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Author Topic: About Agents
Crystal Stevens
Member # 8006

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In my research on publishing, I came across two interesting tidbits about agents. A source I read over a year ago suggested that if you have a contract from a publisher in your hand that this would be the time to hire an agent to negotiate said contract with the publisher. The idea is that the agent would be more willing to take you on as a client if he/she knows someone is already interested in publishing your book. A more recent source I just read today said that some publishers would suggest a writer they are interested in contact a certain agent to represent them through negotiating a contract and the publishing process.

I realize many of you are published in short stories and maybe a novel. I'm after comments and what you would suggest about following such advice. Would it be a good idea to hire an agent after you have a contract? Or would it be wise to hire an agent suggested by a publisher interested in your work? Any other comments on the results of this research are greatly appreciated.

So, fire away !

[This message has been edited by Crystal Stevens (edited May 10, 2009).]

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I've not published, but when I do I will be looking for an agent first, and then through them, a publisher. The reasons are many, from the agent (hopefully) having a wide list of publishers to choose from so as to find the best paying contract, to knowing that the agent is committed to my book and its success.

Conversely, if I already had a publisher's contract I would fear the agent sees me as a gravy train and so puts in little effort; I would fear the publisher has stitched me up with a poor contract, or that I'd settled for the first publisher rather than the best (for my book).

Then again, some genres almost require you to go to the publisher first, because agents are hard to find, so it might be situation dependent - which means any advice may or may not fit your needs.

(I found the following blog posts to both offer differing points of view and be entertaining on the matter: why you should never submit unagented and Agents: the Mousetrap (Ahem, I mean Prize) at the Bottom of the Box)

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Make it a priority to get a good agent. You'll get more money and will save yourself headaches that you can NEVER forsee because you simply do not know the business well enough.

Here's one perspective: http://editorialass.blogspot.com/2008/09/why-you-should-never-submit-unagented.html

Of course, her bit on submitting via slush is only one editor's pov. Brandon Sanderson was able to get editorial interest with his 6th or so novel doing it that way. And with this bit--"Most houses do not want to see the same proposal twice, even if it has an agent the second time. So those submissions amount to bridges burned"--you have to know the house. Some, like Tor, essentially let their editors work independently, so a submission to Beth Mecham isn't one to David Hartwell. I know this because someone I know very well was rejected in the slush and got a three-book deal from the agent submitted proposal to another editor. And that shows the power of agents.

I blog about how to find an agent here: http://johndbrown.com/writers/finding-your-audience-and-getting-paid/

As for using the agent recommended by the house, I'd say do your research. If they're on your list, approach them. If not, approach those you ARE interested in.

[This message has been edited by johnbrown (edited May 10, 2009).]

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Very few of the larger publishing houses accept unsolicited, unagented novel submissions anymore. However, the bigger name fantastical genre publishers haven't adopted that policy yet. Baen's, Tor, and Daw do accept unsolicited, unagented novel submissions.

Short stories don't individually generate much agent interest because there's little return for the effort. A 4,000 word short story paid at $0.05 per word earns $200. 10% of that is $20, about enough to pay the cost of a few phone calls. Unless a house contacts an agent for a submission request or author contact information; that's a few exceptions to the direction of commerce in the one-way short-story marketplace. However, a short-story collection might interest an agent.

A significant fraction of first-time author novels enter the marketplace through an agent "discovering" a manuscript in their unsolicited manuscripts pile. The pitch, the waiting time, the likelihood of an agent taking an interest in a first-time author are probably about the same as a direct submission to a publisher accepting submissions. However, little else is the same.

An agent has no prohibition against simultaneously submitting to multiple publishers. An agent might offer a manuscript to any and every house of interest. A manuscript might undergo a book auction where several houses eagerly bid for the manuscript. A larger author advance is one likely outcome of a bidding war.

Other factors that might be offered in a book auction or that an agent might strive for, for consideration, include a lower reserve against return percentage, more timely payment of advances and royalties, tiered royalty schedule with a larger percentage after sell-through of first printing run, better payment ratio on ancilliary rights, like instead of 50/50 for book club rights sale, i.e., 40/60-house/author, same with a film rights sale, foreign rights, and so on; plus other considerations that an agent might have more influence and competence than an author to negotiate, like cover art approval, reversion of rights clauses, an audit clause, advertising commitment, author book copies' cost rate and numbers, provisions for point-of-sale displays and other promotional material at author appearances. Not to mention that an agent's job is to sell a manuscript that's saleable to the best potential performing house.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited May 10, 2009).]

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Okay. I'm confused. On another part of this site and in his books on writing, OSC recommends against getting an agent until you have a contract offer.

see here

Is this information no longer current? Or is this just a case where there are differing opinions?

Also, what's the best place to look for names of agents to even research, if that's the way to go? I'm tied down right now and can't possibly get to a writers' conference for some time.

I'm trying to get ready to make a submission myself, so this is a big issue.

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An agent might get a contract offer, perhaps a better one than a writer can negotiate. In the alternative, many houses refuse to entertain a manuscript without agent representation. The recourse is to peruse submission guidelines for targeted houses. If no agent is required; no agent is required. However, agents have a broader-reaching network of contacts than a writer unfamiliar with the marketplace.

My plan for the novel I'm working on is to go through an agent, an already selected and interested agent. But the novel's not in the fantastical genres. Placing it all but means having an agent.

If I were submitting to Baen's, Daw, or Tor, or another house that doesn't require agented submission, I wouldn't run through an agent. However, some agencies will engage in a developmental editing interaction, if they're interested and the effort justifies the process. Most novel publishers don't do that anymore.

Edit: One of the more proactive, progressive agencies I know of is Writer's House, kind of top end, and from what I've gleaned, if they believe, they commit heart and soul. But they're not my choice. They're in New York. I've got issues with being in a megatropolis. I've found a respectable agency close to home and in a less agoraphobia-anxiety-inducing setting.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited May 10, 2009).]

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I got a very nice 3-book contract from Tor Books last year. I got it by landing a good agent first.

What I recommend is do both. Submit to those who will look at unsolicited mss. but also try to get an agent at the SAME TIME. Both are viable ways to breaking in. And increasingly fewer editors will look at unagented materials. I know several people who broke in these last few years by getting an editor first. I know several others who are now with major houses who got an agent first.

Read my blog linked to above for ways to approach both at the same time.

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Writer's Market has a good listing of agents. I also agent-hop on blogs because one agent will often be connected to several others.
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Agentquery.com is a great resource for finding agents. That's where I found mine.

OSC is not a big fan of agents in principle, because these days a lot of agents have taken it upon themselves to become defacto editors. Some are great at it, others not so much...

In my opinion, get an agent first. You'll get a better deal and as someone stated, most publishing houses do not accept unagented manuscripts, so you need one just to get in the door.

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Jeff Baerveldt
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In any discussion that has to do with breaking into the business, it's always better to listen to those who are breaking in NOW, not those who broke in 30 years ago.
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