The Auction

When I learned about the concept of manuscripts going to auction, I always imagined a very swanky affair. Agents and Editors would turn up to some old building in uptown NYC, dressed in after-nine attire, black tie as far as the eye could see. The walls would be lined with mahogany and the carpet would be the color of dried blood, and beautiful women in cocktail dresses with low-cut backs would be serving drinks on silver trays.

The Publishers would watch each other over the rims of their martinis, smoking cigars and glowering at their various nemeses, giving polite nods to the few competitors they didn’t want to glass in the face. And finally some little old english fellow would step up to a podium and announce the name of the author and the book to be bid upon, maybe read a passage or two, and commence the bidding. Little paddles with numbers would be waved and the price would spiral higher, and finally the agent of the writer in question would put in a call with the happy news that his client could finally buy that island in the Pacific he/she always wanted.

Turns out, it’s just a bunch of emails flying back and forth.

Still, not many people get to live through it, so I thought I’d spell out the process step by step. Names and exact figures will be avoided to protect the innocent and discourage kidnapping attempts upon my family members. Gather around, my lovelies, and let me take you back to a bygone decade; the halcyon days of the wide-eyed Naughties:

18 November 2010: I finish my agent requested revisions on STORMDANCER. Ms Lindsay Ribar bundles it up with some high-grade crack cocaine and sends it out to “the big seven”. Realising the States is a few days away from Thanksgiving and the notoriously slow post-Thanksgiving/Xmas slump, I resign myself to hearing nothing until 2011, and decide to devote the next seven weeks to mastering 5-star “Battery” on Expert Level Guitar Hero: Metallica.

I fail. Holy shit, those triples are murder.

7 December: I get an email from my agent, the mighty Matt Bialer. We don’t have an offer, but we have a big house (House X) asking if I’d be willing to make my protagonist two years older for the adult market. Confirming that the Pope is indeed, still Catholic, I type “omgomgomgomgomg”, then delete it and replace with “Yes, that will be perfectly acceptable, thank you kind sir.”

9 December: I wake up and check my email. I sit bolt upright in bed, look at my wife and say “Holy shit, I’ve been offered a two-book deal.” All data pertaining to the next three days has been deleted from memory banks, owing to overindulgence in smooth Kentucky malt liquor. Headache lingers for several weeks. *

*No animals were harmed in the making of this bender.

16 December: We get a second offer, this time from St Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne (I can mention this name, because… oh wait, I don’t want to spoil it…) . Still a two-book deal. More green. I enquire as to the nature of the submissions Ms Ribar sent out, and whether or not they were accompanied by burly men who threatened to break thumbs. Ms Ribar refuses to confirm or deny presence of hired goons with all SJGA subs. Intimates it would be bad for my health to continue this line of enquiry.

Xmas break: I fly back to the city that spawned me. My relatives say polite things when I tell them I have two offers on my book. They ask me what it’s about. I utterly fail to describe it coherently in less than twenty sentences. Realise that my elevator pitch is worthless to non-geeks/people outside the publishing world. I get drunk on Xmas day for the first time in my life. Hey, it was 40 degrees Celsius, and my Aunt gave me a bottle of Jacks.

9 January: I’m informed we have “interest” on STORMDANCER from a third party: House Y, which is an imprint of another bigger House, Z. Not even being able to begin to wrap my head around how these imprints work, or why Publishing Houses have imprints at all, or how the same editor can work at multiple imprints and omgbrainhurts, I instead ask what “interest” means. Apparently it’s somewhere between an offer and a punch in the baby-maker.

I say “that sounds awesome”.

12 January: House Y make an offer, a two book deal topping St Martin’s. House X drops out of the race.

14 January: Strange people start subbing to my Twitter feed. Like, editors of huge Publishing Houses who edit some of my favourite authors in the entire fucking world. The notion that this is “real” starts to dawn upon me. Brain explodes, I flatline in bed. Revived by valiant Jack Russell Terrier and his hideous early morning dog breath.

Seriously, it’s like pixies break into the house during the night and shit in his mouth…

19 January: St Martin’s come back with two different offers, both for more money. The two offers are for “World English Rights” (nice $), and “World Rights” (nicer $). I blink stupidly. My agent explains we can buy more yachts if we sell the world non-english rights separately. I tell him “I am all about the more yachts thing.” He nods sagely, and takes the World English offer back to House Y. He tells me that international affiliates of House Y and St Martin’s have been consulted, and are all getting excited about the book. He also tells me to buy some cigars.

I don’t tell him, but cigars make me feel kinda nauseous.

Same day, House Y match the offer, but put a three-book deal on the table. Welcome to Trilogy Town, Mr Kristoff, we hope you enjoy your stay, the cocaine and prostitutes are lovely this time of year.

SMP agree to also put up a three-book deal, and up their offer. House Y match the offer, with “separate accounting” as opposed to SMP’s offer of “joint accounting”.

Romantic interlude: Joint accounting means that you have to earn out the entire advance ( the value of all three books) before you get any royalties. “Separate accounting” means each book is treated as a separate advance, which must be earned by each individual book before royalties start coming in. Apparently, separate is better. I have no brain for maths, so I just nod my head (via email – Matt wouldn’t be able to see me if I just nodded my head at the computer, you are just being silly now)

At this point, it finally dawns on me that STORMDANCER is on auction. There are no swanky mahogany clubs or backless cocktail dresses, but two major publishers are bid-counter bidding on my book. MY BOOK. The one that I wrote! The one that, two months before, I was seriously considering shipping out to freelance editors so I could work out what was wrong with it, and why nobody liked it.

My wife offers to slap me. I decline with thanks.

21 January: SMP come back with more money. I’m getting the feeling they want it bad. I practice my poker face in the mirror. I realise that “holy shit, I kinda do look a little like Dave Grohl…”

26 January: House Y counter-offer again. SMP beat their offer. House Y match SMP’s bid. I’ve never had two beautiful women have a fight over me before, but I imagine this is kinda how it might feel. Like, not a pillow fight in skimpy nighties where they might accidentally kiss or anything. A full on, split-knuckle, spitting-teeth kind of fist fight.

I keep waking up at odd hours of the night to check my gmail.  I’m trying to write the sequel to STORMDANCER and I can’t really focus on it. Everything I type is worse than my dog’s morning breath.

27 January: SMP come back again with a better offer. They give me a pitch that just about blows my head clean off.

Firstly, the concept that these people are now trying to convince me to run with them is an utterly foreign one. For more than a year, I’ve been chasing around after Publishing industry folk, trying to get a minute of their time or a reply to an email. And now I’m the one being wooed. I can’t really articulate how this made me feel. Humbled and amazed. So overwhelmingly grateful that even now, typing this, my hands get a little shaky.

Secondly, the pitch is amazing. Forget the money. This had never been about the advance for me. I said right at the start of the process to Matt and Lindsay that I didn’t care about the $. That I’d rather sign with a House for $50 if they were going to push me as hard as they could, than sign for $50k to a house where I was just another deal. SMP and their sister imprint Tor UK are offering a lead spot amongst their debut authors in 2012. People with titles like “Associate Publisher” and “Executive Editor” are going to be my point-men. I’m getting to work with people who edit authors that are at the top of the industry; just mind-blowing, amazing writers.

House Y bows out. They can’t go any higher. The auction is done. I have a three-book deal. I feel like I have concussion, as if the whole world is underwater. Even now, sitting here typing about it, it doesn’t feel the slightest bit real. I tweet to the editor who missed out, saying that I was really sorry, and to give her my thanks. She was lovely, and enthusiastic and terribly nice, and I feel bad about letting her down.

A few days later, my new editors email me to say hello. And now I sit here, awaiting my revision notes, trying to get my head around it all. Utterly blown away.

That’s it. The tale is done, my lovelies. Sorry if it was dull, but it’s probably the second most important thing to ever happen in my life, so you’ll forgive me if I blither like an idiot about it for a while longer.

ot desu teg ll’uoy gnihtemos s’ti tub ,elttil a truh yam sihT

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About Misterkristoff

New York Times and Internationally Bestselling SciFi/Fantasy author, and master of drunken karaoke-fu. View all posts by Misterkristoff

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