Agency

Really, You Don’t Have to Ask

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Over the years I’ve seen lists of questions you’re supposed to ask an agent before signing a contract. Some of the questions are excellent. But I believe if you ask others, at least at the stage when the agent is discussing the possibility of representation, you may have not done the right research ahead of time. I culled these questions from a number of lists on the Internet. Most of these questions appeared on more than one list.

Can you give me a list of authors from whom I may ask for references? A quick trip to most agents’ web sites will tell you about the authors they represent. The Steve Laube Agency site lists all our authors. I’m always glad when authors talk to one another, and I often find new writers based on the recommendations of current clients. But in my view, asking for a list of references is off-putting unless you want to talk to another client before making your decision. If you are unsure of that agency, don’t send them your proposal until you know you’d be thrilled to work with them.

Who do you represent? See Question One. There are exceptions. Some agencies prefer not to make their client lists public and when speaking to them, this question makes sense. But if their client list is already on their web site, your question might give the wrong impression.

How many people work at your agency? Is there any agency web site that doesn’t answer this question with both pictures and agent bios?

How long have you been in business? The reputable agents I know have easily accessible bios. If you ask me this question, I’ll think you haven’t bothered to read my bio, available all over the internet. I’m pretty sure I have said I’ve been a literary agent since 2001 in every single professional bio I’ve ever submitted to any blog, web site, conference brochure, or listing, at least since 2001.

Do you have an electronic presence? Granted, some agents are more active online than others, but this is something you should know well before you start talking seriously about an agency contract. As for myself, well, you’re reading this blog. And I have a personal Facebook page  plus a business Facebook page where I post primarily updates of interest to writers. I have over 16,000 Twitter followers. If you haven’t already, feel free to connect with me on both Facebook and Twitter.

These questions are good ones when asked at the very first stages of considering an agent. But the answers can be found so easily on your own that to ask them after you’ve gone through the submissions process shows the agent you didn’t do any homework. She may wonder why you chose her.

Your turn:
What information do you wish was more accessible online?
What are you embarrassed to ask an agent?
Can you think of some other good questions to ask an agent when discussing representation?

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A is for Advance

by Steve Laube

Whenever I lecture about money the room becomes unusually quiet. Instead of a common restlessness from listeners there is a thrumming impatience to reveal the punch line. The punch line that declares every writer will be rich.

Now that I have our attention let’s turn to the topic of the day. The Advance. This is defined as the money a publisher pays to the author in “advance” of the publication of the finished book. We read about the seven-figure advances in the news because they are unusual and quite substantial. The amount given to everyone else can be rather different. (Read the article where Rachelle Gardner answers the question “What is the Typical Advance.”)

Payout Schedule

The money is not given all at once. There is usually an amount given for signing the book contract and the balance comes at various stages of the writing process. Some pay half on signing, half on acceptance of an acceptable manuscript. Some pay one-third on signing, one-third on acceptance, and one-third on publication. There can be other triggers to create payments like an acceptable proposal for subsequent books in a multi-book deal. We even had one highly unusual situation where the total amount of the advance was divided up over the course of 15 months and the publisher paid the author monthly.

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A is for Agent

by Steve Laube

I thought it might be fun to write a series that addresses some of the basic terms that define our industry. The perfect place to start, of course, is the letter “A.” And even better to start with the word “Agent.”

If you are a writer, you’ve got it easy. When you say you are a writer your audience lights up because they know what that means. (Their perception is that you sit around all day thinking profound thoughts. And that you are rich.)

If you are an editor, you got it sort of easy. Your audience knows you work with words and all you do is sit around and read all day. In my editorial days I was often told, “I’d love to have your job.”

But tell someone you are an agent and there is a blink and a pause. If they don’t know the publishing industry they think “insurance agent” or “real estate agent” or “secret agent.” Or if they follow sports or entertainment they think “sleazy liar who makes deals and talks on the phone all day.” I resent people thinking that I talk on the phone all day. (Hah!)

Even at a writers conference I always have someone ask, “What is it that you do?”

Deal Maker

An agent works on commission. Fifteen percent of the money earned in a contract they have sold to a publisher on behalf of a writer. I will be bold to say that any prospective agent who asks you for money up front is someone you should stay away from.

This is the category that most people focus on when defining the role of the agent. But it is only one small facet of what we do. Two months ago I published a list of the activities our agency had recently done as a way to help dispel the myth that we are only deal makers. It is how we earn our living but only a small part of our work.

Don’t get me wrong. This is a crucial part of what we do. Our contract negotiations are critical to the long-term health of the publishing/author relationship. Last Fall I taught a course at a conference called “Landmines in Your Book Contract.” Each time I read one from an “offending” contract there were gasps in the room. There is a good reason to have a professional review any book contract you are ready to sign.

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When Your Proposal Doesn’t Sell

by Steve Laube

It happens. Despite all efforts and good intentions not every proposal we shop will end up being contracted by a major publisher. Of course our agency tries our best to keep that from happening. We carefully choose which projects and authors we represent. And our success rate is extremely high.

But that success rate is not 100%.

Here are a few examples of projects that I represented in past years that did not sell to a major publisher.

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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.

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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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