Friday, October 16, 2009

Contracts and Excuses

I received a phone call mid-July from an editor who wants to buy one of my PB stories. We are now mid-October and the contract hasn't come through yet. I've sent her a couple gentle e-nudges and her reply has basically been: "Your contract is the next one on my list." She seems excited about this project but I'm left wondering what the delay is about. Being a larger publisher, could it be she's just swamped with work and I need to keep being patient? Is this three-month interim a warning signal that all is not well with the fate of my next PB? Or might they still be hammering out details like who the illustrator will be (as I suggested someone who was different than their initial plan)? What should my next step be?
It's always possible that she's swamped with work-- more than that, the only editors these days who are not swamped are the ones who are out of work. However, this is not absolutely an excuse.

I attempt to get my contracts requested within the same week of finalizing a deal, because otherwise I will completely forget to do so. But there are a lot of different workstyles in the industry, so who knows? Maybe it's right there on her to-do list and not in danger of being forgotten.

However. Three months is about as long as I would wait for an editor to start work on a contract, because once it goes to the legal department, it can take another month or three to arrive on your doorstep in signable form. It is unreasonable to expect authors to wait that long for their on-signing payment. Six months with no money? Meanwhile the editor is drawing a monthly paycheck.

You should be in touch with her and say in the most positive tones how much you appreciate her enthusiasm for the project, and how much you have been looking forward to working with her, but that if she truly hasn't the time to offer this project or the house itself hasn't enough enthusiasm, then you really feel you should find the manuscript another home. Always, always project the impression that you can sell something elsewhere. Even if you're sure you can't. If you let an editor know that her house is the last chance for your manuscript, you're inviting the editor to wonder if she's made a mistake and really no one is going to want this book.


Anonymous said...

The question-asker's editor sounds like my editor.

And thanks for making the point about the monthly paycheck. I want to clip that out like an Ann Landers column and mail it to my editor!

Ginger*:) said...

Such good advice. I am putting that into my memory bank. *:)

Tom Bailey said...

Call her directly and listen for the tone. I have had issues with publishers and they are people too. It is difficult to read agendas from just emails.

I like your blog. This is my first visit.

Anonymous said...

It's probably just me, but it seems like no one has a mind enough of their own in this business to want something because THEY want it, not because someone ELSE might want it.

I'm talking about this quote of EA's:
"...If you let an editor know that her house is the last chance for your manuscript, you're inviting the editor to wonder if she's made a mistake and really no one is going to want this book..."

I've seen this time and time again: one agent is suddenly interested in your ms because another agent is. One pub suddenly makes an offer (on a ms that's been at their house for five months with no word) because someone other pub does. I just don't get or respect this herd mentality. I just don't. In children, yes, for sure. But in adults that claim to all have their own taste and WORK in this business, it's sad that they are all that easliy influenced.

It's doubly baffling because any agent or editor will tell you over and over, concentrate on your ms, don't look at the book deal or promo so-and-so-writer got, focus on what you are doing, but yet its often these same people putting in bids on books they probably dont' even want.

(I just realized this sounded like a rant, I don't mean for it to. I'm smiling as I write this, but in black and white it looks so angry. Sorry 'bout that.)

Anonymous said...

Thanks, EA, for replying to my question. And thanks to the others for the helpful comments. Since I wrote last, I have called the editor on the phone and had a chat with her. She was very apologetic and friendly and said that my contract was actually prepared by the end of August but apparently there are several ppl yet to sign on the dotted line. Due to conferences away, etc., not all of the said ppl have been in to sign. Is this plausible? (Not that I am doubting...although...after such a delay, doubting is undoubtedly becoming an easy thing to do). She even gave me a specific date when the book is slotted to come out. Do I find hope in this?

Candice said...

Anon 12:33:

My day job is in advertising. I got an offer from another agency for employment; when I told my employer about the other job offer, he offered me a promotion and more money.

When the waitress hits on the man I'm having dinner with, it's confirmation that he's a catch.

When a show gets good Nielson ratings, it stays on the air. If only a small number of people watch it, it gets cancelled.

That's the way the world works, my friend.

Anonymous said...

Some companies are delaying new contracts because of the economy.

working illustrator said...

Believe nothing until you have a contract in your hand and a check in the bank.

These people will say anything.

I had an editor at a big NY house who lied for a year and half - just plain, flat-out lied - that the contract was 'on his desk', 'on the assistant's desk', 'on its way' when in fact it did not exist and never had.

The only thing that mattered to him was avoiding the fifteen seconds of social discomfort it would have cost him to say 'I like this project but I can't make it happen.'

He was a 'good' editor at a 'good house'. He had - and still has - a good reputation because he's worked on some successful books. He has some big authors who like him because they only get his charming side; nobody cares how the nobodies get treated because... well, they're nobodies.

Carelessness and selfishness of this degree are not even a little bit unusual in this field. You won't hear that from the podiums at SCBWI conferences but it's the truth.

Believe nothing until the check clears. And until it does, don't limit your options based on some editor's placating happy talk.

Anonymous said...

Original anon - Yes, it is totally possible that vacations, etc. would delay the multiple signatures needed for a deal to make its way to contracts. Then add on a few more weeks to draft that contract and, then, possibly, more time for that draft to again circulate for signatures.

ae said...

Thank you, working illustrator. Truth before excuses. :)

Anonymous said...

I second everything you said, working illustrator. Same thing happened to me.

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