Category : Agents

  • June 9, 2013

    Why would I need an agent in CBA?


    In light of the last couple posts, some wrote this: “For the uneducated among us, what exactly does a literary agent do in CBA, and why is one even necessary in Christian publishing?”

    A good literary agent will help an author focus an idea, respond to the writing, perhaps offer thoughts to give shape to the manuscript, assist in the creation of a strong proposal, know who will be interested in the project, have the relationships to get it in front of publishing decision-makers, solicit offers, walk the author through the decision-making process, negotiate the deal, and ensure contract compliance. Depending on the relationship the author and agent have, the literary agent may very well serve as encourager, timekeeper, counselor, career guidance officer, and sounding board to the author. Or the agent may serve as a business manager, helping the author map out the details of making a life in the arts.

    Why is an agent necessary? Because most authors don’t necessarily know how to do all of those things, and need a specialist to assist them. And because a good agent brings access through his or her relationships in the industry. AND because publishers long ago realized the value of agents, and generally won’t look at unsolicited manuscripts, but ask that all proposals come through a legitimate agent. Think about selling your home — you can do it on your own (my wife and I have sold houses “by owner”), but it ain’t easy. You’ve got to educate yourself in order to make sure it’s all legal and that the deal is done appropriately and fairly. And if you own an expensive home, it’s awfully tough to sell it yourself — buyers want the professionalism that comes from having the assistance of a good realtor overseeing the sale. Similarly, when you sign a book contract, you’re agreeing to a series of legal clauses that will govern your book for

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  • May 17, 2013

    When does an author need an agent?


    Someone sent this to me: “To get a book published, do I need an agent or do any publishers still take authors without agents? If I feel like I need an agent, don’t I need to have a publishing record to catch an agent’s attention? What I’m really asking, I guess, is when does an author NEED an agent and when does an author NOT need an agent?”

    WARNING: This answer is coming from an agent. Discount all numbers by half and throw out the rest. He is totally biased and opinionated. And make sure you’ve got your pipe and slippers, ‘cause this guy goes on and on and on…

    I’m a literary agent. I’ve been in the publishing business in one role or another for decades now, a full time agent for the last 15, and started my own agency about seven years ago. I made my living as an author and, later, as an editor and publisher before I fell away from the Lord and became an agent. I’m pretty successful at what I do, in a business where many people call themselves “agent” but don’t 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 for the business (more evidence of the mercy of God, no doubt). Feel free to ask around and see what others say. Most people who know me will tell you that I’m not an “agent evangelist.” I’ll be the first one to tell you that not everybody needs an agent. And I’m fairly safe in talking about this stuff because I’m fairly full-up with clients. That is, I’m not looking to add a bunch of authors (however, if James Patterson is reading this, FEEL FREE TO CALL). With that said, I’m going to give this one man’s opinion…

    Agents are more important than ever


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  • May 1, 2013

    What if I'm not happy with my agent?


    Someone wrote to say, “I’ve been thinking of changing agents. I’m not convinced my current agent is a good match for me. What wisdom would you have for me?”

    I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’ve occasionally had authors approach me to talk about the possibility of dropping their agent. It usually goes something like, “I’m just not happy with my current agent, and I’m thinking of switching…”

    For a long time I struggled with how best to respond to those words. I have a policy against actively poaching other authors, but I have a business to run, so it’s not like I can refuse to answer the phone when a good author calls me to talk about his or her situation. However, I’ve learned to always start the conversation with the same sentence: “Have you talked this through with your current agent?” I mean, it would seem like a reasonable expectation that an author who is unhappy would go to his or her agent, express the dissatisfaction, and try to seek some sort of resolution. If there’s a communication problem, or some unanswered question, it seems like two people who have invested in each other would talk it out. (In other words, we’d all act like adults.) 

    “Lack of communication” is the #1 problem between authors and agents. So having regular communication can alleviate a lot of the problem. But that doesn’t always happen, especially when there’s some disappointment in the job being done. People seem afraid of conflict, and would often prefer to flee the situation than to have a potentially difficult discussion. I can understand that reasoning, but I can’t really respect it. You see, the majority of people will claim they’re leaving an agent because there’s some sort of problem with the work being done. But my experience has taught me the real reason most authors leave an agent is because “the agent hasn’t

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  • April 26, 2013

    What's the role of an agent in today's changing publishing world?


    Someone sent me this question: “What role do agents have in today’s changing market? And I know you do a lot of work in the religious publishing scene — do agents work in that area as well?”

    Yes, I do a lot of work in the Christian market. Not exclusively — I work in both the general market as well as the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association). So yes, there are agents who both areas, though not many. The role of agents is changing, just as the role of publisher is changing. Most publishers, including most religious publishers, simply do the bulk of their business through agents. That is to say, most books are represented by a literary agent. Publishing houses rely on agents to do the initial weeding, so that the proposals being considered by acquisitions editors have already been vetted in some way. That’s a change that has come over the past ten or fifteen years — the dross has already been skimmed away. Publishers also expect agents to know contracts, to help make sure the author makes his or her deadline, and to keep the author on track with all the pieces that come with creating a book. 

    Authors should expect agents to know the bookselling market and have the relationships in place to get a proposal seen by the right people at publishing houses – something many beginning writers lack. Every author expects his or her agent to understand (and explain) publishing contracts, so the agent can protect you from making a bad decision – an important but often overlooked point, since the document you sign is a legal agreement that will govern the terms of your writing as long as it’s in print. And a good agent will know current publishing economics, so that he or she can negotiate a contract on your behalf that is in line with current market standards. The book world is

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  • March 11, 2013

    What is "voice" in writing?


    We’re continuing our “ask an agent anything” series, where I’m trying to offer some short answers to your general publishing questions. If you’ve got a question you’ve always wanted to ask an agent, send it to me or leave it in the “comments” section. One reader wrote to ask, What is “voice” in writing? “

    Voice is the personality of the author, expressed through words on the page. When you write, your word choices, your phrasing and structure, your thinking and themes — they all help establish your personality as a writer. So the way I write is different from the way someone else writes — my personality comes through, and shows how I’m different and unique as a writer. (An example: Stephen King and William Faulkner both like long sentences, psychological implications, semicolons, and the use of the word “and” in their works… but nobody ever picked up a Stephen King novel and mistook it for a William Faulkner novel. Though they share some characteristics, each writer has his own personality, and that comes through on the page.) Of course, not every writing voice is good — just as not every singing voice is good. A great writer has a voice that is appealing and interesting.

    Similarly, another person asked, “How does a writer know when he has established a strong voice in his work?” 

    It takes time and effort. I’ve always thought a writer recognizes his or her own voice over time, so the more you write, the better you hear yourself in your words. My experience is that, as I write more and more, my personality becomes clear on the page. When we talk, your words don’t sound like mine. Your stories don’t sound like mine. Your personality is unique, and getting that to be clearly expressed on the page will help you define your voice. (So, for example, when I tell my story of being

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  • March 4, 2013

    When does an agent want to see a book proposal?


    I’ve been trying to answer a backlog of questions writers have sent my way, so we’re doing some short-answer blog posts for a while. For example, one person asked, “At what point in the process does an agent want to see a book proposal? After the book is completed?”

    Most agents will look at a nonfiction book proposal before the book is completed, but after the author has figured out what he or she wants to say. That is, the author has figured out the question and the answer, and has tried to put some structure (in terms of an outline or table of contents) to the material. With a fiction proposal, most agents want to see a synopsis or overview, just to know what the basic story is, then the first ten to fifty pages, to see if the author can write. If the agent reads a portion and likes it, he or she will probably ask for the rest of the manuscript.

    Someone else asked, “I’ve been told the internet has killed nonfiction… Is nonfiction really dead? It seems like most of the questions you get have to do with fiction.”

    My wife was cooking an East Indian dish the other day, and needed a recipe. Where did she go? To a cookbook? Nope, she went online. I was looking for the answer to a port wine question yesterday. Did I look at one of my wine books? Nope, I went to the web. The internet has made basic information available on every topic to anyone with a computer. That puts the core of nonfiction at risk. I think this points to a major shift we’re seeing in publishing — away from much nonfiction in traditional print form. There will still be plenty of nonfiction that sees print (history, memoir, and much of the “literary” side of writing), but a lot of the how-to side is quickly shifting

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  • March 1, 2013

    How do you know which agents will work hard for you?


    I’ve been going through a long list of questions people have sent in, trying to offer short answers (as compared to my usual loquacious responses). One person wrote this: “I’m interested in getting an agent. How do you know which agent will work hard for you? For that matter, how can an author know which agents the publishers view as legit?”

    If you want to know about an agent, you can always start by asking around. Ask publishers and editors in confidence what they think. Go onto the agency website and check the agent out. Check with “Predators & Editors” and “Writer Beware” to see which agents are not considered legit. Look into “Agent Query” and the other agency-ranking organizations. Pick up a copy of Chuck Sambuccino’s Guide to Literary Agents so you can do some research into the agent. In my opinion, you should look for an agent that’s a member of the Association of Author Representatives (AAR), the professional organization for literary agents. To see if the agent will work hard for you, all you have to do is to see which authors are happy and which agents are doing deals — you can find information on the number of deals done by an agent in the “Dealmakers” section of Publishers Marketplace. A lot of people will just tell you to “talk with other authors,” but I find that less than helpful. First, most people don’t want to say bad things about an agent, or worry that saying something honest will lead to a lawsuit. Second, many authors don’t often know a good agent from a bad one — if their agent got them a deal, they’re happy. I know some authors who have a lousy literary agent, but they’re completely satisfied because they don’t have anything to judge it against.

     Another writer sent me this: “I’m a beginning author, have written a novel, and want to
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  • February 27, 2013

    Must a novel be completed before an agent will look at it?


    Someone wrote to ask, “Must a novel always be 100% finished before an agent will want to take a look at it? Or if you spotted great voice in an unfinished work, would you take a look and offer encouragement?”

    If I absolutely love the voice, I might sign an author based on the quality of the writing. That happens on occasion. More often, I will look at a project and offer encouragement to the writer if I like his or her writing voice and think it has potential, but still think it needs to be completed. Right now the market is more or less demanding a novel be completed if a publisher is going to take a risk on a new or newer author. So yes, an agent might very well say he likes your work, but put off a decision to sign you until you complete your novel.

    Another asked, “How much of a difference does it make to an agent to hear I’ve been referred by one of their current clients? And how does that compare to a face-to-face with an agent at a conference?”

    It always makes a difference to me when one of the authors I already represents sends a talented writer my way. I figure the writers I represent are already my friends — we understand one another, so they’re probably going to send people my way who would likely be a fit. So consider that a good start. That said, it still usually takes a face-to-face for me to really get to know someone. A conference meeting is often too short (sometimes ten minutes), but it’s a start. In both cases, it will need to be followed up by great writing and a long talk or two, where we both get a feel for whether or not we’re a fit for one another.

    One writer asked, “How are royalties paid? Why is it

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  • February 18, 2013

    Should the agent tell me where he sent my manuscript?


    I dug into my “blog” file this weekend, and realized I’ve got a backup of more than 300 questions people have asked. Gulp. That means I could start today, take the next year responding to them, and still not get to everything. So… a change in plans for the next few weeks: I’m going to try and tackle several questions each day for a while, just to offer some answers and catch up a bit.

    To begin, someone sent me a note that read, “My agent won’t tell me who she sent my proposal to. She also doesn’t show me the rejection notices. Is that normal?”

    Not showing rejection notices has become normal. You need to understand that the days of editors sending long rejections to agents, detailing the perceived issues with a manuscript, went out with the Reagan Administration. It’s not uncommon to get a brief email that says, “No thanks” or “We looked at this and we’re not going to pursue it.” And frankly, there’s not much value in my forwarding those notes to one of my authors, unless I want to drive her into depression and a possible drinking binge. (On the rare times I receive a thoughtful reply, with notes on how the manuscript could be improved, I try to always pass that along to the author.) So tell your agent you’d like to know what people are saying — that’s a fair request. However, I’ll admit I don’t know why an agent wouldn’t show you a list of who’s looking at your proposal. I mean…it’s your proposal, so I wouldn’t think that would be a secret. You may want to ask your agent what the reasoning is behind that decision. I find it odd. I’m not saying she is necessarily wrong, but it’s definitely not the norm.

    Someone else wrote and asked, “Can an agent help me plan the marketing for my book?”

    Normally an

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  • February 6, 2013

    How can I connect with literary agents?


    Someone wrote me to say, “I’ve got my manuscript done, I’ve run it by a professional editor, and I’m feeling ready to talk with literary agents. Can you suggest ways I connect with some good agents?”

    Sure I can.

    Go meet agents. Attend conferences, make appointments at their office, connect at a book show, etc. Don’t just focus on one person — try to get some exposure to a few literary agents. 

    Get to know and trust the agent. Again, I think there are a group of people who claim to be agents but don’t really know the business. So check their websites, read their blogs, ask around. 

    Find out if they like books and if they’re good with words. The best agents are word people first… and that’s an important point. Just because a guy has negotiated contracts doesn’t mean he can help you with ideas or writing or editing or selling.

    Ask who they represent, then go check with some of their authors. Just because she claims to be popular doesn’t mean her clients are happy. Go ask others. 

    Ask “how many books have you contracted in the past year?” You can also ask about which houses, which genres, etc. I’ve frequently suggested a number of questions you could ask agents. Check out some of my old posts on “agents” and make a list of questions that fit your particular situation. 

    Look for a full-time agent, not somebody who is part agent, part editor, part author, part Amway salesman. More and more I think this is true. Look, not everybody can be an agent. Just like not everybody can be an author, a copy-editor, a sales rep, or the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers. So look for somebody who knows this job and is sold out to doing it, rather than somebody who is trying to represent people while also doing

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