Querying Blog 3 – Submission/Negotiation

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I did a whole article for the SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America) Bulletin on various types of submissions and negotiations and reposted it on my blog last year.  (Click here for your viewing pleasure.)  Rather than recap that, I’d like to talk about your role in things as an author.

First of all, you’re a vital part of negotiations.  It’s your work and nothing should be decided or agreed upon without your okay.  Certainly, no one should be signing anything on your behalf.  Your agent should keep you apprised of submissions and responses.    This means that you’ll receive copies of rejection letters, unless you request otherwise.  This is very important, as it can provide useful feedback.  If several editors come back with a similar response (for instance, “I didn’t find the characters terribly sympathetic”), your agent may get in touch about doing revisions to the manuscript before any further submissions are made.  Seeing the letters will also demonstrate, I’m sure, the fact that ours is a subjective business.  It can be very frustrating for a writer when one editor says, “Loved the characters, couldn’t get caught up in the story,” and the very next response says, “Fabulous story, but I couldn’t connect with the characters.”  The best thing a writer can do is develop a thick skin and a zen sort of attitude, which, I’m aware, is a lot easier said than done.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I’ve never gone out with a submission that has been universally loved, where I’ve received an offer from every single editor to which it’s been sent.  Rejections are inevitable.  Can’t live with them, can’t shoot them.  (Although some might debate me on this point.)

As far as signing…you’re the one who’s committing to the terms of any agreement.  It’s your work, thus rights are yours to grant.  Whether the contract is for North American volume rights, audio, film/television or translation, it should be your signature on the dotted line.  (The exception to this is when rights have been granted to a publisher and they make sublicenses to others.)  I’ve heard of situations where agencies will sign for authors, say on foreign rights deals, and I can see the potential for problems here.  Unless you’ve specifically given power-of-attorney for some reason—for example, you’re going to be out of the country and difficult to reach for a prolonged period of time—you should be signing your own contracts and reading them over clause by clause.  You’re legally bound by the terms of the agreement; you should know what you’re signing and you should question anything about which you’re uncertain.  If you’re not receiving and signing your contracts, how will you keep track of your obligations, payments, etc.?  Yes, your agent is your business manager and you should trust the people you work with, but again, it’s important to be fully informed and another set of eyes on an agreement never hurts.

Switching gears here, while the agent is going to be doing the submissions and negotiations and keeping you fully informed throughout the process, there are things that you can do to help things along.  For one, it’s likely, particularly if you have writing credits already, that an interested editor will check you out, which means visiting your blog, website, perhaps Facebook page or Twitter feed.  Remember to keep things professional.  Don’t bad-mouth other writers or publishers.  Don’t have adult content up if you’re writing for young adults.   (In fact, read Carrie Ryan’s excellent post from yesterday regarding what to/not to share online.)  Make sure your sites are up-to-date and fairly representative of what it is you write and are looking to sell.

Also, keep your agent apprised of anything that might be relevant to submissions: new short-fiction sales, contest wins, networking that you’ve done (particularly with editors who’ve expressed interest in your work).  Remember, it’s team effort.  The most important elements of the author relationship are communication and trust.  And competency and commitment.  And…well, you get the picture.

Remember that communication is a two-way street.  If there’s anything you need to know, you should feel comfortable asking.  If there’s anything we request, like that you do up a new bio or update your bibliography, you should feel comfortable providing.

And so it goes.

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9 comments to Querying Blog 3 – Submission/Negotiation

  • Great post, Lucienne. In the short story markets, you’re on your own when it comes to dealing with contracts — though, those contracts tend to be far simpler — so, your point of having extra eyes and somebody to answer questions is worth highlighting. Coming from a family of several lawyers and a judge, I’ve learned the importance of understanding what you agree to. From that standpoint, I’m curious — what are your thoughts regarding agents working with or without a written contract between agent and author?

  • Stuart, I’ve worked both with and without author contracts. Without: an author and I would just follow industry standard for any situations that arose if we came to a parting of ways. This worked well for many, many years, until an author behaved dishonorably and, since we didn’t have a written contract, refused to follow industry standard. It came down to one of the foreign agencies I work with getting cut out of a deal they’d negotiated (and me and my agency getting cut out as well). Now I prefer working with a written contract. It protects both sides =and= the subagents I work with who negotiate in good faith with overseas publishers, etc. Everything is down in black and white, so while there may be some haggling about specific language on the front end, it makes for less possibility of confusion down the line.

  • Good post, Lucienne. But OMGosh! Agents signing for writers? (slaps own face with both hands)

    Having an agent who keeps up with what is going on in a writer’s career is important, even if said writer is not a bestseller and just starting out. For instance, I just got a short story offer for a prestigious anthology, and I’m running it through my agent. *Could* I negotiate it myself? Yes. Am I *capable* of doing it myself? Yes. I’ve read enough contracts by now to recognize good and bad boilerplate.

    But a good agent is more than the person who negotiates contracts. She helps manage my career, and this particular short is different from most. The subject matter in this short story is about a spinoff the agent (yeah it’s Lucienne) is trying to sell as a series. So, unlike with Stuart’s situation, this particular short needs to go through her. If I was writing a short unrelated to my series, I would likely negoatiate it myself, as the money involved would be minimal for my agent and the time would be more.

    So there are both pros and cons of getting your agent to work a short story contract. (If you have an agent, you can ask her preference.)

    Talking about career management — At my agent’s suggestion, I have, for the first time, hired a PR firm. They have found dozens of things I should have / could have been doing to increase my presence on the web, without overdoing it, like tweaks on the way I use Twitter, FaceBook, and GoodReads. And they are taking a good hard look at my website and upgrading it to keep it number one on Google and other search engines. They know I have limited time and are picking and choosing how many online outlets that I should concentrate on. (And which ones, and how often and under what subject matter I should contribute.)

    All because my agent noted it was time. That is another part of a good agent does — leave me alone to write when it’s time to concentrate on that part of career building. And know when to make suggestions.

  • I think it comes down to the fact that a good agent will serve as an adviser in many capacities/areas, but a writer should never turn off their brain and turn over all control. Even if you have a great agent and a great relationship with that agent, stay fully engaged at all times. In the end, it is, as Lucienne rightly says, your work and your career.

  • Yeah, the agents-signing-for-writers thing blows me away, too. Never heard of that one. Yikes.

    Thanks for the post, Lucienne. Great advice. Still working on the thick skin/Zen attitude. Doesn’t exactly come naturally to me….

  • tiffany

    I think this is a fabulous post. In any career, involvement and investment in the best outcome for the team is a must for success. The outcome, here, is a viable, marketable and sustainable brand for the team consisting of both author and agent.

  • Sarah

    When is it a good idea to start a writer’s blog? I just sold my second short story to an e-anthology, so it seems too soon, but the editor is suggesting that all the contributors link to their blogs and social media to help advertise the anthology, which makes sense. I just don’t know what I would put on the blog itself and a dead blog seems worse than no blog.

  • @Sarah… the best time would be now .. specially since you’ve already sold a story.

    There’s a couple of things I’ve learned in the months I’ve had mine up. You’ve got to be consistent (post at least once a week – they don’t have to be huge tomes, just a couple of hundred words will suffice) and be authentic. People will want to know a bit about you, what you think about stuff, (like how did it feel to have that second piece picked up – but probably not how often you change your sheets!)

    Read lots of other blogs with a critical eye, (as in critique, not tear to shreds) and not just the writerly ones. Get a feel for what you would like to read and take it from there.

    If nothing else writing my blog has kept my instincts for story ideas sharply honed.
    Good luck.

  • Sarah, I agree that a dead blog is worse than none at all because it stresses you out and takes you away from your fiction writing. However…you’ll never feel ready to start a blog. It’s true. You just have to start. As Widdershins says, be consistent. Just like writing every day, it’ll become easier and more natural with practice.