The Anatomy of a Book Deal

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Nov 25 2008

By popular request I thought I’d share with you an experience I had getting a book deal. This is just one story of many and I do promise to share more as time goes on.

In February I received a query from an author who claimed (which I believed) that she had previously equeried in November but never heard back from me. After reading a recent blog post in which I stressed that I always answer queries and suggested that if you hadn’t heard from me you should consider resending the query, she did. Good move. I immediately requested the partial, which I read, liked, and requested the full, which I read, liked, and offered representation.

The book was a paranormal mystery. It was a lot of fun and I was excited about it. So upon finishing the book I got on the phone, called the author, and offered representation. She seemed excited and we talked a bit about the book, the way I work, and my vision for her book. She explained that she did have at least one other agent reviewing the manuscript and asked if she could have until Monday to get back to me (this might have been sometime in the middle of the week). I said of course she should and we ended the call.

I believe it was a day or so later that I got the email. The author decided that she didn’t really know why she was waiting for the other agent since she knew she wanted to sign with me anyway. We had a deal. Now it doesn’t always go this smoothly, but in today’s story it did.

So after revisions, some that were fairly extensive, and a few conversations, the book went out on submission (about a month after representation was offered). And we waited and we waited. And the rejections came in. I resubmitted and still more rejections. The news wasn’t good, so to keep our minds off of it we were starting to think of other things. In June I had a conversation with an editor at House A. She had a short list of ideas that she wanted to see as mysteries. So I thought of my Client and sent the list along. She was intrigued. Very intrigued, in fact. So she set to work.

We had plenty of discussions about direction, plot, and characters and in July (about a month or so later) I got the first draft of the synopsis and three chapters (about 30 pages). I reviewed them and we did some revisions. There was a lot to be done so it took another two to three weeks for the author to revise. And then finally it was ready. The first place I sent it to, of course, was the editor who had specifically asked for a mystery with this hook. Less than five days later we got our answer. She passed. Ultimately she just didn’t love it. She didn’t love the characters or the mystery. Not a problem, we moved on.

Another publisher really liked it, but felt she needed to see 100 pages and wanted a few changes. We were on it. The author set to work writing more chapters and I set to work on revisions. We really put our blood and sweat into this one and made it sparkle. In the meantime, the final rejections came in for the paranormal. While we were both disappointed, we were excited about the new project, which always makes rejection easier.

In early October we had it done and I sent it off to the editor. And, voila! Ten days later we had an offer. A wonderful, beautiful offer. I talked to the editor to get the details and relayed them all to the author. She was thrilled, dancing a little dance at her three-book deal.

Before accepting though I had some work to do. I called other editors who were reviewing the material to see if we could turn this into something bigger. Alas, no takers. So I called the editor back and told her what we wanted. We went back and forth on a few issues (this took a couple of days) until finally I (with the author’s blessing) formally accepted.

And now we have the hard copy contracts in hand and I’m carefully reviewing those.


29 responses to “The Anatomy of a Book Deal”

  1. Avatar beth says:

    What a great story.

    And how true that a current WIP will make a rejection less bitter–it’s always a comfort to know that you have a plan B.

  2. Avatar Ann Victor says:

    How exciting!

    But I never realised how much work there is still be done after one has signed with an agent. Sounds like you earn your commissions.

  3. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Can I ask–why a three book deal? I guess I’ve always heard that this is not usually beneficial for the client–can you elaborate?

    I’m also curious, Jessica, if you think or know that other agents work in the way you do. I am really intrigued and surprised, I guess, that you provide ideas and work with the author at 30 pages in…and are so close to the process during the writing with revisions etc.. Do a lot of other agents work this way?


  4. “…an author who claimed (which I believed)…”

    After reading that part, I kept waiting for you to say the author had lied, and you dropped her because of it.

  5. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    I LOVE stories like this–to the anonymous author/client and to Jessica, mega congratulations!

    And to anonymous 8:59–lately all the offers I’ve heard of, at least in the paranormal genre, have been for three book contracts. Many of those also include at least one if not multiple novellas. I think the interest in paranormal series is higher than for single title, but I’m just guessing at that.

  6. Avatar Anonymous says:

    This is the way it should be. IF I ever get an agent, I hope she/he is as dedicated to the author and story as you are.

  7. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Anon 8:59

    The way my agent explained it when we were weighing an offer for a one-book deal from one house and an offer for a two-book deal from another house, was that because the pub date was over a year out, the house that was willing to take a chance on two books would not be making me wait to see how sales would pan out for the first book before offering on a second. They were already willing to take that chance on the second, which would potentially lead them to market the first more aggressively to increase sales for both books. The other house may want to see the sales numbers roll in (which could be up to two years out) before considering a second manuscript. Ultimately, she thought we should opt for the two-book house, which we did!

    Does that make sense???

  8. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Very interesting. I love your blog posts and follow them every day. May I make a suggestion? It might be well to write e-query with a hyphen, else it looks like equerry, which is someone who keeps the horses of a person of royal rank. It confuses me, at least. The late father of the late princess Diana was an equerry to a king, but probably never e-queried anyone. That would just save some confusion.

    Also, I cannot help wondering: if you want MS in electronic form anyway, why ask for partials? If you get the whole file you have the option of reading as much as you want without wasting any paper.

  9. Avatar Keri Ford says:

    Very interesting. I don’t hear much on this middle background stuff that comes between signing and selling. I didn’t realize you worked THAT closely either. That’s fantastic and I bet your clients just love you!

  10. Avatar Anonymous says:

    What I found interesting is that you and the author went full-bore on a concept suggested by an editor. Is that a common occurence?And your author seems to have written this new book, start to finish, very quickly–are we talking a few months here? Or six?
    Or longer?

  11. Avatar jfaust says:

    The book was sold on the first 100 pages. I think the process took just a few months.

    As for multi-book deals that’s a subject for another post. I’ll add that to my list.

    The idea from the editor is unique. That doesn’t always happen, but can when you have good relationships with editors. The reason we jumped on it is because we were excited by the idea and knew if one publisher wasn’t interested it had potential with others.

  12. Avatar linda hall says:

    I look forward to the day when that happens to me. And I say when, not if. 😉 I’m ever the optimist.

    Congratulations to whoever that author is, I can only imagine how exciting that must be. A sale is great, but a sale involving blood, sweat, and tears, must be bliss. 😀

  13. I have always advised other writers that it is not impolite or a carreer breaker to send an agent or editor a follow up note. As a former editor I understand how busy one gets and oftentimes you see something that interests you, but you set it aside for later and never seem to catch up. A follow up from the writer helps put the idea back on the desk.

    I suppose there is the opposite experience. I submitted a collection of short stories to an agent who loved them and called one morning offering to represent me. Later that afternoon I was (unexpectedly) diagnosed with cancer. Two weeks later I lost my job (I am writing a memoir about these experiences that is written as a literary in its tone explaining how we derive strength from our past experiences). For obvious resons I had to focus on other matters, but periodically kept in touch during my year in treatment.

    Unfortunately, after I had recovered enough to get back to my writing he had lost his passion for the stories (I think he simply had other projects diverting his attention) and said that since they were very good, but the market for short story collections very tough, that I needed a bigger agency. Oh well.

    Feeling desperate I went to Publish America (never again) and though I inexpensively have a “book” I believe they are wasted as the only marketing effort the company makes is trying to get me to buy my own book.

    Anyway, for those that may want to see a sample please go to my website at:

  14. Hey, thanks for posting this, esp. since I am waiting to hear about submissions. It makes me less frantic knowing that this waiting is usual. And congratulations on getting a great deal for your client!

  15. Avatar spyscribbler says:

    Congratulations! That’s awesome. It’d be really cool, if when this book comes out, you link back to this post so we can put a book to the story and root for her success!

  16. Avatar Karen Duvall says:

    I love hearing stories about agents selling their clients books on proposal. I got my agent with the full manuscript, which she’s shopping, and it’s still too early to tell how it will go down in the end. I’m half-finished with a new book that she’s already loves based on a few pages and a one-page synopsis. I need to send her more sample chapters, and this blog post motivates me to polish those chapters and get them to her sooner rather than later. It would be awesome to sell this second one on proposal, though I plan to be finished with it by the end of the year. I hope.

  17. My agent recently sold my debut book at auction as part of a three-book deal, which I gladly accepted. The fact that the publisher is willing to invest in three books is very much an advantage as far as I’m concerned. It means we’re both more mutually invested in making sure that the first book does well. The devil is in the details, of course, and you want to try and limit the options clause for your next (unrelated)work as much as you can. I.E. if you’ve sold a romance you probably want to try and limit the options clause to your next romance, or if a science fiction book limit it to science fiction. Of course, in my particular situation, I am thrilled to be with my publishing house and don’t plan to need to write something not included under the options clause to try and sell it to another house–but you DO have to treat this as the business it is and get the best deal you can for yourself!

  18. I LOVED this post. Wouldn’t mind hearing more Anatomies of Book Deals over the next few months. It really gives a great snapshot of the agent/author rel’ship and you how work, what you expect of your authors, etc.

  19. Avatar Yunaleska says:

    This was highly iinformative and a useful insight in to what is, for now, a mysterious world.

  20. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Please post more of these!!! This is exactly the kind of thing we would be authors want to know…

  21. Avatar Paige says:

    Hmm. That sounds familiar. Oh wait, there’s a good reason for that — I bet I’m that writer.

    As I’ve said to Jessica:

    I’m very lucky, says the writer to her really smart agent.

    Even through the rejections, Jessica has some genetic thingy that doesn’t allow her to give up. I bet all the best agents have such a mutation. 😉

    Keep writing everyone, and may a Jessica be in your future.


  22. Avatar Cindy Procter-King says:

    Um, and how YOU work. Heh, heh.

  23. This is a great reminder to all writers to persevere in their work, have patience while submitting and to keep writing on a new project while waiting to hear positive news.

  24. Avatar Diana says:

    Wow! Cool story! Congratulations on the sale. I also appreciate knowing how much you’re willing to do on behalf of a writing you really believe in.

  25. Avatar Liz says:

    Firstly, congrats to you and your author on your sale! The hard work paid off.

    Secondly, why am I here when I should be working on my novel!?

    This story makes my writerly heart very happy – well done to you both.

  26. Avatar dara says:

    That’s great! And also something for all of us to aim for!

  27. Avatar TecZ says:

    Jessica, I really appreciate you sharing this story. I had no idea how much hard work an agent puts into a single project and how resilient an agent is in dealing with the publishers as well. Thank you for the great advise on dealing with rejections and keeping in mind persistance pays off. Have a Great Holiday Season!!!

  28. What a great post. I’ve added it to a blog I’ve written at because so many of our self-published authors aren’t prepared for everyone to realize their genius! Thanks for this!

  29. What an interesting story! Not the way I would have imagined a book deal to come about, but very cool all the same. Thanks for sharing.