Friday, 19 June 2015

Story of a Book Deal

So agent Oli sends me this list, and it’s a list of all these fabulous publishers that he’s going to send my book out to. A long list. Huge names in the publishing world. And all I can think of is how many will turn me down. I mean, look at those names. They won’t want me. They have all those other authors – the big guns. I’m nothing to them.

Natch, the first reply is a pass. That’s what I expected. The first of many, to be sure. And yet it’s the most wonderful rejection a writer could ever hope for. The editor loves the book. Can’t praise it highly enough. Tells me how she had long and agonizing discussions with her team about what to do with my wonderful novel, which she is certain deserves a good home.

But all said, it’s still a pass. They have another author they want to focus their attention on, she tells me. Which is fair enough. I am not at all downhearted. In fact, I write to tell her how, as rejections go, hers is the most positive I’ve ever received. She writes back telling me that my response to her rejection is the nicest she’s ever had. I think we could have gone on like that ad infinitum.

But then there’s some better news. A publisher is keen. So keen that they want to put an offer together. So keen that they want to know if we’ll entertain a pre-empt.

Wait. What? A pre-empt? They want to pre-empt? They want to make such an unbeatable offer that we’ll sign up with them straight away? That can’t be right. That wasn’t in the plan.

But that’s what happens. We expect the offer to arrive in the dying minutes of the working week. Concentration on anything else becomes an impossibility.

And then there’s a slight hitch. No offer that day. It’ll be Monday now. Stand down for the weekend, Oli tells me.

So a weekend without sleep. A weekend filled with endless discussion about what might or might not be in store.

But then Monday finally comes, and the promised offer also comes, and it’s fantastic. Truly brilliant. They want me. They want my books. They have big plans for me. It’s all I could have wished for.

And yet ...

My mind goes back to that long list of publishers. They haven’t really been given a chance to consider my submission. Which is, of course, the whole point of a pre-empt – to cut out the competition. Perhaps it shouldn’t worry me, but it does. I mean, this is a brilliant offer and all, but I want to give my books their best chance. I want to know what others think. I don’t want to be sitting here in a year’s time thinking, If only I’d given the others a bit more time.

I talk this over with Oli. He has already told me that, as offers for police procedurals go, this one is up there with the very best, so I expect him to talk me into accepting.

‘Okay,’ he says, ‘we’ll go to auction.’

Which is, to say the least, a surprise. I almost want to rewind. To say, ‘Well, let’s not be too hasty here.’ But at the same time I am filled with a sudden surge of excitement. An auction! Holy crap!

So I say, ‘Let’s do it.’ And I put the phone down. And then the worrying starts up again. What the hell am I doing? I have this fantastic offer for my books and I’m turning it down? For an auction?

See, the notion of an auction sounds amazing in principle. Every author’s dream. A bidding war. Multiple publishers fighting over you. But then you start to realize it’s not always such a great idea. What if nobody enters the auction? What if you announce what you think is the best party ever, and nobody shows up, and you’re left standing there alone with a party-popper in one hand and a glass of flat bubbly in the other?

The other thing about book auctions is that they are no different from other kinds of auction. The bidding tends to start low. I mean really low. And why not? Why would you open with your best bid? Who cares if the author is having a heart attack over this? He was stupid enough to want this damn auction in the first place.

What sees me through it is my faith in my agent. I trust his judgement. Sometimes the belief in the worth of an author’s writing has to come from someone other than the author.

So we go ahead. And we wait. And the bids start coming in. And they’re not bad. Not bad at all. And they get better. They’re from big houses, and some of the offers come with flashy publishing plans promising all kinds of good things for me. And it’s all pretty damn incredible.

And what it becomes, after all the stress and the sleeplessness and the uncertainty, is the best end to the best dream ever.

(If you haven’t already heard the news, I have a new book deal with Zaffre, an imprint of Bonnier Publishing. You can read the announcement in The Bookseller).

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