The Great Debate: An Agent and Editor Discuss the Latest in Contract Negotiation

I had a chance to sit down with an editor friend recently to discuss one of the least fun (but most important) parts of the publishing process: the deal/contract negotiation. And lucky for me, Editor agreed to let me share some of that conversation with you here on Pub Crawl. We talked about a number of topics, but the one I’m going to focus on today has to do with three clauses:

1. Competitive Works (a.k.a. Non-compete clauses)

2. Option

3. Next Work

These are 3 different paragraphs somewhere in your book contract, but they are all intertwined, especially in this day and age of hybrid publishing and author branding.  Before I get into the conversation, let me break down what these are right quick:

Competitive Works clause – this clause has to do with any work you write after the book you’re being contracted for, and specifically on whether or not it would compete with your contracted book for sales in the marketplace.

Option – this is the next book the publisher has the first right to review, before you submit to anyone else.

Next Work – this clause states rather explicitly that the book you’re being contracted for is going to be your next book, and that you can’t publish another book until (usually) 6 months after the contracted work.

Does that all make sense?  I sure hope so.  If you have questions, leave them for me in the Comments and I’ll do my best to answer. For now, I’d like to get into the highlights of the conversation I had with Editor….

Editor: The trifecta of non-competes/option/next work drives me crazy because I have to narrow down what I can work on next with the author.  What’s happened a lot recently is that I’ve bought a book–very clearly a stand alone–and then the option becomes….

Me: Let me guess–the next book “in the world of the Work or featuring the same characters”?

Editor: Right.  And I’m thinking “No, because this is clearly a standalone, and that takes away my option.” And so then they get into Competing Works and request that they can publish anything as long as it doesn’t include the characters in the book. And so we get into sticky situations because I didn’t offer for this book as a series, I want to buy it as a standalone, and I want to have a first crack at your next book. I don’t want my authors writing an unnecessary sequel for the sake of satisfying their option with me. And the tough part for me is that a lot of this is happening during the initial deal negotiation, not the contract stage anymore.

Me: Oh, yeah–it has to. I can’t tell you how many times a contracts department will come back at me with “we can’t agree to that language, you should have discussed it with the editor at the time of deal negotiation. It’s too late now.”  So it’s forced us to have more complicated and complex negotiations with editors from the get-go.

Editor: (Nods) I get that, too. One of the difficult things to navigate is how to make the offer if there’s suddenly going to be a sequel later.  When a submission comes to me with an outlined sequel or sequels, the offer is very different than if it’s a standalone. And when the option is narrowed down simply to sequels, it feels like they’re just trying to get out of the option.

Me: I don’t think it’s that they’re trying to get out of the option. I think it’s actually that we’re trying to give our authors an option.  What if their editor leaves? What if their publisher gets bought out by another house?  I’ve had publishers take the full option period they have, just to say no in the end. And when that happens, it’s like, man–you just put the author’s career on hold for 4 months.

Editor: Yeah, that’s not a good situation either. It’s true that editors move all the time.

Me: Do the agents you work with typically give you a look at the work first anyway, no matter what the option says?  Out of professional courtesy?

Editor: The agents I work with consistently do, yes. I feel very strongly about the authors I work with, and I’m hoping to cultivate a career and a brand with them, not just one book. The agents I typically work with know that.

Me: We do. (smiles)

Editor: And sometimes there are agents that push for a multibook deal when it might not be the best decision to.  If I’m acquiring a book that comes out in 2016 today, and the sequel in 2017–it makes me a little nervous, too, about what the future might bring.

Me: Especially with all of the industry changes and upheaval.

Editor: Exactly. Do you often push for a multibook deal?

Me: It depends entirely on the book, the author, the editor, the publisher, etc.  Sometimes a multibook feels necessary because it means that publishers will….

Editor: Commit.

Me: Yes!  And it gives the author a chance to grow without losing momentum. It often guarantees a certain amount of investment from a publisher.

Editor: It’s frustrating because publishing is so fast and so slow at the same time. For me, I’m very focused on the author, their project and the brand. I want to go beyond the book and cultivate a bigger brand, but I don’t always have the ability to hit the go button.

Me: It sounds like what we need to do is all work more closely together than ever before–the author, the agent and the editor as a trio.

Editor: Yes. I think we all want what’s best for the author in the end.

You heard it here, folks! Getting to be a fly on the wall of some publishing industry folks.  This is what we’re discussing all the time!  And there’s more where that came from.

5 Responses to The Great Debate: An Agent and Editor Discuss the Latest in Contract Negotiation

  1. Susan Oct 17 2014 at 7:40 am #

    So, this was fascinating to me. I have to say that there’s still SO much I don’t understand about publishing, and its nice to hear both POVs–editor and agent–on this subject (or any subject, for that matter). I think it’s easy to think that publishers “are out to get authors” with options and no-compete, so hearing an editor’s thoughts regarding this…Well, it’s eye-opening.

    I loved this dialogue!! Thanks so much for taking the time to do this!

    • JoSVolpe Nov 26 2014 at 9:14 am #

      Thanks, Susan! I’m glad it was informative.

  2. Lori T Oct 17 2014 at 3:09 pm #

    I really enjoy reading these behind-the-scenes posts that you have on here, especially since I have no experience with publishing. They’re always very eye-opening (in a good way!) to up-and-coming authors to see just how the process of getting a book published actually happens. I think a lot of people don’t realize exactly how much work really goes into getting a book from the writer’s hands and into bookstores.

    It was really interesting to read how closely you work with the editor. The dialogue was hilarious!

  3. como ganhar Oct 23 2014 at 7:36 pm #

    This site definitely has all the information I needed
    about this subject and didn’t know who to ask.

  4. Katie Jun 29 2017 at 5:43 pm #

    Thank you for doing this, I’m just starting to research this stage.

    When a submission is outlined as having sequels, does the option default to the sequels, or could the option be a developing unique work for after the submitted series?

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