Chip MacGregor

May 21, 2015

Ask the Agent: What's the protocol with agents?


A bunch of questions recently about author/agent protocol…

Chip, could you talk about writers who change agents? Many of them seem to think that when they break the relationship, the agent no longer receives royalties on books they brokered.

Well, they would be mistaken. Your agency is on the contracts for the books they represented. That’s a legal document, that will guide the book for as long as the contract is in force. If you fire the agent, the contract is still in force, so the agent is still paid a commission.

This question also gets raised when an agent leaves an agency. When I left Alive after all those years, I didn’t get to take the commissions with me – the agency was on the contract, and I was no longer with the agency, so I didn’t get one penny to take with me. (I’m not complaining, by the way. Just explaining the situation.)


Following a writer’s conference, I sent out proposals to agents as requested. Since I don’t quite trust technology, I followed up the next day with an e-mail asking if my proposals arrived. Most agents/editors responded with a quick “Got it,” and some added a note about when I could expect a response. But one went on to say he didn’t have time to respond to every query that comes in, etc., and he made me feel I was out of order to have checked. Was I?

I doubt you were out of order. If you sent it, I think it’s fine to check on it. Just be polite about it. And it’s possible you’re reading too much into the response – some agents automatically tell anyone sending them a submission that they just can’t respond to everything. I can’t. I mean, I’d love to, but look at this from my perspective – I’m an agent, who makes his living selling books to publishers. If I don’t know you, there’s no law that says your sending me a proposal automatically requires a response. What if you send me something I don’t represent? What if you send me something that’s awful? I don’t feel guilty about not responding to cold queries, since I could spend hours every week on them, and they rarely Questions Book Covergenerate income for me. So maybe the agent was just saying, “I’ll have a look, but I may or may not respond.” Or he could have been saying, “It takes me a while to read stuff, so don’t be in a hurry.” That, to me, seems reasonable.


If and agent’s guidelines do not specify that proposals be sent as attachments or within the e-mail, how should they be sent?

Nearly everyone wants proposals sent as Word documents, attached to emails.


The manuscript that I have completed is likely not as marketable as some of my other ideas.  Do you ever recommend someone pitching several ideas to agents at a conference? This would allow the agent to see there is potential for more than one book and to pick the one that is most marketable.

Generally, no. I would probably advise you to pick ONE idea, your strongest, most salable idea, and pitch it to an agent. You can mention the other ideas at some point, but normally you want to lead with one great book.

Look at it this way: What’s easier to sell — a car, or a fleet of cars? Having one great project will push you forward faster than having six pretty good ideas.

Hey, do you have a question you’ve always wanted to ask a literary agent? Here’s your chance — send us your question, and we’ll take a crack at an answer. And if you’re interested in questions and answers with agents, you might enjoy my new book — How can I find a literary agent? (and 101 other questions asked by writers)

Share :

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.