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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Agents in Today's Publishing World

   
Author Topic: Agents in Today's Publishing World
Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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This is a blog post by best-selling author Ilona Andrews (whose work I enjoy, by the way) on the subject of whether you need an agent.

Please read it.

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MattLeo
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Who else would we get to live a secret life of danger?

Actually, having negotiated many business contracts, I feel it would be extremely foolhardy to negotiate a contract in an industry you didn't understand well, unless you had no other chance.

The other side doesn't have to be negotiating in bad faith to put something in the contract that is very bad for you. Often it's an overzealous lawyer working for the other side trying to justify his fee by tacking on anything he an think of. A lot of the time you can ignore those provisions, but sometimes you'll find something that is pure poison for you, but doesn't even matter to the other side. It's just boilerplate their lawyer handed them that they haven't bothered to think about very much. The way it goes down is you tell them it's a deal-breaker, they get the lawyer to explain it, then it goes away and nobody ever misses it.

A lawyer who knows IP law would be better than nothing, but you really need somebody understands the business end of things, otherwise it's like trying to land an airplane blindfolded. The problem with a lawyer is that even presuming he'd worked on these kinds of contracts before, that's no substitute for a business expert. You bring lawyers into business negotiations to keep you out of court in the future. In my experience you should *never* let your lawyer drive your business deal.

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Meredith
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Yeah. But just try to get one. [Mad]

Sorry. I'm grumpy today.

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Natej11
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quote:
Originally posted by Meredith:
Yeah. But just try to get one. [Mad]

Sorry. I'm grumpy today.

[Frown]
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rcmann
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Or self-publish and roll the dice.
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LDWriter2
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quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
Who else would we get to live a secret life of danger?/QB]

The names Bond James Bond.

Actually, even with drones, super cameras in space and the internet, ground agents will always be needed to get into places electronics can't or to kill someone who doesn't ever go outside.

Remember that in your writing.

quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
[QB] Actually, having negotiated many business contracts, I feel it would be extremely foolhardy to negotiate a contract in an industry you didn't understand well, unless you had no other chance.

The other side doesn't have to be negotiating in bad faith to put something in the contract that is very bad for you. Often it's an overzealous lawyer working for the other side trying to justify his fee by tacking on anything he an think of. A lot of the time you can ignore those provisions, but sometimes you'll find something that is pure poison for you, but doesn't even matter to the other side. It's just boilerplate their lawyer handed them that they haven't bothered to think about very much. The way it goes down is you tell them it's a deal-breaker, they get the lawyer to explain it, then it goes away and nobody ever misses it.

A lawyer who knows IP law would be better than nothing, but you really need somebody understands the business end of things, otherwise it's like trying to land an airplane blindfolded. The problem with a lawyer is that even presuming he'd worked on these kinds of contracts before, that's no substitute for a business expert. You bring lawyers into business negotiations to keep you out of court in the future. In my experience you should *never* let your lawyer drive your business deal.

There are IP lawyers who do know the publishing business, Laura Resnick--yes daughter to Mike--has some listed on her web site.

Ilona has some good points, but even though I didn't get to her whole post I didn't find anyway that she mentions the new dangerous publishing contracts that are out there or the new agents who have different ideas of what they are suppose to do. She did mention to research your dream agents which is good. Of course the same goes for lawyers. Not all agents really spend time on mid-list writers. Nor know all the ins and outs of the new contracts. There are still good agents out there but there seems to be fewer of them.

If you do go with one, no matter how good their rep is, make sure the contract says you get a copy of sells and financial records and such and the money comes to you. And double check that contract.

Oh, Ilona is one of the writers I've looked at very closely but still haven't bought.

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LDWriter2
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
Or self-publish and roll the dice.

Well, it can be a roll of the dice on the Big Six also. They don't always work on selling new books.


So now you get to roll the dice on which roll of the dice you want to go for. Including going both ways.

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extrinsic
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Everything loosely follows the one percent principle. Agents, like lawyers, editors, publishers, the individuals and the houses and their manifold imprints, and writers and critics, and so on, come in all qualities between extremes. One percent of agents are incompetent. One percent are predatory. One percent are corrupt. One percent are rogues. One percent are exceptional. One percent genuinely care about their client's well-being, beyond mere commercial self-interest. And one percent become unhealthily involved with their clients. Tel est la vie: such is life.

The Paretto Principle also applies. Eighty percent of effects come from twenty percent of causes and, vice versa, twenty percent of effects come from eighty percent of causes. Mediocrity, for example, eighty percent of agents are mediocre, same with writers and publishers. The twenty percent who aren't mediocre account for the best and worst whom eighty percent of the chatter is about. Mediocre titles represent twenty percent of sales. Actually, the Big Six publishers front list titles only account for twenty percent of overall house revenues. The eighty percent remaining revenues comes from twenty percent back list titles sales and new edition, new releases of classics or golden oldies.

Andrews' essay turned manic as the end neared. Emotional about publishing from not knowing what's going on in the culture, I imagine. I strongly believe due diligence behooves a writer who would succeed to know the culture as much as practical. Otherwise, fail to plan; plan to fail.

[ February 14, 2013, 11:03 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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LDWriter2
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A point or three there. Especially about the due diligence.

But I wonder where the new agents who do things differently fit in in the percentage thing. They aren't really incompetent-just different, they aren't really corrupt either, they might be predatory or rogues. But even though they do their way well it still ends up hurting the writer or costing him-her a lot more money.

I'm just curious.

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extrinsic
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The checkered history of literary agents spans centuries. The old way that endured longest from the earliest was a literary agent simply swiped a writer's intellectual property and sold it to publishers. Things started changing appreciably about the end of the nineteenth century. The next great change came from the aglomeration of publishers that began mid twentieth century and led to publishers generally refusing unsolicited, unagented manuscripts circa 1990s.

Culturally, a major difference that arose in the interim from when literary agents were solely self-serving pirates and the "new agents" who are trending back that direction, was an era of art for art's sake from which careers could be cooperatively built and livings could be cooperatively made. Sadly, self-serving interests are again becoming the prevailing if not exclusive driver of the culture.

The "new agent" is a twenty percent about whom eighty percent of the chatter is about, for good or ill. For me, the new agent tries hard and fails to be all things to writers and publishers and in time becomes just like the agents of old, revenue grabbers with seige mentalities. Everyone else has their hand in my pocket. I'm gonna get mine, come heck, high water, or indifference, by hook and crook if necessary and if I can get away with it. Yeah, I'm jaded, cynical, and skeptical. I'm also a realist. Tel est la vie. I believe in hoping for the best; preparing for the best and worst, and managing nonetheless to get by until I blaze a path through the morass with which I'm conscientiously comfortable.

Writers, the eighty percent struggling for twenty percent of publication potential, are at the mercy of the culture from not knowing the culture and the larger culture the publishing culture serves. That and from not adequately selectively targeting a niche audience's sensibilities, or audience culture.

[ February 14, 2013, 01:51 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I have just discovered that the kindle edition of Noah Lukeman's book on how to land and keep a literary agent is free on Amazon today.

He's the author of the excellent FIRST FIVE PAGES, which I recommend, and he's a literary agent himself, so this book should be every bit as useful as FIRST FIVE PAGES.

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extrinsic
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In addition to Amazon's offer, Lukeman's official Website also offers How to Land (and Keep) a Literary Agent in PDF, link at page bottom:

http://www.lukeman.com/landaliteraryagent/index.htm

And How to Write a Great Query Letter:

http://www.lukeman.com/greatquery/index.htm

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