What Is a Preempt, Anyway?

On July 1, Publishers Marketplace reported that literary agent Zoe Pagnamenta sold Rosie Dastgir's debut novel, A Small Fortune, about "the loves, struggles, and tensions in the lives of a Pakistani family, from rural Pakistan to urban England," to editor Sarah McGrath at Riverhead Books in a "preempt." We asked Pagnamenta to decipher what, exactly, a "preempt" is.

"When a publisher wants to preempt," Pagnamenta explains, "they are choosing to make an offer that will persuade the author’s agent to take a project off the table early. The publisher is grabbing a project they love and avoiding having to compete with other publishers. When an agent feels strongly that the house and editor are the right match for the writer, and if the financial terms being offered are strong, the agent will be well-disposed toward a preempt, although in other cases the agent may want to hold on and conduct a formal auction."

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