Pub Rants

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

Agenting 101: Part Two: The Deal Points

STATUS: It’s a quiet day. Most of publishing skipped out of the office at 1 p.m. Eastern time. And then I just heard the news, a moment of silence for Jim Baen: 1943-2006.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? MYSTERY by Anita Baker

Got your notebooks ready? Here we go.

Yesterday, I spent enough time highlighting the importance of getting an agent on board and when. That’s totally up to you and what you need for your career.

Let’s go back to yesterday’s scenario. You are a hard-working author who is building her career. You don’t currently have an agent and a call with an offer comes in from an editor at a large, NYC publisher. You plan to go it alone.

First off, this is great news! You’ve done an amazing job of getting your unagented manuscript noticed out of a slush pile. Congratulate yourself. This is a triumph. You’ve beat some tremendous odds.

But chances are good you weren’t expecting the editor’s call so it probably takes you completely by surprise—not to mention your heart is pounding with excitement.

My first recommendation to you is to be warm, gracious, and excited while talking to the editor but don’t commit to anything during that phone call. You need time to process, to analyze the deal points, to figure out the questions that you might have or to talk with your fellow authors to get help and advice (so many published writers are savvy because they belong to RWA, or SFWA, or Sisters In Crime and so have a lot of knowledge). And you can’t do that while on the phone with the editor.

So ask the editor to email you the terms of agreement so you can review them at your leisure (and ask for the time frame for when you need to respond by). This allows you a little breathing room, a little distance in which to start the negotiation. This also allows you to calm your frantically beating heart so you can be in a better space to do the actual negotiation.

Deal Points

Agents call the initial phone (and a lot of times by email) negotiation the hammering out of the deal points. What this means is that these are the main components and potentially the deal breakers. If we can’t agree on these terms, there’s no point in sending on the rest of the contract.

Now, what the deal points are can really vary depending on the authors and what level they are in their careers. That’s complicated so I’m just going to stick with the basic deal points.

By the way, what I’m sharing certainly isn’t top secret. In fact, Agent Richard Curtis even wrote a book entitled HOW TO BE YOUR OWN LITERARY AGENT.

I wouldn’t recommend being your own agent (as you well know) but this book is a great resource if you want to learn about the business of contracts and all the nitty-gritty.

When an editor offers, you want to get answers to these 6 elements of the deal.

1. Rights Granted
2. Advance
3. Payout
4. Royalty structure/format
5. Bonus clauses
6. option clause

There are also three other questions you should probably ask as well:

1. What editorial changes do you see as necessary?
2. Potential pub date?
3. If a two-book offer, make sure that they will be separately accounted.

You also want to include another clause in the deal point negotiation that will read (and this can vary depending on rights granted):


“All rights not specifically granted hereunder are reserved by the Author, including, but not limited to motion picture, television, radio, commercial merchandising, audio, video, multimedia and/or interactive electronic rights.”

Got that jotted down? On Monday, I’ll start breaking down each one of the deal points and talking about them.


10 Responses

  1. Robin Prehn said:

    thanks, Kristin. Even though I got your ‘no’ today, I appreciate your interest in my work. Perhaps I’ll get you interested again someday. And your blog continues to be one of my favorites!

  2. Anonymous said:

    This is great informaton Kristin! Although I would never dream of accepting an offer without getting an agent involved, this helps me to better understand some of the ins and outs of the business. Thanks for taking the time to enlighten us with this!

  3. E.A.Saraby said:

    Thank you for this information and everything in your blog. I’ve been reading for a while and just now realized I never comment…shame on me! I learn a lot reading what you share as I’m trying to get my first novel represented/publish. I’ve been very leary of all the “nitty gritty”, and I’m looking forward to more installments from you to assuage my fears!

  4. HH said:

    omg I love you. I’m exactly your target reader here — small press pubs, large house interested in my novel (fingers and toes crossed), and no agent. Thank you soooooo much for doing this.

  5. Anonymous said:

    Clearly a writer who receives an offer from a publisher should take a deep breath, babble some nice things, then hang up gently (drink some champagne) and think about it. But how long is the editor willing to wait while the writer scurries around looking for an agent, or (second-best) a lawyer/accountant familiar with the publishing industry? A few days? A month? Six months? I can’t imagine an editor would wait forever. And the writer’s first impulse is to say “Yes! Yes! Please! Thank you! I’ll sign, right now!”

  6. jellybean said:

    Thank you for doing this. But the wait between posts is killing me! Perhaps you could stop being so efficient at work and could blog the entire series at once instead. After all, what is a paid job against public service?

  7. S. W. Vaughn said:

    Miss Nelson, you are indeed a very nice literary agent. If only you repped my genre. 🙂 Sadly, I’m going it alone with an independent press.

    Thanks for posting this information. I look forward to the remaining installments of Agenting 101.

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