Monday, April 13, 2009

I have the best news in the whole world! I have an agent! Remember the agent summit I mentioned last week? I met him there! He read my work, I had breakfast with him the next morning and he signed me on! He’s sending the contract today. He’s a perfect fit; a literary and film agent (did I mention I’m a film maker too?) and he handles all the genres I write in; YA, fantasy, and Christian (the last being his and my primary focus). He also wants to help me get funding for my next documentary, which I hope to shoot in Africa. He has connections all over the world, including Japan, where I’m going in July to spend a year teaching! Wohooo!!!!! I think I’m going to jump out of my skin!

So, I think this week’s post should be about just that: Agents. What they do and what they don’t do. First, the positive side:

Many big publishing houses today are not open to unagented manuscripts. The Big Three, Five, Seven, or whatever the number is now. Random House, Simon and Shuster, Harper Collins, Penguin Putnam, Double Day, etc. If you don’t have representation, your manuscript won’t even make it out of the slush pile, if it isn’t immediately thrown in the trash. Agents are sort of the “gate keepers.” Publishers trust them to sort through the good, the bad, and the “this writer deserves to be shot!”

Agents can help you get a better contract. Let’s face it, most of us aren’t lawyers. We don’t know what half of those words mean, let alone in the context of a gargantuan document that seems altogether too complicated for a simple transaction. Publishers aren’t out to get the author, but they don’t want to pay you any more than they have to. Agents can help raise your advance, your royalties, secure a series deal, work out the details for audio, e-books, translation, movie contracts, tie-ins, reprints, and all the other stuff that just makes my head spin.

They can serve as a sounding board and a guide of where to focus your energies. If you have three new ideas for various projects, they can tell you what’ll work and what won’t. Bottom line: Agents know the market. That’s their job.

Just as important to understanding agents is realizing what they DON’T do. Here’s a few:

Agents typically don’t edit your manuscript. There are some exceptions, but typically these go into the category of “such-and-such character is weak: fix him” or “chapter five isn’t working for me. See what you can do.” If such nebulous comments are not good enough for you, join a critique group or pay a professional editor. But don’t expect your agent to fix your stuff. They really have to be in love with your work to even give general feedback. Most of them won’t take on your manuscript unless they think it’s really polished and professional.

Agents typically don’t deal with publicity. Publishers do a bare minimum. The majority is up to YOU! If you don’t know how to promote your work, then it won’t sell. It’s that simple. That doesn’t mean agents won’t give you advice, but publicity is just not their thing.

Agents don’t guarantee a sale. Just because you have an agent doesn’t mean you’ve sold the book. But an important note: Only get an agent who works on commission. 15% is industry standard. Then they have to earn their keep. Never get an agent who expects reading fees or any other kind of fee. My agent is a member of the WGA, or Writers’ Guild of America, which means he has to adhere to a code of ethics. Association of Author’s Representatives is another good one. You can go on websites like Predators and Editors ( to find out who’s reputable and who’s not.

Well, I think that about covers that! Any questions, feel free to post!

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