Thursday, August 27, 2009

In Response to "In Response to "In Response to [My Previous Post]""

First, my thanks to Cheryl for starting an interesting conversation that seems to be resonating with editors, agents and authors. I'm enjoying the discussion!

Last night, Cheryl responded to my response here.

I think my issue with the proposal remains the same, though Cheryl is quite right that this enterprising editor making an offer after a few days wasn't following the terms. Without every agent and every editor following these guidelines, I think we run into some major issues. Say I do give everyone four weeks before accepting offers. If another agent comes along with another great project without that limit, my client's material will fall to the bottom of the pile to accommodate the no-time-limit project. And again, unless everyone is participating in the proposal, procrastination will reign and the material won't get read until the end of week four. The fact that someone else might scoop something up is often what makes an editor pick up a manuscript in the first place. While I truly believe that Cheryl would give priority to such manuscripts (she wouldn't have proposed it, otherwise), I can't say that I think other editors would react in the same way.

Also, and I'd love to hear from other agents on this, sometimes we DO wait for editors. Sometimes the offer on the table isn't quite what we were looking for, or another editor pleads for more time. My experience suggests that the editor who needs more time usually doesn't wind up coming to the table. Their lack of speed in getting to the project often indicates an ambivalence or disinterest. Also in my experience -- only once has an editor told me they couldn't make it to an auction I held because they didn't have enough time. She explained that she'd really need to get someone from paperbacks to read, because the book was rather literary for them. And you know what? It was too literary for them, and they wouldn't (and shouldn't) have acquired it, anyway.

(It's important now to point out to the authors reading: most books don't sell at auction, and this isn't an every day issue. Most offers aren't made in 48 or 72 or even 168 hours! This is a rare, exciting, you-can-only-dream-of scenario.)

All of this said, I really do want all interested parties to have enough time to come to the table if they'd like to. I want an author to be able to see all of the options, to speak with the offering editors, and to make an informed decision about who would best publish their book. I do not want to generate a feeding frenzy based on hype, as I think most of us can agree that it's bad for both author and publisher. Though I'm going to continue to submit as always, I do hope I can hold out long enough to have a project land with Cheryl soon. As you've probably figured out, she's brilliant and thoughtful, and she cares deeply for the books she works on. (Speaking of which, please read Marcello in the Real World by Francisco Stork, which she gave me the ARC for some time back when we had lunch -- you won't regret it!) Thanks again, Cheryl!

- Michael


  1. Thanks for the discussion, but could you give me a little more time to read Marcello in the Real World!

  2. If this continues, the "In response to"s are going to get comedic.

  3. Thank you, Michael! I see your points and agree with many of them (as well as with the wise comments Molly left at the bottom of your previous post). And I appreciate the kind words for MARCELO, of course. I think I've said everything I have to say on the subject for the moment, but I'm glad the discussion has been opened.

    (And for the record, I did think about the Swiftian connotations of "A Modest Proposal," but I meant the "modest" sincerely enough that I hoped its satirical meaning would be overlooked for its literal one. Clearly the wrong choice in a blogosphere of fellow English majors...)

  4. "Their lack of speed in getting to the project often indicates an ambivalence or disinterest."

    And authors know this. We all know fast is better than slow. So even though we know most books don't go to auction, we become less enthusiastic about a house when the submission process drags on for three, four, and five months or longer.

    Obviously, they aren't interested. Why not withdraw and start a fresh round of submissions with editors who *might* be enthusiastic. Why stick around for a half-assed offer from an editor who doesn't really care?

  5. Thanks, Cheryl! I think this has been a great and productive discussion. I look forward to having more of them.

    - Michael

  6. A very interesting exchange and informative discussion. Thanks for sharing Michael and Cheryl. As a writer I have found all of this information invaluable, especially since I am in the process of finding an agent now.

  7. These discussios have been fascinating and informative! I love this peek into your minds.

    It's like our own little "reality" show with editors and agents.

    Hey, that's not a bad idea..

  8. VM -

    You'd probably just find us reading, which wouldn't play well on TV. We're pretty boring as reality show characters, I think.

    - Michael

  9. "(And for the record, I did think about the Swiftian connotations of "A Modest Proposal," but I meant the "modest" sincerely enough that I hoped its satirical meaning would be overlooked for its literal one. Clearly the wrong choice in a blogosphere of fellow English majors...)"

    I wasn't an English major and I noticed it. Remember that the blogosphere is full of irony, too.

  10. This certainly was a great, informative conversation. Thank you both. I think, in most cases, the decisions involved will be very case-by-case, as so many things are.

    Michael, thank you for answering my question in the previous post as well. I really appreciate it.

  11. Thanks for sharing your discussion. This tiny glimpse into the world of interactions between agents and editors, or one agent and one editor, has been eye-opening.

    Are all discussions this civil and respectful? :)

  12. Wow, this is great.

    In response to all the in responses, I have one tiny thought. (And please keep in mind that I'm a newbie at the business of writing. I have no idea of this will work or not.)

    I play a certain computer game a lot where my character picks up items and sells them at an auction house. In the game, I list two prices for each item: What I want the bidding to start at, and what I want the price to be if someone chooses to buy out the item without waiting for the auction to finish. The buy out price is obviously higher than the auction price.

    Can this be done in publishing? I don't know enough about it to say, but maybe instead of saying "I'll give you three weeks before deciding", say "I'll give you three weeks before deciding, unless an offer of *named dream offer* comes along."

    That way, if someone really, really is enthusiastic about the book and wants to get in on it right away, they have an option open for them. They can use the 'buy out' option.

    It makes sense to me right now and in my head. Not sure if it will once I get to the stage of publication. :D

    Thank you both for a stimulating discussion.

  13. Hi, Reesha -

    The "Buy Now" price is like a preempt, in which the publisher makes an offer in hopes of taking the project off the table. The difference is that we don't name our price, that's all!

    - Michael

  14. Indeed great discussion! I guess in the end we should agree that there are many points of view, and each situation requires a specific approach.

    Maybe that's similar to what Nathan Bransford says:

    Thanks for stimulating such great reflection!

  15. This has been a really interesting dialogue. Thanks for sharing this discussion.

  16. Hello! Yes I am new. please get over it.
    I have been following these too and they are already quite comedic as well as interesting. lol
    ~Anon 11:11:
    Faster is better *if* they got to it. Sometimes they are, unfortunately, put on the bottom of the pile accidentally when they are rushing with current project. When they finally read the wonderful ms, and find that they really would like to represent it, there may be mere days they have until it is auctioned. So *rushed* can be hastily put together for something they liked for another reason than they sat on it knowing what it was about.
    ~Vodka Mom
    So funny I have to laugh at your name. You're a teacher and a writer and you like to drink. I have loved reading your comments when I can find them. Sophisticated and funny, you usually say something I am thinking. Reality shows! lol thank you!
    What an interesting thought. I have seen such tactics used in other businesses I have been involved in, and I wonder the same thing. so...
    Why do you keep the preferred price off the table? Is it so often very far under what you bring at auction that it becomes moot? Then why not have a better dream price when going in? Up is better; no?

    All in all this was fascinating! I love the thoughts I've read and the ones that provoked more of my own. Thank you. I am off to that Nathan one now. I think I've heard of him actually....