Nothing quite prepares you (in a good way) for an agent pitching your novel. For me, this was signalled by my agent emailing me to say she’d put together a submissions list for my novel. I had no idea what that meant, so I asked Juliet (my agent) to talk me through the process.
She’d drawn up a list of editors to whom she’d already spoken about The Blackhart Legacy. These were editors who had in turn expressed interest in reading the completed manuscript. This would be the first tranche of people to get the manuscript. And if no offers were on the table by her deadline for a response, we would go to the next tranche of publishers and editors she’d approached.
Okay, I thought to myself. People—editors—will be reading my book. Complete strangers who I don’t know from Adam, will be reading my words and considering my novel for their list!? As if I knew what I was talking about!? It was terrifying and exciting, but mostly just terrifying.
I don’t think I’ve ever refreshed my inbox as much as I did over that first two week period. Then Juliet came back to say that people were responding, they were liking it and they were requesting dates for meetings.
I basically told her that whatever she decided to do regarding meetings would be fine. I’d move heaven and earth to make whatever meetings she felt were needed. I’d be there, sparkly clean and keen.
Which is how I found myself at Tor’s offices towards the middle of January 2013. My hands were cold, my heart was pounding and I was about to go into a meeting with Bella Pagan, her assistant Louise Buckley and with Juliet Mushens, my agent and voice of reason.
Once we sat down, and Bella looked at me and said: Liz, I love Kit, I breathed this sigh of relief and suddenly everything was okay. I was still nervous but really, I knew they were on my side and they wanted to see what else I had up my sleeve for Kit, Aiden and her cousins. I think, just as importantly, they were also interested in seeing how developed the Blackhart world really was. As a new-to-this writer, it was a revelation to sit there and listen to someone who owed me no loyalty (such as friends and family) tell me about my character. To hear someone also taking ownership of the world, telling me their feelings about it . . . it was both revelatory and very strange.
For so long this story had lived merely in my head and Juliet got to share in it. But here we were, talking character arcs and trilogies and it was incredible. Bella also cautiously felt me out about how I’d feel doing edits and working to deadlines. Thanks to tough beta-readers and a tough crit group, I was fine with editorial notes (Juliet had been pretty brutal when we worked together, whipping the manuscript into shape). I knew I wasn’t going to have a diva-strop about cutting paragraphs, because that’s not who I am.
The meeting, I’d like to think, went really well. Both Juliet and I left feeling positive and it was the hardest thing coming back to my day job. I had to settle back down again, not telling a single soul about the meeting because I was really worried about jinxing it. In the next few weeks, we visited an additional three publishers. Two fell by the wayside and two decided to stay in the race, Tor being one of them.
The next meeting we had at Tor’s offices (there were cupcakes!!) was with Bella, Louise and their publicity manager, Sophie. This time the focus was less on me and the manuscript and more on Bella and her team. It was more about how they foresaw the publication going and the editorial process was explained in a bit more detail. We covered what I could expect from them if they decided to offer and if we decided to take up their offer for publication.
I know that it’s not always necessary for authors to meet their prospective publishers during an offer scenario, but it is heady stuff, I won’t lie. And during any offer scenario, one featuring meetings or not, an agent is invaluable. They keep you steady and anchored and prevent you from leaping off tall buildings, signing contracts that can be detrimental to your mental health and saying and doing stupid things.
We had one more meeting with the other publisher who was still in the running and it was revelatory to see how different their approaches were, yet similar on certain points. Juliet and I were faced with a conundrum, but in the end she called for best and final bids to see what ultimately was on offer.
These final few meetings were taking place during the first week of February 2013, which was my birthday week. I was a wreck, basically, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Juliet rang me on the Friday to tell me what the final offers were. We spoke for about an hour and came to our decision too late to tell anyone about it. I went home and drank all the tea. I don’t think I slept a wink.
On Monday Juliet confirmed that she’d let Bella know that we’d decided to take up their offer for publication. And basically, that was it. Within a few weeks of contract negotiations, the news went live that I had signed a three book deal with Tor UK and my world exploded with congratulations and tears.
All of this happened just over a year ago. Book one has been turned around incredibly fast, contrary to what a lot of people may think. This is bearing in mind the rigorous editorial process Banished underwent, along with cover design etc. But those are things I’ll be able to share with you the next time round.
More from Tor UK’s Senior Comissioning Editor Bella Pagan on the Book Deal Process:
I remember clearly both of those exciting pre-book deal meetings! We knew of course that there were other publishers in the running, so the pressure was really on to make Liz want to work with us. Banished was just so wonderful, that we badly wanted to be the chosen ones. It is nerve-racking for the publisher too, when you find that special project that keeps you up all night, but know there’s a chance you might not end up with the book/s (sob). As well as delighting in the books we publish, all editors have a regretful list of those ones that got away. And by the time the publisher gets to meeting stage, we will already have put in a lot of work to win the books so we are very invested in the project—see below for more on this. Not as much as an author who has spent ten years on their work, but still, we really care!
So, quite a way before the offer/meeting stage, the agent sends the book for consideration—and the clock starts ticking. The agent may or may not have set a deadline for responses, but either way, the first task is to read the book. And given the amount of submissions we receive, and the fact that an editor only has so much time, a book really has to stand out to get to the next stage. Once an editor has fallen in love with a novel, the next job is to persuade the rest of the company...
This means enthusiastic emails to trusted in-house readers, conversations in corridors with the soon-to-be converted and—finally that first in-house meeting. The weekly editorial meeting is the first opportunity to show your passion for the book in a wider forum. You’ll have brought along all your best reasons for publishing the book, to get extra reads and most importantly, to inspire the sales department. The better your pitch is to the meeting, the more the in-house excitement for the project grows. And after the meeting, departments such as Sales and Marketing will give their input to see if the project can be taken onto the next stage—the big one.
This next meeting is key—our weekly Acquisitions meeting. Heads of all departments are present, as well as our Managing Director. This is where offers must be approved before they can be made to the agent, so it’s time for the editor to pitch the book again, show their enthusiasm and give reasons why we have to publish this book. And, if it’s felt that this would be a great addition to the list, the editor is given permission to go ahead. The editor then draws up a formal offer letter, consulting with the Contracts department, and the offer is finally ready to go. Different publishers will work in slightly different ways of course, but this approach is pretty standard for the main trade publishers.
It’s a terrifically exciting moment, to phone or email the agent with the news, knowing you could be about to welcome a new author on board. Often, the agent will have informed you already if other offers are already in, but sometimes there’s no way of knowing how stiff the competition will be at this point. You can just hope and cross your fingers that you’re getting somewhere. Then if feasible, the writer might meet the publisher before the offer is accepted (or sometimes before an offer is made). This isn’t always necessary or practical—for example if the author lives far from London or if the author has already written a number of books and is well-known to the publishers. However, as Liz was based near London and Banished was her first novel, it was brilliant to have the chance to discuss the work with her.
As an editor is going to be very involved with the book (see what an editor does here), it can (hopefully!) be very reassuring to gauge their editorial approach in advance. I remember our first meeting with Liz and Juliet, and how impressed I was by the mythological research Liz had done, something that really comes out in the books. Also, it was clear from the start how hard she was prepared to work. She was also very interested in editorial feedback, which can sometimes be tricky for a new writer, as they have often been alone with their own book for so long. But there’s nothing more rewarding for an editor than suggesting something, and for an author to take that seed and make it into something wonderful of their own. It’s been fantastic to work with Liz on both books one and two now, and I just can’t wait for you all to see what else she has in store.
This article originally appeared April 28, 2014 on the TorUK Blog.
Liz de Jager fostered her love of YA and genre fiction by developing the popular My Favourite Books review blog, while writing her debut novel. This ran for seven years and enabled her to gain insights into the publishing industry. She grew up in South Africa and now lives and works in the UK with her husband Mark. Banished is de Jager’s debut novel and you can also find her on twitter as @LizUK.
Bella Pagan is a Senior commissioning editor for Pan Macmillan’s Tor imprint in the UK, working on out-of-this world SF, fantasy and urban fantasy (plus other subdivisions, factions and associated areas). On twitter as @BellaPagan.