Lesson 1: The Great Agent Search
Thanks for the intros everyone! Feel free to keep them coming in the Introductions topic. If you have questions about this particular lesson, feel free to post them in this thread. :)
Here is the first lesson...
Lesson 1: Who Needs an Agent?
So, you're done with your book (or two or three or four or ten) and now you're ready to submit. Probably you're asking yourself, do I need an agent? This lesson will go through some of the reasons you might want an agent and some things to remember as you try to make the decision if hiring an agent is right for you:
Reasons to hire an agent:
For an unpublished author, an agent can:
Get your work in front of the best editor for it -- Because agents (GOOD agents) are insiders in the publishing business, they have insider information. Yes, St. Martin's Press takes historical manuscripts, but are you sure which editor likes a really dark hero like yours? Or which one is about to go on maternity leave and will have manuscripts languishing for two months? Or the one who really hates the name Robert (your hero's name) because her ex-husband..<WBR>. ROBERT... ran off to Sweden with a legal secretary?
You don't? Well, a good agent WILL. She (for the purposes of this class, all agents will be she) should have a relationship of some kind with the editors at the houses where she'll be submitting your work. Part of her job is to put your dark hero Robert in front of an editor who loves dark heroes, has no problem with the name Robert and will be sitting at her desk for the next two months reading and analyzing work
Follow up without flack -- Your manuscript has been sitting on the desk of Editor A for six months. Your nails are bitten to the quick waiting to hear if your hero and heroine have hit a chord in her heart. You want to know if Editor A has passed your work up the line? Is she negotiating with the marketing department? Or is your manuscript being used to prop up the picture frame that broke last week?
Still, six months isn't all that long in our business. What if you call and interrupt some really important meeting and you forget your name and she gets annoyed and sends you a form rejection? I can tell you, the editor won't do that to your agent. The relationship between agent and editor is strictly business. An agent can call where you'd have to send a letter. If she emails, she's going to get a response somewhere down the line. She can nudge without looking like she's difficult, and she can tell you when it's waaaaay too soon to be nudging
In the world of agents and editors, my reputation is your reputation -- Having an agent sends a message to editors. It says that your work was good enough that a respected member of the publishing world thinks it will sell. It means another set of eyes has looked over it and cleared it, hopefully meaning it's a cut above the slush pile. If your agent has a good reputation, your work will be treated with an elevated level of respect. Editors who have a relationship with your agent, or have authors in their stable also repped by your agent, will look at your book and say, "Well, she sold me Suzy Bestseller, I'm sure this will be good." Having an agent will often mean a faster read and the respect of a more personal rejection, even though it doesn't guarantee a sale.
But this is a double edged sword. If you agent has a bad reputation in the industry, or sends out your work using questionable practices (reading fees, bulk submissions, sending to the wrong editor at the wrong house), the editor's regard for your work may actually drop. They may not even look at it, even if you are the next Nora Roberts. Which is why it's important to do your homework (to be covered in this workshop farther down the road).
So that's all fine and good, but what if you're already a published author, or you've just had an offer from your dream publisher? Should you rush out and get an agent now that the hard work of selling is done? Maybe, if the following things are important to you
The only clause I know is Santa. -- Your agent will never say this (or she shouldn't. If she does, run away... screaming). The ins and outs of entertainment law and publishing contracts are very complicated. A good agent can help you understand what you're signing on the dotted line.
My friend's enemies are my friends. -- Let's face it, kids. Publishing houses... ALL publishing houses, aren't exactly known as being fair to their authors. There are things in contracts that we don't like. Things we want to change. But how tough is it to call the nice editor who just told you she loves your book and wants to buy it and tell her you think Section C of subclause F is unfair
Having an agent allows you to have a buffer between your complaints about your contract and your editor. Negotiations between agent and editor, while sometimes tough, are generally friendly and rarely personal. These are two business people hashing out a deal, versus an author who is attached to her work taking each thing personally. With an agent in the mix, you can love your editor through thick and thin and never fight one battle with her personally over money or other contract issues.
Knowing what battles to fight. -- We're back to those clauses we don't like again. Some of them are bendable. Some of them are cast in stone. Unless you know the difference, you may want to consult an agent. If she's worth her salt, she can pick and choose between them. There's no use fighting endlessly on a battlefield that can't be taken. A good agent will tell you when to fold on a small issue and maybe win you points on something more important in the end.
Insider information. -- Once you're 'in' at your publishing house, you may think your job... and your agent's job is done. But that isn't always true. Sometimes internal opportunities arise that you might not be aware of. Like being part of an anthology with a best selling author, getting a better slot because someone dropped out, or being part of a popular continuity. Your agent will have her ears open for those opportunities and might be able to get you in.
The final distinction you'll have to make before you decide to hire an agent is between category and single title writing. Should what you write determine what kind of representation you want, if any?
Is it all about the money-honey? -- Many times, we authors are told that Harlequin contracts are set in stone, non-negotiable, thus making paying your agent 15% pretty useless. Some of that is probably true. For ANY new author, many points in any contract are going to be standard. After all, the publishing company is taking a risk without anything that guarantees return (like sales numbers, etc). But still, there are other issues besides money. Pen names. Publisher support. Cover issues. These are things an agent may still be able to tweak, as well as your ability to write for other houses.
So, now YOU have to decide. Do I want to pursue an agent?
I'll post the next lesson Monday, How To Look For An Agent. In the meantime, feel free to ask any questions.