Thursday, May 11, 2006

Totally Biased Response (Don't say we didn't warn you...)

What’s your take on authors who find publishers on their own, then go looking for an agent to help with contract negotiations or contract review?

In the past, some authors who have found a publisher on their own have asked us to work the contract for them. This concept would work fine, except in most cases the publisher found was usually PublishAmerica or some other similar entity. If some of you aren’t familiar with PublishAmerica, let me just say this: If you are turned down by them, you must have done something to make them angry, because, otherwise, you would be published. The advance for this venture would get these writers a check of $1.00, and our take for working their contract would be a whopping 15 cents. Oh, did I forget the royalties? Darn. There’s probably a couple of bucks there, too, if the writer has a huge family and a large circle of indulgent friends.

So the concept of finding a publisher and thereby securing an agent works only if you find a legitimate, royalty and advance-paying publisher. Hence, nothing beats the old-fashioned way of writing something that’s saleable and then finding an agent who can successfully represent it.

If you have done the hardest part - getting a house to take your novel on - why do you need an agent? Agents do more than just sell the work, but without their love behind the pages, they are going to be limited. I'd say get a literary lawyer to help with the contracts and rights on this novel, and seek an agent for your next work.

First of all, the hardest part isn't getting a publisher. There are a lot of hard parts in the process no one really talks about because it seems like to most writers that just getting a contract on a book is the end all, so this presents an interesting question: Why do you need an agent?

Why not just find a publisher on your own, hire a lawyer to work your contract, and pocket that outrageous 15 % agents get for whatever it is they do? While you’re at it, to be extra safe, the writer with a publisher’s contract in hand should probably hire a lawyer who works in intellectual properties law. Since lawyers will want a retainer before they will even look at your contract, be sure to have your checkbook handy as retainers usually run upwards of $500. Lawyers are not like agents. They don’t work on commission but by the hour. So there might be a possibility that your initial retainer won’t cover the entire cost of reading and analyzing a publishing contract of possibly twenty pages or more. Most lawyers are great negotiators, so they will also do that for you—by the contact hour. Cha-ching!

Many publishers who don’t accept unsolicited submissions are medium in size. There is nothing wrong with these folks. They produce wonderful books and generate sales that range from decent to outstanding. However, they generally don’t pay very high advances—usually in the thousand to two thousand dollar range. So if I do the math, let’s see, that would be a $150 to $300 in commission savings. That will help nicely in payment toward your $500-plus lawyer bill.

Agents do more than work on contracts, however. They review your manuscript and help you fix minor mistakes prior to sending it to an editor. They offer assistance on preparing your submission package. They then take care of preparing and sending your work to one of their many contact editors who handle books like yours. While your book is being circulated, your agent becomes your career manager, working on your future writing career by reading and/or commenting on completed works or those you are contemplating writing in the future. Later, when your contract is signed, your agent reads and helps with your bio, consults with you about covers and titles when the opportunity arises and is there for you through the long, often arduous process of bringing a completed book to fruition. Your agent is also your money manager, reminding the bean counters that your royalty check is late, then depositing it in a special clients-only account until the publisher’s check clears the bank. An agent is your advocate, advisor and usually, as it works out most of the time, a trusted confidant.

We are biased, of course, because we are agents.:) It is important to keep in mind that agents and lawyers are two different sets of professionals and work in different ways, and it is up to what the writer wants or needs as to whether he chooses to seek out one or the other.


NL Gassert said...

Thank you for that totally biased response.:-)

When I started my search for an agent, I asked my writer friends for advice and recommendations. Their advice was unanimous: forget about the agent. It wasn’t a judgment on agents, but a financial decision. There simply wasn’t much money to be made in the gay market, and it made little financial sense for an agent to work for a $150-$500 cut.

I was encouraged by you taking on Marlys. Now I just have to add 20,000 words to my novel...

Rene said...

As to lawyers, something else to keep in mind.

My hubby is a lawyer and a very good his fields. Like anything else, the law profession is specialized. If I have a California real estate problem, he's the guy. Trade secrets, he's an expert. Literary contracts? Huh? Problem is, many lawyers go ahead and take on something they are ill-prepared to handle. They do it all the time. So to get a literary attorney, you probably are going to have to look in a big city. The dollar signs just increase.

DanStrohschein said...

Thank you for this insight. I am once again humbled by your experience. I didn't mean to make it sound as though agents only shop manuscripts - but my point was that if you have done the legwork, most agents that I have read won't take you on.

My advice to any aspiring author has always been to get an agent first. I have been in contact with many big name authors (anne rice, George R R Martin, Jonathon Kellerman, etc) whose advice was opposite of mine - but they were all published a long time ago, when things were different in the industry. And I bet they made several mistakes in handling the business aspect of their careers. An agent can help guide you around those mistakes.

My personal opinion is that an agent is necessary in your career. That is why I am working so hard to learn what I need to establish a healthy business relationship with one :)

Oh and for a full rant on PublishAmerica see my first blog entries.

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

To everyone whose comments contribute greatly to this blog, THANK YOU. I’m sorry if the last post looked like I was cracking on your comments—far from it. I should have begun by thanking Dan and Rene as I used part of their posts in prefacing my comment. But in my enthusiasm to write what I wanted to say, that somehow got lost. I’m sorry and I apologize for that oversight.

DanStrohschein said...

Don't worry about it - it won't deter me from submitting to you when my manuscript is ready :)

I read the blog frequently so that I can learn and grow, and this post was very informative to me. Thank YOU.