Category : Agents

  • October 2, 2012

    Why does an agent accept or reject an author?


    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

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  • February 22, 2012

    "I'm trying to figure out how to work with an agent…"


    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

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  • February 21, 2012

    Does a beginning writer need an agent?


    Amy wrote to ask, "In your opinion, does a beginning writer need an agent?"

    It depends on the writer. There are some authors who are well connected in the industry, don't mind dealing with contracts and negotiations, understand career direction, and can survive without an agent. But in my view, it's rare to do those things well while maintaining a writing career. I used to tell people that I'm not an evangelist for agents, and over the past 15 years or so I've tried to maintain a balance — I haven't always believed that every writer needs an agent in order to succeed.  But I'm now changing my tune. Most publishers require you to have an agent or they won't look at your material. Things have changed significantly in the past few years,  so that publishers are  moving toward relying on agents to be the first line, reviewing proposals and weeding out the chaff. Working with an agent professionalizes the relationship — an agent is not as emotionally tied to a work as an author, so he or she can be more dispassionate about discussing a project, and the agent is going to be more familiar with the business of contracts, so ostensibly things will move along better for both sides. I recognize that some have said the future is in self-publishing, so that means authors won't need agents. I think that's completely wrong-headed. If you're going to be responsible for your book, you should think about working with someone who knows what they're doing and can help you. Think of the way realtors have changed the home buying market: You can still sell your home by owner, but it's gotten considerably more complex to do so. You've got to know the market, understand how to show your home, know how to get the word out, feel comfortable negotiating a price, and perhaps most importantly, understand how to fill out the

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  • February 20, 2012

    How long should I wait before checking back with an agent?


    Clarice wrote to ask, "When is it appropriate to inquire on the status of a submission to an editor or agent? I sent something in to an agent four months ago, but have yet to hear."

    Keep in mind that every agent has his or her own system. I try to get to submissions once a week, but sometimes I go three or four weeks between looking. And that's just for a quick look — if I like something, I have to read it through, and that means I could have it for a month or two before I can give the author a firm response. In my experience, most agents would like to have two or three months to consider a proposal before they render a "yes" or "no." During busy times (like Christmas, summer vacation, and stints at rehab), it may take longer. So if you sent a project to an agent four months ago, and she hasn't responded to you, it might be very appropriate just to drop a friendly note — something like, "Hello, I'm just checking back with you on that proposal I sent you a few months back. I was wondering if you've had a chance to look it over yet. I know you're busy, so thanks very much for giving it your consideration."

    On a related note, Hank wrote to complain that an agent hadn't responded to his proposal in a year… but when I checked with Hank, he noted that he'd never met the agent, nor had he queried via email or letter. In other words, he had just sent in a proposal cold. And that leads me to ask,"Where is it written that an agent must respond to you just because you wrote to him or her?"

    Answer: It isn't. An agent isn't obligated to respond to everyone who writes him or her. I've got a

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  • February 15, 2012

    How do I get an agent?


    Elizabeth wrote to ask, "Can you tell me the basics of how to get an agent, when to get an agent, and how the agent relationship works?"

    I have responded to this basic question in the past, so let me repeat some of my old ideas…

    First, remember I’m a literary agent, so I'm either "experienced" or "biased," depending on your position. I’ve been in the publishing business for more than 20 years, full time as an agent for the last 14 or so. I made my living as an author and, later, as an editor before I fell away from the Lord and became an agent. I was with one of the top literary agencies in the business for many years, and now I’m out on my own – so I admittedly have my own perspective. Second, I’m pretty successful at what I do, in a business where some people call themselves “agents” but don’t seem to know what they’re doing (and, consequently, don’t last very long), I’m fairly well known in the industry and, by and large, have developed a pretty good reputation (more evidence for the existence of God). Feel free to ask around and see what others say. Third, most people who know me will tell you that I’m not an agent evangelist. I happen to know there are some very good things a literary agent can do for you (no matter what Jon Konrath says), but I’ll be the first one to tell you that not everybody needs an agent. And I’m fairly safe in talking about this because I’ve been saying the same stuff for years.  So I’m going to give you my opinion…

    When NOT to get an agent:

    -When you're not a proven writer. Generally, publishers are looking for great ideas, expressed through great writing, and offered by a person with a great platform. Sometimes they get all three, usually they settle

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  • February 14, 2012

    Are writing contests a good idea? (and other interesting stuff)


    Tiffany wrote to ask, "What do you think of writing contests? Are they a good idea for beginning novelists?"

    Sure. Contests are a good way for beginning writers to get into the swing of writing. It means you have to write and polish, you've got to meet a deadline, and you are going to allow somebody else to evaluate your work. All of those are good steps. And there are a ton of contests that are good — the Genesis contest, the Writer's Digest Writing Competition, the James Jones First Novel contest. Many universities, magazines, and conferences have their own contests as well — check the most recent edition of Writer's Market or one of the various Writer's Market Guides for up-to-date information. Contests are a great way to gain some needed experience.

    Keep in mind that a contest isn't generally a judge of actual talent — it's a competition between the writers who have chosen to participate. So if a bunch of weak writers all send in their manuscripts, then the winner might not be all that spectacular. But it doesn't hurt to tell a prospective agent or editor that you won a "New Writers Award" or the "Short Prose Competition." Publishers love seeing their authors win awards.

    Holly wrote to say, "I have a non-fiction book contract and an agent who only represents non-fiction. Since I also want to write fiction, do I need another agent? Is there a way to leverage my current situation to increase my odds of getting a good publisher for my novel?"

    Some agents only represent non-fiction projects (and some only fiction projects, or children's projects, or whatever). So yes, the possibility exists that you may need a different agent for your novel. If you're happy with your NF agent and getting good service from him or her, then I'd simply approach the agent and say, "I'm planning to write a

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  • February 13, 2012

    How do I approach a literary agent?


    Diane wrote to ask, "When is the best time to approach an agent? What do I need to have ready in order to talk with him or her?"

    The best time is probably 11 in the morning. The hangover is gone, but the agent has yet to move toward that three-martini lunch. And what to have ready? Well, you ought to have a book proposal that is completely ready. That means you've got a good description of your book: an overview, the features, the details about word count and genre, and your overall focus. You also need to include information about the market: the audience, the need, and comparable titles. And you'll need to have a complete bio, not just something you dashed off in five minutes. You want to reveal who you are and what you bring to the table — your past publishing credits, sales history, media exposure, online traffic, and speaking schedule (where, to whom, on what topics, when, and how often). Hopefully your proposal will tell me something about marketing: what you plan to do in order to support the work, who is endorsing it, what you've done in the past that has worked. There will be a Table of Contents that explains to me the scope and sequence of your book (what you cover, and in what order), and above all there will be some sample chapters that are DONE — written, edited, and polished. If you're authoring a novel, you'll send me a great synopsis that reads like a well-done short story, and you'll tell me that your novel is complete, so I can read the whole thing, should I desire to do so. If you've got a great book package to present, you're probably ready to talk with an agent.

    Be aware that most people I talk to at writing conferences aren't there yet. They might have a good book idea, but it's

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  • February 7, 2012

    What do you need to know about literary agents?


    Donna wrote to say, "I heard an agent speak at our writing group. He sounded interesting, so I went to his website, which is interesting but I wasn't sure I could trust it. You have to contract with them for a year and pay an up-front fee of $195, though it's not clear if that is per project for for all your works. Is that the usual course?"

    Yikes. Several thoughts come to mind… First, don't go to any agent that asks for an up-front fee. That screams rip-off. I don't know of any credible literary agent who asks you to send him or her a check right off the bat. You can't be a member of AAR by charging fees, and you'll get listed in "Predators and Editors" if you do. Stay away from fee-based agents. (And if you're interested in this topic, I highly recommend the book Ten Percent of Nothing, which offers a fine expose' of scam agents.) Second, you don't want to sign up with an agent you know nothing about. Websites are marketing tools, and some of them over-promise when in reality the agent will under-deliver. I can claim anything I want on my website (that I'm the best agent in history, that I'll make you a million dollars, that I look exactly like Brad Pitt), but if we don't know each other, and if we've never met, HOW IN THE WORLD DO YOU KNOW WHAT TO BELIEVE? Be cautious over sites that over-promise. (For the record, I look exactly like Brad Pitt. Especially if you stand far away. And squint. And are blind.) Third, be wary of agents trolling for business by sending you advertisements. It's one thing to meet someone at a conference, or to begin a dialogue over a submission you've sent in — most of the authors we represent we met somewhere and had a discussion with, or they were introduced to us by

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  • February 3, 2012

    What you've always wanted to ask the Agent


    I've been receiving a number of questions about authors and agents, so I wanted to take a few weeks to explore agenting. Glenna 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 fall 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 retelling of the Book of Revelation, or warns me that I'll go to hell if I dont immediately read and get excited about the idea. Just so you know.)

    This question came from Janet: "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

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  • January 31, 2012

    Questions to ask an Agent


    Bobbi wrote to say, "You've mentioned several times that an author should ask a prospective agent some questions in order to get to know him (or her). I'm going to a conference in a couple months — what sort of questions should I ask?"

    I've talked about his question a couple of times, Bobbi. Here are some thoughts to get you started…

    -How long have you been doing this?

    -How many contracts have you negotiated for authors?

    -Who do you represent?

    -What publishing houses have you worked with in the past year?

    -Which editorial personnel have you done deals with?

    -How many deals have you done in the past year? 

    -What sort of authors and projects do you represent?

    -What do you like to read? (Ask for titles!)

    -Can you give me a book title you sold that you loved?

    -Can you give me a book idea you sold that you loved?

    -Do you offer editorial input to authors? 

    -How often will we be in touch? 

    -What would you say are your best skills?

    -What's unique about your agency?

    -What percentage do you earn on a book deal?

    -Are there any hidden fees or charges? Any up-front costs?

    -Do you charge back all your expenses?

    -How do you handle legal or accounting issues?

    -In what ways do you get involved in marketing?

    -Have you ever worked in publishing or done any editing or writing?

    -How do you approach career planning?

    -Do you work by yourself?

    -Are you full time?

    -Are you a member of AAR?

    -How long have you been in business? 

    -How many people work at your agency?

    -How many books do you sell in a year?

    -Will you be handling my work, or will someone else? 

    -What are your expectations of me as a client?

    That will get you started. Again, I think an author needs to consider what he or she needs from an agent before interviewing

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