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Category : Agents
I’ve been receiving a number of questions about authors and agents, so I wanted to take a few weeks to explore agenting. Someone wrote to ask, “How long does it usually take for an agent to respond after receiving a requested manuscript?”
Everybody is different. I try to respond to people within a month, but this past year it seemed to take me two or three months before I could read and react to all the submissions. If you’ll check out the web site of literary agents, most will offer some sort of timeline in the two-to-four month range. I’ve heard stories of authors having proposals in to agents for eight or nine months, but my response to that would be: “Maybe you aren’t picking up the hint.” Look, if you’ve had something in with an agent for six months, and they haven’t so much as responded to your idea, it’s clearly not ringing their bell. Move on.
I should also note that I have a couple people who work for me who review manuscripts. Like most longtime literary agents, I don’t promise to read everything that gets sent to my company. I work with a couple people who have great editorial eyes, and they frequently take a first look at stuff coming in over the transom. And if something isn’t a fit, we may not respond at all. (In fact, it may not be read at all if it’s written in crayon, is a vampire novel, or warns me that I’ll go to hell if I don’t immediately read and get excited about the idea. Just so you know.)This question also came in: “If an agent has asked you to send in a manuscript, is it wrong to continue sending out queries to other agents?”
Not in my book. The way I look at it, if I’m taking a couple months to review a manuscript from you, then
Someone wrote to ask, “With all the changes in publishing these days, what do I really need to know about agents?” Let me offer ten thoughts…
1. Do your homework before selecting an agent. DON’T sign up with somebody just because they say they’re an agent and they want to represent you. I know that’s a temptation, but this is a professional relationship. Would you go to a guy’s office for your health problems just because he claims to be a doctor? Ask around. Check him out. This is the biggest mistake people make with agents, in my view. This past year at ACFW you could toss a rock in the air and when it came down it would most likely hit somebody claiming to be an “agent.” Um… these guys are going to be taking your ideas and helping you sign legal agreements regarding them. Don’t take that lightly.
2. Be wary of any agent who charges a fee or advertises what the charge is to work with them. That’s a total violation of the guidelines for the Association of Author Representatives (and, in fact, those agents wouldn’t be allowed as members of AAR). There are a couple fairly successful agents I know who do that. It’s unethical, and authors should stay away, if they want to keep from being scammed. On the other hand, I was VERY glad to have someone write and tell me that “Steve Laube is my agent and he’s good.” Don’t we all get tired of people sort of beating around the bush, telling us one person is bad and another is good, but never mentioning names? The fact is, Steve IS good. Amanda Luedeke, who works with me at MacGregor Literary, is good. Greg Daniel, Greg Johnson, Chris Ferebee… there are plenty of good agents. My guess is that none of these individuals are for everyone; and neither am I, of course. But
Someone wrote to say, “I know you’re going to the Thrillerfest conference next month. Of the appointments you have at a conference like that, how many actually result in your asking for more material? How many result in you giving serious consideration to an author? How many will you actually sign to represent? Just curious.”
For those who don’t know, at almost every conference I go to the organizers ask if I’ll spend some time having short meetings with authors. I usually agree, since I enjoy meeting writers and talking about their books. One of the misunderstood aspects of those author/agent meetings is that “the agent is trying to find new clients.” That’s partly true, at least for newer agents who are looking for salable projects to fill their lists. But for someone who has been agenting a long time (I started working as a literary agent in 1998), it’s rare that my goal in attending is to sign up a bunch of authors. That might happen, of course, but generally at a conference I’m looking to be a resource to authors. Some want my reaction to their idea, others want a brief critique. Some want to ask questions about the market, or about publishers, or are looking for career advice. Others are looking for advice on their proposal, or to ask about marketing and sales ideas. Often people just want to know what is hot and what’s not. So “finding new clients” isn’t the only topic being discussed. Sure, plenty of writers are pitching their ideas, but that’s not the only reason for meeting.
So long as you keep that in the back of your mind, I’ll answer your question directly: When I volunteer to do appointments at a writing conference, I’d say I might have 15 to 40 appointments — some formal, some informal.
Of those, maybe 5 or 6 result in my asking to see more. Don’t
This month we’ve been doing our “Ask the Agent” series — your chance to ask a literary agent anything you want. I’ve received a bunch of short questions (or questions that don’t require a long answer), so I wanted to take today’s blog and try to jump on several of them…
Do you see a resurgence in literary fiction?
I do. What a lot of people don’t realize is that fiction is always the thing that has paid the bills at big publishing houses, and literary fiction (in one form or another) has often been the genre that created the biggest impact on the culture. Literary fiction, like all genres, will wax and wane a bit. But we’re seeing huge successes in today’s market with literary fiction.
Are you more or less likely to take on an author who has self-published?
Neither. It depends on the author. If an author has proven that she can sell her indie-published book, then publishers will take note of that, thus making the selling of her rights easier. But if I love a manuscript, even if the indie version of that title that isn’t selling, we may just encourage her to take it down and let us sell the book. The fact of the author self-publishing doesn’t make me more or less inclined to work with her.
What does an author do if she has great word-of-mouth network, but still is struggling to build a social media platform?
My advice would be to preach patience. A strong social media platform can be developed, but it takes time. Perhaps too many authors are impatient and want big success right now. The fact is, if you’ve got a great word-of-mouth network, that should pretty easily translate into a strong social media platform, given some time and effort.
Are agents taking on more culturally diverse projects?
I think everyone is publishing is trying to. We’ve all been
Someone wrote to ask, “Can you explain how an agent gets paid? Does the publisher send the author’s checks to the agent? Or does the money go to the author, who writes the agent a check? And is all this done before or after taxes?”
Happy to explain this. Traditionally, when it was time for the publisher to send money, they would send the entire amount to the agent, who would then deduct his or her commission (the standard is 15%) and send a check for the balance to the author within ten days. This was the system that was in place for years, and many agencies still work with that system. The strength of it is that the agent knows the author has been paid, and paid the full amount. This is all pre-tax money, so at the end of the year the agent would send a 10-99 form to the author, detailing how much money was paid.
When I started working as an agent 18 years ago, I was working for Alive Communications in Colorado, and they used a different system — divided payments. With that system, the publisher cuts TWO checks. The first is sent directly to the author, for 85% of the deal. The second is sent to the agent, for 15% (along with some sort of evidence that the author has been paid his or her amount). To my way of thinking, that was a better system. The author got paid faster. There was less bookkeeping for me. I didn’t have to fill out the 10-99’s. And, most importantly, I would never get a phone call from an author saying, “Hey, you big doofus — the publisher says they sent you my money two weeks ago! Where’s my check?!” I’ve found too many fights in business occur over money, and I prefer that the authors I represent feel as though we’re on the same side,
We’re doing a full month of “Ask the Agent,” where writers get to ask anything of a literary agent, and we’ll try to discuss it. Last week someone asked, “In today’s world of publishing, how important is it to have an agent?”
That’s a very fair question. With things changing so much in the world of publishing, I think most authors may want to consider that and some related questions: Do you need an agent? If so, why? If not, why not? How will you know if you need an agent? What should an agent do for you? And what will an agent NOT do for you? How do you go about finding an agent? What questions should you ask if you run into one in the wild?
Here are my agenty thoughts…
1. Do you need an agent? That depends. I suppose I’m not an agent evangelist, though most legacy publishers have moved toward relying on agents more and more. If you’re not a proven writer, or if you don’t have a completed novel manuscript, you may not need an agent, since you may not be READY for an agent. If you don’t allow others to critique your work or you can’t take rejection, you definitely don’t need an agent. If you understand and enjoy both negotiations and the inner workings of publishing contracts, you may not need an agent. (I’m not being facetious…some people like that stuff. They’re probably off their medication.) If you’re sure you can write, post, market and sell your works and maximize their value without any experienced help, you might not need an agent. If you feel like you are “losing” fifteen per cent of your writing income, rather than investing it for help with ideas, writing, editing, proposals, negotiations, and ensuring contract compliance, then you aren’t ready for an agent. And, of course, if you feel you can be successful indie publishing and
So we’re spending the month of April doing “Ask the Agent” — your chance as a writer to ask that question you’ve always wanted to know about, if you could only sit down, face-to-face, with a literary agent. A couple days ago, someone sent in this question: “Will an agent help me promote my book — particularly if I’m with a smaller publisher who doesn’t offer much marketing help?”
To me, this one is easy: Any good agent should get involved in your marketing. The fact is, the role of the agent has changed, so I can understand some old-timers arguing that the agent’s job really isn’t to get involved in the nitty-gritty of marketing. But from where I stand, marketing has become one of the most essential things I do with the authors I represent. That can mean:
- Offering marketing training, so that authors understand the big picture of how one goes about marketing a book.
- Helping the author clarify their target audience, their marketing goals, their strengths and weaknesses as a marketer. (Are you good at interviews? Can you do a nice job with short articles? etc)
- Brainstorming various marketing ideas.
- Helping the author choose the actual marketing strategies they want to pursue — AND making sure the author understands what the publisher is doing, so you can fill in the gaps instead of not duplicating efforts.
- Following up with the publisher to make sure they actually DO what they say they’ll do.
- Introducing the author to potential endorsers.
- Making media connections, if appropriate.
- Helping set up a marketing calendar, in order to make sure the author has a written plan.
- Evaluating the choices and effectiveness, and giving the author a sounding board to discuss the entire process, bringing in experiences from other books and authors to speak to the current book.
Okay, that seems like a lot… and it is, which is why I often tell
This month I’m trying to tackle any question a writer has always wanted to ask a literary agent. This came in the other day: “I’d love to hear you talk about how you feel the role of the agent will change as more authors move toward hybrid and indie publishing. I know you encourage authors to go the indie route if traditional slots aren’t open to them, but are publishers just as open to the idea of their authors doings some indie publishing?”
As an agent, my job is to help the careers of the authors I represent. That means to some I’m going to be an editor, to others a career coach, to others a marketing consultant. The core of my job probably happens in handling rights and setting up deals — presenting projects to publishers, negotiating deals, trying to land projects overseas and in other languages, selling dramatic and other rights.
But the role of the agent has changed considerably over the past ten years — from being the conduit between authors and publishers to being the person who should help an author map out a career. To me, that’s the biggest shift in my job. So while the role has always meant “finding and encouraging talent,” a large part of the agent’s job today is making sure the authors I represent know about ALL of their opportunities, not just working with legacy publishers. A good agent should help you do that, and should not be afraid of indie publishing.
So I’d say I don’t simply encourage authors to go indie “if traditional slots aren’t open to them.” The fact is, I think most of the authors I represent need to explore having at least some of their projects be independently published. That’s how they’ll best build a career and make money in today’s publishing economy. It will help them build a readership and generate income. Look, advances
My friend and fellow agent Mary Sue Seymour passed away yesterday, after a long and courageous fight with cancer. I just wanted to mention it because Mary Sue was one of the nice people in this business, with a friendly and gentle spirit — something that maybe doesn’t describe a lot of us in the industry. She was friendly to me, even when I was being viewed as a less-than-likable person by some folks. There’s a story that I’ve long wanted to share…
A few years ago, I used to do a regular post on some of the awful proposals that were sent my way. It was done in the vein of SlushPile Hell, or the late, lamented Miss Snark, with a view toward poking fun, talking about the dopey side of this business, but maybe with a bit of educational content for writers. Still, it was basically a way for me to share funny stuff that I saw and rarely got to talk with anyone about. (I still remember sharing the worst opening line I’ve ever seen in a novel: “Ring! Ring!,” said the telephone. I believe the response I offered on the blog was Barf! Barf!, said the agent.)
Some people got it in the spirit with which it was intended. Others didn’t. I work in both the general market as well as the religious market, and let’s just say some people on the religious side weren’t terribly enthusiastic about my poking fun at their bad proposals. I’ve long felt too many Christians have become humor impaired; trading in their ability to laugh for a serious countenance because, you know, the-world-is-lost-and-people-are-going-to-hell-so-how-can-you-laugh-in-the-face-of-such-despair?!! I thought it was the dumbest argument I’d ever heard, since laughter is one of our most uniquely human traits. Not everyone agreed with me.
I got a bunch of cranky emails. At least one group of writers started coming onto my page regularly, just to complain
People are always curious to know how I became an agent. Did I intern with the agency? Did I apply and get hired? Did I go through a special program? Did Chip owe my dad a favor?
I’ve found there are usually two paths to working in publishing. One involves getting the right internships and then getting hired on afterward. And the other involves just being in the right place at the right time.
For me it all happened at a book signing in 2008. In Fort Wayne, Indiana.
I was working as an admissions counselor at a university at which Chip was a visiting professor. My friend, who happened to be a student there, kept telling me about this big-time agent who was on campus and how I needed to meet him. But despite it being a very small school, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out who he was.
(Now, in retrospect, I had seen him around campus. But with his goatee and pressed dress shirt, I assumed he was the new Pastoral Ministries prof.)
So the only way to be sure to meet him, my friend decided, was to trap him at an author book signing.
At the time, I (ashamedly) didn’t recognize the name of the author holding the book signing (Chip tells me it was Lisa Samson), and I honestly didn’t know very much about Chip or the role of an agent. But I DID know that my friend had told me he was epic. And that he had worked with Britney Spears’s mom. Which, let’s be honest, was enough to get me really wanting this to happen.
I mean, what else could come of it than me being Brit Brit’s bestie?
So, off we went. We walked in to the store; my friend located Chip; and then I took a breath, walked up, and introduced myself.
He said something sarcastic.