Madeleine Milburn founded the Madeleine Milburn Literary, TV & Film Agency in March 2012, and is looking to represent authors of all types of popular and literary fiction including genres such as women’s, psychological suspense, crime and thrillers, comedy, general fiction, narrative non-fiction, children’s books, teen, young adult and cross-over.
Deal making – how does a literary agent do the actual deals with publishers? Negotiating top deals in the UK, US and foreign markets, including film and TV rights, are so important in giving my writers a platform to be successful. The submission process for each book can be very different depending on whether I am submitting a debut novel, what the book is about, who it’s intended for, and so on. Once I have read a manuscript, I will already have a strong idea of who I want to send it to. If I feel that there is a perfect match in terms of an editor and publishing company, I will submit the book to them on an exclusive basis so that they can offer on material without any other publisher seeing it. This is a huge compliment to the publisher and I will make sure that if they do offer, they pay the market value for the book i.e. what the book would be worth if other publishers were offering at auction. It is not always about the money though. Some writers have asked me whether there is some relation to the advance the publisher pays and their marketing spend, but in my experience it is the raw passion that the editor has for the book that will make it a success. If an editor is 100% in love with the book they have offered for, they will make sure money is spent on the publication. It is also important to remember that nearly all the megasellers have been sold through word of mouth – it is the strongest marketing tool.
On other occasions, I will submit the book widely to ten top publishers in the UK at exactly the same time. I would have spent months preparing for this submission, meeting up with the editors I have chosen, pitching the book, making sure it is what they are looking for, getting them excited about it, and generally creating hype. I will then send it out specifying the rights on offer. Unfortunately there is no telling whether someone will offer. You can feel it with all your heart but you still may not get the offers you want in the first round. At agencies I have worked at in the past, it has taken over a year to sell some of today’s No.1 bestsellers to publishers. However, I may get several offers, and in these cases I can proceed to auction and ask for bids in different rounds. I can then ask the publishers who are still involved in the auction to make their very best offers but I make sure this is based on their editorial and marketing vision as well as their advance. There are so many factors to take into account rather than just the money. I have seen authors who have huge advances that never earn out, and the publisher isn’t able to do a new book contract with them so their career with that publisher may be short-lived. It can be better in the long-term for the advance to earn out and the author to earn good royalties from their work. I can then increase the advance with each subsequent contract when the books are selling really well.
Once I have a UK deal in place, I will move onto American publishers in a similar fashion, or I will have started the submission with US publishers depending on the type of book. I will then move on to foreign publishers. A lot of foreign publishers like to see that there is a UK or US deal in place before offering. There have been times when I have submitted to international publishers at the same time – this can be an exciting thing to do at a book fair when you can create a lot of energy and hype around the book in person at the Fair. There are different strategies for each book. A writer’s career will grow if they have an agent who is constantly trying to sell rights in their books, for instance selling translation rights to different countries. I continue to sell rights in my authors backlist every year. I also think very broadly, for instance, I have just had an offer for Chinese language film rights in a romantic comedy I represent. This could potentially make the book a bestseller in China and also encourage a UK or US film company to make an English language film.
Part 4 of What does a literary agent do? will address What Happens at a Book Fair?
Competition: To launch an exciting new Crime, Thriller & Psychological suspense List, the Madeleine Milburn Literary, TV & Film Agency is offering talented writers an exclusive opportunity to be represented. More information here.