Wednesday, January 14, 2015


Zestful Blog Post #88

When I left off last week, The Actress was on the verge of getting published. After I refused to make drastic changes to satisfy a certain editor, she opted not to make an offer.

We'll call this installment:
7) Champagne

But another editor was interested; in fact, she very much wanted to bid on The Actress, but couldn’t get the marketing guys on board. (Cameron related this to me.) Their feeling was, nobody wants to read about people in Hollywood. Evidently they’d published a book along those lines that didn’t do well, so they nixed a deal for The Actress.

[A hazy day in the Hollywood Hills, photo by ES.]

But yet another of the ‘Big Six’ wanted the book, and made an offer. The way it works is: they make an oral offer on the phone to your agent; the agent calls you and discusses, then the agent calls them back to say yea or nay. Only the most basic things are discussed during the oral process: the amount of the advance, and just a few details about the back end. (An advance is front end. Royalties after you earn out, any advertising/marketing arrangements, etc. are back end.)

If more than one publisher is interested simultaneously, the book ‘goes to auction’. That simply means the interested publishers are told by your agent that there are multiple interested parties, and they’d better put out their best offer during a certain tight window of time, like three days. Auctions for hot, multimillion-dollar books sometimes take only hours or minutes.

(When this offer came in, I was vacationing in Hawaii with friends. Because of my phone call from New York, I delayed our morning a bit, enduring their impatience to get out and look at the damn volcano already. But I’d worked for years to get to this point and was like, ‘Dudettes, you must delusional if you think I’m gonna cut this call short.’)

We came close to an auction situation for The Actress, what with the first publisher (who wanted changes) being so hot for it, but in the end we got just the one solid offer, which was for a two-book hardcover deal, and went with that. The publisher was St. Martin’s Minotaur, a division of Macmillan.

The whole process, from when Cameron started shopping the book around to getting the offer from Minotaur, took only two weeks.

Once the deal is accepted orally, the publisher draws up a contract and sends it to your agent, who sends it to you. (This one was done via U.S. Mail, but eventually everybody has pretty much gone electronic.) Once you’ve read it, you discuss it with your agent, and the agent gets back to the publisher with the changes you both agree to ask for.

Having negotiated my own contracts for my Lillian Byrd series, I was familiar with the process, but the contract from Macmillan was much longer and more involved than any I’d seen before. Here is where Cameron earned her percentage, by advising me on what we should and shouldn’t press for. Basically, a higher advance is always a good idea, but once you’ve gotten them as high as they’ll go (and without an auction you don’t have much leverage), you start talking about the back end. A good strategy is to ask for lower ‘bumps’ in the royalty schedule.

Say the contract says you’ll get ten percent of sales for the first fifteen thousand copies, then twelve and a half percent for the next fifteen thousand, then fifteen percent for the rest of all copies for eternity. You agent can ask for the first bump to be at ten thousand or seventy-five hundred, and so on, so that you’re eligible to make more total money on the book, sooner. You can ask that your highest percentage be bumped to twenty percent, stuff like that, as well.

You won’t get everything you ask for, but like an annoying corporate vice president I once worked with used to say, “Don’t ask, don’t get.”

So now is the time to ask away. More next time. Thanks for looking in.

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  1. All I have to say is -- "Impressive."

    1. Sharon, thanks for looking in! I hope these posts are helpful in showing how the process works... much more to come...

  2. Thanks for the insight on how getting a publishing contract works. After reading this, it really hits home the idiom of not counting your chickens before they're hatch. It's good to remember that just because a publisher might express interest in your book, doesn't automatically mean a contract. Sometimes, like you've recounted, there will be a few or a lot of near misses before you do get and sign that contract.

    1. Right, and the more just-misses you get, the closer you are to success. That's worth remembering when you're feeling the sting of a letdown.

  3. I am so enjoying your publishing journey blog posts, and I'm glad to hear you'll be sharing more. And thanks for the direct to Jamie Morris's website. I'm looking forward to her presentation tomorrow in Winter Park.

    1. Terrific, Vicki! I know you'll find Jamie's talk worthwhile.


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