Literary Agents, their NYC Addresses, and Contracts

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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?
Faith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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12 comments to Literary Agents, their NYC Addresses, and Contracts

  • Faith said, “Six drinks or six bars. Take your pick.”

    I’ll have all six drinks in all six bars, thanks. Ooh, wait, there’s tequila in the kitchen! Maybe it’s marguerita time. After all, it’s five o’clock somewhere.

    Which has nothing to do with your excellent post. I’m just having a hard time getting the words to flow today. 😀

  • Somehow I don’t think the tequila will help…
    LOL
    Faith

  • How do you recommend pitching to an agent at a CON? I would assume that the perferred method is not to amush them at dinner. But is there usually a “Meet and Greet” session set aside or what?

    P.S. – Great post BTW!

  • Thanks Mark.
    There are several dos and don’ts.
    DON’T:
    1 chase them into the restroom.
    2 sleep outside their door.
    3 follow them around with puppydog eyes.
    4 shove your work at them.
    5 get drunk.
    6 vomit on them.
    7 stalk them
    8 have ANYTHING delivered to an agent’s room without her request/permission
    (I blogged on this on my LJ and MySpace and left off number 8.)
    DO:
    1 have several SHORT blurbs ready and rehursed, and tailored to each agent. (This is called research and prep)
    2 offer (to the con planners) to be a guest/agent gofer.
    3 offer (to con planners) to pick agents up at airports.
    4 buy them a drink.
    5 chat about things NOT related to books.
    6 ask intelligent questions about their other clients and books they sold. (More prep and research)
    7 take them for a midnight run (swim) on (in) the beach
    8 attend their sessions, sit up front, take notes and act interested, but not desperate.
    9 have a professional quality mscpt with you (three copies of the first three chapters, with three, one page outlines) in a tote to pass them out if asked.
    10 Have one complete mscpt with you so that if an agent falls in love and says, “I want the whole thing,” you can say…”Um…mailed or delivered to you to today?”
    11 carry anything you think an agent might suddenly need (eyeglass cleaner, nail file, aspirin, tylenol, paperclips, bandaids, hand lotion, umbrella, pen, notepaper, etc.)
    12 if you hear an agent say she is thirsty, ask what she wants and go buy it. Deliver it cold with ice and a glass earns you points.

    In other words, you are wooing this person, without scaring her. The most important part? The blurbs. Rehurse until you can say them in your sleep.
    Faith

  • PS —
    Yes there is usually a meet and greet. But the agent is often overwhelmed at that time. If everyone else is terrified to approach, the agent may be alone. You to the rescue. If agent is overwhelmed, then your job is to find a time when you can approach without offending or getting in the way of rest / down time. It’s tricky.
    Faith

  • When writing a series, is it better to write the series before submitting to an agent or is it better to submit the first book only?

    Wade

  • First book only. I have a friend who had two and a half books of a three book series written and the agent asked her to change it from a first and third person POV to multiple third person POV. It was a major rewrite, and scared her to death. That along with the other changes he suggested made for a really dramatic rewrite. But they made a much better series and resulted in her first (three book) book sale.
    Faith

  • Great post, Faith. But a midnight swim? Hmmmm. Not sure Nancy would approve of that one. I mean, you’ve seen Lucienne, right?

  • See here in Oz if you take someone for a midnight swim they’re very likely to end up as shark bait. Although if they reject your manuscript it might be a good thing.

  • David, some sacrifices must be made for art…Loss of body parts to angry spouses may included in that one.
    LOL.

    However, sharp objects aside, I have a friend who spent a late evening in the waves with an editor without ever telling said editor she had a book to pitch. *Very* smart move. When I told the editor about the book the book the next morning, she said she wants to see the rewritten version.

    And Natalie, you are so right. Waves are a bit safer on the SC coast. I wouldn’t try it on yoru coast.
    Faith

  • I would, however, recommend wearing swim shoes, since the resulting girly squeal from stepping your bare feet on something slimy underwater could betray your cool exterior.

    Not that I ever squeal like that. 😀

  • before you begin soliciting an agent to you have to have the entire book finished. I have written a multi cultural children’s book and the bang with the copy will be the illustrations. I am a stick figure person. How do you begin.
    Mansy