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Welcome To SORMAG's Blog

Thursday, October 27, 2005

PANEL: Working With an Agent

WELCOME TO THE WORKING WITH AN AGENT ROOM

TODAY'S PANEL IS:

Bettye Griffin, Sophfronia Scott, Dara Girard, Vivian Beck,
Lyn Cote, Sha-Shana Crichton


Want to learn about working with an agent. This is the place to be.

Post your questions in the comments section.

Please read the previous comments before you post, so we don’t have duplicate questions.

Please address your questions to a panel member or all panel members.

29 comments:

JENNA said...

When should I look for an agent? I have one ebook and one category romance. Both of which allow me a direct line to submit to my editor, and have standardized royalty agreements. Should I wait for an agent until I need help with a new publisher?

Jenna (Agent 08)

BlackButterflyReview said...

Hello,
Is it critical to have an agent prior to submitting your book to publishers?

Eleanor (#17)

BlackButterflyReview said...

Sorry, I forgot to ask how do I determine what type or the right agent for me? Is there a criteria that I should be looking for when I am seeking an agent?

Eleanor (#17)

Shelia said...

Question to All:
Should you have an agent to handle book deals and a seperate agent to handle possible movie deals if you also write scripts?

Thanks
Shelia (Badge#16)

Shelia said...

Another question to all:
How long is the average contract with an agent (1 yr, 2 yrs, 3yrs) and is a 30 day out only during the 1st month of a contract or the entire life of a contract?

Shelia (Badge #16)

GenaLGarrison said...

I am currently looking into securing an agent for my next book so I have some questions for the panel as well.

I've heard that "some" fees should be expected of the author to pay, and I've also heard that an author should never pay any fees at all. Which is accurate?

Also, how do you weed through the vast lists of agents that are available to determine which ones to approach.

I like to work smart and not hard but when searching for an agent it seems to be a numbers game. Submit to 100 get 25 replies. Then start all over again.

Can anyone suggest a way to narrow down the choices of who to submit to where it will offer the most likelihood of acceptance.

diane69 said...

I started off my search for agents, by searching for first AA agents because i thought they would be more in tune with my writing and subject matter and also because i thought they would be more connected and in contact with publishers who are interested in AA fiction, but......i am only finding few AA agents, and most of them have a full list. In the interim i decided to query any, and all agents who represent other AA authors with works like mine, but a lot of them have a full list as well, so what's a an author to do? To tell you the truth, i have stopped searching, and instead am concentrating on writing and producing more works of my fiction. BTW when i did converse back and forth with a few non-AA agents, i didn't feel like some of them had a feel for AA fiction, and may not be the best representation if they didn't have at least some understanding or passion for my work. Now my for second question, how do you base your decision on whether to take on a new client? Is it based solely on the quality of the work? Whether the work is marketable, or saleable? Or is it based upon what you are shopping for now? And i say this after querying at least 3 AA agents, and there response was, "not looking for that type material", another said, "want Chick-lit, Romance,", etc...

Diane69

diane69 said...

I started off my search for agents, by searching for first AA agents because i thought they would be more in tune with my writing and subject matter and also because i thought they would be more connected and in contact with publishers who are interested in AA fiction, but......i am only finding few AA agents, and most of them have a full list. In the interim i decided to query any, and all agents who represent other AA authors with works like mine, but a lot of them have a full list as well, so what's a an author to do? To tell you the truth, i have stopped searching, and instead am concentrating on writing and producing more works of my fiction. BTW when i did converse back and forth with a few non-AA agents, i didn't feel like some of them had a feel for AA fiction, and may not be the best representation if they didn't have at least some understanding or passion for my work. Now my for second question, how do you base your decision on whether to take on a new client? Is it based solely on the quality of the work? Whether the work is marketable, or saleable? Or is it based upon what you are shopping for now? And i say this after querying at least 3 AA agents, and there response was, "not looking for that type material", another said, "want Chick-lit, Romance,", etc...

Diane69

GenaLGarrison said...

Diane your comments make a world of sense. I queried several agents who said they were interested in signing AA talent.

Each sent me the same refusal letter. "We are currently interested in street or urban fiction. Do you have anything in that genre that you could resubmit."

Worded differently but all the same thing. Urban fiction is hot right now and alot of agents are only interested in signing those authors.

I've even had a few suggest I try to write a urban novel, sell it first then approach the publisher with my other work.

Badge #76

diane69 said...

That is so true. I've 1 ready to go children's manuscript, 1 mystery/suspense book about to be published by a small press that i had been shopping for about 2 years or more until the small press came along. In the meantime i started writing a book i would like to title commercial fiction, but as it turns out could probably fit into the urban novel genre, and this is the one they say "when you are finished with that, send it to me!" My next book will be in the mystery/suspense genre, because i want to write a series. When you talk with readers across the board they want to read all types of literature, romance, mystery, paranormal, thriller, chick-lit, literary and some thug fiction. We are not identical and our reading choices exemplify that, so why is the choice being made to only publish, or heighten the publishing of urban/street fiction, as opposed to a wide variety? I already know the answer, just want to hear your thoughts.

GenaLGarrison said...

Bottomline it's money. They know that urban fiction sells. The novel I am shopping right now is sci-fi and although there are some great sci fi AA writers it's not a genre that publishers expect black people to find interest.

The literary world is alot like Hollywood in that they want to sell the same thing over and over without taking risks.

Instead of looking for the next big thing they are content to ride the bandwagon.

diane69 said...

You are so right! until the next breakthrough novel, or film comes along then its "can you write one of those!" Okay, so it seems that there are alot of authors, some published who feel the same way. I listened to a radio broadcat on NPR with Tina McElroy-Ansley and she said that this was one of the main reasons she was starting up her own publishing company, so that she could publish what she likes to write and what she likes to read. I'm in total agreement with this, and thus i also have my own publishing company. But it's not to supercede the big houses, bc who wouldn't want to be with a big house and receive (i'm only guessing) monstrous advances with loads of marketing (that too may be farfetched, but stay with me).I love to write, and there are stories in my head that don't necessarily fit into what some of the big houses want, so does it stop me from writing? No!, and it won't stop me from publishing it either, not anymore. There is an audience out there that is clamoring, craving for AA Sci-fi, AA-Thriller, and all of the like. My daughter and son both asked me could i write something like a Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter? Well, i love those books, i love fantasy, but right now, i don't write it, but there is someone, someone just like you, Genal who does.

Stephanie said...

Question to all:

How frequently do you take on new, unpubbed writers? And what is a reasonable time to expect a response to a query?

Also what are some "red flags" to look for when negotiating with an agent, i.e. signs that that may be less than reputable. I know the one about how agents should never charge reading fees, but any others?

Thanks!

Stephanie (#144)

Dara Girard said...

Hello everyone! First I must say you have excellent questions and I hope I can enlighten you on some issues.

Q. When should I look for an agent?

A. Maybe never. There are a number of authors who only work directly with their editor/publisher. Having an agent doesn’t make you any more or less of an author. It’s just a business partnership. Yes, agents have their purpose, but if you feel comfortable negotiating your contracts and know the industry you don’t need an agent.

If you ever get into any trouble you can consider hiring a literary attorney to iron out any legality. Yes, you can consider searching for an agent if you want to target publishing houses that only accept agented material, but remember you can get around this if you know how to network. Do you have author friends that may know an editor at a certain house? Do you attend conferences and could perhaps schedule and author/editor interview? Does that house have a line where they accept unagented material or can you send a query?

I would write down the reasons why you would want an agent. List the pros and cons of having one and not having one then go with your instincts.

Q. Is it critical to have an agent prior to submitting your book to publishers?

A. I wouldn’t say it’s critical. I certainly didn’t have one when I started out. Some authors send directly to publishers then when an editor shows interest they go to an agent with a contract in hand and have her/him negotiate the deal. You can also do a two-prong approach and query some editors and agents.

It also depends on the field. In category romance you don’t need an agent since the contract is pretty standard, in mainstream fiction the waters get murky and an agent might help. Sometimes (most times) it’s harder to get an agent than an editor because an agent depends on a commission (10-15%). So their first line of business is to look at what sells. An editor gets a salary so they can take more of a risk. I know of an author who sent to three agents and an editor. All the agents turned her down, but the editor said yes. Which ‘yes’ do you think mattered more?

One thing I want to say to all of you. Beware of the trend chaser agent! You want a representative who loves your work. Not someone who tries to mold it into the latest fad so that they have a cheque to cash. Many careers in this industry have died because authors have allowed the industry to tell them what to write. Write what you are meant to write and keep at it, that’s one of the secrets to longevity.

Q. How do you determine the right agent?

A. There’s really no set criteria. Like any marriage what is right for you is a personal decision. Do you want an agent that sends you rejections or do you want to be shielded? Do you like to be kept up to date or would you prefer a quarterly report of some sort? Here are a few things to remember:

1) Be a champion of your storytelling. Don’t let any agent try to change your work to fit what they think is selling. If you feel uncomfortable with them, if they bully you, if they criticize you then find another agent. Trends come and go; great storytelling lingers. I don’t care if you write cozy SF mysteries and Westerns are hot. You want an agent ready sell your work and willing to take the time to do so. Make sure to ask how long they will send a manuscript out before they put it aside.

2) Select an agent that knows your field. Yes, there are many agents out there but most specialize. If you write mysteries, don’t send to an agent that specializes in romance or non-fiction inspirationals. They industry varies in the different genres and you want an agent that knows that and target to the right market.

3) Know where you see your career in three-five years. If you’re writing category romance and want to move into single title or segue into police procedurals, then you want an agent that can help you do that. Not one that will try to lock you into category because the money is good. Again stay away from any agent that tries to squeeze you into a trend or lock you into a field.

4) Determine why you want to publish. Do you want to make money? Then say so. Share how much. Do you want to write in different genres? Do you want to have artistic freedom? Find an agent that can help you.

5) Look at the client list they represent. Do they have books similar to yours? Authors you admire?

6) How long have they been in the industry? For agents seeking out aspiring authors that’s great, but how many manuscripts have they sold? It won’t do you any good to be accepted by an agent with 95% of his clients unpublished.

7) Trust your instincts. If it doesn’t feel right go with it. No agent is better than a bad agent.

8) Lastly make sure they love your work. If an agent says they want to represent you ask them what they liked about your work and why they think it will sell. If their vision of your work matches yours then you may have found your match.

Q. Should you have an agent to handle book deals and a separate agent to handle possible movie deals if you also write scripts?

A. I’m sure another panel member can answer this for you. My understanding is that script agents are different from book agents so I’d say yes. But if you find an agent that also handles that aspect why split yourself in two?

Q. How long is the average contract?

A. That depends. Some agents go on a project by project basis. Others sign until the contract is terminated. I’m sure the agents on the panel can handle this question better.

Q. About paying fees.
My theory is an author should keep her chequebook closed. In publishing money flows in one direction and that is to the author—No exceptions. If an agent charges for courier services, copyediting, overseas phone calls etc… that should come out of the advance after the book is sold. Also there should be an agreed upon limit between the author and agent of say $150 no more. Don’t under any circumstances pay for critiques, polishing, promotion, book doctoring etc… I

Q. How do you weed through the vast list of agents?

Seeking out an agent is like looking for a spouse. Just because a guy is single does not make him marriage material. Have your standards. Know what you want. Try to go with an agent that is part of AAR (Association of Author’s Representatives) they have criteria that agents must follow (including not charging fees).
Not all good agents belong to this organization, but again do your research. Again you want someone who knows your field, how has some sales, a good reputation ( you can find this out by querying their clients, talking to other authors or checking out Preditors and Editors)

Whew! I’m going to take a break then come back and answer some more questions. I’m sure by then others will have shared their opinions.

Dara #85

Diane69 said...

Thanks Dara,

Excellent information!

Diane69

Shelia said...

Dara,

Thanks for the detailed information.

Shelia (#16)

Diane69 said...

And Dara,

I just visited your website, and i have to tell you, i am loving your articles!!! They are informative, humorous and encouraging, a lot like what you've written here. They let me know that we are, (unpublished, and newbie writers) are not alone here, in our thoughts and anxieties, through rejections and revisions...i guess in the end, it's like you say, a process we must all go through.

Diane69

Tempie said...

Dara...I appreciate all of the informative information you provided in the above comment. You asked and answered everything I needed to know. You were great!!!
Thanks Tempie
Badge #151

Dara Girard said...

I'm glad that my comments have helped. I noticed one question was how do you spot 'red flags' when negotiating with an agent. Here are some things to look out for:

1) An agent suggests an editing service or a book doctor to help you get your manuscript in shape. Some reputable agents will suggest an independent freelance editor that can help you, but this is rare, usually they'll just reject you. If an agent does suggest outside help do your research! Find out if it's a division of the agent's company, which leads me to my next warning.

2)Beware the agent that wears two hats. If the agent is also an editor/resume writer/chef or whatever go elsewhere. You want someone who makes their money solely selling books, if they make money doing something else what is the motivation to make sure you sell?

3) As I mentioned before, avoid any agent that requires upfront fees. I don't care if they call them evaluation fees, reading fees, handling fees, administration fees etc...Don't pay for anything. I mean think about it, if you set up a company and just charge fees to look at the work coming across your desk, why should you spend any time marketing it? When an author makes money then the agent should make money.

4) If an agent accepts your work ask them where they plan to send it. If they suggest sending your mystery to Harlequin then they don't know the industry and you're better off alone. There are far too many agents who accept work from aspiring authors and then do a 'blitz' mailing not caring where the manuscript goes.

5) Don't go to agents that advertise in the back of magazines (ie. Writer's Digest) or online. Reputable agents don't need to advertise they are overwhelmed already.

6) Lastly stay away from agents that moan about how hard it is for new authors to get published. They're just setting you up for failure--their failure of not getting your manuscript published.

I want to congratulate all of you on following your dreams. Never give up!

Dara #85

Bettye Griffin said...

Uh-oh. I just spent the better part of an hour writing a reply to all questions except for those clearly directed to agents, that seems to have gotten lost when I tried to log in and post. . .?

Bettye Griffin
www.bettyegriffin

Stephanie said...

Dara, You Rock! Thank you so much for taking to time to answer in such detail! SO helpful!

Off to amuse myself on your website now :-)

Stephanie (#144)

Bettye Griffin said...

All right, let's try this again, forgetting about trying to log in.

Jenna, if you're comfortable handling negotiations yourself and there's very little wiggle room in terms of the terms, you might be better off without giving 15% of your earnings to an agent, at least until you're ready to move into another genre.

Eleanor, some publishing houses won't look at unagented work. You might want to check the requirements of those who publish the kind of fiction you write and go from there. When looking for an agent, look for those who represent the type of fiction you write. Check the 'Preditors' and Editors site. And trust your instincts. An agent who looks good on paper won't necessarily have the personality to mesh with yours.

Shelia, I will defer to agents on your question about movies rights, but I do know that several agencies have divisions who handle film rights. But personally, I would not the lack of a film division stop me from signing with an agent who is otherwise a good match. Regarding length of contract term, I would not feel comfortable signing anything that tied me to anyone for a specific amount of time. I fired both of my first two agents with 30 days notice.

Genal, fees aren't acceptable. Reimbursements generally are, but not as a bill. These should be deducted from your royalty. (Once a time agents took 10% commission and nothing else, but then somebody started charging 15% and reiumbursement expenses, and before you could say "bird flu" this practice has spread to the bulk of most other agents.) There are agents who charge 10% or 12%, and others who don't subtract their expenses, but I think this is more likely to happen for long-established clients who are steady sellers than it is for someone who's just on the scene. These should also be well documented. (one of my former agents charged me nearly $400 for expenses they couldn't document. Soon after I got my money back they became a "former" agent.) I also wouldn't expect to be charged for every little photocopy. If an agent is making three copies of a 500-page manuscript for interested publishers and sending them out via UPS, that's one thing. If they are billing you for copying a measly 50 pages, that's something else. (They should also ask you if you'd rather provide the copies, which might be a better way to go.) But "administrative" fees for reading, etc., would raise a red flag for me.

As far as cutting back on the research to match up with a good agent, I don't think there are any short cuts. Just think of it as the same research you'd have to do if you were writing a book.

Ladies, I know your pain regarding publishers who put your work in a box. Years ago I approached an agent with a proposal for a story that featured four women. The agent declined, saying that the four women theme (which has been around at least since the time Louisa May Alcott published "Little Women," if not before,) too closely resembled Terry McMillan's "Waiting To Exhale." I wrote to her and asked that if a white writer submitted a legal thriller, would she reject it because it too closely resembled Scott Turow or John Grisham? She never responded, which of course gave me my answer.

Incidentally, that story I pitched will be published by Dafina next spring under the title, "Nothing But Trouble."

Hope this helps.

Bettye Griffin
www.bettyegriffin.com

Tempie said...

Bettye Griffin...

After reading all of your wonderful input and experiences...all I can say is:

YOU GO GIRL!!!!!

Thanks Tempie
Badge #151

P.S. I'm proud of you and am going to your site now....

Tee C. Royal said...

Dara/Bettye, what wonderful advice and great questions from the rest of you. I'm a bit late checking in today, but all my questions were asked and answered. :)

-Tee C. Royal
Badge #57

BlackButterflyReview said...

Thank you Ms. Griffin and I will be sure to get that book when it comes out.

Eleanor (#17)

GenaLGarrison said...

I just wanted to say thank you to Dara and Bettye for the wonderful answers. This has been an extremely informative day.

Badge#76

Shelia said...

Thanks Bettye. It's good hearing from someone who has been down the path we're trying to go.

Shelia (#16)

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Thanks Dara and Bettye! You answered everything I was thinking. I've also visited both of your sites and will in the future!

Bonnie (#177)

Sophfronia Scott said...

Hi,
Sophfronia Scott here. I'm sorry I haven't been able to post here on the days these panels happened. I had a friend pass away unexpectedly and the past two days I have been to the funeral visiting friends.

Anyway, I wanted to let you know that I wrote about the question of agents in my newsletter last month. You can view it at this link:
http://www.thebooksistah.com/ATBS2.htm
Let me know if you have any further questions. Hope this helps!
Cheers, Sophfronia

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