Hello - I came across your blog recently, and have found it a very interesting insight into the world of literary agent-ness. I was hoping you could help me answer a question. A friend of mine has asked me to serve as his agent in getting his first book published. I have zero experience, but I am trained as a lawyer, so I figured that I could handle the legal side of things, at least. I also truly love my friend's writing style, and would love to see him get exposed to a wider audience. My question for you is: is this completely crazy, or is it possible for me to get my friend's book published on my own? I'd love to do it if I can, but I don't want to hurt my friend's chances. Any advice would be super appreciated. Thanks!
Here are the questions you need to ask yourself:
1. How many editors do you know well enough to have their direct phone line AND have them pick up the phone when you call?
2. How many books have you read in your friend's category so that you know what's current, what's not, and what an editor will consider fresh and new?
3. Do you know what the standard splits are on sub-rights in a publishing contract? Do you know what to actually ask for instead?
4. Do you know what rights are normally reserved to the author in a publishing contract?
5. Do you know what a first proceeds clause is and why it's important?
6. Do you know what a royalty audit clause is and have boiler plate wording for it to insert when the publisher doesn't?
7. Do you know what a production editor does and why it's important to know that?
8. Do you know what countries to exclude from a contract that includes a non-exclusive license for the open market?
9. Have you ever seen a royalty statement, and if so, do you know how to read one and explain it to your client?
10. Do you know what should always be excluded from the warranties and indemnities clause of a contract?
An effective agent has a complex set of skills and knowledge that go far beyond Contracts 101 in law school.
An effective agent knows the people to call, and the people s/he's calling know her. Or have heard of her. Or her agency.
An effective agent has boilerplate language for contract clauses that the publisher doesn't include in the initial draft, and knows that you're supposed to do that.
An effective agent knows the importance of the production department and what their deadlines are.
An effective agent knows how to read a royalty statement, knows who to call when the statement needs explaining, and can then in turn explain it to a client.
An effective agent is someone who has experience doing all these things, and most important has a network of colleagues to call on when a situation arises that she doesn't know about.
If your friend wants a brand new agent, well, you're probably no worse than some of the other beginners I've seen. But if your friend wants an EFFECTIVE agent, well, he might want to query people who've done more than just read his book.