BY GINA PANETTIERI
The October 2017 Writer’s Digest explains “How Big Deals Go Down” in an article by agent Hillary Jacobsen. In this online exclusive by agent Gina Panettieri, we take you behind the scenes of another impressive contract—this one a debut mystery trilogy from an unlikely source that inspired a bidding war.
Talcott Notch Literary’s Senior Agent Paula Munier’s deal for Spare These Stones, her debut mystery novel sold to Peter Wolverton of St. Martin’s Press, is a bit out of the ordinary—but definitely a great lesson for any new author looking to swing for the fences.
In addition to her agenting duties, Paula has written a number of writing craft books published by F&W Media (WD’s parent company). She was working on her latest, The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings, when she realized she needed an ideal first chapter to demonstrate the elements a strong opener. Since Paula had just recently been to a fundraiser for working dogs—those who assist in military, police and game warden operations—she wanted to include those elements in her book, as well as her other special passions: wounded vets, female vets and those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Paula had been searching for a great concept for a mystery for a while, and was so pleased with the final product of this sample chapter that she decided to keep working with it. The challenge now was turning what had been a terrific teaching tool into a show-stopping full novel. I’d represented Paula for years before she became an agent member of Talcott Notch Literary, so it was natural for her to turn to me when it came time to sell this mystery.
Paula passed the opening chapter to me, and I absolutely loved it—it really did have everything a great mystery’s opening chapter should have. She’d developed an early outline, which I gave her some feedback on, but Paula’s a champion plotter (in fact, one of her writing craft books is called Plot Perfect) so revisions were light. She also had the world’s absolute best beta reader in bestselling suspense novelist Hallie Ephron. All writers should aim to surround themselves with critiquing partners who are as honest and sincere.
In the course of her own agency work, Paula knew to leverage social opportunities with editors by mentioning the working dog story, and saw there was lots of interest. By using the chances these conferences provide to get to know editors and agents on a personal level, you can often make a connection and learn about the person’s special interests. In this case, the common interest was dogs. Editors often advocate most zealously for something they feel a personal connection to, so these editors represented our target market.
Thus before Paula had even passed a full book proposal to me, there were several solid requests for more material. Now, with a proposal ready to go, I contacted a long list of additional editors regarding the project to come up with our final sub list. It was a catchy concept, so there were lots of enthusiastic requests. We did a final polish on the full proposal and out it went. Things moved very quickly from there and we had our first offer the next day. Of course, this took the other publishers who’d received the proposal a bit by surprise when I had to inform them of the offer, but because they already knew they were interested, responses came in very rapidly. Paula was as excited and nervous as any of our other clients waiting to hear the responses on the submissions, but having sat on our side of the desk, she understood the process the editors were going through and distracted herself with work as much as possible (but yes, she admitted she didn’t sleep much while this was going on).
The nerve-wracking part actually came in as the bids started to rise. We’d sold this book, a first mystery, on proposal and Paula was extremely cognizant of her responsibility to deliver a complete manuscript that delivered on the promise of the proposal. Most first books sell on a complete manuscript, but with Paula’s background, we were able to sell this on far less. The more the publishers bid, the more that book had to deliver! It’s exciting to sell a book for a healthy bid, but it’s a big promise to a publisher.
A bevy of hectic phone calls later, the final bid came in in less than five days at $100,000 for three books. Paula was delighted, nervous, over the moon! Four months after contract, Paula just delivered the completed manuscript for the first book, and I have to say the completed book fully delivers on the promise of the proposal. The editor loved it, and I can’t wait for the next book in the series. Yay, team!
Gina Panettieri is the president of Talcott Notch Literary Services LLC.