deals may be about more than money – the agent perspective

This week, I closed a deal for Laura Anne Gilman AKA suricattus, author of the Retrievers series and the upcoming spinoff at Harlequin Luna. The deal was for a brand new series, currently titled The Vineart Wars. Before you read any further, go and read the author’s take on this. And, then, there’s my version of the story….

It starts off much the same. We were exchanging chatty emails as suricattus attempted to convince me to attend a Cooking/Wine Expo. I was reluctant. The venue, the date, the cost… so, it was suggested that if there was a way to make it a research trip and tax-deductible, then I might be more amenable. And there it was. A fantasy based on wine and vineyards, and the author was off and running because it was a lovely dovetailing of her interests and passions.

*time passes*

The author presented a proposal, which was discussed (revised, hacked to bits, blown up, revised some more). As I recall, there were other beta readers as well. Eventually, there was a more polished version that felt ready and, though the type of fantasy was a well-trodden road, the concept had a number of fresh twists and we decided to go for the multiple submission. (As an aside, I’m the kind of agent that decides this on a project by project basis. IMO, not everything is suited to multiple submissions and I am certainly no advocate of the throw it at the wall of publishing and see if it sticks method.) Four editors were chosen for a variety of reaons – their own interests, their publisher’s approach to publication, among other things. We were looking for enthusiasm, commitment, an ability to give this somewhat upmarket packaging, and a good editorial fit. Money would be nice too (we both would need to increase our wine cellar selection, after all).

*time passes*

One editor passed (though she craved a glass of wine while reading the proposal). A bit more time passed and then one of the remaining three editors came in with an offer. A multi-book offer. Nice. The other two editors were informed that we would now accept a best-bid* as we were looking for the best fit for the material, not necessarily a bidding war. Due to bad timing, the London Book Fair added a few days to their response time. Of those two, one declined to counter-offer, but the other wanted to make an offer and came back with more money per book, but for less of them. At this point, much debate occurred.** The sticking point seemed to be commitment issues. But, also of interest were feedback on editorial issues, packaging intentions, and positioning in the market. Questions were asked and answered before a decision was made. It was a challenging decision with many factors, and I knew that both editors would do a great job, too.

But, now… it’s time for the research. suricattus always brings great wine to match up with my cooking…. She even got me into Shiraz finally, so I was recently labeled by a sommelier as an ABC consumer.

*There are several kinds of offer/counteroffer situations:
(1) Open-ended: No closing date. Everyone who wants to gets to make an offer and bid and counter-bid.
(2) Closing date: The agent sets a date on which offers are due, and then bid and counter-bid ensues.
(3) Best Bid: Can also include or not include a closing date. Best bid means that each publisher bids once and only once and then the offer that the author considers the best is chosen.

**Factors considered in bids (not an exhaustive list):
(1) advance amount per book
(2) # of books covered by offer
(3) separate vs. basket accounting
(4) territory covered by agreement
(5) intended publishing format
(6) intended publishing schedule
(7) promotional package, if any

26 responses to “deals may be about more than money – the agent perspective

  1. Once again, alcohol FTW!
    grats to LG and you both…

  2. Wow. Thanks for sharing this, Jennifer. Okay, this just proves that you are the incredible agent that we all want. There, I said it. It’s true. ;*)
    ~Tyhitia
    http://obfuscationofreality.blogspot.com/

  3. deals may be about more than money
    Indeed. Probably it’s just as well nobody told Betsy Mitchell that I’d be happy to write books for her for free, just to get to work with her. πŸ™‚

  4. co-op?
    Jennifer, does #7 include co-op? Are the details of how much co-op is being offered spelled out?

    • Re: co-op?
      It can – in very rare cases. But promotional budget coming into play doesn’t happen all that frequently, and mostly for very well-established authors.
      Hey, I note that you’re training to be a profiler. Where are you getting your degree?

  5. Foodie Agent meets Winey Author. Match made in heaven. Details at 7…
    Thank you both for expounding and expanding on the details of auctioning books.
    Agents seem to have a very unique position in the book biz. These posts believe it or not have given me a much clearer picture as to why having a good agent can make a significant difference.
    In your knowledge of “Agent History” has this always been the case? I guess what I’m asking for is a bit on the evolution of the lit biz agent…

    • Well, I can tell you the following about the agency that claims to be the first practicing one (from a workshop that I do):
      A.P. (Alexander Pollock) Watt & Co. – first deal 1875 (as a favor for friend George MacDonald), incorporated 1881. Canonical authors include G.K. Chesterton, Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells, and W.B. Yeats. Shortly before his death, Watt wrote: “The work of the Literary Agency is to conduct all business arrangements of every kind for authors and playwrights; that is to say, to place manuscripts to the best advantage; to watch for openings; to sell copyrights either absolutely or for a limited period; to collect royalties, and to receive other monies due; to transfer property; to value literary property; to obtain opinions on manuscripts, etc., etc.”

  6. Thanks very much for this window into genre publishing. Very interesting story! And I love stories that incorporate cooking/culinary appreciation — it was one of my favorite parts of the Redwall books. I will be keeping an eye out for them!
    I’ve done work in nonfiction where books are sold by proposal/pitch, but my understanding was it was relatively uncommon in genre unless you were very (like bestseller) established. It’s cool that a project can be sold on the basis of its innovative pitch — I think that’s just a much more clean, stable, and healthy way of doing business for the author, when they’re writing a book knowing where its future is going.

    • Well, it was a pitch and sample (4) chapters, not a pitch alone….

      • Sorry — I should have specified. πŸ™‚ I think I mentally included that in ‘pitch’ — I do the same thing with nonfiction, you still need sample chapter(s). Congrats, though!

    • It’s cool that a project can be sold on the basis of its innovative pitch
      We did have some very well-written chapters and a solid synopsis plus mini-pitches for additional books.
      I do think it’s more the norm to sell on proposal in non-fiction than in fiction. Generally, one only sells fiction with a proposal if the author is already established. Even then, there are a number of times when a manuscript will have to be written entirely on spec (for example if the author is moving into a new genre).
      For new authors of fiction (unless they are a celebrity), it is exceedingly rare to sell with a proposal.

      • I put an apology above to for my slip… I meant pitch+chapters, I think I mentally included it in the whole “pitch package”. πŸ™‚
        Thanks for the details, though. I knew there was no way in heck a new author would be selling on proposal (why would a publisher take a risk like that?), but it’s nice to know that you don’t have to be Stephen King to sell that way. Things work similarly in video games, and it always seemed to make more sense to me.
        Congratulations to you both, again!

  7. Interesting story, from both points of view. Thanks!
    And if you haven’t tried a Malbec (from the Mendoza region in Argentina), you’re doing your palette a disservice. πŸ™‚

    • The two Malbecs I have tried were overly strong on the earthy part of my palate. Care to recommend something in the under $20 range?

      • Actually, all the ones I’ve tried are all in the under $15 range (at least here in Denver). I can’t afford to drink REALLY good bottles of wine all the time. πŸ™‚ I’ll have to get back to you on an exact label. I do know most of the bottles we get are in the 2003-2005 year range.
        I admit that I like the earthy flavor of Malbec, but find most shiraz’s to be stonger in flavor. Maybe you’ve had very well aged bottles?

  8. I love a good shiraz. And I love that the way the proposal originated.

  9. Thanks for a very interesting post – I love these sneak peeks into the agenting biz.
    And wine and fantasy…mmm…
    ‘Kay, I’m sold.

  10. Congrats to both you and Ms. Gilman. πŸ™‚

  11. If an author has an offer in hand from a major publisher, and they bring it to you, is there a dollar minimum below which you simply won’t go in taking them on as a client? I mean, is there some amount below which the ROI simply isn’t worth your time?
    Just curious.
    db

    • If there is, I don’t know it yet. For me, it’s always about the writing. Even with a deal on the table, I’d need to read at least part of the manuscript before I agreed to represent it. The other way has not worked for me in the past.
      Plus, very few first novels earn out their advances. Writing careers tend to be an investment that hit their stride several books down the road in most cases.

  12. That is both cool in the “hey, congrats!” sense, and in the “thank you for writing all that; it’s interesting and informative!” sense.
    Thank you.

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