How Manuscript Auctions Work


Dear Laurel…

Auctions! Exciting, stressful, and, for editors, sometimes crushing. Agents auction manuscripts they think are hot properties, generating early buzz and above-average advances. They’re pitting houses against each other and must protect their own reps, so agents are selective about what they auction and careful about handling it. Independent authors can’t auction their own manuscripts, lacking the access and trust that agents spend their careers cultivating. Auctions happen fast. The agent contacts the chosen publishers, pitches the project, and explains the rules and timeline. It’s usually blind, with the editors knowing the number of houses involved but not the names. They get a short time to read the manuscript and get offer approval from bosses, then they bid. The agent reports the top bid the next day, allowing others to outbid. Some auctions are one-day “best offer” affairs, others have several rounds. Publishers might add marketing promises, or a big pre-emptive bid can end the auction before it begins. Thrilling, indeed.

Happy writing!
The Editor


    • This is a perfect example of why I love the Q-and-A nature of this site: I never considered that authors wondered about this. I’m happy to give some insight!

  1. Thanks for the info., Deborah. I always thought that auctions were started by publishers ie. if a project received multiple offers from publishers, the the agent will put it up for auction. Thanks for clarifying this, and it’s fascinating indeed.

  2. Also good for people to know: Sometimes an agent will set up an auction based on early interest…and nobody will bid. This happened to me. It still smarts! 🙁

    • Ouch! Yes, this can happen, as your experience shows. Thanks for pointing that out (although I wish you didn’t know it firsthand).

    • In fact, debut authors are more likely than established authors to be in an auction, since the newbies don’t have a publisher yet. The veteran authors usually have an established relationship with a house, although if they publish with several houses an auction situation could arise. That’s tricky, as those relationships must be maneuvered carefully rather than leveraged against each other. Celebrity authors can certainly spark auction interest.

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