Blogger: Mary Keeley
“You have an offer for a publishing contract.” I don’t think those words from your agent will ever cease to thrill an author, whether you are multi-published or this is your debut. Being prepared for what comes next will give your book its best chance for success. Part of the preparation involves knowing when to involve your agent during the book production process.
Marketing and Promotion
I can’t speak for all agents, but my preference is to be in on the marketing conference call between the marketing and PR managers and my client. A client recently told me about the scheduled meeting and asked if I would like to participate in the conference call with the acquisitions editor, marketing manager, and publicist. My client is marketing and promotions savvy extraordinaire. You might wonder why I felt I needed to take time for this call. In her case the conversation was going to focus on blending her own multi-faceted efforts with what the publisher plans to do, making each initiative that much stronger. Because my client understood the value of my knowing the plan first-hand, I’m in a better position to do my job monitoring follow-thru.
Once your book is contracted, your publishing team will work with you directly. This means the marketing manager assigned to your book will contact you, the author, to schedule the marketing conference call. It’s up to you to make sure your agent is included in the call. Be sure to contact your agent any time during the production and launch process if you sense a problem arising. That is part of your agent’s job. Your communication at the earliest sign of a problem will help her to negotiate a solution for a small issue before time passes and it becomes a bigger one.
Conversely, you need to fulfill all the items you listed in your proposal’s marketing plan and continue to find additional opportunities to promote your book. Email your marketing manager once a month with updates and results of your promotional efforts. It will help them to maintain a high level of enthusiasm for your book. And don’t forget to keep your agent up to date too.
Cover and Interior Design
The publisher has the final say in the cover design, and for the most part, you need to trust their judgment because your publishing team knows what sells books. However, occasionally the direction the designer has chosen clearly isn’t right for the book. In a busy production season, your team might not have time to read your whole book, or perhaps the designer, who has multiple books to work on simultaneously, missed something significant in yours that you feel should be captured on the cover. This is why I always negotiate for the author’s input on the cover in the contract.
Covers sell books; they’re that important. Talk to your agent right away and let her be the bad guy. Agents are experienced at negotiating issues like these while you maintain your good working relationship with your team. Of course the best procedure is for you to ask the acquisitions editor to send your agent a copy of the cover at the same time yours is sent. That’s the type of request you never should feel reluctant to make.
Keep your agent informed during the production process. Your agent can explain the how’s and why’s of what your publisher is doing, advise you on the best way to respond, and intervene if necessary.
There is no need to feel you are being a pest. I prefer a quick email to say, “My editor marked changes on the page proofs that I don’t want to accept,” or “Here is a jpeg of my cover, which I think misses the mark.” That is enough to alert me there is a problem. Believe me, I would rather be over-informed than under-informed. The goal is to make your book a financial success, because superb sales numbers of your current book make the strongest case for a publisher to offer you the next contract.
What additional circumstances would prompt you to seek your agent’s advice or intervention? Have you been under the impression that you are on your own with the publisher after your contract is signed? Do you feel prepared for what comes next after you have a signed contract?
Keep your agent involved during the production process after you have a book contract. Click to Tweet.
Inform your agent at the first sign of a problem during your book’s production process. Click to Tweet.
Great post, Mary! You’ve certainly taken some of the ‘dark magic’ aspect away from the question of how publishers really operate.
* A question, which may be really dumb – what if you don’t have, and anyway can’t use a telephone? I can no longer effectively participate in a phone call. It hurts too much to talk, and thinking around the pain really slows down my responses. What’s worse is that I’ll also reach for the wrong word as a subconscious placeholder, to try to spare a listener an interminable wait while I try to complete a thought. Thus, I queried Barb about her experience with the malefactors in the yard last night. I meant mosquitos. The same problem comes up in email chat. I just need time to frame a reply, but that time really precludes anything like a conversation. Any suggestions on how this might be addressed?
* Another question presents itself, while I’m lucid – I’ve seen a couple of WW2 history books with covers that were totally inappropriate to their content. A book about the Battle of Savo Island, for instance, showed Marines coming ashore from a landing craft…dramatic, but Savo was exclusively a SEA battle, with no amphibious element. The author’s very good and diligent, so it leaves me wondering what happened. Another, “Angels Twenty”, a memoir by Edwards Park, had a nice cover illustration of American torpedo bombers flying in echelon above the clouds. It was a compelling cover, only Park flew P-39s, which no one in his right mind could mistake for a torpedo plane. What made it more embarrassing, I suppose, was that the book came out while Park was on the editorial staff of ‘Air and Space Smithsonian’ magazine.
* Is there a way to rein in a wayward cover design team, or is an author compelled to swallow the metaphorical hemlock of a cover design that, for the reasonably informed reader, makes him look like an idiot?
Mosquitoes are malefactors. Superb word choice, Andrew. It zeroes in on their essence.
Two good questions, Andrew. Assuming the publisher has rightly been made aware of the author’s physical limitations prior to contract signing, the marketing team has advance notice to accommodate their overall plan accordingly, because the limitations will affect so much more than the marketing conference call alone. It’s normal practice for the marketing and PR teams to email a copy of their combined plan to the author and agent before the conference call. This gives the author and agent time to discuss it together in advance of the call, and then the agent can be the spokesperson in the call on behalf of the author.
I’m surprised that the publishers of the two books made those cover mistakes. Perhaps they were low-budget and/or on a fast production schedule, and the designers had to choose among low-cost images or those the publisher already owned. And agents weren’t a necessity back when they were published like we are now in the current publishing world (barring self-publication). They’re great examples of the reason everyone in our agency negotiates for our authors’ input on their covers in their contracts. Ideally, the editor and acquisition editor should be champions for the best cover design too. When I was an acquisition editor, I once pressed hard in-house for a design redirection on a book I had acquired, and believe me that is a delicate walk, but it was the right thing to do for the book’s potential for success.
A publishing contract? Wahoo! If only it could be so. I suspect I will never be in this situation, but I will continue to dream.
I am somewhat surprised to find that agents are not automatically included in all this kind of stuff. Thanks for letting me know so that I can remain on top of the situation if I ever do find myself in such a wonderful position.
I would propose to cc my agent on any email communication with a publisher (and to back up any verbal conversations with an email to confirm)
Good plan, Nicholas. I appreciate being copied on my clients’ communications with the publisher because it keeps me up to date without requiring extra time on the part of the client to fill me in later. It also can alert me to potential problems that my client might not notice.
And never say never in regard to your publishing dream. Keep putting feet to it by reading books on craft, writing daily to develop your unique voice, attending workshops at conferences, and so on. There is joy in the journey.
I can imagine myself so enamored with the idea of being published that I would agree to anything and everything. My agent’s participation in the call could be my tether to reality–a voice politely asking “Isn’t that timeline a little optimistic?” or “Can we have a day to think about it and get back to you?” Someone who keeps me from over-promising and under-delivering.
Shirlee, I know what you mean. There are those times when just the thought of a dream coming true would prompt me to say yes to anything, just to make it happen. Thank goodness agents have a good handle on reality and can guide their clients. 🙂
Yes indeed, Shirlee. That is what your agent is there for. It’s a partnership.
Mary, there’s great reassurance in knowing agents want to be involved in the decision-making process when a book is moving toward publication. The part about you wanting to be over-informed rather than under-informed is reassuring. 🙂
*I wasn’t sure how involved an agent is once a contract is offered and signed, but it’s good to know agents walk with their clients through the process. For me, I’m guessing I’d have a lot of questions as I walked through the process.
I agree, Jeanne. I’m sure there are authors who’ve done well without an agent, but I can’t imagine myself doing so, even if I were to become a well published author. I’m too right-brained, I don’t understand lawyer speak and conversation involving anything math related would cause my mind to melt on the spot. An agent would literally be my life-line through the publishing maze.
*Now picture Jack Nicholson… covered in ice at the end of The Shining. Yeah, that would be me.
Jeanne, I can only speak in regard our agency. Guiding and supporting our clients through the production process, and career planning as a whole, is a core value here. It might be different at other agencies. Authors need to find out when they are looking for an agent and decide what is right for them.
Thank you for this wonderful information, Mary … to tuck away. I hope to use it one day. 🙂
Shelli, I’m sure you will indeed use it one day.
This is useful, thank you. I tend to be timid about contacting people because I don’t like to bother them or interrupt their other activities. This gives permission. Wonderful information.
Norma, the agent doesn’t need to respond to those emails her client copies her on, so it doesn’t take up her time. Speaking for myself, I file them in the client’s email folder to preserve as a verbatim record. It’s an efficient way to stay on top of things.
Dear Mary, A great informative post thank you. I can’t imagine having an agent and NOT involving them in every aspect of a book’s life. I certainly would be afraid of missing something important. I would definitely include my agent on every email communication as well.
You are welcome, Kelly. It’s a good practice, especially as a new author.
My question is, if you don’t have an agent, but are dealing with an editor who might possibly offer a contract, what do you do? I think there are some freelancers who will look over a contract to make sure it’s legit, but I guess when making all those other decisions, like marketing and covers and etc, you’d be on your own? How do you advise getting help in that situation or are you only addressing agented writers? Thanks, Mary.
Kathryn, it’s nice to see you commenting on our blog again. It’s been a while. When an author gets a contract offer, she needs to get an agent right away. Agents are almost always interested in considering representation when an author approaches them with a contract in hand. Best wishes to you.
Thanks, Mary. I appreciate your response! And, thanks for the best wishes!
Golden Keyes Parsons
Excellent advice here. There are several things in your blog I wish I had known the first time around. It certainly makes for smoother sailing and larger sales when everyone on the team is informed and pulling in the same direction. Thank you for your pertinent observations.
Elizabeth Van Tassel
Mary, the theme of good communication in your article here is very refreshing. I come from a corporate background so I am used to reports, weekly updates, etc. to communicate with executives. The concept of keeping concise but meaningful communication open is great. What is very special is your approach also to being present at critical junctures in order to clear up things while they are small. So much easier and effective for everyone that way. This kind of communication sounds ideal in the agent-client relationship.