Thursday, January 23, 2020

Do publishers like working with agents?

Good morning Janet! Well, it’s early morning here on the East Coast of Australia, anyway. 

And I’ve been lying awake wondering something. Here in Australia, from what I can tell, publishing houses deal with unagented authors as well as agented ones.

(1)Would publishing houses prefer to deal with the former (unagented)?
(2) Or the latter (agented)?
(3) Or is that difficult to say, as in America it seems they only deal with the agented variety? And if it’s the former - they’d prefer unagented writers - why is this so?
(4) Can they get a bigger slice of the pie if the author receives little or no agent assistance?
(5) Or are we talking about only unscrupulous organisations here? I’m assuming these do exist...

Anyway, my mind was happily turning that hamster wheel. And I had no answers, and wasn’t sure how to google such things, hence this email.

Any and all enlightenment greatly appreciated!

The easiest questions to answer are  #4 and #5. Publishers do not get to keep the money that would be paid out for a commission. The author would get it.  Even with the least scrupled in the publishing world.

Now, let's go back to questions #1-#3
Remember: I don't work for a publisher, and never have. I talk to a lot of them, and I pay a lot of attention to when editors talk about agents.

What I know I've gleaned from that.

My sense is that most publishers like to have an agent on the writer's team.
It saves them difficult conversations at times.
It provides an intermediary when one is needed.
And probably best of all, it means someone else has to explain royalty statements and returns to a new author.

Earlier in the process, it means the editor doesn't have to read a lot of queries to find a good book and an author who isn't an asshat. Agents do that work.

I've run across editors who loathe agents.
When you dig deeper it's usually because the agents they dealt with didn't do their job very well.
Disappearing after the sale is the biggest complaint.
Not keeping the writers from doing stupid stuff is another.

I've run across publishers who won't deal with agents.
I believe that to be a serious red flag (obvious bias of course.)
A publisher who doesn't want the author to have a knowledgeable advocate is a publisher trying to pull a fast one (OPINION!)

And the question you didn't ask, but I see looming in subtext: do you keep more money if you don't have to fork out a commission?  Contrary to what you might think, probably not. There aren't a lot of studies about how an agent gets a client more money than a non-agented client would but here's my experience.

Unagented writers often take the first deal offered. They're reluctant to negotiate because they don't want to anger the publisher.

Agents often do several rounds of negotiation to improve the offer, which includes improving the amount of money offered as an advance, limiting the grants of rights, and improving the split of proceeds on rights granted.

In other words, I say with confidence, most writers will benefit from having an agent, and most publishers understand we have value to them as well.

Any questions?


E.M. Goldsmith said...

Hence, the February Query Trenches support team for finding an agent.

Although, some in the group may be going the direct route to the publisher but sort of doubt that...I could be wrong. No idea. Anyhow, I am going to wrangle myself an agent. Somehow. With nothing but words.

I have to go breathe into a bag now. Good luck, OP.

Mister Furkles said...

The proof: Nearly all very successful authors have agents.

When the great majority of knowledgeable people do the same thing, it is nearly always a smart thing to do. Lee Child can forgo having an agent for his next book--I guess--but does not. Must be he sees value in time and in money for having an agent. Same for nearly all of the most popular authors.

Linda Shantz said...

I would happily give a lot more than 15% to an agent to do the stuff I'm horrible at. If I could find one for my artwork, I'd be thrilled to bits. A good reminder to everyone that stressing over this query stuff will be worth it in the long run. I'm trying to be positive here, that our books are good enough to attract an agent, haha.

Emma said...

Back a lifetime ago I used to be a photography editor for a packager of coffee table books. I wrote contracts for artists and photographers and negotiated with them. I kind of, sort of, know my way around a contract. But I would NEVER sign a contract with a publisher without an agent, or at the very least, a lawyer looking it over for me. It's not fun! And it's even less fun when you realize you signed all rights in perpetuity away (like one contract a journal sent me wanted to do. I knew enough to walk away, but...still)

I'm very happy to fork over a commission to have someone on my team working on my behalf.

Karen McCoy said...

Elise see The Writer's Room on Facebook for the February Query Trenches support team questions. :)

A side question, if I may--I've noticed that the authors I know who have children's picture book deals often don't have an agent involved. I'm wondering if it's because picture books are marketed in different ways. Any picture book authors want to weigh in on this?

John Davis Frain said...

I can't speak for publishers -- well, I guess I can't speak for other writers either now that I think about it. But I can speak for this writer, and YES, a thousand times YES, writer(s) like working with agents.

What is it they say in the world of the law ... a person who represents themselves has a fool for a client. Dena? Edit me here, please!

AJ Blythe said...

One of the big differences here in Oz is that we don't have many agents. There are some, obviously, but not as many as in the States. It can also be a harder sell for Aussie settings outside of Australia.

Don't shoot me down for this, I know successful Aussie authors with Aussie settings who've made it internationally, but I speak from a lot of experience, having spoken to face-to-face with many American agents who come to Australian conferences. The most common refrain has been "hard sell". And I have spoken with a lot of Aussie authors. Plus, a lot of the Aussies who make the break were first successful locally.

The end result is that here the big 5 can be submitted to directly.

MA Hudson said...

Also in Australia here, where things seem to be done very differently to in the US and UK. I’ve seen an actual agent say on their website that a debut writer doesn’t need an agent! And there’s seriously only about six agents in the whole country who represent middle grade, half of whom are closed to queries. Agh! I get the impression most authors here get publishing deals through networking at conferences etc, and once they get a publisher on board, THEN they might get an agent.

smoketree said...

I'm in Canada and work for a small publisher, so I'm not sure how universal this is, but most small presses that I know will accept submissions from an unagented author, but usually give priority to submissions from an agent. Nearly every agented submission will be read and responded to fairly quickly, while others may languish for a while before we have a chance to read through them, just because there are so many and the quality can be all over the map. I think most of the writers who are conscientious enough to read Janet's blog might be surprised by how many extremely poor manuscripts publishers regularly receive, although there is the occasional diamond in the rough.

Brenda said...

Wouldn’t it be a bit like going into court without a lawyer?

AJ Blythe said...

Brenda, I think it would be, but in Australia, there aren't the agents to be able to have one. There really are just a small handful. But there are places you can pay to have your contract read. One I know of won't charge if they feel it is a dodgy contract.

I don't feel comfortable promoing them here, but if any Aussie Reiders want to know more, feel free to contact me.

Katja said...

AJ, thank you for this:

"It can also be a harder sell for Aussie settings outside of Australia."

I'm somewhat relieved to see this. Because I have been wondering for a long time if one of the reasons for my rejections might have been the setting of my novel - (mostly) Germany (and 3 other European countries).

Would an American agent believe they can sell it in the American market? Or in any other English speaking market at least? I'm wondering if Janet thinks she could sell a book set in Germany (if there were no other major problems with that book)...

Only recently, and for the first time, I have seen a tweet by American agent Jessica Faust that said she was looking for novels set in other countries. I was like WOW. :D

Craig F said...

I am an American and actively soliciting Agents.Even though there thousands of the little beasts around, you go for weeks and months with just the sound of crickets in the background. It can be frustrating as all hell.

I will keep at it, though. I don't want to self-publish and I don't want to solicit publishers without an agent. Maybe I need someone, other than friends and Beta readers saying it works. I know that I look at the world from an odd angle, so I don't know, yet.

Dena Pawling said...

>>What is it they say in the world of the law ... a person who represents themselves has a fool for a client. Dena? Edit me here, please!
>>Wouldn’t it be a bit like going into court without a lawyer?

Yes, because some of the benefits of having an attorney are (1) knows the law and the loopholes, (2) can give you an unbiased perspective on the merits of your case, both strengths and weaknesses, (3) can smooth things over with court personnel, and (4) do our best to keep you out of hot water. People representing themselves, even attorneys on their own cases, generally don't know more than the basics in any area of law except the area where they generally practice, are not familiar with the courtroom practices of judges outside their area of expertise, and they are absolutely not unbiased. For authors, it's nice to have an agent in your corner who knows the ins and outs of publishing contracts, knows the editors and their preferences and foibles, can run interference between you and an editor [or others], and can provide a “relatively” unbiased opinion. I think it's worth noting that most of the time, attorneys hire other attorneys to represent them in their own cases, and agents who are also authors generally have another agent representing them.

BJ Muntain said...

A decade ago, I was told these statistics:

In the US, about 90% of traditionally published authors are agented.
In Canada, about 10% are.

Now, most Canadian publishers are quite small. Small publishers rarely insist on an agent. Harlequin is the largest publisher in Canada, and they don't require agents, either.

Me, I'd like to be published to a larger audience than I'd get from a small Canadian publisher or even self-publishing. That means I need an agent.

It really comes down to where you see your career going, whether you need an agent or not.

Peter Taylor said...

I'm in Australia - very small population, very small print runs, small advances (compared to the US and UK) few agents exist, and of those, the majority don't want to rep picture books and niche topics. Even Big 5 will take unagented subs on occasions/regularly.

The advance some smaller punlishers offer may not be negotiable and a few prefer unagented writers...but negotiation by an agent can often clarify 'out of print and reversion of rights' clauses to an author's advantage. It's not always about the money.

I had two n-f books traditionally published before partnering with an agent. Like most writers, I said 'yes' to everything the major publisher asked for in the first contract. I now know it would have been more favourable to me if an agent had negotiated it. That was 1986...I wonder if the publisher still initially offers the same terms.

I had a contract in hand when I went to an agent's talk in a bookstore. She agreed to negotiate the deal (and we later became a team, though she's just retired and I'm on a hunt). She got me double what I was offered directly - enough for a new car - and said she'd have got four times as much if she was in the deal from the beginning (sale of copyright). Yes, I do suspect that in some publishing houses, an editor may be praised or rewarded if they can get away with persuading an author to accept less than the company is actually prepared to pay.

Aphra Pell said...

Probably worth mentioning / remembering that we don't have to query only in our own country. For example, Gary Corby (lives in Sydney I believe) is a client of Her Sharkliness. And I've seen at least one UK agent say they are looking for Australian authors (presumably with Australian settings).

I live in Australia, but write historicals set (so far) entirely in the UK - my plan is to query UK and US, as well as the few Aussie agents.

Mary said...

I've done both...agented and unagented. For me it was a mixed bag, because my agent wasn't the right fit for me. Nevertheless, I am seeking another agent because I did what was mentioned here with my first book....said yes to everything including film rights, when I should have probably kept those. However, my experience working unagented with a small press was excellent in other ways.

Kae Ridwyn said...

Whoops! Only just now getting back to reading this blog after a shocker couple of weeks where I didn't get much time to sleep let alone eat - or write - and lo and behold there's my question! Thank you, dearest QOTKU for answering it!
As for looming subtext "does the author keep more money" - actually no, that wasn't where I was headed. It was more of the "there's only a handful of Australian agents so what do I do if I can't get one?" conundrum that was keeping me on the hamster wheel until the wee hours.
And THANK YOU! And sorry for such a late comment to your answers :(