Two weeks ago, I talked about the exciting and heartwrenching time known as being “on submission” and outlined the steps your agent will take to give your manuscript the best possible shot with editors at major publishing houses.
Most manuscripts receive at least a few rejections (or “passes” as they’re known in the industry) when they go out on submission, and after the thrill of finding an agent, it can be discouraging to find yourself back in the position of having your work turned down.
Then comes that miraculous afternoon when your agent calls with four magic words: “We have an offer.” What happens then?
Anatomy of an offer
When most people think about an offer, the first thing they think of is the size of the advance. But a book offer is about much more than just money. A publisher’s offer come with all sorts of terms attached, such as the book’s release date, royalty schedule, and which rights the publisher gets to hold.
Therefore, while you’re jumping up and down in excitement, your agent will probably read you these terms over the phone, explain what they mean, and give you a sense of whether the offer is good, great, or a little low.
When one editor makes an offer, your agent will get in touch with all the other editors who are currently reading your manuscript and let them know. If you’re lucky, this will spur more editors to throw their hats into the ring and make competing offers. However, it’s equally likely that you won’t get any other offers, in which case don’t fret—after all, it only takes one publisher to say yes.
The editor interview
Before accepting any offer, your agent might put you in touch with the offering editor directly so you can get a sense of her personality and her vision for your book. Just as you shopped for the right agent, it’s now your time to shop for the right editor.
When you speak with an editor, it’s important not to discuss the terms of the deal, and not to discuss competing offers. This could compromise your agent’s bargaining power. A good editor will not push you to reveal what other editors are offering. Instead, you will talk about your book and your vision of your career as a writer. Now’s the time to ask questions about each editor’s editing style. What does she like about the manuscript? What changes would she like to see?
This is the time when your agent will really prove her worth. No matter what the original offer was, your agent will push to make it bigger and better. She’ll fight for a higher advance, a better royalty escalator, an earlier release date, and a better deal on foreign, audio, and electronic rights.
She might go back and forth with the publisher several times, speaking with the editor, the legal department, and whoever else she needs to bargain with. This process generally takes a few days, during which your only job is to sit tight and wait for the good news.
The new deal
When a publisher comes back with a new offer, your agent will discuss the details with you. If the offer is strong enough, she will recommend that you accept it. If your agent believes she can get a better offer elsewhere, she may recommend that you pass on the offer and instead take the manuscript to auction.
In my next post, I’ll talk about what happens when a manuscript goes to auction. In the meantime, I wish you all fabulous offers and wonderful deals!