Friday, August 17, 2007

Handling an Unagented Offer from a Publisher

Recently I got a call from an author asking advice for a friend of hers. The friend had received an offer from a publisher and was unagented, and while she was over the moon, she was also in a panic. What to do? What to do?

I covered this topic once before here, but it bears repeating and elaborating on.

While most of us preach against submitting directly to a publisher, there are still a few publishers who accept unagented material and will consider it. And yes, they will, on occasion, make an offer. In fact, I have four clients who came to me with a publisher’s offer in hand. In two instances the author was previously published with this publisher and decided that this time she wanted to use the offer as leverage to find an agent. In another instance the author had never been published before and wanted an agent to negotiate the finer points of the deal. In that case we sent the material around to a number of different publishers, and while we got some interest, in the end we signed with the publisher who originally offered. In another case the author had never been published before but had submitted to a couple of publishers based on contest requests. In that case we used the offer as leverage to sell the book to another publisher for an even better deal.

So what are your choices if you’re unagented and receive an offer directly from the publisher? As I see it you have two: (1) sign with the publisher and move on to working with the editor on your book, or (2) use the offer as leverage to contact all of your favorite agents and find the one you think is best suited to your work and work style.

Of course my suggestion would always be choice #2, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with choice #1 either.

If, however, you decide to try to find an agent, here’s my advice. . . .

1. Thank the editor and let her know that you’re planning to find an agent to negotiate on your behalf. Let her know that you’ll get back to her in 7 to 10 days (and then of course get back to her in that time frame). Do NOT tell the editor you accept her offer or anything even remotely similar. This will ruin any possibility of the agent negotiating on your behalf.

2. Contact every agent who has your work (at least those you are most interested in working with) and give them the details of your deal. You don’t need to reveal money matters at this point, but let them know that you have an offer, with what house (you can leave out the editor’s name) and for how many books. And give them a deadline. Let them know you’d like to hear back in 3 to 5 days.

3. Contact new agents who you’ve always liked and wanted to submit to, but who don’t have your work. Let them know why you’re contacting them and provide all the same information as in point #2.

4. And then wait. Most agents will get back to you in the time asked. For those who don’t, they should at least ask for more time or let you know when they can get back to you. For anyone who seems uncommunicative or lacks the ability to get back to you in time, cross them off your list. Either they aren’t interested enough for you to want to work with them or their communication style isn’t what you want in an agent (unless of course you’re fine with being ignored).

5. Once the agents get in touch with you, read my blog post on Questions to Ask Before Signing with an Agent and don’t forget to read the comments. This should help give you an idea of what the agents are about and who you would be most comfortable working with. And then go for it. Sign with the agent.

6. Now that you’ve found your perfect business partner let the editor know that So-and-So agent will be getting in touch to handle the deal.

7. And Celebrate!

And lastly, don’t worry that editors or agents will be put off by your demands. You’re demanding nothing. You are acting as a smart and wise businessperson.