Sunday, July 23, 2023

Getting to Yes


By Terry Whalin @terrywhalin

As a writer, it takes some careful effort to get a yes from an editor or a literary agent. For magazine work, you have to learn how to write a query letter. For a book contract, you have to learn how to write a query letter and a book proposal. Pitching the right person at the right time at the right place is a key part of the process. As Ive often written in these entries, who you know is almost as important as what you know. 

As an editor, Im looking for books that Morgan James can publish. Because Ive been doing this role for about ten years, I know my colleagues are looking for with submissions and authors. As I speak with the authors, I want their submissions to succeed and get a contract offer. This basic desire on my part sometimes forces me to have some difficult conversations with authors.

When I have these conversations, the author has two options. They can listen to my suggestions and make changes until I receive something that will work for the publisher and my colleagues. Or they can discount my suggestion and go elsewhere to publish their book.

Recently Ive had a series of difficult conversations. Its part of my role as an editor to diplomatically explain why their book got rejected. If the author is open to it and makes suggested changes, I can go back to my colleagues and try again (but this rarely happens). 

Also this week I had an author with a powerful book and the resources to become a bestseller, return our contract completely rewritten. I dug out the audio recording of a call with this author in late May--which I assume his attorney never heard. I sent back some diplomatic yet stern comments about the contract and how it needed to be lightened with marks for it to actually go forward. Ive seen such actions in the past and essentially it is a deal killer for that author. I did not write the deal killer words to the powerful author but I did use this language with his writer who sent me the deal in the first place. Im unsure what will happen in this situation yet I am  hopeful this unknown attorney will rework the red-lined contract. I tell this story so you know each of us are looking for the right fit to publish our books. Either side (the author or the publisher) can walk away. Its a delicate dance and I use my decades of experience in these issues to advocate for our publishing program--which is different and exceptional. These emails are not easy to write but essential to get to yes and a part of my responsibility from being in this business for a long time.

I went through a season where I worked mostly with authors of adult fiction and nonfiction. These days, Im also working with a number of childrens authors which have their own unique challenges. My colleagues passed (rejected) a childrens book because the story didn't connect with the illustrations. I had encouraged this author to reach out to an editor for childrens books and get her suggestions and help. The author didnt do this work and my colleagues picked up on the mis-matched text and illustrations then passed on offering a contract. I could see the rejection was coming but wasnt able to prevent it which is frustrating.

Ive written about why word count matters. I continue to get submissions from adult authors who submit books which are massive in length and will not sell unless they cut--divide or cut the current story. Ive referred these authors to editors who can help them get fresh perspective and the revision they need--but they have to reach out to these editors then be willing to listen to the changes. These actions are hard ones for authors who care about every word in their manuscript. Yet this sort of reality is necessary for them if they want to successfully publish their book.  

To get the author a contract from my colleagues, I often have to ask the right questions and give the right information. During these conversations, I dont always say or ask the right questions. In fact, I fail as much as I succeed. The longer Im in the publishing world the better I ask good questions and have the right words. The process isnt easy for any author or editor. What challenges have you experienced to get a yes? Let me know in the comments below. 


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