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WHAT AN AGENT WILL DO FOR YOU
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annswinfen
 19 May 2010, 15:30 #89217 Reply To Post
I thought I’d contribute to the discussion on agents/editors/publishers which has been taking place on another thread, because I get the impression some people aren’t clear about what an agent does. I’ve had an agent for 15 years (though my original agent has now retired), so I’ve some experience of what agents provide. A good agent will look after your interests, not exploit you. Always look for an agent who belongs to the Association of Authors’ Agents; members must have a track record and abide by the rules of the Association.

A good agent will check your contract with a publisher very carefully, to make sure all points are covered: royalties, your retentions of certain rights, consultation about covers, print-run, requirements with regard to proof-reading, length of time the book will be kept in print, reversion of rights if it goes out of print, the position with regard to e-book publication, etc., etc. These are tricky issues and solicitors not accustomed to the world of publishing may miss an important detail.

Your royalties are paid to you via your agent, who will chase up your publisher if they are not forthcoming. He/she will negotiate foreign, large-print, broadcasting, TV, magazine, film and recording rights for you, and try to secure interviews and reviews (though the publicity department at your publisher will also do this last). Generally, an agent will not handle short stories if that is all you write. However, once you are signed up with a novel, your agent may be willing to place short stories for you (mine sold to the BBC).

The extent to which an agent will ‘edit’ varies enormously. Most will at least make minor suggestions, without necessarily insisting on them. In recent years, many former editors have become agents, after growing unhappy with the way the big publishing houses are now mostly under the control of the money men. These agents are often keen to use their editing skills and are worth listening to. However, if they want to turn your book into something radically different, which you can’t stomach, it’s probably time to bow out gracefully.

The editor at your publishing house will edit, but these days the time they can spend working on a text in detail is severely limited. Therefore, your text should be as near perfect as you can get it, before you submit it to an agent or editor. There should be NO spelling or punctuation mistakes. A sloppy text is almost certain to earn you a thumbs-down, however good the content.

At your publisher, your text will pass through the hands of your editor, a copy-editor and a proof-reader, and you will see the text at each stage (and be expected to proof-read carefully and quickly!). The publicity and marketing departments are responsible for getting your book into the shops and for getting it noticed by the media. However, most marketing budgets are ear-marked for the books which are already expected to be big sellers (To those that hath shall be given…), so you can expect to have to do most of the publicity yourself. I remember going to a meeting of Random House authors who were members of the Society of Authors. This was held at RH, and we were given a presentation by Gail Rebuck. Questions very quickly turned to ‘Why aren’t you giving us more publicity?’ ‘Why publish us if you aren’t prepared to back us?’ The interesting thing was that there were some very big names there, who weren’t happy. We didn’t get any very satisfactory answers, though we picked up (what we suspected) that when a huge advance had been paid (John Grisham was cited), the company had to recoup the money by spending lavishly on publicity.

So there you are. That’s the gist of my experience. Get a good, trustworthy agent if one will take you on, but don’t expect him or her to edit you. You will, however, get some protection from the sharks out there, and perhaps a nice little earner in the way of subsidiary rights, which can be quite lucrative!
Ann
MLT
 19 May 2010, 16:10 #89226 Reply To Post
Thanks Ann.

What a very useful post.
sulcus
 19 May 2010, 16:15 #89230 Reply To Post
What you say in regard to the agent's function is bang on the money, but interestingly, almost wholly concerns affairs once your book has been picked up by a publisher.
ie an agent is unlikely to be able to place your debut book any more than you by your own efforts. Plenty of my peers in the US have got agency representation. None have yet sold a book.

I think writers ought to bear in mind that getting an agent is not a guarantee of success. The agent will not do the work that you should probably be doing yourself, which is trying to place the book with a publisher and more importantly, they are not there to edit it for you. They have their contacts and ins with certain publishers it's true, but if the book isn't right, they will not be able to sell itany more than you would have been able to. An agent can basically recommend a comissioning editor read your book, which effectively means the agent has moved you to the top of the slush pile. Nothing else.

Demolinero has said she's had two publishers bite on her book, without her having an agent. She now requires an agent to seal the deal and carry out all the contractual stuff as Ann lays out above.

This post was last edited by sulcus, 19 May 2010, 16:17
"A,B&E", "Not In My Name" and "52FF" (flash fiction anthology) all available on Amazon Kindle

"How a psychopath makes sweet love. I can get you ringside. Royal box even."
annswinfen
 19 May 2010, 16:40 #89233 Reply To Post
Yes, most of what I said above applies to post-acceptance. However, prior to acceptance, an experienced agent will know which are the best editors to approach for your particular book. In addition, the editor will know that an agent will not be presenting a book for consideration unless it has some merit. This automatically gives you at least a fighting chance. In addition, many publishers will not consider unsolicited MSS, so you must go through an agent. In other words, publishers use agents to filter out the unsuitable books for them. Find a good agent if you can, they're like gold dust!
sulcus
 19 May 2010, 17:27 #89239 Reply To Post
Quote: annswinfen, Wednesday, 19 May 2010 16:40
Yes, most of what I said above applies to post-acceptance. However, prior to acceptance, an experienced agent will know which are the best editors to approach for your particular book. In addition, the editor will know that an agent will not be presenting a book for consideration unless it has some merit. This automatically gives you at least a fighting chance. In addition, many publishers will not consider unsolicited MSS, so you must go through an agent. In other words, publishers use agents to filter out the unsuitable books for them. Find a good agent if you can, they're like gold dust!


Yes of course I neglected to mention most publishers only consider MS through agents. But that just backs up my point that they get you to the top of the slush pile, little more.
"A,B&E", "Not In My Name" and "52FF" (flash fiction anthology) all available on Amazon Kindle

"How a psychopath makes sweet love. I can get you ringside. Royal box even."
Temperance
 19 May 2010, 18:09 #89242 Reply To Post
What Ann says about them being able to get through doors a writer cannot get through alone is quite right.

My agent only reps short fiction - a rare beast she is too - and has been in the game for over thirty years so her 'ins' are amazing. Yes, she takes her cut but she has sold my work to magazines which simply will not accept unsolicited submissions. I've just been paid for the story she sold to Norway and Sweden and was well chuffed as it was far more than I had expected.

All the published writers I know had their debut novels sold by agents who knew exactly who was looking for what and exactly who to put in front of.

Tempy
x
Everyone has a price - mine is chocolate

Chocolate is important.
sulcus
 19 May 2010, 18:25 #89243 Reply To Post
Quote: Temperance, Wednesday, 19 May 2010 18:09
What Ann says about them being able to get through doors a writer cannot get through alone is quite right.

My agent only reps short fiction - a rare beast she is too - and has been in the game for over thirty years so her 'ins' are amazing. Yes, she takes her cut but she has sold my work to magazines which simply will not accept unsolicited submissions. I've just been paid for the story she sold to Norway and Sweden and was well chuffed as it was far more than I had expected.

All the published writers I know had their debut novels sold by agents who knew exactly who was looking for what and exactly who to put in front of.

Tempy
x


It might be cultural differences in the business, but all the American writers I know who have agents, still haven't had their debut novels picked up.

I just think people have to be realistic. An agent is a guarantee of nothing.
"A,B&E", "Not In My Name" and "52FF" (flash fiction anthology) all available on Amazon Kindle

"How a psychopath makes sweet love. I can get you ringside. Royal box even."
Cinnamon
 19 May 2010, 19:13 #89250 Reply To Post
Quote: sulcus, Wednesday, 19 May 2010 18:25

It might be cultural differences in the business, but all the American writers I know who have agents, still haven't had their debut novels picked up.

I just think people have to be realistic. An agent is a guarantee of nothing.



So would you like to have an agent, Sulcus? Or do you think you're better off without one?
This post was last edited by Cinnamon, 19 May 2010, 19:14
.
sulcus
 19 May 2010, 19:41 #89254 Reply To Post
Quote: Cinnamon, Wednesday, 19 May 2010 19:13
Quote: sulcus, Wednesday, 19 May 2010 18:25

It might be cultural differences in the business, but all the American writers I know who have agents, still haven't had their debut novels picked up.

I just think people have to be realistic. An agent is a guarantee of nothing.



So would you like to have an agent, Sulcus? Or do you think you're better off without one?


I'll only be able to answer that when I draw a line under my current self-published novel and see what if anything it's brought me. If I've established a decent fanbase, then I see no reason not to self-pub again. If I haven't then I might just have to face facts and give up. Were an agent to come knocking - something I very much doubt - but if one did, I would ask them what they could do for me that I wasn't already doing for myself.

I'm unconvinced in the present climate of publishing, that to go with a conventional publisher is the best route for my type of writing. I reckon it's better to plough my own furrow.
"A,B&E", "Not In My Name" and "52FF" (flash fiction anthology) all available on Amazon Kindle

"How a psychopath makes sweet love. I can get you ringside. Royal box even."
demolinero
 19 May 2010, 21:11 #89259 Reply To Post
Quote: annswinfen, Wednesday, 19 May 2010 15:30
I thought I’d contribute to the discussion on agents/editors/publishers which has been taking place on another thread, because I get the impression some people aren’t clear about what an agent does. I’ve had an agent for 15 years (though my original agent has now retired), so I’ve some experience of what agents provide. A good agent will look after your interests, not exploit you. Always look for an agent who belongs to the Association of Authors’ Agents; members must have a track record and abide by the rules of the Association.

A good agent will check your contract with a publisher very carefully, to make sure all points are covered: royalties, your retentions of certain rights, consultation about covers, print-run, requirements with regard to proof-reading, length of time the book will be kept in print, reversion of rights if it goes out of print, the position with regard to e-book publication, etc., etc. These are tricky issues and solicitors not accustomed to the world of publishing may miss an important detail.

Your royalties are paid to you via your agent, who will chase up your publisher if they are not forthcoming. He/she will negotiate foreign, large-print, broadcasting, TV, magazine, film and recording rights for you, and try to secure interviews and reviews (though the publicity department at your publisher will also do this last). Generally, an agent will not handle short stories if that is all you write. However, once you are signed up with a novel, your agent may be willing to place short stories for you (mine sold to the BBC).

The extent to which an agent will ‘edit’ varies enormously. Most will at least make minor suggestions, without necessarily insisting on them. In recent years, many former editors have become agents, after growing unhappy with the way the big publishing houses are now mostly under the control of the money men. These agents are often keen to use their editing skills and are worth listening to. However, if they want to turn your book into something radically different, which you can’t stomach, it’s probably time to bow out gracefully.

The editor at your publishing house will edit, but these days the time they can spend working on a text in detail is severely limited. Therefore, your text should be as near perfect as you can get it, before you submit it to an agent or editor. There should be NO spelling or punctuation mistakes. A sloppy text is almost certain to earn you a thumbs-down, however good the content.

At your publisher, your text will pass through the hands of your editor, a copy-editor and a proof-reader, and you will see the text at each stage (and be expected to proof-read carefully and quickly!). The publicity and marketing departments are responsible for getting your book into the shops and for getting it noticed by the media. However, most marketing budgets are ear-marked for the books which are already expected to be big sellers (To those that hath shall be given…), so you can expect to have to do most of the publicity yourself. I remember going to a meeting of Random House authors who were members of the Society of Authors. This was held at RH, and we were given a presentation by Gail Rebuck. Questions very quickly turned to ‘Why aren’t you giving us more publicity?’ ‘Why publish us if you aren’t prepared to back us?’ The interesting thing was that there were some very big names there, who weren’t happy. We didn’t get any very satisfactory answers, though we picked up (what we suspected) that when a huge advance had been paid (John Grisham was cited), the company had to recoup the money by spending lavishly on publicity.

So there you are. That’s the gist of my experience. Get a good, trustworthy agent if one will take you on, but don’t expect him or her to edit you. You will, however, get some protection from the sharks out there, and perhaps a nice little earner in the way of subsidiary rights, which can be quite lucrative!
Ann


Thank you, Ann. This is exactly what I understand the role of an agent to be and I know, these days, that few agents are able to help to a great extent with editing and story development. These aspects of writing are, for me, the job of the writer. A writer has to have an excellent grasp of the English language, a lively imagination and an original voice, and to have learned the craft of writing before an agent will even glance in their direction. There are many areas in which a writer has to extend him/herself these days - promotions, flexibility and ability to work with a team, and other important aspects of sales and marketing.

I would look for an agent to promote my work, to advise on which publishers would be interested in my work, and to take responsibility for everything contractual. The contacts good agents have made during their careers is an invaluable asset for any writer they might take on. Personally, I would be more than happy to part with 15% of any income to someone who could fulfil these tasks on my behalf.

Yes - I still need an agent and, hopefully, one day I may even snaffle a good one.
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http://www.amazon.co.uk/Lying-in-Wait-ebook/dp/B0055T772K/
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http://www.amazon.co.uk/A-Bed-of-Knives-ebook/dp/B007PT0ILA/
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