Thursday, June 29, 2006

Agenting 101 (part one)

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, na├»ve 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.