The sales cycle for I LIKED MY LIFE went like this: edit, send to a handful of publishers, collect rejections, err, I mean feedback, repeat. We were on round three of this daunting process when I sent my agent—the amazing Elizabeth Winick Rubinstein—my latest revision. I no longer obsessed about when I’d hear back, exactly who’d be pitched, etc. I’d come to peace with my always-the-bridesmaid-never-the-bride lot as a writer.
Six days later I got word Publisher X wanted a call. “An offer?” I asked Liz. “A call,” she said. I’d read blog after blog on writers BIG MOMENT, but couldn’t recall any mentioning an interview component. Two days later Publisher Y got in touch. “An offer?” I asked again. “A call,” Liz said. Then Publisher Z. Same thing. Then St. Martin’s Press. I prepped for these interviews as if a life was at stake because one was—I LIKED MY LIFE had become a living, breathing thing for me and I was hellbent on scraping an offer from one of the four calls. I needed to see it in print.
I was at the airport waiting for my husband while my children terrorized unsuspecting business people when I got the call. The interviews had gone well, my agent said. All four editors wanted in. Two imprints shared a corporate owner so they combined for a house bid.
“It’s going to auction.”
I will never forget that moment. The airport din. My pounding heart. The ice cream my daughter licked right before it dripped off the cone. I let the words loop around and settle as a fact.
“Abby?” Liz said. “You still there?”
“Still here,” I managed.
Auction stirred images I was pretty certain didn’t correlate with reality. I found it unlikely Liz would be on stage with a microphone shouting things like, “Going once, going twice,” while editors waved paddles with bids, so that night I hit the web for insight. Of everything I found, this offered the clearest tactical rundown of the book auction process.
Mine ran four rounds over two days. Here’s what I learned:
- The interviews weren’t just for the houses. I went in understanding each editor’s process and vision for I LIKED MY LIFE, which proved enormously helpful.
- A major distinction between initial offers was hardcover versus paperback. Hardcover gives you two opportunities to go to market and, generally, a more lucrative return.
- A second major distinction was whether the offer was for one book or two. In my mind, the two book offers represented a commitment to me as a writer instead of just I LIKED MY LIFE as a project. Though Publisher Y was in the vicinity of the other offers, it was a one-book paperback deal so we parted ways at the end of the first day.
- If your agency has a strong foreign sales department like McIntosh & Otis (we went into the auction with a standing offer in Germany), it’s worth fighting to retain world rights. In my case, both remaining houses fought hard on that point. We ultimately negotiated splits, but acquiesced. (St. Martin’s has proven itself very capable—within two weeks it sold the project in four languages. Now we wait until we get closer to the pub date.)
- Going into the final round I was happy with both editors as well as the foundation of the deal (two-book/hardcover/world rights), so it became about the better offer. We landed with St. Martin’s.
It was the wildest two days of my life. The auction represented the official start of my new career and provided something much more valuable than a book deal: my writing now had a source of confidence. Lacking an MFA, or really any formal creative writing education, I’d often felt I was trying to get into a party I wasn’t invited to. The auction proved otherwise. The industry isn’t rigged. You don’t need an existing platform. You don’t need to be famous. Four stellar imprints wanted to work with me based solely on my work. I take that knowledge to the keyboard every day.
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