The Importance of an Agent, and the Agency’s Mailing Address
The importance of having an agent in this day and age can’t be emphasized enough. There are so many small presses with totally inclusive clauses in book contracts, so many scams, so many changes in the marketplace, so many vanity presses masquerading as legitimate royalty-paying presses, and so many new and binding clauses even in traditional press contracts that need to be negotiated out and removed prior to signing, that an agent is absolutely imperative. Especially for the writer just starting out, but even for the midlist writer trying to navigate the predator-infested waters of the publishing industry. Personally I think any writer at any level of success should have an agent, but I have to admit that I know a few writers who have been in the business long enough with careers that are thriving well enough to handle their own contracts.
However, this group blog won’t interest such a high-level writer, so I’ll just limit my comments to the rest of us. Get an agent. Get a good agent. How? It can be done any number of different ways. Once you have a finished, rewritten, re-rewritten, and totally polished manuscript, there are any numbers of ways to meet an agent. The most commonly successful way is for a writer to attend a writing conference, meet, greet, blurb, wine, run errands for if you can find a way to be helpful, and follow through with, an agent. The second most common way to get eh attention of an agent is to send out a hundred or so queries (or what feels like a hundred), and hope for several to ask for partials or whole manuscripts. But let’s just say that you have an agent interested in representing your manuscript. How do you decide whether to sign with him?
I have several suggestions, in no particular order:
1. Agent must not ask for any money at all. The only time I have ever paid an agent is after a sale, and then only copying, messenger fees, and mailing costs.
2. A New York address, while once of primary importance, has changed in recent years. Once upon a time an agent had to wine and dine publishers and editors as a part of getting them to look at manuscripts. Now – not so much. If your agent travels to New York several times a year and attends most major conferences, that is good enough. Why? The demographics of New York publishing have changed. Once it was composed of hard-drinking, white males, age 40 to 70, who lived in the city and made it a point to stop at one of several popular bars for an after-work drink. Or six. Six drinks or six bars. Take your pick. Meeting and buying them drinks was imperative. The big-wigs in the biz then went home and slept it off, while hard-working underlings (read: poor, overworked and underpaid females) toted multiple manuscripts home and did the bulk of the actual work. Sad but true. Now the business is run by underpaid but immensely powerful females. They go home after work most nights and do their own reading, buying, and editing. They don’t socialize as much, and usually only at conferences. So the NYC address is less important.
3. Agent needs to have foreign agent affiliations and west coast contacts. This should be a part of their website info.
4. Frankly, young, hip agents are doing very well right now, while the old-school agencies are hiring new, young, hip agents to do the actual work in the offices.
5. Agency needs to represent the kind of work you write and should have a section on their website that lists recent sales.
6. Contract with agency should be fair and allow reasonable ways for writer to get out of representation. Note – just because you get out of representation, if they sold anything you wrote, they often have permanent rights to sell and represent that work, in perpetuity. I personally don’t like an “in perpetuity clause,” but it is becoming common in the business.
7. At the time of this writing, I have two agents, one who represents my thriller/mystery works written under the pen name, Gwen Hunter, and one for my fantasy works. This arrangement is unusual for the business, but I came to it honestly and innocently. Really! For me, this multiple relationship, this professional ménage-à-trois is working. So far. How long will it work to divide myself between two agencies? I don’t know. I’ll cross that bridge if I ever come to it.
There are dozens of other things to say about agents, but this will get your feet off the ground. Anyone have questions?