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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Agents---good AND evil

   
Author Topic: Agents---good AND evil
Zero
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Okay actually I'm talking about agents for selling your literature. This topic has probably been done 30 billion times here, however, on behalf of the new people I'd like to know more. This is based on something Christine said, suggesting a new potential author send queries to agents. I am totally ignorant about this and so anything anyone can tell me about the advantages, disadvantages, risks, process, whatever, etc, et all, would be very much appreicated.
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authorsjourney
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http://misssnark.blogspot.com - Miss Snark is an active literary agent, and this is her blog. One of the most useful (and entertaining resource) about agents on the net. She also has some links to blogs of other people in the publishing/editing/agenting business.
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Beth
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Most of the topics that have been done 30 billion times before can be found with the Search function. Just sayin'.
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Tanglier
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The blog is very clear, if a bit demoralizing.
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Robert Nowall
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I've often wondered. I've never had an agent---but I've never had a track record of sales, either. I've never tried to get an agent, either. Would I have been able to get one without a few sales under my belt? Is it a "catch-22" situation: You can't get an agent without selling something first, but you can't sell something first unless you've got an agent.

It's not exactly a fantasy scenario. As of last report I've seen (and that was a while ago, since I haven't had a novel to market for years, and no incentive to explore the scene), most of the "big" book publishers require you to market to them through an agent. No submissions looked at without one. Somehow it boils my blood to have to submit something under those conditions. Surely my book would be the same whether I had an agent or not...and if an agent can improve it enough to sell it, what are the editors and publishers needed for?

Somehow it seems important to me to sell something on my own, first, before trying to get an agent. I don't know how the rest of you feel.


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tchernabyelo
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My plan is to try and get an agent to hawk my first novel.

The reasons for this are pretty simple. Firstly, agents know the business, have the contacts, and can in theory save me time (though I accept I still have to spend time getting an agent rather than directly getting a publisher). Secondly, figures I've seen indicate that agented submissions get significantly better advances than unagented ones - by more than the cost of the agent.

In terms of getting an agent, my plan is two-fold. First, get some stories out there in the market, ideally featuring the world and characters of my novel. Second, write a damned good novel.

This is not an easy plan to achieve, but I'm going with it for now.


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KatFeete
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quote:
I've never had an agent---but I've never had a track record of sales, either. I've never tried to get an agent, either. Would I have been able to get one without a few sales under my belt? Is it a "catch-22" situation: You can't get an agent without selling something first, but you can't sell something first unless you've got an agent.

I have no sales to my name. I've sent queries to 20 agents. Three have asked to see more of the novel.

So no, the odds are not fun; yes, the Catch-22 exists (my friends with strong short story histories are getting far more requests for partials than I am)... but no, it's not impossible to interest an agent if you have no sales record. If you can do it, do it. If you can't (ie, you're not much of a short story writer, like me) you've still got a chance.

quote:
if an agent can improve it enough to sell it, what are the editors and publishers needed for?

Agents do suggest edits, but this is NOT what agents are for. The power of agents is in knowing the market. They will send your submission to editors they know are interested in this kind of work. And the editors, knowing this, will read a story with more attention than the stories they get in the slush pile, because the slush pile will contain tons of material unready for publication AND mostly submissions that don't suit their tastes.

Not entirely fair, no, but having seen a picture of Tor's slush pile (or rather, part of Tor's slush pile), I have some sympathy for the editors.

Zero: I don't want to get too much into a subject that's already been covered here and there on the forums, but the basics are:

Agents who try to charge you money (a "reading fee") are Bad. Don't pay them. They will take your cash but they won't sell your work.

Agents who try to pass you on to a "professional editing service" (which will charge you money) are also Bad. See above.

Agents without a track record of selling books and/or experience at a reputable agency aren't necessarily Bad, but they may be incompetent. Treat with great caution.

Agents who sell books like yours are Good.

Preditors and Editors is a superb resource: always check them before you submit anything. If you're writing sf/f, I have a list of agents that is pretty good, though I recommend doing your own research on all agents (I have made mistakes before). For the really obsessive, I'm also keeping a blog of some industry stuff, like who's selling what to which publishers.

Best o'luck!

[This message has been edited by KatFeete (edited August 16, 2006).]


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authorsjourney
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One of the most important reasons for having an agent is contracts. Even if you sell your novel directly to a publisher, get an agent before signing any contracts. Why lose that 15% when you've already got the sale? Yes, agents can sometimes get you a better advance, but not as much as you think. They can, however, read through the contract and have the publisher alter it so it's better for you.

Many publishers will offer a decidedly unfair contract as a matter of course. Not just unscrupulous publishers - the big ones too. They'll try to grab all sorts of stuff like screenplay rights and foreign rights. An agent will know what is normal and what isn't, and keep the publisher reasonable. If your book is successful, overseas printings can be worth much more than that 15% you're giving up. And if someone options your book for a movie, that's at a quick couple thousand dollars that you wouldn't have without that agent.

Yes, agents sell your book, and that's an important aspect of their job, but they do so much other useful stuff for you. They know the publishing industry from the inside. If you're purely a short story writer, you don't need an agent. If you want to sell a novel, you definitely should have an agent.


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Robert Nowall
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I know enough not to sign a contract without studying it first. Or I'd like to think I know not to. At this point in my life, the money involved, or "the honor of being published," seems less important than not being made into some kind of sucker for a bad deal. I don't even think I'd agree to give them another book after the first---after all, my last one took five years to write and my next one (if it keeps going) may take that long.

I once read that one shouldn't even accept a contract blindly even if it's been vetted by an agent first. (More Hollywood agent than literary agent here, but I think the principle applies.) Even if an agent has a lawyer look it over, the lawyer will look it over from the agent's point of view---something that might screw over the writer might be okay for the agent if he gets his percentage. Have your own lawyer look it over before signing...


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Wayne
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This isn't really a reply, it's one more question. Uncle Orson says that for some genres, like Sci-fi, you don't really need an agent until you have a contract in front of you. Then you should get an agent before you sign it.

My question is, given how hard it is to get a contract, can you really tell a publisher, "Thanks for the contract, but you'll have to wait a few weeks or months while I secure the services of an agent?" I don't think I have the.. courage to do that.


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MaryRobinette
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From everything I understand, if you have a contract in hand getting an agent is not a problem. To the publisher, you say, "Thank you. I'm going to have my agent look it over," without mentioning that you don't have one yet.


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Wayne
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Thanks MR. (I'm new to the forum - should I express my gratitude or just keep it to myself?)
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KatFeete
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quote:
I once read that one shouldn't even accept a contract blindly even if it's been vetted by an agent first. (More Hollywood agent than literary agent here, but I think the principle applies.) Even if an agent has a lawyer look it over, the lawyer will look it over from the agent's point of view---something that might screw over the writer might be okay for the agent if he gets his percentage. Have your own lawyer look it over before signing...

This isn't necessarily a bad idea, but I fail to see the point. First, unless your lawyer specializes in contract law, they're not likely to see anything a decent agent won't have already seen, spotted, and fixed. There are specialities in law, just like everything else, and contract law is a very specialized field, with *book* contract law its own highly specialized subcategory. It'd have to be a heck of a lawyer (or another agent....)

Second, it is extraordinarily unlikely, if you've done the proper research and gotten a decent agent, that the agent will allow "something that might screw over the writer might be okay for the agent". The reason is simple. Fifteen percent of the profits from a standard first novel isn't enough to pay a month's rent.* Agents are not interested in selling a first novel; they want the author in there for the long haul, selling more books, getting up there into the realms where the agent can hope to make a living. It is therefore in their best interests to keep the client happy AND to approve contracts that are in their client's best interests.

Most of the stories I've heard of published authors switching agents don't have to do with bad contracts or even mediocre contracts; they have to do with communication issues or the agent pushing the author's career in a direction the author doesn't want to go. That's what you have to worry about with a good agent, not that they're somehow letting you get screwed in your contract.

If you're really interested, agent Kristen Nelson has a nine-part series of blog posts on "How to Be Your Own Agent" which gives an idea what good agents do. You can read the first here, and the rest are in the June/July archives. I found it very informative.


* I'm not joking. Average advance for a sf/f first novel is $5000, and most first novels do not earn out their advances, meaning that's all the money you'll ever see. 15% of $5000 is $750. Looked at rent costs in NYC lately?

[This message has been edited by KatFeete (edited August 17, 2006).]


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authorsjourney
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quote:
My question is, given how hard it is to get a contract, can you really tell a publisher, "Thanks for the contract, but you'll have to wait a few weeks or months while I secure the services of an agent?" I don't think I have the.. courage to do that.

From what I've read, publishers don't mind this at all. In fact, many will be happy about it. Agents know all the little ins and outs of the publishing process. You (probably) do not. You having an agent will make everything go smoothly, and most publishers can appreciate this.


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Robert Nowall
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Like I said, it's more of a Hollywood thing than a literary thing. (The boilerplate language in Hollywood contracts occasionally condones practices that often lands people in other industries in jail, I'm told.)

I read once that one then-beginning writer---it might have been Robert Jordan, but I'm not sure---got a novel accepted by a prominent SF editor / publisher. He, not wanting to look like a patsy, suggested a few changes in the contract---and got his novel back, rejected, by return mail.

I'm inclined to think he was better off not going that way. I'm not so hungry for publication that I'd let myself be screwed over---I might have been twenty years ago, but not now. (If it had happened to me, I'd probably go public with it, getting it into as many places as I could.)


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