Monday, April 29, 2013

Agency Lessons: An agent does what?

For writers who have yet to work with an agent, I think one of the biggest questions is "What exactly does an agent do for me?" It's also one of the hardest questions since every agent is going to be a little bit different. Hopefully, I can help shed some light on the subject.

Let's start by talking about the contract a bit.  Just like every agent is different, the contract for each agency is going to be slightly different. However, there are some pretty standard items. For example,  the contract outlines what the agent's role is and what that is worth (the commission). The wording will all be different, but your basic contract will describe an agent working to sell your book to a publisher to the best of their ability.

What does this mean? It means, an agent is going to try their darnedest to find a happy home for your book. Don't forget, an agent doesn't get paid until your book sells*. But remember, this is a two way street. If an agent has exhausted their resources and still can't find a publisher, eventually, they will need to set this book aside to work on other projects. And so will you.

So, what's not in a contract? A contract is generally not going to outline any of the pre-submission work that goes on before your masterpiece gets sent out to publishers. This is where it's important to ask a lot of questions during "the call" and even before that, when researching which agents to query. Maybe you don't want an agent who is going to give you editing notes. There's nothing wrong with that unless you're signing on with an agent who likes to have a heavy hand in what goes out on submission.

Also, not in the contract, is any post sale work the agent might do. Generally speaking, once your book sells, an agent's job is done until you're ready with the next manuscript. I think this is the most surprising thing to new writers. Many think it is an agent's job to work on promotion and are surprised to learn that their agent isn't going to submit their book to all the major presses and nominate it for all the awards. 

Once again, this is why those early conversations are so important. Many agencies like to help with promotion. After all, the better your book does, the more money you both make. And every agent wants your book to succeed. However, some agents don't have the time and/or knowledge to be able to help with marketing and promotion. You need to know all this going in.

Keep in mind, there isn't a wrong or a right way to all of this. Some writers want an agent who is going to take their manuscript, untouched, send it to the publishers, finalize the contract and then step back. Other writers want an agent who is going to work through three revisions drafts before submission and then help with a blog tour and press releases. Neither one is better or right, they are just different approaches to doing business and fulfilling a client's needs. 

So don't be afraid to ask questions. Don't assume it is going to insult an agent if you ask for client references. Don't guess that the way one agent does business is going to be the way another one does. Asking questions, getting the answers, and making a decision that is right for you shows an agent that you take your career as a writer seriously. And that's sure to make all agents (and writers) happy.

For those of you readers who have an agent, what was the most surprising thing you've learned about the process so far? For those of you still in the query trenches, what are some questions or concerns that you might still have? 

*If a contract outlines payments due to the agent that are outside of the book selling, run very far away as fast as you can. A solid agent will not charge you a reading fee, editing fee, copying fee, or any other fee that they can think of in the process of selling your work. You should never be the one writing a check to the agent. It should always be the other way around.

8 comments:

  1. I'm not sure what group I fall into. While I was querying for an agent with my romance, my fantasy got picked up by a small press. I still would like an agent but I'm guessing I have to wait until book 1 either sells a lot to approach someone for book#2?

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    1. I don't think there is as much pressure to have book one go gang-buster if it's with a small press. Publishers will want to see steady sales numbers and a good platform that suggests sales could be higher. I think once you have 6 months worth of steady sales, you can approach agents for book 2.

      Can't wait for your blog hop. :)

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  2. Sarah, I've said it before but I'll say it again. You are a wealth of information. :)

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  3. I can't say I've been majorly surprised in any way. I knew a lot about agents before querying because it took me 3 years to get an agent. I think the thing that made my agent stand out was her quick responses and willingness to help with more than the sell. The particular ms out right now didn't need much revision, but we talked about what would happen if I wrote a book she didn't like in the future. If it needed revision she would help me with that before submitting, and if it just wouldn't do well in the marketplace--well, she likes for clients to talk to her before they start writing so she advise with this, and even help with brainstorming. I'm not really expecting her to do any major marketing work, but when I have a question about the best way to promote something, she's there to offer advice and knows more about it than me.

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    1. Sounds like you had all the right conversations with your agent before signing on the dotted line. So long as you both have the same expectation, you should make a great team. Congrats on landing someone you can work with so well.

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  4. I'm still in the querying trenches. I try to do all the research I can about agents before I query them, but sometimes I worry that one will make The Call and it turns out we aren't a good fit after all. Then no other agent finds the manuscript interesting ... but I think that having no agent is better than having the wrong one.

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    1. Absolutely! Don't settle for an agent you don't think is right for you. There's no way to know everything about an agent just from online interviews. You have to ask questions and feel out the situation first.

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