and has to take that into account on whether the book is still viable.

So is it worth it? It all depends. If you have a bunch of other books that your current publisher isn't interested in because that's not their vein then the agent would handle those and maybe get you more money or into new places. But if your happy with your publisher and happy in your niche, I would say, no, on the agent. It also goes back to sales and if you have broad appeal or small niche.

KayC said...

Informative post - and great to get some feedback from the other side of the fence.

Unknown said...

If you're with a small press, it doesn't make sense to have an agent, unless you write a book with less niche appeal and more commercial appeal that your current publisher doesn't specialize in. Even weirder is that some small presses want you to have an agent because they're flooded with manuscripts, and agents will sub to them, when these presses either offer tiny advances, or are royalty-only.

I can think of two off the top of my head that, while good in reputation, aren't worth an agent's time or money, yet agent's send to them anyway. One offers a small advance, but is otherwise royalty only. And the other has the possibility of giving you an advance, but is otherwise royalty only. If I were an agent, I wouldn't risk anything on small houses. I'd go for the big leagues.

This isn't to insult small presses. I am with one, but I plan to write a book in the future I know my press wouldn't publish because it's not what they specialize in. So I'll either seek out a press that does or find an agent.

To me, agents exist to submit to the big guys where there is assured money, not small presses, even if they are good.