Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Saving a Deal

As a newbie agent I thought of my job as making deals for authors. I would submit the book, the offer (hopefully) would come in, and my job was to leverage that offer to get the best deal possible for my author. Typically my authors at that time were new and unpublished and thrilled beyond belief with anything I could do for them. Now I’m not saying these people were suckers, because it does sound that way. I’m just saying that like most authors they knew the game. They weren’t going to get paid a lot and I was going to do my best to get them a fair contract and the most money possible.

Now I have more than a few years under my belt and so do many of my authors. They’ve been around for a while and have built successful careers. And because of that success and experience I find that many times I’m not making a deal, but saving a deal. Instead of simply leveraging an offer to get the best deal, I’m getting in there and saying to the publisher that this offer won’t work and either we find ways to make it work or this author is walking. From a personal standpoint it’s frustrating and wonderfully challenging at the same time. Yes, I realize that if I don’t save the deal I don’t get paid, but surprisingly that doesn’t enter into the equation when I’m negotiating. What does enter into the equation is my author’s happiness. If my client does not want the deal then I don’t want her to have it. I will lay it on the line, the pros and cons of walking away from the offer and what our options might be and I will negotiate the hell out of it. I’ve done a number of "save the deals" this year, but one of my longest such negotiations took a little over six months (although I have another threatening to break that record).

I think the most important thing I do when saving the deal (which, by the way, isn’t always saving the deal) is give my opinion, because let’s face it, whenever we are faced with a huge decision and are not entirely sure of what we should do, we like to hear the opinions of people we trust. Does it make up our mind for us? No, but it does help to guide us. It’s a risk for me of course because if the author follows my opinion and remains unhappy, I’m the one that’s going to pay, but that’s what you pay me for. You pay me for my professional guidance and I believe I would be doing you an injustice by not giving that. And you can’t always predict what my opinion will be. I have advised authors to take the deal, I have advised a smaller deal, and I’ve advised that we walk away.

So just when you think that authors are completely at the mercy of publishers and agents, think again. It might not be too long before you’re the one threatening to end the deal.

Jessica

25 comments:

Jennifer McKenzie said...

It's nice to know that can come in the future. I imagine it's hard to know, especially in this economic crisis, what deals to walk away from.
I wonder if you've noticed a difference in the way these deals are being offered/rejected in the last six months.
I always figured that's why an agent is so important. Do you think it's difficult for authors, even experienced ones, not to be swayed by the financial panic in the news and so on?
Those are the times I would think walking away from a deal would be hard.

BookEnds, LLC said...

Good questions Jennifer.

I don't think there's any difference in the deals themselves, the difference is in what the author is expecting, what the author and I think should be offered v. what is and what the author's vision of the future looks like v. the publisher's.

I think walking away from a deal is difficult for an author no matter what sort of financial state the country is in.

--jhf

Anita said...

I wonder how emotionally attached agents are to the books they're selling...I want an agent who really loves my story, but who can be detached enough to help me make good decisions...I'm so emotionally attached, I might go with the first publisher who offered me a peanut, just because I want people to read my book.

Anonymous said...

It annoys me, to hear that the market has supposedly slowed down because of an economic crisis.The problem is there are no new books out there for at least in the teen market. My two daughters have read them all. The market better keep going, because from what I understand it takes months, sometimes even a year to get a book published. What should be hurting now are the books that already published, not the ones that are going to be published. Our economy will rebound, and the if the book industry doesn't keep printing, they won't benefit!

Anonymous said...

I have submitted to a couple of agents, (four to be exact) and now I find myself backing off again. I don't need the money from a book deal. I have a perfectly happy content life. I don't need the stress. What I do want is to share what I have done, but more than anything I just want to keep writing. I am working on my third and fourth books, that tie in with the first two and frankly I don't want to take the time to find an agent. I work full time, I have a family, and the rest of my time is spent obsessing over my story. I apparently need an agent to find me an agent, and write the query, submit it, write my synopsis! Or maybe I just need more time!!!!

BookEnds, LLC said...

Anon 10:01:

Unfortunately, most of the market slowdown is really based on sales. Publishers and bookstores are seeing a dramatic decrease in the number of books sold. Except for one publisher, no one has stopped buying books and no one has cut the number of books they are publishing each month. The biggest differences are the advances and the money being paid to authors on those deals being made.

--jhf

Anonymous said...

It's good to hear that most publishers have are buying the same number of books. As far as the advances, that has never been something I have been concerned about nor the book deal. I just want easy, so I can continue with my passion (writing)! I guess if I had already published something it may matter to me. No one that I personally know has slowed down on book buying. If anything it has increased in my area. Home entertainment is the thing right now. What may have changed is where they are buying their books from-(book resale stores, half.com, etc.), but the book market will continue on. The economic crisis will end, and I still want to read, my daughters still want to read, my sister and mother still want to read, my friends still want to read, so on...so on...

PurpleClover said...

God forbid an author waits so long that there is no longer a need for that book. I would hate to lose out on getting the book published just because I thought it deserved more money. Besides...you're losing out in royalties while the topic is hot...wait too long and you may get less sales.

I look at it like this: It's like a stock...you can wait for it to get to the right price, but variables happen and you can lose out.

Whether an agent loves my book or just loves money, it wouldn't matter to me. Different interests but same goal works just as well.

Anita said...

Anon 10:01: Have your daughters read STARGIRL and LOVE, STARGIRL? Loved those books.

Kate Douglas said...

The hardest thing about walking away from a deal, IMHO, is giving up on the emotional investment you have in the proposal. It might be only three chapters and a synopsis, but I know when I put those chapters together, there's a huge emotional investment in the characters. They're real to me, and I want to finish exploring them, but that's why having an agent is so important to an author. The agent is looking at the author's career as a whole, not a single book, thank goodness! I can't imagine trying to negotiate these waters on my own, but I can say from personal experience that walking away from a deal can be the smartest move an author ever makes...so long as she has a good agent!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Anita,

I went and looked on Amazon. It's hard to get past the cover, especially for a teen. It seems Stargirl could use a makeover. I hope if I ever get published, my cover helps sell the book. My girls like romance and paranormal,(Twilight was the bomb for them, and they loved the Vampire Academy series, Harry Potter, Eragon, Morganville series.) Right now were desperate and give them a try. Thanks again.

Juliana Stone said...

I had to turn down a sale late last year. The contract sucked and even though I so wanted that sale....I had to say no. I'd just sold to a major NY house and that defitely took the sting off, but this particular sale meant a lot too...I wonder if I hadnt' got the NY deal if I'd have gone through with the other....it's so tempting when you're not pubbed to take whatever is offered...but you really have to think of the future and what's best for your...careerwise.....don't sign your rights away....lucky for me, I had an agent who had the best advice ever...

Anita said...

Anon: STARGIRL and LOVE, STARGIRL are awesome teen love stories with a strong female protagonist. If they want paranormal, J. Patterson's MAXIMUM RIDES series rocks.

Steve Stubbs said...

Some of the comments reminded me of a personal experience that might be of some interest.

When I was very young I used to read science fiction. I had no money so read library books. I went through every science fiction novel in the library, and after finishing the last one never read science fiction ever again, as in never again.

So if the commenter is right that no new books are coming out in certain genres, the publishers may be making a mistake. Once their customers break the habit of purchasing their products they may be gone for good.

Kat G said...

I think it is hard in any business to be a guiding voice.

At my job, we have authors who we try to guide to the best options for publishing, which is often not the most expensive.

Part of this is managing expectations. Often we will try to discourage authors from buying thousands of books for a book signing if we believe they'll be stuck with thousands of extra copies.

It isn't that we don't believe in our authors, we do. But we realize the limits and try to help them see the industry clearly.

Being aware of what will be the best for your client based on your experience, and not your pocketbook is, I believe, the best thing an intermediary in the creative process can do.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Anita,
I'll be checking them both out.

Karen Duvall said...

Anon, if your girls like paranormal teen fiction, have them try Dead is the New Black and Dead is a State of Mind by Marlene Perez. All of Melissa Marr's YA paranormals are great, too. There are tons out there. You can probably find someone's fave YA paranormal fiction list on amazon.com, too.

Anonymous said...

Steve,

I agree. The book industry would do better with a bigger selection and less emphasis on how much one book will bring in. If a dedicated reader runs out of their genre, we do what Steve does, we forget about reading.I would say that was especially true for teens, and middle graders.
I also think a book cover should look like the type of book it represents. They say don't judge a book by it's cover, but I don't know anyone that doesn't. It seems to me both of these are mistakes publishers, agents, and authors are making. To the reader it's not about money, it's about entertainment, and we want to keep the reader happy, so the industry flourishes. So honestly, do you walk away from a deal, because it's not what the other authors are getting, and take a chance on it not getting published at all, or do you go ahead and get your name out there, and get a following slowly, but not making as much money. Is there not always the next book you write to gain the rest? My agent had better be absolutely positive she could get me another deal on the book, before she refused an offer. My first book I'd probably take almost any offer.

Anonymous said...

Karen,

Thanks. We've already read Melissa Marr's books. They got mixed reviews from the girls, but definitely better than nothing. I checked out Marlene Perez's also. She has a cover problem also. My daughters would never looked at them. We'll give them a shot.

Dal Jeanis said...

Can't agree on the Maximum Ride recommendation. I read the first book, and the end was so disappointing - nothing resolved, the only positive thing that happened was pivotted into a negative - that I resolved never to pick up another Patterson book. If an author loses my confidence, he definitely loses my confidence.

For me, even in a series, each book has to work. Life's too short to read bad books.

Anita said...

Dal: I think with MAX RIDE, the point was to leave things hanging, so folks would pick up the next book. Honestly, it's not my fav genre, but with the other type of books Anon's kids like, I think the series will work for them. Also, I hope you won't discount all of Patterson's books, because they can be really fun. Finally, the other books I recommended---STARGIRL and LOVE, STARGIRL are little gems, works of art, in no way related to what Patterson does. I recommend those for any age.

Sorry I digressed from the original post, which is so informative and thought-provoking. I think Jessica could put all her posts together and have a textbook ready for newbies like me. Now that's a book I'd buy.

Lady Glamis said...

It is so nice to hear this from an honest, caring agent. You certainly are at the top of my agent list to query!

I believe new authors do feel that agents hold all the cards and keys, but in the end, the author is doing the selling - it is their product, and it's nice to know that the middle-person (you, the agent), is working hard to get the author what they deserve. Thank you!

Juliana Stone said...

Anon....I read Max ride and thought they were very good....but city of ashes and City of Bones by Cassandra Clare totally rocked...it's YA urban fantasy/paranormal and I loved it...can't wait for the third one to come out!

AstonWest said...

I imagine new authors would be biting their nails through a six-month long wait toward saving a deal... :-)

To the Anon with daughters, I would recommend my own book...but that might be tacky. :-P

Anonymous said...

Anton,

I'd read yours, if you would read mine.LOL. Just kidding I'll look for it on Amazon,along with City of Ashes. I've already ordered all of the others recommended that we have not read. My girls love my manuscript, but you know what they say about family's opinions. I'm thinking your's looks sad. I'm not very good with sad endings. It also looks geared towards boys. I do have a nephew who adores reading, I'll send it his way also. Thanks again for all the recommendations. Did I spell that right? I hate not having spell check on this. ANON 10:01