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Elidhu
October 25th, 2006, 10:03 AM
Are agents actually useful or do they just take up money? i haven't got one but im thinking of getting one and im not sure whether its worth it. what does everyone else think? And how do you make sure you dont get swindled?

James Barclay
October 25th, 2006, 11:04 AM
A vexed question. A good agent is worth their weight in gold. The easiest way not to get swindled is not to go with an agent that charges up front. Not ever. That way you are asking for trouble. An agent should only take commission from you for work sold to publishers. As for rates of commission, they will vary depending on the territory into which you sell but you're looking at 10-15% for home or world rights, 15-20% for individual foreign rights.

As with all things, do your research. Look at their client list and see what those clients are doing at the moment. You can tell very quickly if an agent is struggling or is doing regular business. But of course, a top agent is hard to get because they typically have full lists.

A good agent can really benefit your career, a bad agent won't neessarily ruin it but they probably won't advance it. My agent not only negotiates deals and the like, complains about marketing and publicity when it's necessary and keeps a weather eye on the industry as a whole, he also works with me on proposals for new projects. We discuss character, plot and themes as well as market potential before making representations to my publisher.

This has developed over time. If you get an agent, use them. You're paying them after all. Don't just expect them to call and tell you how much money they've made for you. Teamwork is vital and rewarding. An agent is no more proactive than anyone else. If you're in their ear just enough, you'll get the best from them. Leave them alone and they'll work for those who do get in their ear. But it isn't just about calling and saying 'what are you doing?' call and go through ideas, come up with opportunities yourself. Investigate with your agent, all that is, or could be, open to you.

Blimey, quite a post after all that. What I'm saying is. Be careful about choosing your agent. No agent can be better than a poor one. Never pay up front. Never. And when you do sign with an agent, remember the relationship is what you make it.

NOM

BrianC
October 25th, 2006, 12:29 PM
Now that NOM has given you the cautionary tale, you might want to check out this website: Agent Query (http://www.agentquery.com). You will want to make sure, however, of one very important thing. The Association of Authors' Representatives is a professional advocacy group for literary agents and it imposes on its members a Canon of Ethics (http://www.aar-online.org/mc/page.do?sitePageId=10337). A reputable agent will either be a member of the AAR or, if not (and not all good agents are), will voluntarily commit to following the AAR Canons. You should think really hard before signing with any agent that is unwilling to do either of these things.

Ranke Lidyek
October 31st, 2006, 09:22 AM
Agentquery is a GREAT resource for (hopefully) reputable agents. That said, agents are often more difficult to attain than requests for your novel from editors. I recommend you edit your book and NAIL the opening. Make the opening demand attention. Then send to publishing company editors. Even through the slush pile, they'll take a look. Make a short, cursory query and send the first bit of your novel (or the whole manuscript).
A bad agent is worse than none at all.
When you have an editor request the novel or show interest, THEN write reputable agents telling them who requested the novel and if they'd like to submit in your name, etc.
Luck!

johnkarr
November 30th, 2006, 08:58 AM
Good advice, but that does all the legwork for the agent. You do all the querying, the waiting (while writing something else, of course), lightning strikes and you get an offer, then hand it to the agent on the silver platter? Doesn't seem right, particularly for what -- a $5 - 10,000 advance?

Might want to try agents first then the pubs. Anything to dangle your work above the slush is favorable.

If you get an offer, maybe could approach the agents for the subsequent action. But then they might wait out the sales figures before comitting.

So many doors are closed to non-agented subs, but there are still a few, particularly with sci fi / fantasy.

KatG
November 30th, 2006, 12:17 PM
Brian -- AAR is the American organization and while some British agents belong to it, etc., if you aren't in the U.S., you will want to check out whatever official agents organizations exist for your particular country.

Ranke -- There is going to come a point where none or almost none of the major sff publishers will take unagented submissions, I suspect. There are small presses to take up the slack now, but the bulk of the sff market is still large, national presses. Since a lot of agents who previously had little interest in sff are now more willing to consider such fiction, chasing after an agent isn't a bad idea. Especially since it can take a publisher over a year to get through their slush pile, and more to the point, because the main job of an agent is to protect the author in dealings with publishers.

That being said, I agree that a bad agent can do a lot of damage, and even reputable firms can make bad decisions, if authors let themselves get pushed around. There are resources to help you spot con-artists posing as agents -- publishing is a small industry and word always gets around. Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), for instance, keeps a running log of suspicious agents. Learning more about what agents do can then help you in dealing with one if you get an offer of representation.

JohnKarr -- That's because you're assuming that all an agent does is sell the book. NOM and other published authors can tell you that's not the case. Agents are sales reps for both book and subsidiary rights, contract negotiators, legal resources, business managers, bill collectors, advocates with publishers, and sometimes editors and promotion consultants. Agents are not just looking to make a quick commission on a $2,500 starter advance. They don't earn their pay from high volumn turnover. Instead, they're hoping to build up their clients' careers so that they become power-earning franchises. Which is why they're so damned choosy about who they're taking on as a client.

If you're going to the smaller presses, then they are used to dealing with no-agent clients, and quite often can offer no advances against royalties. Agents are less interested in these markets, because the deals are very small, though they will sell to them if the larger presses aren't biting, and often have good relationships with the small presses. If you do a deal with a small press and no agent, it might be worth it to pay the fee of a literary rights lawyer to peruse the contract, because small presses -- and large ones as well -- have been known to take advantage of authors who don't really understand the terms of the contract they are signing or what they need to make sure is in the contract for their benefit.

You can certainly submit unrepped material to a large publisher and then go looking for an agent at the same time. Since you're likely to hear from the agent before the publisher, you might have an agent on hand when a publisher does come to you with an offer. Having an agent then often means the offer has to be increased if the publisher wants to keep the book, or that other important deal terms can be made more favorable to you.

If you come to an agent with an offer from a publisher, the agent might actually not take you on. Only if the agent is interested in your work as a long-term prospect will they probably agree to rep you. If you come to an agent having already accepted a publisher's offer, the agent may take you on if they think you have a future, but you've effectively tied and bound the agent's hands for helping you improve the sale terms for that book.

johnkarr
November 30th, 2006, 01:05 PM
B

JohnKarr -- That's because you're assuming that all an agent does is sell the book.

Actually, I didn't assume that at all. I'm aware of the ancillary benefits of an agent, but to just hand a sale over after doing all the leg work seems a little strange to me. I've read examples of published writers who've handled all the aforementioned.

The problem I'm personally having is finding the long term, multi-genre agent in for the long haul. I'm repped by a new agent for a medical thriller, and she has succeeded in getting my material in front of editors that would have been unapproachable by an unrepped unknown like myself.

But she isn't interested in fantasy, which is one of the works I'm now trying to get repped. Granted, she's new, and may change her mind if we score, but I can't really wait around for it to happen.

Nothing would please this writer more than to find that one outlet for all works produced, believe me.

KatG
December 1st, 2006, 11:48 AM
Actually, I didn't assume that at all. I'm aware of the ancillary benefits of an agent, but to just hand a sale over after doing all the leg work seems a little strange to me. I've read examples of published writers who've handled all the aforementioned.

Sorry, my assumption. But there's a lot more to making a sale than the hammering on doors. An agent can improve the terms of sale, and in some ways more importantly, improve the terms of a contract. Agents have precedents with publishers -- terms that the publisher gave them for a previous client they acquired. The publisher then has to give the same terms to the agent's other clients. Agents are also usually more knowledgable about what needs to be in the contract to protect the author than the average author. And in some cases, if you bring an agent an offer from a publisher, the agent can then go get other publishers involved, and you might end up with competing bids, rather than just the one sale. Or having an agent can mean that you keep more subsidiary rights to sell yourself, rather than having to turn them over to the publisher to sell and split the monies, and the agent can then handle those subsidiary sales for you, rather than you having to do the legwork on those sales too.

An author can certainly represent himself and this does often happen, but an agent has advantages and leverage from having a stable of authors that a lone author dealing with a publisher doesn't, and usually more knowledge of what is going on in the industry.


The problem I'm personally having is finding the long term, multi-genre agent in for the long haul. I'm repped by a new agent for a medical thriller, and she has succeeded in getting my material in front of editors that would have been unapproachable by an unrepped unknown like myself.

But she isn't interested in fantasy, which is one of the works I'm now trying to get repped. Granted, she's new, and may change her mind if we score, but I can't really wait around for it to happen. Nothing would please this writer more than to find that one outlet for all works produced, believe me.

Yep, that's always been the dilemma. SFF is a specialty that was only serviced by a few agents -- the market was pretty small. Now the market is much bigger, so more agents are interested in it, but a lot of agents are totally unfamiliar with sff and not into it, so they don't rep it. Agents rep stuff that they like and believe in. That's how they're able to sell the projects. Plus, sff still has only a very limited number of outlets for publishing, compared to thrillers and other types of fiction.

There are agents who handle multiple types of fiction, so that's a possibility, but if this agent is working for you, it might be easier to just talk her into handling your fantasy. Publishers are always pretty open to dealing with new agents.