Hey everyone! I've been working on a few projects lately, but I am really excited to say that today's post means a lot to me, because that's exactly where my writing goals have been focused at the moment. Ahh, the terrifying thrill of sending out queries! The part I'm looking forward to this time is the lesson I had to learn the hard way: Just because one agent rejects you, doesn't mean you have to give up, go back, and fix everything. Not that I minded terribly, because in the case of the novel I'm querying, I realized that a lot of work *did* need to be done. But seriously, one rejection does not a failed manuscript make. That's a lesson that this time, I'm going to apply.
This panel had a slightly different focus from last year's Agents and How to Find One panel. It was also useful to have (mostly) different presenters talking about the same subject, and to get a current refresher on things.
Carrie Ryan, Gray Rineheart, David B. Coe, A.J. Hartley
Moderator: Edmund Schubert
With the way the landscape has shifted, some are questioning why we still need agents, what’s the future? Why do you feel an agent should still be considered? What should you be looking for in an agent?
DBC: If your goal is to be traditionally published, a publisher won’t look at you as an author unless you’re represented. The fact that you have an agent gives a certain cache to the quality of your work. Also, agents can look at contracts, subsidiary rights, foreign rights, etc. One trend in traditional publishing these days that agents can help with is basket accounting: if you sell a series, the books can be accounted book by book so you see royalties book by book, or not until the entire series has earned out (basket). Separate accounting used to be the norm, but now basket accounting is. Agents are also getting into electronic publishing because they recognize their own obsolescence is looming.
AJ: Simply for management of multiple income streams, especially if you have lots of books from different publishers. Helpful to have all that stuff funneled through an agency. Agents often see themselves as author-career management. Has self-published his backlist through his agency. It helps to keep all the things together.
CR: If you go for traditional publishing, you need an agent. A lot of authors are artists and not business people. We (writers) are not the best business people, so it’s important to hire someone who can be that person. Lots of houses won’t accept unagented submissions. She has lots of author friends who didn’t have agents when they signed, who gave up rights they shouldn’t have, contracts they regret signing. Agents go beyond the power of negotiation. No agent is better than a bad agent, but the negotiating aspects of the contract, the little things they catch that have big impact are huge. Agents know this stuff and go to bat for us so we don’t have to deal with it.
DBC: Most important about an agent: when he (DBC) has a business-based dispute with his editor, his agent handles it. This keeps the author-editor relationship good. Also, it’s an artistic relationship about the content, to make the books the best they can be.
No agent is better than a bad agent: What should you be on the lookout when deciding who to sign with, and what should you be careful about?
CR: Had a friend with a question about a new agent. The new agent has no sales or anything on her site that says how that agent is better than the author. So CR suggested to her friend questions to ask the agent: What are some of your favourite books from the last year? How do you feel about certain rights? If the agent can’t answer those questions, then why are you going to pay them money if they’re in the same boats?
AJ: Some agents are not professional – copyists – not professionally-dependent on selling your stuff. Research and find what they have sold, who they work with, who they represent, which editors they routinely lunch with. A New York agent isn’t necessarily the best or only option these days, but personal communication and connection with editors still matters. It’s where stuff gets done.
DBC: His agent left her agency in New York to go to Atlanta, but that agent is conscious and goes to New York every few months still. Also, authors often switch editors, but you can stay with an agent for your entire career.
CR: It is common to switch agents. What you need at the beginning of your career isn’t necessarily the same as what you need as your career progresses.
DBC: If you switch agents every few years, you might get a reputation.
AJ: You can switch agents if you’re very successful. If you’ve a represent for being difficult to work with, you won’t be re-signed.
CR: Agents who are starting out can be hungry, looking for submissions – so research, who was their mentor? Where did they learn to be an agent? Check Publisher’s Marketplace – $20/month, provides info agents and their deals. See if the agents are selling, and who are they selling to? Just one publisher or many? Do they represent your genre? YA and MG?
ES: Define boilerplate.
CR: Boilerplate: the starting contract that every pub house starts with that favours the publisher. Agents negotiate it down.
ES: Some represent only some genres, but not all.
AJ: Has one agent for everything, but a separate film agent.
GR: Baen still looks at unagented submissions. Has seen a lot he can compare from authors submitting on their own compared to what’s come from good agents to what comes from not-so-good agents. There is a marked qualitative difference in what comes to them. Not just that he’s met the agent and knows it will be good quality, just that he recognizes the difference. E.g. a bad agency that would send multiple query letters. He has checked Writer Beware against some agents. This is a business, and some agents don’t deserve the title because they’re not representing their clients.
AJ: Any agent who wants money from you is a dead giveaway that they’re not good.
DBC: Same if they refer you to a book doctor.
CR: Money flows to the author. Also, agents often work as editor. They went through several versions and rewrites before sending her manuscript to an editor, and that made a remarkable difference.
ES: A lot of current agents are former editors. They know the industry. (To GR): You have the most current experience for searching for an agent. How should people go about doing that?
GR: Agencies have guidelines just like publishing houses have guidelines. Some want a certain number of chapters or pages, some want an outline, some want a synopsis. READ THE GUIDELINES and conform to the guidelines. Usually an agent will look at a cover letter, synopsis, and a few chapters, and then decide if they want to see more. They’ll ask for an exclusive if they want to see more. Partials can be sent out to multiple, but the moment someone wants to see more, they get an exclusive for as much as a month or three (definitely not more than six), and then you say, “someone else is looking at it” to further requests. BAEN is interested in reducing backlog and reducing slush pile. Hasn’t yet been successful.
CR: Posted on how to research agents at Magical Words.
AJ: Has heard that agents are lazy and will use every available opportunity to reject your manuscript because that makes their life easier. Your job is to make it as hard for them as possible to say no. Even if they say send a query, ALWAYS send a sample. You need to get your work in front of their eyes. If they glance at it, there’s a better chance of them wanting to see more.
GR: They don’t reject if guidelines aren’t followed to the letter. They’re looking for a great story.
AJ: Yes, but agents are looking for any excuse to reject the book.
ES: It’s a factor of volume. After six months of rejection, he realized that agents weren’t rejecting the novel, they were rejecting the query letter. Re-sent queries even to agents he’d subbed to before (assumed they wouldn’t remember him six months or a year later, you can go back), and got a great response rate.
Audience Question: is exclusivity longer than six months a red flag?
CR: Don’t give them exclusivity longer than a month. To spend six months waiting on one agent is a long time in your career.
ES: Check Writer’s Market – no financial info, but will show who represents what. $15/mo.
GR: These are great places to start, but once you have the agent, search their website, that info should be more current than whatever is listed on the directory site.
ES: And if they don’t have a website, that’s a red flag, too.
DBC: Search for agents who represent the same kind of stuff you write. And acknowledgements of books, because authors thank their agents.
Audience Question: Is it helpful when agent hunting, to conveniently have someone else interested in the work?
CR: Can help, but it’s more important about the strength of your work. Be specific.
AJ: And sometimes the agent has difficult selling the work.
CR: And if they have difficulty selling it, they should try to work with you. That’s something to ask – what do they do if that book doesn’t sell? Will they work with next one?
Audience Question: When you supply an outline, how do you know that outline won’t be stolen?
DBC: They’re not. Sorry, nothing is interesting enough for that.
AJ: You can’t copyright an idea.
DBC: And if you give the same idea to five authors, you’ll get five different novels.
Audience Question: Are there any genres you don’t need represent for?
ES: If you’re self-publishing online or only writing short stories. Who are you looking to publish with? How are they selling your work? If an agent thinks they can make money from your work, they’ll sign with you.
CR: Harlequin is an example of a publisher who’ll publish you without agent.
AJ: And you can technically go to an agent after the publisher accepts you.
GR: BUT not all publishers are like that. BAEN will drop you if you go and get an agent. They’re negotiating with whoever initiated the relationship. To do so is taken as a bait-and-switch.
ES: But BAEN is the only pub that seems to do that.
CR: There’s an exception to every rule.
ES: So, about editors.
AJ: In all his experience, his best experience has been with acquisition/developmental editors. Gets edit memos from them. Editors definitely still edit.
CR: The copy editor goes through and finds tiny errors, keeps details consistent. Grammatical, syntax, inconsistencies, anachronisms, etc.
DBC: His copy editor comes back with copy edits and a style sheet. Terms, names, places, anything unique to book, so that typesetters can make sure that all the words are as they should be. Stylesheets are like a world bible. Invaluable.
ES: “Line editor” and “copy editor” are pretty much interchangeable.
ES: As short fiction editor: works in acquisitions, not much developmental editing, but also does copy editing.
GR: Every house is different with which editors do what and who consults with whom. BAEN books – the editor in chief makes the final decision about acquisition.