Thursday, December 10, 2009

What To Expect From An Agent

Here's some information on what to expect from working with an agent. I developed this from a checklist I emailed to a client once. I think it's such a good idea to address an author's expectations about what working with an agent will involve, what an agent does, what an agent can do for an author. So much that is unexpected can and does arise during the process of publishing a book (some of it good!) that it helps tremendously if an author and agent have a clear, shared vision of what their working relationship will involve.

OVERVIEW An agent does not earn their commission simply by matching up an author with a publisher - it is far, far more than that. Sometimes the author and publisher have even already found each other when the agent’s work begins. Preparing and editing the proposal or manuscript for submission, selecting the editors and publishers to submit to, handling the offer or the auction, negotiating the deal terms, negotiating the language and detailed provisions of the contract, helping out in relations with the publisher as needed (which includes everything from scheduling, to editorial questions, to legal issues, to promotion and publicity upon publication and over the life of the book), maximizing the opportunities for further rights sales on a book, and working with an author on career development – an agent is involved in all these aspects of the business of publishing.

Here’s a quick overview of what to expect from working with an agent:

ADVANCE & OTHER FINANCIAL TERMS An agent will negotiate not just the amount of your advance but also the payment schedule (Is it paid in two installments or three? Is there a payment on delivery of part of the manuscript or only on complete delivery? Etc.) The percentages of royalties for various types of sales (hardcover, trade paperback, high discount, export and more) will all be spelled out in your agreement. Your share of income from subsidiary rights that the publisher controls, such as book club or foreign rights will be negotiated – unless your agent reserves the foreign rights for you and sells them to foreign publishers either directly or via subagents overseas. And the agent will be taking on the fiduciary responsibility of collecting these payments for you, chasing the publisher for them if they are late, and reviewing the detailed royalty statements to make sure that they accurately follow the contract terms, don’t contain any unexplained or questionable information, and that no sales activity seems to be unaccounted for.

E-BOOK DEVELOPMENTS This is a huge new area - e-book publication - that is developing rapidly, everyone in publishing is testing new strategies and making new policy. Your book will be a great opportunity to forge new ground in e-book publication, everything from issues of timing to share of profits to you to international distribution, etc.

ADDITIONAL RIGHTS BEYOND INITIAL BOOK AND E-BOOK PUBLICATION Subsidiary rights, foreign rights, dramatic rights - all these are negotiable, including terms, control, approvals, splits, timing, strategies.

LEGAL ISSUES For this book there are important legal issues to address (also if the book is released in the UK, which should be a strong market for this story) and I would make sure that DB does that in a way that protects you.

AGENT OR LAWYER? Some authors wonder whether to be represented by an agent or, particularly if they have already been approached by a publisher, by a lawyer who could negotiate their book contract. I believe that you need an agent who knows the book business and who knows what is happening in the marketplace to go over your contract. Publishing contracts are legal documents that also address standard business practices in book publishing, and need to be reviewed by someone who understands both the legal issues and the business practices. A lawyer who charges by the hour could end up charging more than the standard 15% commission percentage, and would not be able to address the marketing aspects as well as an agent would. And a lawyer might not be there for you later on in the process should problems arise during the editing or publication of the book.

FILM You should control the film and dramatic rights to your books I co-agent the film rights to my clients’ books with agents who specialize in handling film rights to books, and I sometimes handle film options directly. It is an area in which the timing of submissions can be extremely important.

PROMOTION AND PUBLICITY Finally - promotion and publicity, the actual publishing of the book and publicizing of the author: On many books I do the most work on this aspect, dealing with everything from brainstorming publicity ideas with author and publisher to following through and making sure that the publisher is doing everything they should, to advising the author on websites, e-media, etc. Many publishers now require authors to have an online presence, a full website, Twitter account and Facebook page.

AUTHOR/AGENT AGREEMENTS You and your agent should expect to commit to each other to work on placing your book. One of the exciting aspects of the business is that offers can come about in many ways, from the traditional (your agent works with you on the proposal and submits it simultaneously to a group of selected publishers) to the serendipitous (you or your agent meet an editor on vacation, at a child’s school event, and discover a shared interest; an editor reads an article you wrote or comes across your website and calls to propose a book project). No matter the initial genesis of the offer, your agent will work with you to make sure you have the best possible deal with the publisher, and the best possible publishing experience.

AGENT FREES UP YOUR TIME AND ENERGIES TO WRITE AND TO BE AN AUTHOR – TO BE THE BEST AUTHOR YOU CAN BE Maintaining the editorial relationship with the publisher is your responsibility. Your agent works to further your relationship with a publisher and does not interfere with it. There is plenty for an agent to do in terms of negotiating the deal and details of publication - you should not have to handle this yourself and you should not have to negotiate in person with your publisher, which can be stressful and at times even antagonistic. You should be free to concentrate on your writing and then on promoting your book.


Joanne said...

Thanks for sharing, there's so much more than meets the eye in this unique team. It's also refreshing in these challenging publishing times to read your last paragraph, bringing everything back to the art of writing.

7thProvince said...

I agree with Joanne. I think there's a lot of pressure on authors, new authors especially, to promote their own book. Having a web presence, using social network tools are important. But an author loves to write. How else are we to improve?

Jimmy Ng

Katrina L. Lantz said...

Thank you for this breakdown of what an agent offers. I always love it when agents share their knowledge of the trade. There is so much for us authors to learn. I'm thankful there are people like you to guide us through it.

Lynn at Southern Fried French said...

A most helpful overview, thanks so much.

suzanne said...

It's so helpful to understand up front what is coming in the hopeful event that an agent accepts your work. Writers don't always know the behind-the-scenes of being an agent and I'm glad that I checked this out before I sent out my first query.

Malcolm J. Brenner said...

A very clear and simple breakdown of the writer/agent relationship that leaves nothing major uncovered.

Cate said...

Thanks very much for this break down. Very clear and easy to understand.

richard cambridge said...

Dear Diana, I had no idea an agent's job was this involved. Thank you for taking the time to assemble this, and for giving me a greater appreciation. Richard Cambridge

joseph said...

To be honest, none of this was very much of a surprise. One note of caution though, part way through reading I started to become all excited as though this was directed to me personally. I had to reel myself back in with a stern "send her your query first" and see what happens. Either way, thank you for this post, it's important to get a good layout of how the relationship works.