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Category : Agents
Someone wrote to ask this: “I read that new authors should not bother submitting to agents. One famous author’s blog claims that a beginning writer doesn’t really want an agent, since most (if not all) of the money paid on a book will go to the agent. Would you say that is true or false?”
False. Unquestionably false. Most new authors don’t have the experience or the relationships to get their work in front of editors, so they have a hard time selling their words. Most will find that a good agent will help you get your work ready to show, then get it in front of the right people (and if it doesn’t sell, offer advice on how to self-publish it successfully). And an agent is going to be paid 15% of the deal — the other 85% is going to be paid to the author. That should always be true. I’m thinking you might have misunderstood what that famous author was saying on his or her blog.
One note: There are some fake “book doctors/agents” who charge fees to offer editorial assistance, ask for a check to have a career planning meeting, even charge something extra to take your proposal out to publishers. (I know of one author who spent $35,000 for this sort of “help.”) If the agent is charging you fees, chances are it’s a scam. Walk away.
Someone else asked, “Are agents willing to look at manuscripts if they come recommended by authors they already represent?”
Almost every agent is willing to look at the manuscripts that come recommended by current clients. Just make sure the established author has really read your work and is willing to say, “I genuinely think this new writer has talent.” All of us get some projects sent to us from people who are owed a favor. And I’m always ready to look at friends of my current
Someone asked, “If a writer were to get a publishing deal, could they hire you to look over the contract and pay you a one-time fee? Or is it worth it to hire an agent when you’ve already got a contract offer?”
I don’t normally do much “review for fee” work. It’s not beneficial to my business in the long-term, so the few times I’ve done it is because a friend has asked, and I’ve looked it over to make sure they were protected. I guess I’d be cautious about this — I’m not going to be dogmatic about the issue, but it seems like a literary agent who is spending his time offering contract reviews is really not all that busy with actual book deals, so maybe he isn’t such a great agent. If you’ve got, say, an offer for a $10,000 advance, the agent is going to take $1500 of it. Make sure what you’re getting is worth that type of money.
If an author has a contract in hand, there are contract review companies that will read and respond to your contract wording for a basic fee (usually somewhere in the $300-to-$700 range). There are also some good, long-time industry professionals who offer this service on a very low-key basis, charging authors a couple hundred bucks. Perhaps they aren’t as thorough as a good literary agent, and they won’t offer any long-term advice, but they may very well offer you what you need.
If you’ve got a big deal in hand, you can talk with an entertainment lawyer, but realize the clock will be ticking. And most lawyers are paid for the increments of time spent on reviewing a contract, so they have a built-in motivation to keep the clock moving. If you’re going to see a lawyer, try to get a fee negotiated up front. I know of two cases where the author spent more on
Continuing with questions people have about agents, someone wrote to say this: “I received different advice about my manuscript from my agent than I received from an editing service I hired. What’s the best approach to take when you get different advice from trusted sources?”
Here at MacGregor Literary, we always rely on divine guidance. I toss the Urim and Thummim, read sheep entrails, and — Voila! God reveals the answer. So I’m never wrong. However, for those not as spiritual as me, you might want to assume that even good people can disagree. I mean, there’s no one right way to write a book. So take the time to think things over, and move ahead slowly with the decision that feels right.
You know, many agent have editorial experience, and are good at talking through your ideas. Other agents may not have a lot of editorial experience, so the advice they’re giving you may be just to try and sound smart. What’s your experience with the agent? In the same way, in-house editors have the best interests of the publisher at heart. (That’s not a criticism, by the way. I’m just saying they’ll want to make your book fit their line.) Or, if it’s a freelancer, he or she may have a particular way they like to spin a manuscript. And it’s no secret that some editorial services are using unpublished authors at editors, who may not really have the experience or wisdom needed to assist you. So ask some questions. If you’re going to work with your agent long-term, talk it through with him or her. Make sure you understand what the different sources are saying. And remember this bit of Scottish wisdom: “Good is always better than fast.” Don’t be in a hurry to get something decided.
Another author wrote to say, “I terminated my agent’s contract after he apologized for being hard to reach and told
I’ve had several questions about literary agents recently, including…
Some wrote and asked, “I just waited four-and-a-half months for an agent to give me a response to my proposal. Why does this take so long?”
Well, any good agent is busy, so it takes a while to sort through the ever-increasing stack of ideas. We used to get in between 200 and 400 proposals each month, many of them from people I’d never heard of or had any contact with. Many of those we simply delete, since it’s not my job (nor do I feel a moral obligation) to personally coach every wannabe author. The ones with promise we’d review. But there’s no guarantee that I’ll respond to a cold submission. So let’s be clear about one thing: If you just send in a blind query, to an agent you’ve never met nor talked to, you may never hear from that agent. I don’t respond to most unsolicited queries. I have someone look at all of them, and if something strikes us as interesting we might ask for more information, but I don’t have the time or inclination to respond to everyone who wants to write me. On the other hand, I do respond to all projects I ask to see, and try to get back in a couple months.
I’d say the normal response time for most agents is usually in the 6 to 8 week range, and I think it’s fair to say at some times of the year we get busy, and it takes us longer. But it’s not that we’re trying to take a long time — I’ve got people I already represent who need me, and that’s the first priority for any agent. I state clearly on my website that I don’t have the staff required to manage every unsolicited request, since the bulk of my time goes toward my current authors, but I understand
Someone wrote to say, “Authors spend big bucks to attend writers’ conferences and meet agents. Are most agents checked out and invited to participate because they have good reputations?”
I think every conference director wants to offer the best faculty possible. None of them are going to bring in an agent who is a known scam artist. Everybody wants to bring in quality faculty, and a writing conference is generally a good place to meet agents. (In fact, it’s often one of the few places left where you can be face-to-face with literary agents.)
That said, I’ve been on the faculty at more than 100 writing conferences, and on occasion I’ve certainly shared the stage with some agents who don’t know what they’re doing. (And in re-reading that, yes, I realize I sound like an arrogant putz. Sorry.) If you’re going to a conference and planning to meet agents, check them out. Look at their websites, check Preditors & Editors and Writer Beware, talk to editors and authors at the conference. Most importantly, ask questions of the agent. Who do they represent, what types of books have they placed, who have they done deals with, how many deals have they done recently, how long have they been in business, do they charge fees,what is their policy on collecting and distributing funds, what commissions do they earn, etc. (If you look through my previous “agents” posts, you’ll find a number of questions to ask.) Just because a guy shows up at investment seminar doesn’t make him a millionaire, and just because a guy shows up wearing an “agent” badge at a conference doesn’t make him a legitimate agent.
You can still meet good agents at a writing conference, but you need to do your homework to make sure you meet someone who is a potential fit for you and your work.
And someone asked, “If I meet an agent, is it
Several questions have come in lately regarding relationships with agents…
One person asked, “Is it okay to take a proposal that you previously submitted to an agent, rework it to resolve the problems, then resubmit to them, explaining that you took their advice to heart and made the changes they suggested?
It depends on the agent and the situation. Here’s how I approach it… If I see potential in your writing, but I’m not crazy about the particular proposal I’m looking at, I may say to you, “This has potential, but it also has problems. Here’s what I’d suggest you do in order to improve it. Try this, this, and this. Then you’re welcome to send it back to me for another look.” I don’t do that often, but occasionally I’ll see talent in a writer and that causes me to want to work with them a bit more. Other times I’ll just say to an author, “You have talent, but this story isn’t working. Why don’t you write something else, then resubmit.” (I do this even less frequently.) If an agent invites an author to resubmit, that means the agent sees something they like in the author’s work — so by all means follow up, do the reshaping, and resubmit.
The same person wrote this: “I had an agent send me a letter, but he didn’t really decline my project. He just said it’s not a fit for his agency. What does that mean? Should I reshape it and try again?”
It means he’s declining the chance to represent you. I receive hundreds of proposals. Sometimes it’s clear the author just isn’t ready. The writing is weak or the story is bad. In those cases, I just decline. I’ll usually say we’re declining without giving a reason. Why? Because it’s not my job to fix all the bad writers in the world. Unless they’re paying me to do an
While on an agent’s panel at ACFW in September, I sat next to Lee Hough, one of the smartest and hardest working agents in the business. While we all fielded the typical questions we get as panelists, someone asked a question about the current state of affairs in publishing, and how agents are faring.
I tend to take a positive, entrepreneurial, and philosophical approach when answering questions about the challenges of publishing.
Lee, however, hit the mark when he said “It’s like the wild, wild west out there right now.” His summation about the new landscape of publishing has really stuck with me. In fact, it’s a new constant on the landscape of my daily work life these days — right alongside MacGregor Literary’s long-standing company philosophy that “good is always better than fast.”
As positive as I try to remain, I’ll admit, it’s felt exceptionally difficult to place books and find homes for authors these past few months. Even with the successes I’ve enjoyed this year in spite of it all, it feels like I’m on more uneven ground than ever. And I know agents aren’t the only ones who feel this way.
Marketers are constantly scrambling to orient themselves to what it takes to get readers to buy in a noisy online environment. Sales teams are faced with succeeding in spite of the literal crumbling of their brick & mortar customer base. Publicists are being asked to do more with less. Editors are overworked. Authors are no longer just invited by publishers to help market their books, but are expected to do so. In fact more and more, the strength of an author’s proposal is weighed as much for the type and number of readers they bring to the table as it is for the quality of their writing. Maybe more.
Top that off with the consideration that authors are not only competing with other authors for
I’ve just returned from our annual MacGregor Market Seminar (we host a free gathering each year for the authors we represent, just to talk about how they can effectively market their books), and while I was gone I received a bunch of questions regarding agents. My guess is that one of the Pied Pipers Of Publishing Wisdom has once again declared that agents are unnecessary and agenting is dead. So… 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 some agenty thoughts…
1. Do you need an agent? That depends. I suppose I’m not an evangelist for agents, though most 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. Finally, 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. But if you plan to take the business of writing book seriously,
A prospective author wrote me a note and asked, “What is the main reason you choose to accept or reject an author?”
An interesting question. The “rejection” part is easy: Most of the people whose projects I reject are NOT turned down because I don’t like them, or because they’re unknowns, or even because I dislike their ideas. Most authors are turned down because they can’t write. Simple as that. Not all, of course. I just saw a very good nonfiction idea, but I’m already trying to sell a similar project and felt it would be unfair to take on something so similar. And with the advent of so many good writing resources, I’m often seeing novels that are well-done, but not of the knock-my-socks-off quality. So a bunch of things I see aren’t bad, but they aren’t great. Or they are 70% done, and they need to be 100% done. I’d say under-writing and under-finishing and under-editing are the reasons so many projects with some merit don’t get picked up. The author gets started, but can’t get finished — or perhaps he or she doesn’t know now to finish. That’s why having a critique group or writing partner can help offer you perspective on your work. Another set of eyes can really make a difference on a manuscript.
Still, I do get sent some really crummy stuff. Bad ideas. Projects where the author doesn’t speak English. Proposals written in crayon (presumably because the wardens won’t let them play with anything sharp). I hesitate sharing some of them, since I’m always afraid I’m going to really tick off someone who sent me an idea they thought was brilliant, and I found laugh-out-loud bad. But…
A while back I got in a proposal for a book called “How to Make Out With Chicks.” The author was apparently thirteen, or at least stopped growing emotionally and intellectually at thirteen. (From the tenor
Rita wrote to say, "I've been offered a contract on my novel. Since I don't have an agent, should I seek one at this point? And if the agent accepts, should he or she still receive 15% of the deal, even if they didn't market my book or secure the deal for me? Would it be better to have the agent simply review the contract for a fee?"
There's quite a debate about this issue. I suppose many agents would say, "Sure — call me!" They'd be happy to get 15% for a deal they've done no work on. But my advice would be to think long term. Is there an agent you like and trust — someone you want to work with in the long term? If so, call him or her. Talk about the situation. They may be willing to take less in order to work with you. They may review the contract for a fee. If, for example, you've got a $10,000 advance coming, make sure it's worth the $1500 to have the agent assist with this contract. (It may be worth it — a complex situation, or a novel that is going to be made into a movie, or a potential bestseller probably call for a good agent to get involved). That said, it doesn't really seem fair to me to take the full comission for a book I didn't sell, though not everyone in the industry agrees with me. You can always talk with a contract-review specialist, who will review your contract for a flat fee (usually somewhere in the $300 range). You can also talk with an intellectual property rights attorney, but be careful — they're generally paid by the increment (anywhere from a six-minute to a 15-minute increment), and their goal is to keep the clock moving. The longer it takes them, the more they are paid. I know of at least one