Thursday, September 17, 2015

Anatomy of a Book Deal-a post by Jenny

I thought it might be interesting for people to see how the process of selling a book works, from the time the agent and author first meet to the day that the deal is closed.    I recently sold a wonderful first novel called STARTER HOUSE by Sonja Condit to Morrow in the US and simultaneously to Corvus/Atlantic Books in the UK.  It's a creepy gothic tale about a pregnant woman who moves into her dream home, only to discover she must solve the mystery of a decades old murder to rid herself of a ghostly little boy and save her unborn child.   Here, from start to finish, is how it all went down.

August 30, 2011: I get an email from an old friend and terrific writer Leslie Pietrzyk, inviting me to come speak at the MFA program where she teaches.  This is a great low residency program at Converse College--perfect for authors who can't be in school full time. (Link here)  I enthusiastically accept.

June 5th, 2012:  I have a great time at the program meeting with individual students who pitch me their work.  One of them is Sonja Condit, a writer and musician, who tells me about her novel STARTER HOUSE, a literary ghost story.  I love ghost stories and am immediately intrigued.

June 11th, 2012:  Sonja sends me the novel via email.  I'm excited and resolve to read it quickly.   Summer is a quiet time for me so the timing is perfect for me to sit down and devour it.

June 17th, 2012:  I finish the novel and send Sonja the following email:  Hi Sonja,
Can we talk on the phone this week? I want to offer you representation!  I'm very excited and hope we'll be able to work together. Let me know when you are free...maybe tomorrow afternoon?

June 18th, 2012.  I hear nothing.  I am biting my nails.

June 19th, 2012.  A response from Sonja, she is excited too and wants to talk!  We set up a time to talk the following day.

June 20th, 2012.  I am thrilled that Sonja accepts my offer of representation.   I send her my agency agreement which she signs and returns.   I tell her I will get to work on edits for her.

July 22nd, 2012.  I send Sonja a marked up manuscript and and a long editorial letter via email.  We are focusing on pacing and character development.

August 10th, 2012.  Sonja sends the revised manuscript.  Much progress has been made but this process takes time and there are still revisions to be done.

August 29th, 2012.  I sent Sonja another revision letter, still focusing on the characterization and the pacing.  I also send a marked up manuscript.

October 9th, 2012.  Sonja sends a revised manuscript.  Much, much improvement.  It's a joy to read this novel again and I mentally pat myself on the back for signing it up!  Characterization is now solid.   There is *still* some work to be done however, mostly in the form of cuts to work on the pacing. 

November 7th, 2012.  I send the last round of revisions to Sonja, and suggest cuts of about 20,000 words.

November 21, 2012.  Sonja sends the revised manuscript.  We do some last minutes tweaks back and forth, preparing for a submission right after the Thanksgiving break.

November 29, 2012.  I send out the manuscript to a group of US editors and also to a great film agent, Dana Borowitz at UTA, to see if she'd like to represent it for film.

December 5th, 2012.  I hear from Dana Borowitz that she loves it and wants to represent!  Hooray, a great sign.  She will wait until the New Year to start submitting as Hollywood closes down this close to the holidays.

December 6th, 2012.  I'm hearing from a lot of the US editors who love the novel.  I send it to Hellie Odgen, an agent in the UK, to see if she'd like to rep it there.

December 7th, 2012:  Hellie wants to represent it!  Hooray.  She prepares her submission list of UK editors.

December 7th, 2012: We get a first offer from a US editor and decide to go to auction next week.

December 13th, 2012:  Closing date!  And the lucky winner is Morrow--the fabulous Carrie Feron and Tessa Woodward love the book and make the winning bid.  Sonja and I are thrilled.

December 20th, 2012:  I hear from the UK, where Hellie has closed a deal with Corvus/Atlantic Books.  More celebrating!

After this, everything settles down a bit.   Sonja and Carrie talk edits on the phone and Sonja gets to work.  We wait for contracts, which can take a month to arrive, especially this close to the holidays.   Morrow now has a rough pub date of Fall 2013, but this can change as publishing schedules sometimes fluctuate.

What should writers take from this?  I think the biggest thing is that editing takes time!  Even after all the rounds of edits that Sonja and I went through, there were more from Carrie, even.  It's a process


  1. This is an awesome post. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Excellent post!! Very interesting to see what all goes into getting a book out the door and onto shelves =). Thanks!

  3. Thanks so much for sharing this timeline. I knew it was fairly long, but couldn't appreciate all the components. One question...When you say on Dec 6th 'US editors' is that the publishers, as in these editors work for the publishers?

  4. Congratulations to all the hardworking players in this process. Sonja's story really does seem interesting.

    How does an auction work? I imagine not all books go through that part of the process.

  5. Loved reading this. Never realized how the agent 1) worries that the writer won't accept and 2) nurtures and assists in the editing of the ms before submitting. Very enlightening, and it's always nice to read a success story, especially one where film rights are sold!