My First Book Deal, Part II: During Submission
You might want to read Part I: Before Submission before reading this post.
If you’re wondering whether there’s a point in the publication process when the writer gets to sit back and relax, THIS IS IT! You’ve reached that part! The work is in your agent’s hands now. All that’s left for you to do is stare at your ceiling in bed every night, unable to sleep or think about literally anything else but what’s going to happen to this little story you’ve poured your heart and soul into.
(As with Part I, I’ll preface this post by reminding you that processes differ from agent to agent. There are many ways to approach the task of getting published; I’m sharing the one I experienced.)
I’ve included dates to give you an idea of the pace at which things moved. All offers I reference below are for two-book deals. All publisher emails were sent to my agent Maddy. She then forwarded them to me.
February 27, 2019: Maddy sent her email pitch including my manuscript to her list of US and UK editors in the afternoon.
February 28: By the end of the next day, Maddy had heard back from 5 interested UK editors. Most of them had finished reading the manuscript—a testament to Maddy’s pull in the industry—and were sharing it with their wider teams. An editor needs buy-in from the rest of her publishing team before she can make an offer.
March 1: The head of my agency’s foreign rights division called to tell me I’d been offered a deal from an Italian publisher. This means that publisher bought the rights to translate Rose Gold + book 2 into the Italian language and sell it in said format. This was my very first publishing deal!
By the end of the day, Maddy had heard back from more interested UK editors. She set a deadline for official UK offers for the following Monday, March 4, at 5pm.
We also received an email from an interested Canadian publisher.
March 4: Throughout the course of the day (Monday), we received 8 UK offers via email.
March 5: Maddy notified the 8 offering publishers that she was setting up an auction. The publishers had until Wednesday, March 6 to make new offers.
I also found out I’d been offered a book deal by a Hungarian publisher.
March 6: I had an hourlong call with one of the UK editors in the morning, plus one with an interested US editor. By end of day, we’d narrowed down the 8 UK offers to 5 contenders. We arranged for in-person meetings with each of the remaining five publishers.
March 7: Maddy and I went to four hourlong publisher meetings around London from 9am-5pm.
Then I went home and had phone calls with two US editors from 7-9pm.
March 8: In the morning Maddy and I went to the fifth and final hourlong UK publisher meeting in London. The five publishers were then asked to make their final and best offers, which came through around 4:30-5:30 that afternoon.
To go back in time a bit, at 3pm I received a German pre-empt.
At 4:45 we had an offer from the aforementioned Canadian publisher.
Around 6 or so (this came via phone call, so I don’t remember exact timing), Maddy called to let me know we had a pre-emptive offer from one of the US editors I’d spoken to the previous day.
Content of Meetings/Phone Calls
As you might expect, the in-person meetings in London were more formal than the phone calls. For one, every meeting included five or six members of the publishing team versus speaking with just the editor on the phone.
The publishers drove these meetings, not me. Usually the editors would start, then hand things off to the marketing, publicity, and sales teams. Basically they’re trying to sell you on why you should choose them. Having worked in advertising, I’m accustomed to client meetings and trying to sell them on an idea. Never had I been the client on the receiving end of a pitch. I’m not even going to pretend I organized a list of questions or went in with any agenda. The whole experience was so overwhelming and so totally surreal that I just tried to listen carefully and not sound like a babbling idiot. Nothing can prepare you for the sudden pivot from writing rejection to acceptance. To have multiple people confirm you haven’t been wasting your time all these years is the best feeling in the world.
All of the teams were warm and gracious. Some went above and beyond to illustrate their enthusiasm. A couple created bottles of “ipecac” with clever labels. One made a book trailer. Another had a plate of carrots cut to a specific length, a reference to a later chapter in the book. I would have been lucky to work with any of these publishers.
The phone calls were more straightforward. With just the editor and me on the phone, we were able to discuss what kind of revisions she (all the offering editors were women) envisioned. Other than that, the calls were an opportunity to get to know each other—as much as you can during an hourlong conversation. You’ll spend a lot of time working with your editor in the months and years to come, so you want to make sure you get along!
You may find yourself in the lucky position to choose between publishers, like I did in the UK. Obviously money plays a big role in any publishing deal, but it’s not the only factor! I have three reasons for choosing Michael Joseph to be my UK publisher.
1- They showed the most passion and hammered home their creative capabilities straight out of the gate. I haven’t shared everything they did to demonstrate their enthusiasm, but they were able to pull off some truly spectacular feats within 24 hours of having received the manuscript. Within 48 hours, it seemed like the entire team had read my book.
2- I felt that my work style would be compatible with my now-editor’s. (I was right!) Here’s where your agent comes in handy. Maddy was able to tell me which editors are more thorough/organized/type A vs. abstract or slightly scattered with their feedback. These series of posts should tell you which I was looking for.
3- Gut instinct! So much of the publishing process—choosing an agent and publisher, book title and cover, etc.—is about gut feeling. As much as I’d like to quantify every data point so I can arrive at an answer I’m 100% sure is the right one, that’s not possible. You can do your homework, and you should, but you’re going to have to rely on your gut for parts of this. It’s gotten you this far, so trust yourself.
Maddy relayed my decision to the 5 UK publishers. One thing I never anticipated was feeling horrible about the publishers I had to say no to! They were all truly fantastic, and like I said, I would’ve been ecstatic to work with any of them. They’d already put a lot of time and energy into reading and thinking about my book, so I felt more than a little guilty having to reject anyone. I know, I know—it’s a good problem to have. This happens to publishers all the time. It’s part of the business. There are plenty of great books in the sea; it’s not like losing my single story was going to crush them. I still felt bad. But I’ve seen a couple of them since at industry events, and they were really friendly. No one flashed daggers my way.
As for the US publishing deal, one publisher, Berkley, offered a pre-empt. A pre-empt is an offer that’s strong enough to convince an agent to take a project off the table so that other publishers aren’t able to make competing offers. You can read more about pre-empts here. The pre-empt came from an editor with whom I had an immediate connection, so I was thrilled to accept.
Here’s the TLDR: on Friday, March 8, I accepted publishing deals in the UK, US, Canada, and Germany. I will never forget the moment Maddy called to tell me the final offers. I rose from my chair and stood at the kitchen table, barely able to comprehend the reality that had been playing out over the past week. I agreed to all of the deals, and Maddy took care of the rest. An hour later my husband and I were at an Italian restaurant we’d been dying to try. We spent the whole night celebrating.
Part III: After Submission is coming soon!