I’ve been working with a client for most of the past year on a thriller he’s writing. He’s a multiply-published author looking to start a new series, and the work he is doing is exciting and fresh.
A few months ago, he was well past halfway done, when we realized that if he pushed on, we might be able to submit his book and make a new deal—and a splash—if we were able to submit the book before the London Book Fair in mid-April. We worked backward and assigned, well, yesterday as the drop-dead date for him to finish if we wanted any shot of making the deal we were looking for.
So for the past six weeks or so, sleeping very little and subsisting, it seems, largely on bourbon, he soldiered on. Finally, on Thursday night, he sent me the manuscript, albeit without the last 20 or so pages, which he was planning to complete over the weekend and give me after I read the first 90% of the book. Which I did, with him sitting by the computer as I sent along notes as I went through the second half.
The next morning, when we were getting dressed, my wife asked “so, you ready to send it over?”
And I paused. I’d been up much of the night. Because I realized that, in fact, I wasn’t ready to send it in. Not because the book isn’t good—it is, very much so. It’s interesting and scary and moves like crazy. There’s a strong protagonist and a terrific, almost equivalent, antagonist. I think we could make a deal right now.
But it wouldn’t be the right deal. Because the book is only mostly done, to paraphrase from Miracle Max. That means it’s partly not-done. There’s some layering of backstory that needs to happen; a couple of explanations, some description, a little tweaking of language. Maybe seven notes, all told, which might take three days of reasonable work. Not a huge deal. Except that then we would miss our window for London.
Part of an agent’s job is to know when to be aggressive, know when to push even when you know something isn’t perfect. And this was a tough one because the difference, in my mind, is in degree, not in absolute value. So I went to the office, spoke to the author, explained my issues, and discussed his options. Ultimately we decided to talk to the most likely editor and be frank—ask whether he’d rather crash-read the mostly-done version and potentially have the opportunity to sell foreign rights at the London Fair; or whether he’d rather wait a few weeks until after the fair to see and evaluate the more well-scrubbed version, and possibly sell it at BEA at the end of May. In the end it was somewhat academic. The editor had a serious conflict that would have likely made him need to read this very long book almost overnight (which is hardly ideal and, I’ve found, makes editors cranky even if it’s kind of exciting); so weighing the options we decided to let the author make the changes.
I emailed him: “Go take a nap.” The response was priceless: “I am about to cry. My liver and I thank you.”
I don’t know whether we are giving up a sale or two overseas by delaying until after the London Book Fair. But I know this: The editor will have the chance to evaluate the very best this author will have to give, and not need to do it under duress. I suspect that if we are able to make a deal, it will be the right one, and it will all work out. Sometimes the best course of action is to slow down, even when everything in you wants to step on the gas.