When a Publisher Makes an Offer

I’ve been writing a lot of posts geared toward the unpublished author. But I know many of you are published, or at least agented, and hopefully the rest of you are getting closer to publication, so you have questions about the process after you receive an offer from a publisher. I’m going to start interspersing these kinds of posts more often.

So first things first… today I want to talk about what happens when a publisher actually makes an offer on your book. This wonderful day could occur anywhere from about three weeks to a year or more after your agent has first submitted to publishers.

What happens next depends on a couple of factors: whether there are multiple publishers interested in your book, and how close the offer is to what the agent thinks is a realistic or fair offer.

If your book is still active at several publishers, i.e. they’re looking at it and haven’t passed, then when an offer comes in, the agent usually drops a line to the other publishers letting them know there’s activity, and giving them a chance to respond. This will get them to make a decision either way. Sometimes they’ll ask for a little more time to consider it; sometimes they’ll bow out.

If there are competing offers, your agent will consider the merits and specifics of each, and go back and forth with the publishers as necessary, communicating with you along the way. As we’ve discussed before, there are other factors besides simply the amount of the advance that you and your agent will take into consideration. These may include the reputation of the house, the release date suggested, whether or not they are offering a marketing budget or plan, the royalty percentages offered, and other factors. At this stage, your agent will probably negotiate for better terms for you, if the situation calls for it. Eventually you and your agent will make a decision to accept an offer, and your agent will email your acceptance to the publisher.

You may wonder who the agent is negotiating with. Usually it’s the acquisitions editor, who reports back to the editorial director or the publisher. Often it’s a bit like a negotiation at a car dealership. When the agent asks for better terms, the editor says, “Let me see what I can get approved” and they take it to their superiors, then they’ll come back with their counter-offer.

Of course, all of this gets played a bit differently if there is only one publisher interested in your book. It doesn’t leave room for a lot of negotiation (very little leverage there) so if your agent thinks it’s a good house for you, they’ll want to get you the best terms possible without threatening the deal.

After your agent accepts the offer from the editor, then the publisher’s contracts department drafts a contract based on the terms discussed. Most publishers will then email the draft contract to the agent, at which time more negotiation often ensues. There are other terms in the contract that weren’t discussed up front that need to be hammered out. Once the contract is agreed upon, the publisher will print up hard copies and mail them out to you for signature.

At this point, I sometimes email the draft contract to my client, so that they can begin reading it and compiling their questions for me prior to receiving the signing copies. We will discuss all the questions and make sure the author understands everything the contract says. (VERY important since you are signing a legal document!)

The contracts will arrive (usually two or three copies) and you will initial every page of every copy, then sign the signature page of every copy. You will send the contracts back to the publisher (via a trackable service, e.g. FedEx). Once the publisher receives them, the first portion of your advance is due to you in 30 days. This is usually either a half or a third of your total advance, minus the agent’s 15%.

As soon as contracts are signed:
–you’re free to make public announcements about your book deal
–your agent will probably announce your book deal on Publisher’s Marketplace
–you’re encouraged to get in touch with your editor and determine how to proceed

Note: Until contracts are signed and you are given the go-ahead from your agent, it’s VERY important that you stay out of the mix, i.e. do NOT try to communicate with the editor or anyone at the publishing house! This is protocol, and breaking it can make things extremely awkward.

The publisher will begin by sending you a welcome-packet of some sort, and you’ll begin talking with your editor about your book, and now you’re off to the races! Remember, your agent shouldn’t disappear now that the book is sold. Always go to them with questions or advice during any part of the process.

Any questions?

The September Carnival of Christian Writers is on today at Writer… Interrupted. Check it out!

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Camille Cannon (Eide) on September 30, 2008 at 12:14 AM

    >It’s a huge benefit to know what to expect the first time. It probably benefits both the writer and editor when the writer is prepared and can handle the proceedings as professionally as possible. Pppp. Sorry. Didn’t mean to spit.

  2. Carrie Turansky on September 29, 2008 at 12:01 PM

    >Thanks, Rachelle! This was very helpful information. I’ve done four books without and agent, and one with, and this makes me appreciate all my agent does for me!

  3. Rosslyn Elliott on September 29, 2008 at 11:15 AM

    >Thanks! This is very helpful. It’s good to keep in mind how long the cycle can take. A writer will lose too much valuable time by waiting around for answers instead of focusing on the next project in line.

  4. Chatty Kelly on September 29, 2008 at 9:35 AM

    >Rachelle – this is the information part of your blog that just keeps me coming back! I am learning so much over here. Thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to help us newbies!

  5. lynnrush on September 29, 2008 at 9:15 AM

    >Thanks for the information, Rachelle. It’s nice to have a detailed description of the process. The part I like the best is your reiteration of the continued involvement of the agent even after the book is sold.

    So, it sounds like the publishing house assigns an editor to the author? Then he/she goes through the manuscript with the author on the various different types of editing you’ve discussed before?


  6. Rachelle on September 29, 2008 at 8:22 AM

    >Inspire, I’ve touched on this several times on the blog. Try these.

    Getting An Agent Later in the Game

    An Offer in Hand

  7. Inspire on September 29, 2008 at 8:14 AM

    >Rachelle, could you comment about the writer who does not have an agent and is offered a contract? I queried over 48 agents in the last two years, and ended up getting an acceptance with a major CBA publisher on my own. A CBA agent did review the contract as a favor, but not to negotiate the terms. Everything worked out fine, and I’m extremely excited to be working with this publisher.

  8. Christina Berry on September 29, 2008 at 2:04 AM

    >Rachelle, this was a timely post! My mother and I went to conference with two houses scheduled to make decisions on two different books in October. We let every editor know this–without sounding snotty!–and then said with as uncertain as the publishing world is, we wanted to see if they might also be interested.

    The responses pretty much made conference feel like a fairy tale. We kept waiting for that “bad” appointment, but never had one. Two people even made comments about swooping in with their own offers if he/she liked the full manuscript.

    Now, I may be making this all up. Perhaps the years of seeking publication have driven me to create a delusional world of which I’m the only occupant. Even if that’s the case, you answered all my questions!

  9. Kim Kasch on September 29, 2008 at 1:28 AM

    >Great post! Thanks for this helpful information.