Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Contests and Contracts

Rejecter, enjoying your responses to these questions. Something similar here: I'm waiting a long time for the results of a contest. It says in the rules that should you become the winner, they have the sole exclusive rights to option the winning novel. (But there are several types of winners in this contest, and the rules don't specify which kind of winner.) In the year I've been waiting for the results of this contest, the novel has been requested by a top editor at a top house. Should I become, let's say, one of the winners of this contest, am I somehow able to get out of the exclusive option should the top publisher be interested in acquiring the book? Thanks a lot.

So I'm not completely sure about contest contracts, as I've never seen one in person and they tend to be such limited deals that I have no reason to, but what you should do is call the people running the contest and ask them. Don't pull out of the contest yet, if you're still in the running, as the editor at the publishing house may very well not buy your book and then you'll be high-and-dry. Just inquire as to what you are supposed to do if you get an offer for the novel during what seems like an excessively long (don't use those words) waiting period. Tell them you really care about the contest the most, which is why you're making sure everything is fine on their end and there's no legal misunderstandings.

If you don't have a phone number, email them. If they are a business or a charity, look up their number in a business directory.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Waiting Game

I apologize if I don't seem to be answering old emails in the order they were received while I was busy editing my third book. If you sent me a question within the last three months, you will probably get an answer. If it's been more than three months, you can just resend it.

Dear Rejector:

Two agents have requested to see my novel manuscript. One of them asked for a partial -- in this case 100 pages (i.e., half the 100,000-word manuscript). A junior agent at a prestigious NYC house, this individual requires with the initial query letter the first five pages only -- no synopsis. He still asks that no synopsis be sent with the partial. It took him one month to answer my inital query. Querytracker contributors who've dealt with this agent state that he usually takes 2-3 months to respond to manuscript requests. This agent, who is very polite, strikes me as inefficient: by the time he gets around to possibly asking for a complete manuscript (3-4 months?), he may have lost potential clients; furthermore, he's wasted his own time by reading copius partials -- what's the point of asking for 100 pages? One might as well then ask for the full manuscript. Finally, how many agents don't bother with a synopsis, especially if s/he's asked to see 100 pages? Anyway, am I dealing with someone competent in your estimation, or a beginner who is just flopping around?

100 pages is half of a 100k word manuscript? Are you single-spacing and double-siding your manuscript? Because you shouldn't be doing that. It should be on one side and double or 1.5-spaced.

Again, I'll take apart your questions.

(1) Agents ask for what they prefer to read. Some agents don't care about a synopsis and don't ask for one. Some prefer 50 pages. Some 100. Some have to deal with so many submissions they just take the first 5 pages and a summary first. It's all in what their reading preference is. It doesn't make one agent less professional than the other.

(2) As to his answering your initial query, that's about right. Its' hard to go a lot faster than that in the mail, especially if there's some pile-up from the holidays or some emergency in the agent's life or whatever.

(3) In terms of him taking 2-3 months to answer a partial: Also not unusual. No, it doesn't take him that long to read it, just to get to it, and he may spend some time debating about it before responding. Like any normal human being, he may procrastinate on making a decision by putting it back in the pile, and quite a little "need to make a decision" pile builds up. You have no idea what's going on in his end. He hasn't been on vacation (or maybe he has) but an agent's life is not spent just lying around, watching TV and not looking at submissions unless the agent landed Stephen King and doesn't NEED new submissions - in which case, said agent doesn't have a website accepting submissions. Agents have a lot of work: editing the manuscripts they're preparing to send to publishers, working with authors about those edits, contract negotiations, chasing down royalty checks for the author, making sure the press coverage that was promised by the publishing company happens, going to meetings with the other agents and publishers (networking is VERY important in this industry), reading industry news that will determine where they send manuscripts, and reviewing submissions. Then there's the low-level stuff, liking going to Staples for more supplies, stuffing SASEs, photocopying, making sure there are enough copies of the contract for everyone involved (which may be several foreign agencies), sending ARC copies around, and assorted trips to the post office. Potential authors haven't earned them any money yet, so they can't spend much time on them when there's work to be done for their actual clients. In fact, the time spent on submissions is massive considering how many new clients they may actually take on that year (it could be as low as 1 new client or no new clients). In other words, be patient.

Also, if the agent is a member of the AAR, they are not a newbie doofus. You have to be in the industry for 5 years as an active agent to even begin to qualify for it, and then you have to pay a steep fee to be in it, so it's sort of the seal of quality. New agents often work in groups with older agents who are AAR people until they earn their wings, so-to-speak. My agent (my agent, not my boss who is an agent) is not a member of the AAR, or she wasn't when she took me on. She is, however, a member of an agency run by a man with 30 years experience in publishing and AAR membership, so I had no real worries about her inexperience, as she could always go to him if she needed to.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Second Book Clauses

Dear Rejecter,

I'm an unagented novelist. My first novel was published by a small press earlier this year. My second is nearly complete.

According to our contract, my publisher has first right of refusal for all my subsequent works. However, I want out--because they haven't promoted my book at all. I've sent out hundreds of postcards to bookstores, done all the press releases, organized readings, and mailed review copies all over the country and the world. When I asked my publisher to help a little--pointing out that our contract stipulates that they are responsible for promotion too--the head of the company responded that the contract actually says they're responsible for promotion 'as the budget allows' and they've no funds for promotion this year.

(And not incidentally I've got some good reviews and press from my efforts!)

I'd like to try and sell my second book to a larger publisher; so I'd like to get an agent. My question for you is: how much of a problem will this first right of refusal clause be for an agent? I fear that a potential agent might be put off by that sort of baggage. Should I approach my publisher now, and ask to be released from that clause before I query agents? Or is it something that a new agent would be willing to negotiate for me?

So the short answer is yes, you need an agent.

The long answer is yes, you can get out of your first right of refusal clause (aka the "second book" clause), though how the clause works is complicated and will vary from company to company. I don't know what it says in your clause, but this is how it generally works in a standard publication contract:

"First right of refusal" means the publisher gets first crack at whatever you write next for publication. Meaning, you can't shop it at other houses before they look at it. The publisher can then decide to (a) turn it down, refusing to make an offer, and essentially letting you go whether you want to be let go or not, or (b) make you an offer for the second book. Let's say for the sake of argument it's a $5000 advance.

As long as you haven't said "yes" to the offer, the offer is on the table until they decide to withdraw it. If you're not happy with your 5K or just upset with the company in general, you can say to them, "I'm not happy with your offer and want to shop it at other places."

They then have three options:
(1) To raise the offer to something you agree to in order to keep you at the publisher.
(2) To keep the offer the same, but allow you to shop the book elsewhere with the offer still on the table.
(3) To say, "Screw you, we withdraw our offer, have fun trying to get this published elsewhere."

In other words, if you tell them (and you have to tell them) that you want to take it to other places, you risk losing the original publisher altogether and having no publisher for the second book. In your case this doesn't seem like a major problem, but it can be. For example, after the success of my first book, the publisher made an offer that was downright insulting for books 2 and 3. Since in my case the publisher had done a good job with book 1, my agent and I decided not to risk threatening to walk by shopping at other places and stick with the original publisher, even with the very, very low advance for a sequel to a successful book.

So let's say option (2) happens. Then thing can get downright complicated. You shop the book to the other publishing companies, and they make offers. If they make an offer that's equal to or better than the original publisher's offer, you can accept it and walk from the original publisher (5. If they make a LOWER offer (under 5K), the second book clause is still in effect and you cannot walk from the original publisher for a lower offer. In other words, you can't jump ship just because you don't like people; you generally have to do it because there's a monetary justification. Of course the editor at the publishing house could just agree to let you walk for the smaller offer; a lot of this business is done very informally.

This is why you need an agent. The agent can negotiate this for you and gauge what you should probably do.