New Girl on the Book(s)

An Internship Experience in a Literary Agency

A[u]ctions Speak Louder

I mentioned in my last post that an agent can submit to editors in two ways, either in a wide or targeted submission. Well, I learned this past week in Intern Academy that one of the benefits of doing a wide submission is it opens up the possibility of an auction.

A is for Auction

Auctions tend to happen more for nonfiction than for fiction, because with fiction emotional  factors tend to appeal to specific individual editors rather than a whole group. Whereas with nonfiction, normally editors’ interests focus around the author.

But, what exactly is an auction in the book publishing world? An auction happens whenever an agent has more than one bidder interested in a project. Preferably, it is better if there are three or more bidders, but it does not always happen that way.

Now, how does an auction work?

The Rules of the Game

When you begin to have interest in a project, you want to start putting together the “auction rules.” This is the fun part for agents, because there are absolutely no set rules to follow. As an agent, it is up to you to create the guidelines for how the auction will operate. Everyone approaches it differently, but there are popular approaches, such as the best bid style.

Bids, Bids, Bids

The most common type of auction is the “best bid.” As the name states, this approach requires interested publishers to give their best bid amount. Typically, the project normally goes to the highest bid. However, the agent is under no obligation to take the highest financial bid. Other factors contribute to the bid appeal, such as financial support for promotions, editor rapport, etc. It’s the agents responsibility to look at the overall and complete offer.

SOLD to…

When the auction comes to a close, it’s important to keep the winner a secret until you negotiate the deal terms. This step in the process is where it gets tricky. The contract has to be worked out in terms of general information, subsidiary rights, royalties, and other negotiable terms. Once the hard contract comes in, both the agent and author must read the fine print to make sure the author is getting the best deal. In the long run, these fine print details could mean the difference to the author’s payout if/when a book sells well.

Contracts are the key point in the process; without a contract the book deal does not exist and will not reach bookstore shelves! (For a more in-depth look at negotiating book contracts, check out this site!) However, contracts take practice, and experience is the best teacher. The agent is the author’s best friend when it comes to negotiating contracts, for it’s the agent who ultimately has the author’s best interest at heart.


Auctions definitely seem like the most daunting part of the publishing process. There are so many little details that could make or break a deal’s success! Luckily, auctions only occur every so often.

Until next time!

1 Comment

  1. Suzanne Raitt

    July 28, 2017 at 4:46 pm

    Hannah, I really enjoyed reading about the details of the auction process. I’m wondering what you think the advantages of using a literary agent are. I know it is hard to get published even with an agent – do you think any aspiring author should even try to get published without an agent? Are there any disadvantages of using an agent? Or of the auction process?

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