Pub Rants

Bad Sign Of The Times

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What’s playing on the iPod right now? EXILE by Enya

Several years ago, I had a project out on submission for one my clients. An editor had called me on Wednesday to discuss the format, the title, how to publish the book and to let me know that in Friday, she would call with the offer.

On Friday, she did call—but she didn’t make an offer. Her publisher had changed her mind in the two days in between and the editor could offer for the novel.

I was stunned. When an editor had called to warn me that an offer was pending, the offer had always come. But at least there really hadn’t been an offer. Just a notice that one was forthcoming. Sucks to be us (and unfortunately, I was never able to sell that particular novel).

A couple of weeks ago I heard a more horrific story. A fellow agent had received an offer that was in the beginnings of being negotiated and then the editor’s publisher called to say that were rescinding the offer.

Now I’m not just stunned but speechless.

It’s not like an editor can just pop on the phone and make an offer. These things go to committees. It’s discussed. The editor has to do a full P&L (Profit & Loss) statement. This has to be reviewed by the higher powers and approved before an offer made.

If the house had hesitations, come on, that should have been discussed before the agent was called.

Uh, guess not.

Now response times for submissions are slow. I’ve also heard of current contracts being cancelled (abominable but I know it has happened). I’ve also heard that editors are being extremely cautious about what they buy. I don’t have hard data on this but I also know that advances are skewing down rather than up when offers are made.

But this. This is a first and not a good sign of the times.

41 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    I’m a multi-published NYT author and my most recent negotiations were extremely difficult. It was my sixth or seventh time going back to contract and until now, they were all relatively painless. This one wasn’t and took months. Fortunately, in the end, we were all happy, but getting there was tortuous.

  2. Anonymous said:

    I only wish agents were in a position of collective strength, to push back against that sorta thing. I wonder sometimes about a novelists’ union, like the WGA … but imagine an -agents- union.

    If all the members of AAR, say, collectively decided not to offer Megapublisher A any new projects until they changed Royalty Rate B, how long could Megapublisher A hold out, seeing the cream of the agented crop shopped around to other publishers and not them …

  3. Liana Brooks said:

    I would be in tears if I were that poor author. How frustrating to get so close and have it all yanked away!

    I can’t imagine it’s any better for the agent. Or the editor. Who wants to work with you if you yank back offers after starting the contract?

    Hopefully things will pick up in the next year or so.

  4. Stephanie said:

    Wow…..that really sucks. To have all your dreams finally a reality, then crinkled and tossed in the trash like that……soul crushing!

  5. Anonymous said:

    Anonymous at 8:03 PM says: “If all the members of AAR, say, collectively decided not to offer Megapublisher A any new projects until they changed Royalty Rate B, how long could Megapublisher A hold out, seeing the cream of the agented crop shopped around to other publishers and not them …”

    …then the Department of Justice would come along and disband AAR and charge the ringleaders with felonies and/or sock them with treble damages, because that might well be a violation of the anti-cartel provisions of the Sherman Act. If authors want to unionize… well, they aren’t unionized yet, and getting unionized is a really, really tough job.

    It’s happened before. Look up the Society of Author’s Representatives.

  6. Anonymous said:

    Do we really need to hear more doom & gloom? Hasn’t anyone changed their mind about a major purchase before? It happens all the time with houses, cars, clothes–even books. Gimme a break! Please try to give us some good news for a change, OK?

  7. Jane Smith said:

    When my first novel first went out on submission my agent heard from three editors within a couple of days, all of whom told him that they were going to offer on it by the end of that week. One promised a two-book offer, another said it was the best submission she’d read all year; you get the picture.

    Not one of them offered: the sales teams all outvoted the editors, as they felt the book was too bleak and therefore would be too difficult to sell.

    This happened a few years ago and no, the book still hasn’t sold.

  8. Anonymous said:

    Anon @ 10:40:

    I’m very much not a lawyer, but what’s the difference between a ‘cartel’ and ‘collective bargaining?’

  9. moonrat said:

    I agree–advances are dropping, the buying process is taking longer, we’re not choosing to get into competitive bidding situations… and yes, even contracts that aren’t working out are being canceled to cut losses/costs. It costs a lot of money to produce a book, and a lot of projects were bought as list filler/incentive makers and no one ever really wanted them (an abominable practice, but it happens).

    But an offer rescinded? That just sounds like capital disorganization on the part of the publisher. Everybody ends up with mud on their face like that. Is it possible that something about the authors/their platform/their veracity didn’t come to light after the fact? That’s the only time I’ve *ever* heard of an offer being rescinded. (And even then, it still demonstrates disorganization and/or lack of follow-through on the part of the editorial team.)

  10. Patience-please said:

    This too shall pass.
    My husband is an artist. His gallery sales have been a fine indicator of the economy – about six months ahead, since the early 80s.
    June, and so far in July, sales have been up, up, up. In all venues: his own gallery, representing galleries, out of town show.
    So hang in there! by Christmas we’ll be seeing a recovery.

  11. WriterinON said:

    I’m with Horse Rider. I think now is a good time to sit on the sidelines while New York gets its manure together, esp. when an established author like Anonymous is being put through the wringer. My own Plan B is to self-publish a novel I’d written many years ago that I never really seriously considered trying to get traditionally published; if it fails it will not be an emotional trauma for me, and I will have learned some valuable lessons about marketing and self-promotion. I will save my “real” novel for the recovery.

    BTW I have a friend here in town who just self-published her first novel and hired a marketing manager to help her get the word out. We were talking Monday night and she voiced a sentiment I don’t think Agent Kristen is going to want to hear: If authors figure out a way to make their self-published novels successful, we may not need agents and publishing houses anymore.

    I know there are a lot of good arguments against this – bad writers, writers who don’t know marketing, etc. but self-pubbing/POD will evolve just like everything else and the elements it lacks right now – primarily a filtering system to sort the crap from the good stuff (what agents & editors are doing *now*) will eventually become a part of the process. I wonder if there will emerge a new profession out of this – a person that is only needed to do the negotiating for rights that an agent usualy does – because that is all that will be required. If we have to write, edit, publish, and promote our own work to make it a success, and we *can*, then, well, er, who needs agents & editors?

  12. Anonymous said:

    I’m one of those authors who got my contract cancelled recently. I’m self-publishing the remaining books on my contract since I already have a readership. My agent is currently shopping another book written under a pen name since I’m now considered damaged goods. It’s been on submission since April and has been rejected by one editor so far. I’m going to give it a year to sell then will self-publish that book as well. Why put myself though all of this angst while the big NY publishers are floundering? I’d love to be published by a traditional publisher again but the odds aren’t looking good when even NYT bestselling authors are having a hard time.

  13. Karen Duvall said:

    Do you all remember when the Silhouette Bombshell line closed? Several authors whose manuscripts had been acquired and paid for never saw their books in print. A good friend of mine was one of them. Her book we due to release in February of that year, and the last book published was in January. She missed it by one month. She was devastated. But that happened several years ago. My point is that this kind of thing has been going on for a while. I just think folks are more sensitive to when it happens now due to the recent changes in publishing.

  14. Melissa Schroeder said:

    This is when I thank God I have somewhere to publish while my agent shops things to NY. My ebook checks come monthly or quarterly, and if anything, they have been steadily going up thanks to Kindle and Sony.
    But, I went through something similar with a series I was shopping last year. An editor called my agent and asked what we wanted for all the books. A few days later, she was told she couldn’t buy it, too risky.
    What gets me is they keep throwing out these million dollar advances to public figures(who will have ghost writers writing their books). Those books aren’t really selling well, not as well as romance and YA are, but they are still throwing out the money. So, the genres that are making the money are suffering.

  15. Malia Sutton said:

    This is why I never get too excited unless something is actually in writing. These days, you never know.

  16. Ulysses said:

    Like Moonrat, I wonder if this is a one-time event due to circumstances unrelated to the economy.

    I hope that’s possible, because the thought of that kind of thing happening with increasing frequency is enough to keep me awake at night.

  17. Anonymous said:

    This isn’t a first. A friend of mine, now a NYT bestselling author, was a debut when she got an offer that was a week later rescinded. It took two years to get another one.

    She now writes for that house, though.

  18. Sarah Laurenson said:

    Times are changing and there are a lot of growing pains going on in this industry. Be interesting to see where we wind up. In the meantime, there will be goofs and gaffes as well as the occasional success.

    I’m debating – a lot – about if it’s a good time to submit. In the meantime, I keep writing and working on improving my writing.

  19. Dara said:

    Hmm. Well hopefully in the year or two it will take to finish my novel, it will better.

    If not, I guess there’s always self-publishing….although I really don’t want to go down that road.

  20. Anonymous said:

    Question for K.

    Do editors often turn down Agent queries to see work. Or do they most often take everything from reputable agents just to be “nice”??

  21. Lea Ann McCombs said:

    I’m wondering if you had already notified your client between the time the editor talked pretty and when she changed her mind? Do agents usually wait to notify their clients until the contract is certain?

    Guess I should ask mine. I can’t imagine how devestating that would be to think you finally had a contract only to have it jerked out from under you.

  22. WriterinON said:

    One reason why I am taking a second look at self-pubbing is because the line seems to be blurring between the traditional camps of “crap” (self-published material) and “good stuff” (traditionally published material). I am reading a lot of novels, including one by a NYT bestseller (hope it’s not one of the ones reading this blog!) that are breaking all the rules we’re told not to break – including BAD WRITING, story that sags in the middle, etc. – all the problems one traditioally associates with inexperienced writers. And – there are some good self-published efforts out there since we all know agents are scouring the Web looking for the established successes & offering them contracts. (And on a side note, wonder how the two 19-year-olds who got a contract for a silly Twitter book put in their 10,000 hours first 😉

    While reading the NYT writer’s novel, I kept wondering, “how the hell did this get past the editing phase?” It was loaded with backstory, and peppered heavily with irrelevant observations about New York. Meanwhile, I have read some self-pubbed efforts with excellent writing, and a few flaws, but sometimes no worse than you will find in traditionally-pubbed books. Esp. these days, when I swear EVERYONE is asleep at the wheel before a project goes to print.

    This is why my first project *may* be (because I haven’t decided yet) a self-pub project under a pen name. Because I will learn a lot of important lessons about marketing & self-promotion which I will need to have for a trad-pubbed effort, and if I screw it up, I screwed it up on the novel that doesn’t matter as much.

    And in the meantime, maybe the economy and NY will pull their respective heads out of their arses and start looking for someting other than established successes and memoirs of a fired ex-beauty queen (Seriously, is there ANYONE who wants to read Prejean’s book??? Is she even *literate*?) Then I can take them seriously & start querying again.

  23. Anonymous said:

    This happened to me back in 1998 while negotiating for my fourth novel, so I’m not sure it’s a new thing at all. I agree that advances overall are smaller but I suspect the second-guessing has been going on forever. Maybe there is more of it, but I don’t think it’s a new thing by any means.

  24. Deb said:

    I hear also that a large NY house has decided to ratchet down its advance below RWA’s magic number of $1,000. Is this true? Anyone hear of it?

    I shudder to think that now Author A from this house will be considered published while Author B may not. Yipes.

  25. Zoe said:

    I just wanted to ask a quick question.

    When an editor pulls out of a deal prior to the signing of a contract can the agent/author ask to know the reasons behind it. Such as whether it was based on the viability of the project or problems in house?

  26. David said:

    Given the state of the economy and its effect on the publishing industry, and on agents’ understandable hesitation to take on something new (and my nonfiction book has excited a few agents but is very different), I’ve decided to forego conventional wisdom and finish the book. I like treating nonfiction as a novelist would anyway, so why not wait until I’ve got a “full” so to speak?

    And being out of the publishing grind is so much more restful.

  27. Anonymous said:

    WriterinOH, you go right on and self-publish. If you find yourself tremendously commercially successful and surrounded by fabulous self-pubbed books, I will be the first to congratulate you and to ask you where that doorway is to the alternate universe you have entered, where such things happen.

    Seriously, it can be the right decision in certain circumstances, but your best bet of commercial success remains traditional publishing, and by a longshot. I’m in B&Ns, Borders, Targets and Costcos, as well as in bookstores in other countries, and I never had to lay out a dime on hiring a marketing agent — or my agent — or the publisher — you get the idea. Until self-pubbing can beat that deal, I can’t see why anybody would go that way if they had a book with mass-market appeal and a choice.

  28. Anonymous said:

    Oh, for Christ sakes, would you people stop blaming the economy for every damn thing? You’re starting to sound like a broken bloody record.

    The economy this. The economy that. All this rubbish has been happening long before the economy became like this, so please, enough with the “the economy is the reason” nonsense.

    One more mention about the economy and I’m really going to do some murder.

    Okay, rant over.

    It is unprofessional for editors and publishers to jerk authors and their agents one way, and then another at the last minute. But it happens. It’s been happening for a very, very long time. And it has NOTHING TO DO WITH THE DAMN ECONOMY!!

    Just thought I should mention that.