Because we often work with writers who don’t yet have agents, on some occasions we get to call the author directly to make an offer.  One of my absolute favorite parts of the job is telling brand new authors  I want to buy their book.  It’s really heady to feel like you’re helping someone make her dream come true. 

And it’s especially fun because there’s very rarely any kind of warning for the soon-to-be-published author.  Nothing beats being part of that initial excitement. 

But there’s also a lot of information to take down and questions authors know they should be asking, but they’re so caught up in the moment, they forget what they are.  If you’re not in a good spot to write down information or need a moment to catch your breath, it is absolutely ok to ask the editor if you can call back shortly.  In that time you’ll want to grab this quick primer on what every Call should include:

  1. how many books
  2. the advance: How much is the publisher paying up front and how will it be paid out?  Depending on how much the offer is for, if the manuscript is complete, sometimes the author can get the full payment “on signing” or “on execution,” which means once the contract is signed.  But usually publishers like to break up the payments into parts, especially since we often won’t be seeing any potential profit from the book for well over a year.  If the ms isn’t complete or needs revision, it’s quite common for half to be paid on signing of the contract and half on delivery and acceptance of the ms.  The more money that’s on the table, usually the more divisions of the payout there are.
  3. royalty rate: What is the author’s percentage?  Is there any kind of escalator for selling above a certain threshhold?  For example, you might get x% up to 100,000 copies sold and then x+2% thereafter.  The royalty rate is often determined by the format of the book.  Rates are generally higher for hardcovers and trade paperbacks (because of the higher cover prices) than they are for mass-markets.  At Dorchester, we only do mass-markets, but for another house, you’ll want to ask.
  4. sales territories: Where is the publisher allowed to sell the book?  Generally, this is either boils down to World rights or U.S./Canada.  And closely tied to:
  5. translation rights: Can the publisher sell the book to foreign publishers to do editions in their native language?  This and all the subsequent rights mentioned are divided into percentages, indicating which portion of the money received goes to the author and which goes to the publisher. They can generally be gone over pretty quickly.
  6. audio rights (to produce audio books)
  7. electronic rights (to produce ebooks)
  8. reprint rights: You tend to see this most when a book is done in hardcover by one company and paperback in another
  9. movie/TV/radio/merchandising: These are listed separately, but they tend to go together because they’re so interconnected
  10. 1st serial/2nd serial/digest:  Honestly, rarely do these rights come into play unless you’re some megastar whom magazines are willing to pay to excerpt from because they think it will help sell copies.  And that finishes up the rights.
  11. option/first refusal clause – You want to talk about this so you know what your publisher wants to see next from you.  Basically it’s giving your editor a certain time period to have the proposal for your next book exclusively, during which you can’t sell it to another house.  Often publishers want to keep the option as broad as possible (next romance novel), and agents try to make it as narrow as possible (next book of this series) so they have the ability to get deals at other houses for their client.  Usually, we end up somewhere in the middle (next romantic suspense). 
  12. due dates – when any necessary revisions are due or if the contract covers multiple titles, when those books would be due.

Ok, so that’s all stuff that’s going to be included in the contract.  Other questions you’ll want to ask to help you make your decision:

  • When will the book be scheduled?  Sometimes we might not know an exact month, but we can usually give you some indication.
  • Will there be revisions required, and if so, how extensive? It’s vital to know whether the editor has a whole different vision for the book (though if so, I’m not sure why she’d buy it in the first place).  This will also help you gauge the accuracy of the due dates mentioned above and also whether you want to put in the work required for the advance offered.  If you have multiple offers, it can also help you determine which to take.
  • Will the title change? Again, it may be a little early to know for sure yet, but if you’re especially married to your title, you’ll want to let the editor know.

I think those are the biggies.  A lot of authors ask about print runs.  But they vary so much, there’s not really a solid answer.  A lot of authors also then ask if I can recommend agents.  I can’t, out of fairness to all the agents I work with and because the author/agent relationship really has nothing to do with the editor, but that’s a whole post for another day.  In the meantime, this should give you plenty to chew on.