Agency

Serious Talk with your Potential Agent

What are some of the things you should ask when an agent has called to offer you representation? Here goes, in no particular order:

1) Would you go over your contract terms with me? Even though you will be reading the agency contract before signing, this is your chance to learn the main points you can expect to see.  Ask questions now. After you review the contract, don’t be afraid to ask for clarifications in writing.

2) Will you or another agent be handling my work? This is important when signing with an agency that has more than one agent. The Steve Laube Agency does not reassign authors. Once you sign with one of us, you remain with that agent, although our President, Steve Laube, is quite involved and offers invaluable advice and oversight to his agents.

3) What plans do you have for presenting my work to publishers? While presenting your manuscript for maximum effect is the agent’s job, now is the time to share your hopes and dreams. Those may be anything from “I just want to get published,” to, “ACME is my dream publisher,” to, “I feel my next contract should take me to a higher level of status and money.” What will the agent do to help you achieve your dream?

4) May I share with you my financial expectations and needs? I’ll work just as hard for the author buying a big screen TV or a beach trip with her royalties as I will for the author who needs every penny to pay the light bill. However, financial considerations will affect the author choosing between several offers. You’ll be talking a lot with your agent about money. Start with an honest discussion now. Steve told me of one author who said he wouldn’t take a contract for anything less than $100,000….which was too bad since the project was likely going to sell for about $8,000. Steve ended up not taking that client since he would be unable to meet that author’s expectations.

5) What are your office hours? I don’t believe I’ve seen office hours stated on anyone’s web site and while this question seems rudimentary, it’s important because most authors and agents don’t want or need to be on call 24/7, particularly since publishers’ offices aren’t open around the clock. Plus, you owe your family and yourself some off time.

However, this information will give you a guideline about the best times to telephone your agent and when you may expect to hear back on emails. If the agent says his schedule is flexible, I recommend using email, which is less obtrusive than the telephone, during off hours and confining telephone calls to 9 AM to 5 PM Monday through Friday in his time zone. Over time you and your agent may develop a relationship where you call each other every Sunday at 10 PM, and that’s fine. But start out treating your agent with respect to boundaries as you would any other business person.

6) As a general rule, how long does it take you to respond to emails and missed telephone calls during your standard office hours? A major complaint I hear from authors is that their agents don’t communicate with them. By getting an idea of how the agent works in this area, you can avoid misunderstanding.

7) How hands-on are you regarding proposals? When you listen to the agent’s answer, take into consideration your needs. If you expect an agent to double as your editor, say so now. If you already have established relationships with your editors and send proposals to them on your own and bring the agent in at contract time, tell the agent now. Most writers fall between these two situations. Now is a good time to find out what both of you should expect.

All will not be revealed during even a lengthy telephone conversation and you’ll still need to learn about each other and grow in your working relationship. But if you feel uncomfortable or less than excited after the conversation, give the agent a chance to clarify any fine points. Then, if you still feel unsure, don’t rush to sign a contract. Better not to act than to find you need to part ways years later, which will be much more painful.

But most of the time, the big call leads to even bigger possibilities — and a warm, lasting relationship both of you will cherish.

Your turn:

What questions did I miss?
Can you add to my ideas?

Leave a Comment

Reactions to Your Career

Often, strangers ask me what a literary agent does. Once I tell them, they’ll want to share with me that they are writing a children’s picture book. Or an aunt, cousin, or friend, is writing one. I think a lot of parents write read-aloud books because they are part of the bedtime ritual with their own children and perceive that the volume of books published means the market is vast. Unfortunately, it is not, as I discovered when I wrote three of my own, never-to-be-published children’s picture books. But I digress.

When I said that I present books to editors, an auto mechanic asked, “So you are teaching the editors how to read?”

Most people understand what I mean when I say I’ve written Bible trivia books, but conversations can get more lively when I tell them I’m the author of Christian romance novels. One recent reaction was laughter. And more laughter. I think he may have even pointed at me.

Another response: “Like, in the ads where you see ‘Meet Christian Singles’?”

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Agents and Proposals: What to Expect

Last week I left you with a question: How do editors/agents get through all the proposals they receive. For me, as an editor and now as an agent, the answer was to hire someone to be my first-pass reader. In my case, this person is someone I’ve worked with now for over fifteen years. She knows me and my tastes well, and, as an avid reader and a skilled writer herself, she knows quality writing. She reviews my proposals and, based on a list of criteria I’ve given her, determines if said proposals are at a level that I should review them.

Here’s a hard truth about proposals: roughly 95% of the proposals my first-pass reader reviews, she rejects. And that percentage is fairly common for many editors and agents. When my reader determines the manuscript isn’t ready for me to review, she sends the writers something very similar to the noncommittal response most writers dislike. Honestly, I’m not that crazy about it when I receive it from editors! But I understand and accept it, because I know it isn’t the editors’ jobs to to critique the proposals I—or others, be they agents or writers–send them. Just as it isn’t my reader’s job to do so. What she’s supposed to do is determine whether or not the proposals meet my clear criteria.

So what, you ask, are my criteria?

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Juggling Agent Interest

Whether you have been sending queries simultaneously through email, the Post Office, or by pitching at conferences, you may be among the select few authors who garners interest from more than one agent. Congratulations! While interest from more than one publishing professional doesn’t guarantee a contract, the consensus is that you have a strong proposal and a good shot at success. For the sake of clarity, I am confining this post to writers who are pitching to agents. The agent would manage interest from editors.

Hiring agents isn’t something writers can practice. At least, we hope not. Don’t earn the reputation as a writer who flits from agent to agent. So this decision is extremely important. You want a good fit for the long term. The agents want the same. As you go through the process of choosing, I have a couple of ideas that may help minimize unnecessary work and trouble for all concerned:

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Five Reasons Why You May Never Get Published

by Steve Laube

 

There are many factors that go into the acquisition, development, and sale of a new book. But the majority of ideas never get to that point. I thought it might be helpful to review some of the most common issues we’ve run into.

1. You Won’t Do the Work
Writing a novel, a non-fiction work, or even a short article isn’t a casual enterprise. It takes hard work to do it well. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, has made popular the notion that it takes 10,000 hours of work before finding success. While it isn’t an exact formula there is truth to this assertion. Do the math.

If you work at your writing craft for 2o hours a week for 50 weeks it will equal one thousand (1,000) hours x 10 and the calculation reveals nearly ten years of hard work to feel like you have a chance.

Unfortunately we run into writers who have dashed off something during a lunch break and think it is worth millions.

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Choosing and Courting Your First Choice Agent

You’ve done your homework, including:

visiting agency web sites talking to author friends about their agents interacting casually with agents on social media reading agents’ blogs attending writers conferences as your time and budget allow

This is part of the process in helping you choose the agent you most feel you want to work with.

When deciding, think about:

agency’s reputation agent’s reputation authors the agent represents (demonstrated success with work similar to yours) personality (this is where social media helps)

Reputable agents welcome being researched because we stand on our record. Of course, every agent and agency who has been in business more than a day and a half has a few detractors. Most of the time, detractors are made either because the client and agent were a mismatch from the start and/or because of an unhappy situation complicated by misunderstanding. Good agents conduct themselves in an ethical manner and your research should reveal that the overarching agreement in the writing community is that their clients are well served.

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Book Industry Trends

by Steve Laube

Publishing is partly an exercise in guessing what might be the next surprise bestseller. Some of it is an educated guess based on certain trends we see in the industry and in society at large. Any exercise in naming these trends bears the risk of expressing the obvious or being out of date the moment they are stated. So bear with me as I tinker with some of the things that are either influencing trends or are trends within themselves.

The Blockbuster Mentality

If it was your money you would likely “bet” on those book ideas that you know are going to sell a ton of copies. And only those who already have a track record are assured of a ready-made buying audience. In addition, for the non-fiction writer in particular, there is a demand for the author of have a visible or quantifiable platform from which they can launch their book ideas. Much ink has been spilled on defining platform and how to build one, and for good reason.

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The Tell-All You Can’t Live Without

Karen Ball

Okay, okay, I admit it, the title of this blog is hyperbolic. Kind of. But let me explain why it’s not that far off the mark to say you really can’t—or at the very least, shouldn’t–live without it. Also, let me explain why I’m addressing something that Tamela addressed a mere 3 months ago.

So far this week, I’ve had no fewer than seven conversations with writers, agents, and editors, all of which hit on the same topic: finding out important information long after they should have. The conversations covered a broad range of information:

An author calling to say s/he was going to miss a deadline—a week before the deadline. A client receiving an extension on a deadline from an editor A publishing house moving a pub date without letting the author know A book arriving with a cover that was completely different from what the author approved

My response in every case was utterly profound:

“Are you KIDDING me??”

So though Tamela addressed the following in March, let’s talk about it again. Because friends, this is important stuff. (And because you know who will address it next: Mr. Steve. And he won’t be as nice as Tamela and I are! <insert evil grin here>)

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A Bit of Blogs, Just for You!

I’ve recently discovered a couple of new blogs that I really like, so I thought I’d share them with you.

The first is by Jeff Goins, at http://goinswriter.com. I like his perspective on writing, not just the craft, but the work of it. And he has a sense of humor, too. That’s always nice.

The second is The Creative Penn, by Joanna Penn. I love the diversity of topics she addresses, and her knowledge of publishing is really broad. Plus an added bonus: she’s got a lovely accent!

Last but not least, here’s a blog on, you guessed it, blogging! Anytime you’re struggling with keeping up with the bloggers, or if you want to feel as though someone is walking the blogging road with you, just hop on over to Successful Blog (http://www.successful-blog.com) with Liz Strauss. She’s got great counsel and ideas that can help not just with blogging, but with your writing as well.

How about you? Any blogs you can’t get through the day without reading? Well, other than the Steve Laube Agency blog, of course! (And those already recommended in the right hand column under “Industry Blogs.”) But share your discoveries so we can all benefit.

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A One Year Anniversary Announcement

by Steve Laube

A year ago we welcomed Tamela Hancock Murray and Karen Ball to our agency. I couldn’t be more pleased.

These two ladies are amazing people. They both work very hard to serve their clients with passion and excellence. I am blessed to have them as part of our team.

Next week will be the eighth anniversary of the founding of The Steve Laube Agency. We have had some wonderful success and represented some amazing authors and books in those years. I pray that we continue to help change the world word by word.

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