by Irene Vartanoff
Deep down, you think it will never happen. But one day, you will sell your romance novel. When you get the call from the romance editor, what do you do?
Thank her (or him). And then to ask for details of the offer. And then tell her you’ll need time to consider it all. Editors expect this. They know you’re completely crazy at that moment. They know you can’t possibly think because your brain is dancing a mad happy dance. After you say goodbye calmly and politely, you’re allowed to scream and cry and call your mother, your spouse, and your best friend.
The next thing to do is to call an agent. (If you already had one, your agent would have made the original call to say your book had sold.) With an offer in hand, it should be a slam dunk to get an agent. Investigate who sells your kind of story, who has a consistent reputation within the field, and who is taking on new clients. Then call the agent directly and explain that you would like to hire that agent to negotiate your contract. Yes, you will be paying the agent 15% of your royalties on that book forever. But it will be worth it. Agents know contracts. They know authors’ rights. They will help you get the best possible deal, including the best back end rights, the best up front money, and more. You’ll already know who the good agents are, because you will have done your homework even before you submitted your manuscript directly to a publisher.
This tactic won’t work if the contract you have been offered is for a vanity or subsidy publisher and you’re going to end up paying to publish your book. Even though you still need to protect yourself when signing a contract, an agent won’t be interested because there is no profit to you and thus no cut of the profit to the agent. This tactic also won’t work if the publisher is an epublisher, since in most cases today, your expected royalties will be too small for the agent’s cut to pay for the agent’s time. You can still try, though. Epublishing has a big future, and that might influence an agent in your favor.
If you have been offered a contract from an epublisher and several agents have turned you down, then it’s time to visit the EPIC (Electronically Published Internet Connection) website at www.epicauthors.com/ and read up on what is considered a fair contract in epublishing. When the epublisher sends you your contract, go over it carefully to see how it matches up with EPIC’s ideal. It’s best to learn about your publishing rights and responsibilities before you have a contract offer to consider.
If learning the details of contract terms yourself sounds daunting, there is something else you can do. You can consult with other writers and check their web sites for recommendations about contract details. Or you can hire a publishing attorney on a one-time basis to read your contract and negotiate for you. Expect to pay upwards of $400 an hour for an attorney who knows publishing well enough to do you any good. Again, you should research before you need this help, because not just any attorney will do.
Even if you have an agent, you still should do your homework because some agents are better than others. You need to know if your agent is doing a good job for you. You need to know what literary rights you have, what reprint possibilities there are, and if your agent knows how to sell movie options. You need to know if other published authors are getting more from their agents. The way to find this out in the romance world is to network and use the Internet. Keep current on who is doing what. Know your field. Even though it is considered unprofessional to make negative public comments about one’s agent, there are romance writers who do, and it is useful information. Agents often have websites and you can learn about their personalities and their client list from them. An agent you’ve seen giving a presentation at a writers conference is going to make a strong impression on you as well, whether good or bad.
Finally, despite all the worry about contracts and agents, once you have a book sale in hand, you should celebrate. You’ve worked long and hard to produce a saleable book, and you’ve succeeded. Pat yourself on the back.
About Irene Vartanoff
Irene Vartanoff is a longtime romance editor and writer who got her start in comic books. She is the author of several graphic romance novels published by Arrow Publications include Breaking All the Rules and The Egyptian’s Texas Spitfire. Under her comic book nom de plume, Poison Ivy, she contributes to the MyRomanceStory Blog.