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Jay Lake
Date: 2008-01-23 06:34
Subject: [process] The first book contract — a parallax view
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Location:Nuevo Rancho Lake
Music:morning sounds
Tags:process, publishing, writing
I was talking to a writer a day or so ago about some decisions they needed to make around agents and book contracts. A point came up which I hadn't really explicitly considered before, but I think might be valuable to explore.

When one is an aspiring novelist, hitting the workshops, the con circuit, querying agents, dropping books into editorial slush piles, one tends to view the New York book contract as the end game. That's the primary goal and (often) the singular focus for years of effort and emotional investment. Consider this an analog to working toward a college degree.

The thing is, making that big score is only the very beginning of a lengthy and complex process that hopefully lasts the rest of one's life. It's not the end game, it's the first rung of an entirely new set of ladders. Being a professional novelist carries its own set of efforts, hope, fears, many of which sound ridiculous to someone yearning for their first big break, but which are just as serious and potentially overwhelming as any other set of issues. Consider this an analog to graduating and entering your professional field.

The significance of this observation is that there might be situations where a certain book offer isn't in your best interests. If you're working with an agent who's difficult and unresponsive — a mismatched work style or personality clash — and they bring in an offer just as you're parting company, for example. For someone who's spent years, possibly decades, aiming for that offer, the thought of declining it is pure agony. That's the aspiring novelist's view of that first contract.

But going to market with the wrong people on your team can result in years of headaches. Whatever was wrong before you sold will only get worse when real money, and publication schedules, are on the line. The long-term effects on your sanity and career path could be profound. That's the working novelist's view of a bad contract.

There are bad book contracts out there, especially with predatory independent presses. There are bad-fit agents out there, and even a few outright scammers. It can happen. Luckily, very few people have to deal with an issue of this sort. I haven't — I'm extremely pleased with my relationships with arcaedia, casacorona and my publishers. But it's an interesting thought-experiment for you people hunting that first big book deal.

Is there a circumstance under which you would decline an offer?

ETA: arcaedia addresses this question from an agent's perspective.
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it's a great life, if you don't weaken: drive train _ netcurmudgeon
User: matociquala
Date: 2008-01-23 14:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:drive train _ netcurmudgeon
I have turned down offers--for creative reasons (I didn't think that the publishing house's vision of the book and mine were compatible)--and for other reasons.

It's very odd.

It's also very odd to have to turn down a solicitation due to time constraints.
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Twilight: Imperious
User: twilight2000
Date: 2008-01-23 15:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Interesting question. As I'd run my first offer past folks just like you, my instinct would be to refuse an offer that wanted to many of the book rights as compared to what they *should* want (and yes, I'm still researching what that standard is).

I'm not sure what other "obvious" contract reasons there would be -- tho I'm sure I'm missing a host of them :> Things that come to mind include way too little money as compared to "the norm" and way too little time to finish/handle rewrites compared to "the norm". Heck, there's even, now that I think about it, too little creative control compared to "the norm" -- all of which means I need to know more about what's "normal" ;>.
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User: tim_pratt
Date: 2008-01-23 15:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yeah, I've turned down an offer or two, after discussion with my agent and family. I almost walked away from a deal (non-publishing, a subsidiary rights sale) that was recently completed -- at one point, they refused to budge on an important contract issue, so I told my agent to say bye-bye. When they realized we were serious about dropping the whole thing, they budged. Sometimes a sincere willingness to decline is a strength at the bargaining table. :)
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Laura Anne Gilman
User: suricattus
Date: 2008-01-23 15:44 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I walked away from a deal, very early in my career, where I felt that the publisher didn't respect me as a publishing partner. It was gut-wrenching (it would have been my first non-media, book-length project) but it was the right decision to make.

I've said no to solicited projects for time/money/interest reasons, but those fall into a different mental category for me, somehow. Likewise the editorial projects I take on -- I say no more often than I say yes.

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it's a vain pursuit but it helps me to sleep
User: rezendi
Date: 2008-01-23 16:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
(here via arcaedia, and I'll get this right yet!)

I initially declined an offer once, but my agent talked me into accepting. Which I think was probably the right move; the result was not a smash success, but that wasn't the publisher's fault.

A friend of mine's now-burgeoning career was delayed for eighteen months by her first, bad-fit agent.
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User: kehrli
Date: 2008-01-23 18:11 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Is there a circumstance under which you would decline an offer?

Yes, but I'm not sure what that would be now.

I mean, besides "if it's from a vanity press", but that's the obvious answer.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2008-01-23 19:49 (UTC)
Subject: Is there a circumstance under which you would decline an offer?
Did so, years back, when I found out Jim Baen was rewriting my novel the better to fit his right-wing, ex-sergeant's view of things. Had I let it go through, I would have been stuck trying to produce material I am unsuited to, or fighting every step of the way through each successive project. Wasn't worth it, I knew it, so I yanked it.

--Gene Stewart
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Steven E Schend
User: brainstormfront
Date: 2008-01-25 17:56 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Like many above, I'd turn down an offer if circumstances conflicted with my being able to do 100% on the contract. That could mean either time conflicts with other work, a mismatch between my writing style and the publisher's house style, or simply because I couldn't deliver the material in the time demanded. That said, I've only walked away from one deal both due to time and miscommunications over what was needed for the product and line/brand.
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oracne - Victoria Janssen
User: oracne
Date: 2008-02-01 21:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I would turn down a contract if the house wanted to make significant changes to the work, changes that would misrepresent my idea of the book.

It hasn't been an issue for me so far, as I've been writing sort-of to spec; that is, I looked at the various lines to which the proposal was going, and wrote towards their vision using my own voice.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2008-02-03 19:58 (UTC)
Subject: Decling an offer..
I'm multiipublished, and turning down an offer is never easy. But I've done it more than once. You have to look at the long term.
One editor had already brought my writing career to a stand still with constant revisions that turned the books SHE BOUGHT into something far removed from what I'd submitted. Why did she buy them in the first place then? I haven't a clue. When faced with working with this editor for an in-house series that was already sold, I saw trouble coming and immediately bought the book back.
The money wasn't worth the anxiety I'd experienced the last time. I don't regret it.

Another offer I turned down, the advance was an insult, far below what I was earning for 100K word book. That wasn't the only reason. The editor, even before the offer, was already questioning certain words in the first pages that were not PC. I saw the train coming and it would have been a word-by-word nightmare. I'm very glad I turned it down. Especially when I met the editor, she snubbed me, publicly for not accepting the offer! That's petty and unprofessional.
This is a business, get over yourself.

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