Should I go ahead and take this book offer? I'm broke and I need the $$$
June 16, 2014 10:59 AM   Subscribe

I would love to hear from anyone who has experience with book publishing, either as an author, editor or publisher.

I've been co-writing a memoir with a musician for a few years. I won't be the sole author of the book, but I will be the name on the right side of the "with." I'm getting an advance - but the editor who's angling to buy the book from me has implied I'll be getting less money than the musician, who is after all the celebrity and the guy whose face will be selling the book. I get that.

The thing is, I've always heard that you don't take the first offer, but hold out for the best possible figure. However I'm not a literary agent, and I don't have one. I'm a first-time author so I know I won't be able to command that much. The editor I've been able to interest just sent me an email this morning, saying he's drafting the offer right now and I should have it sometime this week.

At this point, I really need some money. Not only will I be unable to finish the book without an advance, but I won't be able to do ANYTHING without some cash right quick. I lost my job nearly a year ago, and my benefits went away a few months ago. We're close to losing our house and our financial life is slipping out of our grasp with each month. It took a couple of years of working with this editor (who hasn't paid me a dime yet) to come up with a manuscript that he wants to pay for. So I'm glad it seems to be happening, FINALLY, but - am I supposed to counter with a higher number, once I receive his first stab at this?

I'm really not inclined to haggle right now. At the moment, any money I receive soon is going to be lifesaving, and I figure I can learn something by way of this experience and maybe start playing hardball with my next book, when I have one publication under my belt and more leverage (I hope).

The other piece of this is that my subject, the guy whose memoir it is, also needs to confirm his offer. I'm not sure if he has an agent or not. At this point I'm hoping there aren't any delays on his end, but I don't know what to expect.

So - take the money and run, or hold out for more? I would value input from anyone who might know how this stuff works from experience, because they've written or published a book before.
posted by cartoonella to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Short thought: Take the money, get a credit, get a foot in the door.

Longer though. Yes you could hold out and try to swing for the Green Monster and hit a home run... but really? Your situation at home right now reads like you want to get a hit and get on first base.

Go for first base. Get the credit. Get the experience. Make sure you deliver the project. You can swing big later.
posted by ewan at 11:02 AM on June 16, 2014 [7 favorites]

This is what agents are for. You should get an agent. It will help with this book, and with all your future books.
posted by alms at 11:16 AM on June 16, 2014 [15 favorites]

Get started on researching agents who represent your genre, who have had some book deals with major publishers, and ideally who are open to email submissions.

When you email them to query about your book, write (in the subject line, and in more detail in the main message) that you already have an offer from so-and-so.

The publishing business can move very slowly in the summer, but sometimes they can go pretty quickly when a sure thing is involved.

You really want an agent because they will be able to negotiate these things for you, they will know what's a reasonable or unreasonable offer in this specific context, and they will understand all the small things that can make as much difference as the actual dollar amount -- what rights the publisher buys, under what circumstances the rights would revert to you, and so on.
posted by Jeanne at 11:22 AM on June 16, 2014 [5 favorites]

Get an agent.

The good news is that you already have an offer, and you can now email agents and say Hi, I'm cartoonella, author of book Y. [book blurb] I've received an offer from house X, with a contract on the way, and am seeking representation. People will respond quickly.

Tell the editor that you're thrilled and need to look over the contract, and that you'll be seeking representation. Don't come back with a higher number or whatever--an agent can definitely do this more effectively than you can.

Also, congratulations!
posted by MeghanC at 11:25 AM on June 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

Yeah, an agent will take a percentage, but a good one will lead you to new work. Most publishers (at least publishers who will pay you an advance) do not want to deal with unagented authors.
posted by rikschell at 12:17 PM on June 16, 2014

Nthing get an agent. Doing so will be a totally different process from the long, drawn-out one that is seeking representation for a book that needs to be shopped around to publishers, and much faster. It should not cause serious delays.

As people above say, tell the editor you are getting an agent, and get in touch with some agents this week. You should hear back from them quickly (if they are interested in the first place) since the book has already been placed.
posted by tiger tiger at 12:19 PM on June 16, 2014

Also--I meant to add, an agent will do for you than getting you the right advance. There's more to getting paid in publishing than what your advance is. A good agent will also make sure the overall terms are favorable to you including rights and royalty percentages.
posted by tiger tiger at 12:21 PM on June 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

For information about what an agent can do for you, and to find a quality one, take a look at Chip MacGregor's website. Much of the information is geared towards novelists, but there should be plenty of information for a memoir as well. He also answers questions that people write into him.
posted by lharmon at 12:26 PM on June 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Nth an agent. This person will have your interests at heart and will negotiate not just the money but all sorts of stuff you're not thinking of.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:46 PM on June 16, 2014

Published author here. Yes, get an agent.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 1:04 PM on June 16, 2014

Agent! Agent! Agent!

(I worked in publishing for nearly a decade. I would never, ever try to publish without an agent, and I would take out a credit card advance to tide me over until I got one if necessary.)
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 2:37 PM on June 16, 2014

The editor I've been able to interest just sent me an email this morning, saying he's drafting the offer right now and I should have it sometime this week.


The offer should make it clear how the advance is paid.

I've had an advance split into three - a third on signing the contract, a third on supplying a complete & "publishable" manuscript and the final third payable on the date of publication.
(This was a shock - since the advance wasn't a fortune in the first place. But I believe it's a fairly standard practice.)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 2:47 PM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I sold my first book without an agent, but I didn't make much money on it. I had an agent for my second book and definitely made more. All the rights stuff is best handled by an agent as well, unless you really know what you're doing.

It's not uncommon for a writer to sign with an agent as a book deal is being worked out. Agents tend to be happy with taking on a client who's already got a publisher interested, and most publishers aren't surprised when an agent suddenly becomes involved. You probably won't make that much more than the publisher is offering in the first place, but you might make a little extra. It's worth it just to make sure you're not getting screwed on rights, though.

If the publisher doesn't want to sign you because you go out and find an agent, well, that's a sign that the publisher may not be someone you want to work with anyway.
posted by peterdarbyshire at 8:06 PM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

MeghanC has the answer you're looking for in regards to approaching agents. You can start your search for an agent who represents your genre (non-fiction, memoir, music) on places like AgentQuery. Keep in mind that any info you find online has a chance of being out of date or inaccurate. If you follow a bum lead, don't worry, just move on to the next.

Another possible avenue to try is the representation your musician already has in place. Are they part of a management company? They might have agent contacts from similar deals. Does your musician get their tour dates booked through William Morris or another large agency? Some of those large agencies also have literary agent departments.

Most importantly, though, you should find something else in your life to pursue financially in conjunction with this book. Getting an agent will lengthen the process of getting payment for the book, and even if you go unagented and sign whatever the editor sends you (which you should NOT do and which the musician most likely wouldn't do) it will probably still be a few months before you see any money, and you probably won't see all of it at once unless you're paid a flat fee for ghostwriting the project. (That usually includes you giving up any rights to the material.) The timeframe and pay-out here are not dependable enough to rely on, I'm afraid.
posted by greenland at 10:11 PM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

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