A very famous blog always announces new agents with the intro: "New literary agents are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list."
I understand that, but what I do not understand is how new agents survive financially as they build their list and make their first sales. (Truthfully, the economics of agenting itself baffles me even for long-established agents. I mean, you would have to sell A LOT of books to survive on 15% commission. As I writer, I don't see myself ever giving up my day job.)
Many of my author friends are hesitant to query new agents because of their lack of a sales record. I admit they rank lower on my to-be-queried list than established agents. So, back to my question. How do the economics of agenting work? Are there other income streams beside commission, or do new agents also have day jobs?
Basically, I'm looking for the peace of mind that I'm not somehow harming myself by signing with a new agent.
Many younger (ie new) agents have jobs at the literary agency itself. They're the assistants, or the foreign rights agent, or the office manager.
Editors who are transitioning into agenting may have other sources of income: savings, spouses, draws against commissions.
As for the economics: remember that agents also share in the royalty income. My backlist earns just like my front list (advances) do, and steadily.
There's also the percentage we get on film, and foreign deals.
Generally no agent is going to discuss their day job or their income stream with you. If that's a deal breaker for you, query agents who've been around at least five years or more. That's the break even point, generally.
But this isn't the thing to fret about when considering an agent. What you need to know is if a new agent has the right kind of back up and support. The best young agents I know started out about six feet from my fin. They may have run into trouble once or twice, but I was generally able to help them out cause they were close at hand. While I certainly do not take credit for their success [they earned that themselves] I do think that they avoided some snafus by having someone close at hand when they had questions or wanted guidance.