This was one of those panels that was basically a conversation, and well worth listening to.
Agents, and How to Find One
Carrie Ryan, Gray Rinehart, Gail Z. Martin, Edmund Schubert
ES: The process is changing. Bare bones mechanics, how did you get your agents and why?
GM: Unless you're a contract attorney specializing in pub law, you need an agent. If you don’t know the biz, you need someone to protect you in the lang run. Recommends the Writer's Digest guide to literary agents. Lists everyone who claims to be an agent. AAR – Association of Author Representatives – start there. They have a code of ethics. Find an agent that handles your type of fiction. See who they represent. See what they want – send them what they’re looking for. Write the best cover letter, send it out, get rejected (etc). Don’t take no for an answer. Sometimes it’s not your book, it’s your cover letter.
CR: Found an agent by querying. Started reading a lot of agent blogs. Nahan Bransford, Kidlit, Mary Cole; lots of agents blogging about the industry and how it works; Literaticat, Went for an agent bc she wanted a trad pub career. The agent has the relationships with the editors. The agents know who’s looking for what, can get it read quickly. Part of what you’re looking for is someone who has those connections. Go for someone who has the relationships. Contract terms is a huge deal. Signing without an agent can get you screwed over. Also, an agent manages your career. They take care of issues. You should be on the same side of the table as your editor. When there has to be bad blood, the agent takes the fall for it. Agentquery.com, querytracker.com, publisher’s marketplace (when you’re ready to query, it's worth $20 a month) – you can see who’s selling to which and how much they sell and who they sell it to. You can find how to write a query letter. If you’re getting form rejections on your query letter, there’s a problem with your query letter. 50 pages, problem with the 50 pages. Full, problem with full.
GM: Tor will take queries but won’t take manuscripts. Agents, good agents, act as a level of filter. Honest agents only make money when you do. They get a commission from your sale. If the pubs didn’t insist on only agented submissions, they’d be overwhelmed with stuff not ready for prime time. Agents won’t take you on unless they think you’re ready for prime time. Also, most agents came from being an editor in the publishing industry. Often just got downsized. Often have a lot of connections. New York agents matter. Gotta have an agent where the publishgin is happening. Some non-New Yorkers have the connections, put the time into keeping those relationships.
ES: Increasingly there are agents in California. There are other avenues, but still. There are sadly a lot of people who want to get published, so there are people will take advantage.
GM: For those trying to get published and hitting a wall, there are book doctors and book shepherds. They’ll take on the manuscript to analyze it, have a responsible reviewer read thourhg and make agents, even pitch people to agents. Eg. Randy Pizer. Reviewers give feedback. This is a paid service. You'll be paying someone who does know because they’re legit can be useful. Remember, the money should flow to the writer. There are a lot of pub houses who don’t pay much of an advance anymore, but it’s still a one-way flow. Publisher to author.
CR: Advance: front of money based on how they believe you’re book will sell. Once you earn it out, you get more. Things are clearly defined in the contract.
ES: Used to be a lump sum, now doled out in thirds, one upon acceptance, one upon final, one when the book is released.
GM: Once you’ve earned out your advance you get your royalties.
GR: The average advance is not a lot of money. Typically $5-6K, but better in YA.
GM: The publishing industry has been hit by the economic downturn. Advances are smaller. A bigger advance means they have more faith in you. If you get a huge advance and you do poorly, it can be detrimental to your career.
GR: You should be wary. Check sites like Writer Beware and Predators and Editors – there are warnings about the bad ones.
ES: Agents’ role is that they’re there to protect the writer. (So long as we’re talking about traditional publishing).
GM: Small presses – different approaches. Doesn’t mean they’re a rip off.
GR: Absolute Write water cooler – lots of people willing to vent about bad agents (but take it with a canister of salt because it may be badmouthing).
CR: Take all the info, take bits and pieces, figure out what works. Beware of signing with an agent selling their first books. See what they represent.
GM: Ask authors about agents. There's a personality component, too. See who you have chemistry with. If you talk to enough people, you’ll see who you want to direct thigns to first. Agens will take you based on whether they can do a good job by you, and whether it fits, if there’s no conflict of interest.
CR: The personality aspect is so vital. There are plenty of agents you might not work well with. Read their blogs and twitter. You’re entering a business relationship and you don’t want to get into it lightly. You don't want to just sign with someone because they accept you. And you can change agents. Check them out. Get valuable info.
GR/CR: No agent is better than a bad agent. Has seen submissions from bad agents on the Writer Beware list.
CR/GM: Track reocord.
GR: Be careful to see if it’s a new agent striking out. See if they’ll copy you on correspondence.
CR: New agents are hungry. All agents want to find good things. Young agents extra specially. If the new agent doesn’t have a lot of experience, look at the house – they’ll have mentoring, the name of the house they’re with. What contects do they have, what mentors? A young fresh agent isn’t necessarily a bid thing, but they need to have support.
GM: You should have a good relationship with them, a good rapport. Not just that you are the content generator and they sell the book – this should be a collaboration. They should be able to tell you how your book is doing.
ES: CR, why did you change agents? Why would someone consider changing?
CR: People have switched at every level. Lack of communication is a big reason. A few weeks for response on a full instead of six months. A month is okay. Depends on where you are and how fast you want to go. People also switch agents based on where they want to be in their career. Writers leave agents because of communication. Also if the agent is not with them based on where they are in their careers.
GM: Sometimes agents die, retire, leave the business, go to jail – something to thik about when you sign the contract with the agent. You should have something in the contract about parting ways civilly. What your obligations are. If they die, do you pay their estate?
CR: You should always have a way to sever with notice. It's easier if you have it written out. Here’s where I am, here’s the problems I’m having, can we resolve the problems we’re having? If you sever a relationship, don’t list the reasons why. Say, I’m sorry we have to part ways, and that it’s not working out. Agents are still responsible for the commission.
GM: Subsidiary rights – ebooks, games, audio, foreign rights, tv rights – that matters. If your publisher doesn’t have the capability to do the e-book or audiobook, your agent will rep those rights. Especially if you have your heart set on movies/tv/etc, it's good to know what experience they have and how they handle those things.
Have a conversation with them about how much they’ll do, how much they’ll be personal assistant, career manager, advisor? Things have changed.
CR: Some agents will edit before they send out, career plan with you, continue to manage once you’ve sold … and some don’t. Some just sell it and they’re done. If you get an offer from an agent, ask to speak with their clients.
GM: Your agent is not your shrink, fininacial planner, or bail bondsman, but you can come to them with career, book questions. They’re not being compensated for that time, just paid in commission. You won’t call them every day or even every week.
GM – Example: An agent – Ethen Allenburg – just does fiction. Gave him first right of refusal for Nonfic. Went for John Willik, who specializes in nonfic biz books. Different connections in the publishing industry. Might need an agent who specializes specifically in film/television, for example.
CR: If your agent doesn’t handle it, chances are they’ll have a colleague who will. Or if there’s an agent they know who handles it, they might recommend them.
GR: Don’t submit multiple manuscripts at once. Send them your one best thing and let it speak for itself. Simultaneously submit queries to multiple agents, though.
CR: However, may be a partial request exclusive request. Ask how long for exclusivity – 30 days, 60 days? If you get an offer, tell others that you got one.
GR: If you have an offer, different between offer and request for a full ms. Guve a dreama gent the time. Asolute write – people will recommend. Don’t treat partial requests the same as a full. Partials may not be read more than a page or two.
GR: You want to be treated professionally, so treat others professionally. Extend certain courtesies if you want them extrended to you. No hard and fast rules
GM: If an agent says, “I liked this but: make some changes”, then do soul searching. Look at feedback and see if changes made she’ll handle you. Do you think the book is fundamentally better even if she doesn’t represent me? You can say no if it’s not the book you wrote. The book can be stronger and better because of that feedback. These are professional people – take that input. Even if they don’t buy it from you.
Personalized feedback is great in a rejection!
Having an online presence is good, too.