Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday Night at the Question Emporium

My recent blog post about how to find out if your agent is an idiot (sadly, post #3 on that subject) produced quite a few comments that caught my interest.

Here's one:

Another point concerns who the agent sells to. If it is places an author can sell on his own, the agent is not as valuable as an agent who can get you into the large high paying publishers.

That's manifestly not true.  Almost anyone can sell a good project to a publisher, large or small. Selling is the most visible, most talked about, part of an agent's job.  To an author starting out, it seems like the most important. It's not.

Selling a project WELL no matter to which publisher is the art of the deal. And which publisher is less important (trust me on this) than which editor. And knowing how to negotiate your contract, and what is negotiable and what isn't--those are all the places where an agent who knows what she's doing earns her commission.  Yes you can sell direct to a variety of publishers.  Unless you've made a lot of other deals, I don't think you're going to do it anywhere near as well as a good agent.


Josin L. McQuein said...

The "way back when" tale I mention on my blog a few times sort of illustrates this. It's a definite case of "and agent would have known better".

Back when I didn't know better (3 or 4 years ago) I decided to try and get a picture book series published I'd done in high school. I love this series; I love the MC. I wrote a short proposal for five books that showed how much I loved the world I had created.

Not knowing that you weren't supposed to submit directly to editors at the Big 6, I dashed the proposal off to those Big 6.

Three weeks later, I had requests from two of them, which I immediately sent off - Text and illustrations.

1 press liked the book and bounced it around a few imprints trying to find a place for it, but it fizzled :-(

1 press didn't like my pictures :-(

Had I had an agent, I have no doubt I would have fared better. The agent would have know which, specific editors to target and how to best present the material. (I now realize it simply wasn't ready to be queried. Editor #3 who looked at it gave me detailed revision notes... and then left the imprint.)

I gave up, but an agent would have cut through all the uncertainty and rookie mistakes and given me a much better shot.

I also have no doubt, that without an agent, any deal that might have resulted wouldn't have been anything close to what an agent could have negotiated.

Joelle said...

Don't tell my agent this, but I think he probably should earn about 50% not 15% of my pay. Pitching my book is the least of what he does for me. I won't even tell you how many projects he's spent time reading and then nixed much to my immense relief later when I had time to reflect on these "great ideas" and seen how sucky they actually were. He negotiates, advises, follows-up on everything, answers important questions as well as the stupid or even the silly ones. And he knows who is looking for what.

He also cracks me up, but that's just a lucky bonus.

I am a very business-informed writer. I even read my contract (!) and mostly understand it. But trying to handle it myself would be the same as trying to do my own root canal. Painful and really pretty stupid of me.

What I hear Janet saying is, make sure you have the "right" agent, and if you don't then drop them and keep looking.

Terri Coop said...

I agree 100% Ms. Reid! I am an attorney. Yes, anyone can go into court and plead their own case, it's guaranteed in that pesky constitution. However, I can do all the stuff you don't see (the research, the negotiations with the other side, those conferences when everyone disappears into the judge's office) and usually make the distance between point A and point B a little smoother and with the most favorable outcome. The legal system isn't magic, but I had the letters J.D. after my name for a reason. And even with my skills, I would still hope I can interest an agent in my work. I've had something under contract with a small press for, hmmm . . . forever and have no clue how to get it unstuck. Thank you for all you do.

ryan field said...

I hope a lot of people read this post. It's important...mainly because there are so many misconceptions going around these days.

Beth said...

Where are parts one and two on this topic?