Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Shop 'til You Drop

When I was in junior high school a friend gave me an atrocious T-shirt (I thought it was very cool at the time) that said “shop 'til you drop” and I loved it. Why wouldn’t I? I loved to shop. And I still do, but not in the way many of you are thinking. Now my shopping is almost purely for business (and shoes of course).

When I say I’m shopping something these days it’s usually a book that I’m shopping around to publishers. And hopefully they’re the ones spending the money and not me. When I'm asked how agents shop books, the question that most frequently comes up is how many publishers should an author expect her agent to submit to. The answer is that there is no answer.

Every agent works differently and every book should be treated differently. Recently I had two very unique experiences. One book was shopped extensively to nine different publishers, some within the same conglomerates—Bantam and Ballantine for example (both divisions/houses of Random House). For the other book I narrowed my list to just five publishers and did not shop it to any houses within the same conglomerate. Why? I felt the second book had a very distinct market and feel and that it needed to be seen by only a few elite editors. Places that I felt really wanted this kind of book would pay a lot for it, and had a knack for publishing similar titles successfully.

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, Houses Divided, often when you submit to two houses in the same conglomerate only one will be able to join in the auction. And often this does play into how I submit to those houses. If I think one is better suited for an author or book I will often submit to that house first, leaving the other out. This way I can have a little bit of a say in who might be publishing the book and how it might be published.

I can’t say definitively how a book should be shopped or how I shop a book. What I can tell you is that I will shop 'til I drop, and sometimes that means five houses, sometimes ten, and sometimes twenty or more. It depends on the project, it depends on the kind of feedback we’re getting, and it depends on what I know the houses are looking for and what they are actively not buying at that moment.