Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

Agenting 101: Part One: How To Handle An Editor’s Call With An Offer

STATUS: Don’t you love it when things happen out of the blue? For example, my author Ally Carter got an email from Carly Phillips (yes, that NYT Bestselling Carly). She was at the airport and needed a book. She grabbed CHEATING AT SOLITAIRE and loved it so much she had to email Ally. She even gave us a quote to use for LEARNING TO PLAY GIN promotional materials, “Fresh, fun and fabulous. Solitaire has never been so much fun!”

Now Carly is my new favorite person. Run out right now and buy Ally’s book and then buy one of Carly’s. Because such magnanimity should be rewarded. Most NYT bestselling authors are overwhelmed by blurb requests and make a policy of simply saying ‘no’ so as to be consistent and fair—so Carly’s generosity is much appreciated.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? I WILL NOT BE DENIED by Bonnie Raitt

Earlier this week, I got an email from an author who had gotten an offer from an established NYC publisher after having been at a small, independent for her first book.

Great I think. Send me the novel as an electronic file, and I’ll take a look and see if we can be a good fit.

(Side note explanation here. Most of you are probably thinking, wow, deal on the table, easy money. Truth is, I only take on clients whose work I love, which means if I read the novel and it’s not for me, I’m going to pass on representation—even with a deal on the table. And I’m not joking. I have passed on two projects where the deal was already there because when I take on a client, I need to believe I can rep you for your whole career—that I will love your future stuff. Not just rep you for one book and for the money.)

So, I need to see the novel before I can offer representation. The author sends back an email saying she has already verbally accepted the offer from the NYC publisher (because the deal was not unlike the one she had for the small independent publisher so it looked fine to her) but would like an agent for future stuff and could she send the next project she has.

Kristin groans and raps forehead on desk.

This author expects an NYC publisher to offer the same terms as a small publisher? Oh, heavens.

And now I’m angry on behalf of this author I don’t even know because she’s just accepted a potentially silly offer (with the unchanged boilerplate contract—and I’m cringing while writing this) simply because she didn’t know any better. And you know I HATE when authors are taken advantage of. It really burns me. I think Miss Snark might call this the nitwit of the day.

But I’ll just call it excited, naïve author makes a mistake (and not an uncommon one at that).

So open your notebooks and grab a pen. Kristin is opening up the Pub Rants University and will now teach you Agenting 101 for the next week (except 4th of July). She’s going to teach you how to handle an NYC publisher offer without an agent on board.

First off, as they say when watching the Xtreme sports channel, don’t try this at home. There is a reason why authors pay us the big bucks (chortles) or to be exact, 15% for domestic.

We know what we are doing. You don’t. We aren’t excitable because somebody has just offered to publish our baby. You are. The editor knows that she’s dealing with a professional when working with an agent and that all aspects of the deal will be discussed in detail whereas with you, the editor knows she’s going to get a project cheap—that you’ll be so happy, you’ll verbally agree (without understanding all the deal points) and that you’ll probably sign an unchanged boilerplate (which basically is in the publishing houses favor—not yours).

Now is the NYC publishing house evil for doing so? No. If they can get what they can get and in their favor, why shouldn’t they?

Lesson #1: Editor calls to offer for your project.

What you do (possibility 1): You say, “I’m delighted that you are interested in this novel (or novels or whatever). I’m very open to considering XYZ publishing house. Here is my email address. Would you please email me the deal points or terms of the offer so I can sit down and take a close look at it?”

The editor is going to be more than fine with doing this. You aren’t jeopardizing the offer. The editor is not going to retract it with this request. In fact, you might have just leapt up a notch in her estimation. You are smart, professional, savvy.

Now, I recommend that once you have the deal points in hand, call your absolute favorite agents—the ones you’ve had your eye on. Call and say, I have an unaccepted offer in hand from XYZ publisher and I’m looking for an agent to negotiate this deal and potentially represent my future works.

Let me tell you. Your phone will be ringing—and promptly. Agents love the words “deal on the table from a big time, reputable, can-pay-real-money publisher.”

Obviously I’m biased here but an Agent works for you—to protect your interest. Why not get this expertise on board instead of going on your own (unless of course you are really savvy about publishing etc)—although I’ll tell you right now that agents and editors who write, hire another agent to rep them. We know the biz and we STILL hire another agent to represent our interests. Why? Because a layer is created. The agent gets to be the mean chick, fight for the deal points, be stubborn if she has to, and the author gets an untarnished, pristine relationship with her editor—full of good will and good cheer.

Your agent is the tiger so you can be the easy-to-work-with lamb.

What you do (possibility 2): “I’m delighted that you are interested in this novel (or novels or whatever). I’m very open to considering XYZ publishing house. Here is my email address. Would you please email me the deal points or terms of the offer so I can sit down and take a close look at it? Also, I would like to find an agent who might be able to work on my behalf. Do you have any recommendations of who I might contact or who you enjoy working with.”

Most editors prefer to work with us and they are usually happy to offer recommendations. Then do your research, see if these agents work for you, and contact them.

What you do (possibility 3): “I’m delighted that you are interested in this novel (or novels or whatever). I’m very open to considering XYZ publishing house. Here is my email address. Would you please email me the deal points or terms of the offer so I can sit down and take a close look at it.”

And you plan to go it alone. I don’t recommend it but if you are adamant, take your time. Nothing has to be done in one phone call or in one day even. Ask if there is a deadline by which to conclude (so you have the time frame), and now it’s time to learn what you need to negotiate the initial offer. As for the rest of the contract, it would take more than a week of blogging to teach you that and alas, I’m not up to that level of education—not to mention, it’s why I have a contracts manager.

Agenting 101 begins tomorrow.


22 Responses

  1. busywriter said:

    If someone had a deal on the table and didn’t want an agent, they could get a literary attorney to go over the contract too.

    I would much prefer to have an agent myself, but some people don’t.

  2. 2readornot said:

    I love reading this…I’ve envisioned just such a scenario (haven’t all unpublished authors?)…and in my pretty picture, Agent Kristin is one of my top three I contact (of course), and I always say, “But you have to love everything I write, not just this” — and here she is, saying that herself. Wonderful! But then, I already knew we had similar styles in business…what I still don’t know is whether or not I write anything she will love. Sigh. But I continue to wait. Thanks for the insight — and I have a feeling that part two will delve into waters I’ve not known enough to imagine thus far.

  3. Elektra said:

    Do you actually call the agent, or query a normal, adding in giant flashing letters (right underneath the pink unicorn) I HAVE A DEAL ON THE TABLE!!!

  4. the green ray said:

    Kristin, thank you for this. It brings up a question I have, which maybe you’ll answer tomorrow. If we have a deal on the table, is it really OK to call more than one agent? (I always thought you would call just one, they would accept, and everything would be honky-dory forever.) Can we still make our choice between, say, three agents that have our full manuscript? Or would any of them be highly insulted if we didn’t go with them – after calling about our offer. Thanks so much, as always.

  5. Anonymous said:

    This author you wrote about could have been me. I did the SAME exact thing, accepted the editor’s offer, then got in touch with the agent I was interested in. The agent gently rapped my hand for verbally accepting the offer- but I had to remind her at the time I WAS AGENTLESS, and the point of getting in touch was to get an agent in on the deal so that I would not be screwed on a boilerplate contract. Of course, she saw the point of that and went on to negotiate the kinks out of the boilerplate contract, as well as collect her fee. The editor was happy, I was happy and the agent was happy she got a client whose career she was interested in building. In fact, she just sold two more books for me. It seems to be that while your blog post was supposed to be helpful (and it was to a point) the fact that you’re playing the snark by dissing her is unprofessional. I’m glad you are not my agent. I would not want to see myself dissed on your blog for making an honest mistake as I tried to build my career.

  6. Sherry Thomas said:

    Dear Anonymous,

    Kristin did not diss either you or the author whose mistake inspired the post.

    Her entire point was that though you may be AGENTLESS, you still should not say yes to initial offers a publisher throws at you without first consulting someone with greater expertise.

    It is entirely possible that you escaped unscathed from your mistake. It is also possible that your agent could have negotiated a much better deal if she hadn’t had to start with the boilerplate you already agreed to.

    As you yourself admitted, you made a mistake. Let her educate those who hadn’t yet made the same mistake so that hopefully they wouldn’t, that they get the best possible compensation for their work.

  7. Nicki Greenwood said:

    Elektra brought up a good point which I had been about to ask, myself. I know that most agents are too busy to accept phone calls for just any old thing, but in the case of a deal on the table, is it generally acceptable to bypass snail mail and call or E-mail an agent? Thanks for the helpful post!

  8. Sherri said:

    Thanks, Kristin. I’m going to memorize the quotes so that when an editor calls I won’t get carried away and agree to trade my children for a contract. I’m sure I would regret that.

  9. Kalen Hughes said:

    This was my situation, and I simply picked up the phone and called my top three agents. All of them called me back and asked me to email them my MS.

    Two offered representation, one emailed to say she didn’t think we were a good fit (which I TOTALLY respect her for doing!). But she did say that she’d go over the contract for me for a flat fee if I needed her to.

  10. Tori Scott said:

    I had a similar situation and Kristin was gracious enough to read a partial for me (and very quickly), but ultimately passed. I ended up passing on the contract with the publisher, too, because I couldn’t live with the contract terms. It was an e-publisher who wanted worldwide exclusive rights to everything but my firstborn for the full term of copyright. Uh-huh, yeah, I’ll just hop right on that one.

    Lesson learned: Not every deal is a GOOD deal.

  11. editrix said:

    I agree with all of this except the part about editors recommending particular agents. While I would love to point people to agents that are likely to mesh well with their projects, at my company we are expressly forbidden from making specific recommendations, so as to avoid accusations of bias or favoritism.

  12. eleora said:

    Thank you for posting this–I am really looking forward to reading Agenting 101.

    I do want to acquire an agent first, but if there is no interest in my soon-to-be-finished novel my plan B is to contact the publishers directly.

  13. Denlm said:

    Okay, similar problem. An executive producer for FOX television has been reading partials of my nearly finished novel. He is an old friend who was intrigued with the early chapters and is considering writing and pitching it as a pilot. Should I be letting him do this, without an agent? Like I said, he is an old friend. I’m nuts, right?

  14. Pixel Faerie said:

    Can I dare say that I am intimidated by publishers? As sad as this sounds, I don’t want to attempt to submit to a publisher without an agent. These posts just expand on that. 😉

  15. Anonymous said:

    This is so, so important.

    For years before selling my first book, I practiced saying (in my head at least), to a theoretical offer, “That’s very exciting. Let me think about it and get back to you.”

    Repeat over and over, so when you’re on the phone barely able to speak, you can say that rather than saying what you really want to say, which is “Yes of course, would you like my first born child, too?” 🙂

    Never accept any offer without going away and thinking about it first, even if you are going it alone. Ever.

  16. Justus said:

    I’m surprised by how many writers here are saying they’ve been, or are in, the same situation.

    How does one bump into an offer from an editor without having an agent? I thought there was some process to this which involved going through an agent to reach an editor.

  17. Cathie said:

    This article was very helpful and confirms that I need to get a literary agent. I have a self-published book on Amazon.com, and up to this point have done everything myself. However, I do realize that trying to contact publishers myself is not the way to go. As you said, knowing what to ask for, and not just accepting any offers that come along requires someone with specific expertise in this area. I’m not sure how it works once a book is already published and you want to get a publishing contract for future books but it sounds like an agent could help with this as well. Thank you.

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