Why I Did Not Submit to Penguin

I’ve just sent out a manuscript in response to a request for a full. This isn’t the first time that’s happened, and it’s probably not the last. Ha – I sound like I could use more confidence. Know what? That isn’t true.

It takes an average of twelve years to be published.

I believe I will be published someday. It may take years. The average is twelve. Stieg Larsson, who wrote The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, took thirty. I’m hoping to manage a slightly quicker career-launch, but that’s off the topic.

You may have seen this amazing thing: Penguin UK is, for a limited time, accepting unagented submissions from authors. This is an incredible opportunity. Almost every unpublished author I know is taking advantage of this, as well they should.

I’m not.

Yeah, that’s the look you’re giving me now, I’m sure. You want to be published HOW MUCH and you HAVEN’T done this? Sputtercoughwtffaint.

There’ s a really simple reason why. A lot of authors are perfectly capable of handling themselves and all the legal intricacies that come with publication.

I am not. I know I’m not. Here’s what brought it home:

Several agent friends have confirmed that Macmillan sent a letter over the weekend asking authors to sign amendments that gave them electronic rights to backlist titles.

By the way, these letters went out to authors—not to the agents or agencies who represent them.

If you are an author and you received this letter, do not sign or return it without consulting with your agent or attorney first. If you haven’t got either, then pick up the phone and call the Authors Guild. I know the lawyers over there and they’d be happy to take a look at this amendment that has been sent out (if they haven’t seen it already).

Whatever you do, make sure you have a complete understanding of your rights and what you’d be granting if you signed the amendment and what other options exist if you don’t.

This is from amazing agent Kristin Nelson, who reps such incredible authors as Gail Carriger (author of Soulless) and Sarah Rees Brennan (author of Demon’s Lexicon). There’s a whole lot of backstory, of course, but the gist is that this was a well-known publisher trying to pull a fast one on authors without paying for it.

See, here’s what scares me: I would have signed the papers.

I guess I’m too trusting. It would not have occurred to me immediately that the publisher was trying to take rights from me – I would have thought that they were trying to protect me. (Insane things like this have made everyone jumpy about digital rights lately.)

I get it NOW, sure – now that I’ve been reading up more. But the fact is that I’m a trusting person. I try not to deceive, and I don’t assume people are being deceitful – thus, I likely would have fallen for this.

I need an agent. I know I need an agent, and I’m not alone. The brilliant John Green (author of Looking For Alaska)  actually managed without an agent for a while – and then in the end, AFTER being published, AFTER being lauded and awarded, decided he needed one anyway. Even for the ueber-smart, it was kind of a lot of work.

So – even though half of my brain is screaming at me that this is my chaaance and blow this and maybe you’ll never get theeeere, I am not going to submit to Penguin. I know I’ll make it someday – without the risks this would bring. I’m just going to keep goin, following  this path until it leads me where I want to go.

Now there’s a kind of confidence I never thought I’d have.

25 thoughts on “Why I Did Not Submit to Penguin”

  1. You are a very smart girl and this was an excellent blog. But, to be blunt, publishers are in the business of making money. It is our job as authors to either 1) admit we don’t know what the hell we are doing and trust an agent to guide us 2) admit we don’t know what the hell we are doing and hire an entertainment attorney to look over everything and explain it before we sign or 3) go to law school and specialize in entertainment law…then we can be our own agent and attorney and write lawyer thrillers involving dead writers. I digress.

    It is still our responsibility as authors to manage the business side of our entertainment business. Publishers aren’t trying to take advantage of helpless authors as much as they are in the profit business. Not their problem if we remain ignorant and don’t get the skinny on a contract before we sign it. It isn’t a nefarious plan (in my opinion) but more of a penalty for being naive. Writing is a business. Bottom line. If you owned a boutique would you randomly sign contracts you didn’t understand?

    I think you could still submit, just be smart enough to hire an attorney. But agents really do take a lot of the pain in the a$$ out of things. They get paid to squeeze every cent. If we leave money on the table, then we really shouldn’t fault publishers for taking it.

    Great blog and nicely done :D.

    1. Thank you so much for this reply! I don’t hold it against publishers – after all, the business right now is in huge transition, and I know a lot of them are afraid for the future.

      That, and publishers are made of humans. Humans like money. 😀 I am no exception.

      /Not their problem if we remain ignorant and don’t get the skinny on a contract before we sign it. It isn’t a nefarious plan (in my opinion) but more of a penalty for being naive. /

      I think that’s absolutely accurate – but part of that is knowing when we don’t know enough on our own. Unfortunately, I can’t afford a lawyer – circumstances financially are less than pleasant – so I’m still unsure about the idea of submitting for this.

      Also… and maybe this is madness, but… if I’m good enough to win a Penguin contract from the midst of what has to be hundreds of thousands of submissions, I’m good enough to get an agent.

      1. Agents are worth the wait. i love mine. They know the idustry and the opportunities we don’t even think of. Because they work on commission, it is in their interests to make us as much cash as possible. An agent also makes it where you can focus more on the writing and platform-building.

        Best of luck.

  2. I don’t know if I’ll be submitting anything either. I don’t know that I’ll have anything that I feel will stand half a chance that I’m free to submit, that isn’t already under consideration somewhere. Besides, I think for such a large publisher, I’d rather go through an agent. Unlike small publishers, they *know* how to get the last drop out of you legally. Small publishers are usually much less sneaky, mainly because most are run by people who are ex-amateurs with a love for fiction but without a huge body of knowledge of the industry (note the word ‘most’ in this sentence; there are exceptions of course). So I might just stick with querying agents. If I’m good enough, and agent will take me on, and they can sell my work to Penguin, if they feel it’s a good fit.

  3. You are a very smart girl and this was an excellent blog. But, to be blunt, publishers are in the business of making money. It is our job as authors to either 1) admit we don’t know what the hell we are doing and trust an agent to guide us 2) admit we don’t know what the hell we are doing and hire an entertainment attorney to look over everything and explain it before we sign or 3) go to law school and specialize in entertainment law…then we can be our own agent and attorney and write lawyer thrillers involving dead writers. I digress.

    It is still our responsibility as authors to manage the business side of our entertainment business. Publishers aren’t trying to take advantage of helpless authors as much as they are in the profit business. Not their problem if we remain ignorant and don’t get the skinny on a contract before we sign it. It isn’t a nefarious plan (in my opinion) but more of a penalty for being naive. Writing is a business. Bottom line. If you owned a boutique would you randomly sign contracts you didn’t understand?

    I think you could still submit, just be smart enough to hire an attorney. But agents really do take a lot of the pain in the a$$ out of things. They get paid to squeeze every cent. If we leave money on the table, then we really shouldn’t fault publishers for taking it.

    Great blog and nicely done :D.

  4. You are a very smart girl and this was an excellent blog. But, to be blunt, publishers are in the business of making money. It is our job as authors to either 1) admit we don’t know what the hell we are doing and trust an agent to guide us 2) admit we don’t know what the hell we are doing and hire an entertainment attorney to look over everything and explain it before we sign or 3) go to law school and specialize in entertainment law…then we can be our own agent and attorney and write lawyer thrillers involving dead writers. I digress.

    It is still our responsibility as authors to manage the business side of our entertainment business. Publishers aren’t trying to take advantage of helpless authors as much as they are in the profit business. Not their problem if we remain ignorant and don’t get the skinny on a contract before we sign it. It isn’t a nefarious plan (in my opinion) but more of a penalty for being naive. Writing is a business. Bottom line. If you owned a boutique would you randomly sign contracts you didn’t understand?

    I think you could still submit, just be smart enough to hire an attorney. But agents really do take a lot of the pain in the a$$ out of things. They get paid to squeeze every cent. If we leave money on the table, then we really shouldn’t fault publishers for taking it.

    Great blog and nicely done :D.

    1. Thank you so much for this reply! I don’t hold it against publishers – after all, the business right now is in huge transition, and I know a lot of them are afraid for the future.

      That, and publishers are made of humans. Humans like money. 😀 I am no exception.

      /Not their problem if we remain ignorant and don’t get the skinny on a contract before we sign it. It isn’t a nefarious plan (in my opinion) but more of a penalty for being naive. /

      I think that’s absolutely accurate – but part of that is knowing when we don’t know enough on our own. Unfortunately, I can’t afford a lawyer – circumstances financially are less than pleasant – so I’m still unsure about the idea of submitting for this.

      Also… and maybe this is madness, but… if I’m good enough to win a Penguin contract from the midst of what has to be hundreds of thousands of submissions, I’m good enough to get an agent.

      1. Agents are worth the wait. i love mine. They know the idustry and the opportunities we don’t even think of. Because they work on commission, it is in their interests to make us as much cash as possible. An agent also makes it where you can focus more on the writing and platform-building.

        Best of luck.

  5. I don’t know if I’ll be submitting anything either. I don’t know that I’ll have anything that I feel will stand half a chance that I’m free to submit, that isn’t already under consideration somewhere. Besides, I think for such a large publisher, I’d rather go through an agent. Unlike small publishers, they *know* how to get the last drop out of you legally. Small publishers are usually much less sneaky, mainly because most are run by people who are ex-amateurs with a love for fiction but without a huge body of knowledge of the industry (note the word ‘most’ in this sentence; there are exceptions of course). So I might just stick with querying agents. If I’m good enough, and agent will take me on, and they can sell my work to Penguin, if they feel it’s a good fit.

  6. You are a very smart girl and this was an excellent blog. But, to be blunt, publishers are in the business of making money. It is our job as authors to either 1) admit we don’t know what the hell we are doing and trust an agent to guide us 2) admit we don’t know what the hell we are doing and hire an entertainment attorney to look over everything and explain it before we sign or 3) go to law school and specialize in entertainment law…then we can be our own agent and attorney and write lawyer thrillers involving dead writers. I digress.

    It is still our responsibility as authors to manage the business side of our entertainment business. Publishers aren’t trying to take advantage of helpless authors as much as they are in the profit business. Not their problem if we remain ignorant and don’t get the skinny on a contract before we sign it. It isn’t a nefarious plan (in my opinion) but more of a penalty for being naive. Writing is a business. Bottom line. If you owned a boutique would you randomly sign contracts you didn’t understand?

    I think you could still submit, just be smart enough to hire an attorney. But agents really do take a lot of the pain in the a$$ out of things. They get paid to squeeze every cent. If we leave money on the table, then we really shouldn’t fault publishers for taking it.

    Great blog and nicely done :D.

    1. Thank you so much for this reply! I don’t hold it against publishers – after all, the business right now is in huge transition, and I know a lot of them are afraid for the future.

      That, and publishers are made of humans. Humans like money. 😀 I am no exception.

      /Not their problem if we remain ignorant and don’t get the skinny on a contract before we sign it. It isn’t a nefarious plan (in my opinion) but more of a penalty for being naive. /

      I think that’s absolutely accurate – but part of that is knowing when we don’t know enough on our own. Unfortunately, I can’t afford a lawyer – circumstances financially are less than pleasant – so I’m still unsure about the idea of submitting for this.

      Also… and maybe this is madness, but… if I’m good enough to win a Penguin contract from the midst of what has to be hundreds of thousands of submissions, I’m good enough to get an agent.

      1. Agents are worth the wait. i love mine. They know the idustry and the opportunities we don’t even think of. Because they work on commission, it is in their interests to make us as much cash as possible. An agent also makes it where you can focus more on the writing and platform-building.

        Best of luck.

  7. I don’t know if I’ll be submitting anything either. I don’t know that I’ll have anything that I feel will stand half a chance that I’m free to submit, that isn’t already under consideration somewhere. Besides, I think for such a large publisher, I’d rather go through an agent. Unlike small publishers, they *know* how to get the last drop out of you legally. Small publishers are usually much less sneaky, mainly because most are run by people who are ex-amateurs with a love for fiction but without a huge body of knowledge of the industry (note the word ‘most’ in this sentence; there are exceptions of course). So I might just stick with querying agents. If I’m good enough, and agent will take me on, and they can sell my work to Penguin, if they feel it’s a good fit.

  8. I would (will?) go ahead and submit, unless Penguin’s deal is some kind of “unagented authors only need apply” strategy. It’s not unheard of for an author to rep herself, get an offer from a publisher, and then–before signing anything–query an agent. Agents jump at this chance. Might be worth it.

    1. Thanks for your reply! I’ve thought about this, too, but I keep coming back to a simple, single point: if I’m good enough for my manuscript to be plucked from the hundreds of thousands of submissions Penguin is now receiving, shouldn’t I be good enough to get an agent?

      Also, from what I’ve seen, only some agents jump at a chance like this. The honest ones – the ones I tend to like – will look and say, “I passed on this manuscript before because it didn’t grab me. It still doesn’t grab me,” which means I might end up with an agent I don’t want.

      I’ll never forget the advice an agent gave once in a fabulous Twitter chat: remember that you, the author are the person hiring the agent, not the other way around. Just-any-agent really isn’t a good policy, and won’t lead to a good fit. I wouldn’t want an agent who’d take me on ONLY because I won a contest with a publisher, but rather someone who really believes in my work.

  9. I would (will?) go ahead and submit, unless Penguin’s deal is some kind of “unagented authors only need apply” strategy. It’s not unheard of for an author to rep herself, get an offer from a publisher, and then–before signing anything–query an agent. Agents jump at this chance. Might be worth it.

    1. Thanks for your reply! I’ve thought about this, too, but I keep coming back to a simple, single point: if I’m good enough for my manuscript to be plucked from the hundreds of thousands of submissions Penguin is now receiving, shouldn’t I be good enough to get an agent?

      Also, from what I’ve seen, only some agents jump at a chance like this. The honest ones – the ones I tend to like – will look and say, “I passed on this manuscript before because it didn’t grab me. It still doesn’t grab me,” which means I might end up with an agent I don’t want.

      I’ll never forget the advice an agent gave once in a fabulous Twitter chat: remember that you, the author are the person hiring the agent, not the other way around. Just-any-agent really isn’t a good policy, and won’t lead to a good fit. I wouldn’t want an agent who’d take me on ONLY because I won a contest with a publisher, but rather someone who really believes in my work.

  10. I would (will?) go ahead and submit, unless Penguin’s deal is some kind of “unagented authors only need apply” strategy. It’s not unheard of for an author to rep herself, get an offer from a publisher, and then–before signing anything–query an agent. Agents jump at this chance. Might be worth it.

    1. Thanks for your reply! I’ve thought about this, too, but I keep coming back to a simple, single point: if I’m good enough for my manuscript to be plucked from the hundreds of thousands of submissions Penguin is now receiving, shouldn’t I be good enough to get an agent?

      Also, from what I’ve seen, only some agents jump at a chance like this. The honest ones – the ones I tend to like – will look and say, “I passed on this manuscript before because it didn’t grab me. It still doesn’t grab me,” which means I might end up with an agent I don’t want.

      I’ll never forget the advice an agent gave once in a fabulous Twitter chat: remember that you, the author are the person hiring the agent, not the other way around. Just-any-agent really isn’t a good policy, and won’t lead to a good fit. I wouldn’t want an agent who’d take me on ONLY because I won a contest with a publisher, but rather someone who really believes in my work.

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