Question of the week: Congrats on your sale! Um, not to sound like an idiot, but what's a pre-empt?
You're not an idiot! A few people wrote me to ask this very question, and when I was starting out, I didn't know the answer either.
A pre-empt is when one publishers jumps in before all of the others and says, "I'll give you X amount of money to take this off the table and refuse other offers." The publisher thus "pre-empts" the other bidders.
I asked my agent all about accepting a pre-empt vs. going to auction, and she explained it thusly: with a pre-empt, the publisher will usually come in with close-to-their highest possible bid, let's say, for simple numbers purposes, 50k. If you were to hold an auction, the bids would start much lower, let's say, 10k. As people bid up and up, you may or may not reach the original pre-empt offer. You can also conduct a "best bids" auction, in which publishers don't necessarily bid "against" each other in the traditional sense, rather they all toss in their highest possible bids and hope that they come out on top. In our case, my new publisher came to us and said, we'll pay X, to which my agent said, "how about you pay X+Y and we'll take it off the table." (This was an editor I was dying to work with, and both my agent and I agreed it was worth it to take our chances.) The editor called back, and the deal was sealed.
So that is a pre-empt. Remember that I'm not an agent and this is just the best that I can figure it all out - I might have gotten some of the details wrong!
Anyone else out there gotten a pre-empt? If you have, why did you decide to go with it? And for those of you shopping around your ms or hoping to one day be published, which would you rather: a pre-empt or an auction? (You know, in a dream world! I should note, to for disclosure, that most books sell on one offer, not at auctions or pre-empts...I don't want to pass along misinformation here.)