Thursday, January 21, 2016

When Do You Need an Agent?

When is the right time for you to approach a literary agent? For some writers the answer to this question is never.  Okay, maybe I better explain.
 
First, you should have written a complete book before you approach an agent.

Also, agents do not represent short stories or articles or poems. They do, however, represent screenplays, collections of short stories or poetry.

Second, an agent is an agent is an agent—right? Wrong!! There are all kinds of agents, some reputable, some not. A reputable agent doesn’t charge you fees but instead takes a percentage of the sale, usually anywhere from 10 to 20%.  Anyone who asks you for money upfront is a scammer.

Third, you have to look for an agent who represents the type of book you have written. Some agents only want nonfiction, some are looking for formula romance.  Some are into mysteries while others want literary work. Agents for children’s work might be looking for picture books, middle grades fiction or YA.

 Four, is this agent open to new submissions? You have to find this out before you ever submit a query letter; otherwise you’re just wasting their time and more importantly your own. WRITER’S MARKET can help you. Ask for the latest edition at the reference section of your local library. Also there are plenty of online listings that offer information. All you have to do is use Google to search. Agents list their areas of interest and expertise.

Check out:







What can an agent do for you? An agent will try to sell your manuscript to a publishing house, will handle contract negotiations and will stand as a buffer between you and the publisher. They will also try to negotiate an advance against royalties.

An agent will shop your manuscript around publishing houses, using inside knowledge to (hopefully) place it with the right editor. Maybe the agent was formerly associated with a particular house as an editor. If the agent and publisher are located in the same place like NYC, maybe the agent can “do lunch” with the appropriate editor. The major agents network with editors at the big publishing houses, the ones you really hope will buy your writing. These are the publishers who only look at work submitted through agents.

In addition, before you approach an agent with your well-written query letter, make certain that your manuscript is as polished as possible. This means making certain there are no grammatical or spelling errors. Quality writing is crucial. If you were an English major or a journalism student, that’s great. If not, consider taking a writing course, if you haven’t had at least one already. The competition is tough.

If an agent does consent to look at your work, make certain to read carefully and follow their guidelines exactly. Some will look at a synopsis and sample chapters, others want to see the entire manuscript.

As for me, I currently have contracted with a reputable agent and hope this arrangement will work out. I had several agents in the past that sold none of my work. I myself sold fifteen books of fiction to publishers, negotiated contracts and advances.


So does everyone need an agent? Probably not. Each writer has to make that decision for herself or himself. What do you think?  Any insights or experiences that you care to share are very welcome.

21 comments:

  1. Great advice and insight Jacquie!
    Thanks for sharing.
    PamT

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    1. Thank you, Pam. I hope it proves helpful to fellow writers.

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  2. I've attempted to find an agent in the past, and then some wise person told me to write and publish shorts to form a track record and then I'd have a better chance of attracting an agent. For me, maybe next year I'll try again. Thanks for the walk through and the reminders.

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    1. Hi, Madeline,

      I continue to write short stories and submit them to many publications. I do think that's important. I also find pleasure in writing short stories of various kinds. And at times, I've earned more from short fiction than books.

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  3. Good advice, Jacquie. It IS a matter for each individual writer to decide and it is often complicated.

    Good blog.

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    1. Hi, Betty,

      I agree. I don't think there's any right answer here. Sometimes an agent works out for a particular writer, other times not.

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  4. A very informative post, Jacquie! I tried to find an agent for years before I finally realized that I needed to get my name "out there" first. About that time, I also learned about small press publishers and began to query them. (BTW, this was after I'd completed my first novel.) My Malone mysteries have found a home with Post Mortem Press. Will I try to find a reputable literary agent in the future, possibly for standalone novels I plan to write? Or, will I decide to self-publish those? I honestly don't know. :)

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    1. Tough decision to make since you've already established a following for your novels.

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  5. Some years back, after exhaustive research into the agents which handled my type material and which were accepting submissions, I subbed one of my screwball comedies to 8 different agents. One never replied at all. Others replied so promptly that I was reasonably certain their interns rejected it before it even reached the agents' desks.
    Another agent requested a "full" ms. And stayed in contact with me for a few months, but then went on hiatus, relocated her office, and shut down her email (apparently). I never got a reply to any further emails.
    Thankfully, that novel went on to be published by a small royalty publisher and I'm pleased with the results.

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    1. Jeff,

      The problem with getting a good agent is that they are often more difficult to get than small publishers.

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  6. Good advice, as always, Jacqueline. I think it's pretty difficult for a new writer to get an agent, and getting one doesn't necessarily mean success. I can relate to Patricia and Jeff's experience, and I think approaching small publishers directly can sometimes be more productive than constantly trying to snag an agent. The trade-off is that writers have to do careful research to ensure they aren't ripped off by vanity presses posing as legitimate publishers.

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    1. Allan,

      What you say is quite true. A reputable small publisher will often be good to work with, but you have to vet publishers carefully and go over the contracts as well, making certain you aren't being ripped off.

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  7. I have had successful agents and worthless ones (submitting my work to the 10 largest pubs in the universe and telling me he can't sell it). Currently I function as my own agent. Try www.agentquery.com.

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  8. Good suggestion. I've used it as well.

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  9. Great advice/blog, Jacqueline. Thanks!

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    1. Thank you, Carole. I hope it proves helpful.

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  10. Thanks for the informative blog on a tricky subject, which the comments bear out.

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  11. I've had 3 agents off and on in my writing career, and they were all helpful. I finally parted with the last one when I began writing for small presses rather than large--and my agent mostly ignored the smaller ones. Agents are business people and they want to make money (like the rest of us, alas.)

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  12. Hi, Nancy,

    There are benefits to working with both small presses and the large ones.

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  13. Nice post, Jacquie. Wishing you all the best with this new genre!
    Maggie

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