This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
In the second part of our series, author Sophia Tobin and Senior Commissioning Editor at Simon & Schuster, Clare Hey, tell us about going through the auctioning process and signing the deal.
Sophia: By the time The Silversmith’s Wife was submitted to publishers, I had known my agent, Jane Finigan, for some months, and had absolute confidence in her. Jane showed me the list of publishers she was going to submit to and explained that it could take some time before offers came in (if they did). So I could relax, right?
No. In the days that followed, my internal monologue read as though I was having espresso drip-fed into my bloodstream. Had I done enough? Maybe I should have had another go at the manuscript? What if it all ended here?
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I work in a library, and it’s rare that you have a manic day there. But it was on such a day – when the phone seemed to be ringing every fifteen seconds and I was fielding requests for mysterious archival material – that I received a message from Jane, indicating that we had to speak.
I watched the clock until I could call her. An offer had come in: a good offer. ‘Whatever happens,’ said Jane, slowly and clearly – obviously aware that she was speaking to someone on the edge of hysteria – ‘you will be a published author.’
How do you express that kind of delight when you’re sitting behind a desk in a library? Badly, is the answer. ‘Yay,’ I croaked, self-consciously. ‘I can’t really scream or cheer or anything.’
‘Because you’re in a library,’ she said, and cheered on my behalf. ‘I have an email from the publisher. I’ll send it through.’
The idea of being in an auction always reminds of sitting in a saleroom with a crowd of people and a man with a gavel, but the process that followed was not like that – thank goodness. I felt insulated from the stressful parts of the experience. Over the next ten days or so it was Jane who did all the chasing, the rounding up of responses and the negotiating. I received a filtered picture of what was happening (I did want to say: please, tell me the bad stuff too).
Clare: Being in an auction as an editor is almost as nerve-wracking as it must be for the author. You love the novel and the whole team loves the novel and you have worked out a strategy around how you will publish it. It starts to feel like your own project – until you find out that other editors have that exact same idea!
When I make an offer for a novel I always try to put myself in the author’s shoes. I assume they don’t know anything about me or about Simon & Schuster and so I try to explain a bit about who we are and where their novel will fit into our list as a whole. And I also explain how I see the market for their novel and how we would publish it. With The Silversmith’s Wife, as it has a crime element and a historical element, I could see that you could publish it in two different ways. But to me the heart of it was a historical novel that happened to tell a great story about a crime. But it’s not just a crime, it’s about the people and the place. And it’s not just a historical – it’s a great story that is set in the past. I could clearly see how, with the great title and the historical setting we could put a beautiful cover on the book and I tried as best I could to give Sophia a flavour of that vision via Jane.
Of course, you never know how the other publishing houses are envisaging publishing the same novel and so I just hoped that Sophia and Jane shared my vision while secretly loading hexes on the competition…
Sophia: Then finally there were two publishers left, with two excellent, almost identical, offers. I had to decide. Jane had passed on the editors’ offers and emails to me. It was like choosing someone to marry on the basis of a brief acquaintanceship. In all my dreams of becoming a writer, I had never anticipated having to make a choice.
I visited Jane to talk it through. ‘Help me,’ I bleated. She remained steadfast whilst I questioned her and tried to read her body language with the intensity of an MI5 interrogator.
I suppose it was coming home to me that what had started as a private piece of writing – my own secret world – was now on the brink of becoming something completely different. It was a little late, perhaps, to become so protective of it, but it seemed to me like a baby bird, chirruping nervously on a ledge and waiting for someone to push it off and make it fly.
‘What if I make the wrong choice?’ I asked my husband later, after the pros and cons had been listed and wine had been drunk. ‘What if I choose the wrong person to look after my precious little one?’ (I was only half-joking).
‘Then it will die,’ he said, ‘and you’ll have to write another one.’
The final decision was for Simon & Schuster, because of a variety of reasons: I knew their list, and the fact that Clare was focusing on The Silversmith’s Wife (and the following book) primarily as historical fiction – rather than crime fiction – was reassuring to me, as this is the direction I want to go in. I was nervous about forging a new editorial relationship with someone I had never met, but Jane told me that Clare is lovely and that she was sure we would get along. So I made the decision, and waited with trepidation – and excitement – for the next step.
Next time: editing – what happens when the novel you thought was perfect gets a fresh editorial perspective?