Thursday, May 10, 2012

Do I need an agent? by Terry Burns

I've talked about this before. If an author is comfortable representing themselves, comfortable with the process of negotiating contracts, has the contacts with publishers etc, then maybe it is not necessary. Some of my western writing friends have sold to those publishers that publish westerns during their whole career. They feel no need to have an agent now.

One person pitched me to be his agent, but after listening to it I asked him if the main reason he wanted the book was to sell it at the seminars he gives around the country and he said yes. I asked if he saw the book also selling well in bookstores and he said he doubted it, that it really needed to be the companion book to his presentation. So then I asked why he wanted to give me 15% of it if he was going to do all that? And why he wanted a large publisher and give them a larger percentage when he could self publish and make all that money himself. He didn't need an agent.

But for the most part a person pitching publishers themselves need to restrict that activity to smaller houses that are comfortable working directly with the author. Most larger houses require an agent. They know we are going to go through several hundred submissions a month looking for the projects we will submit. That's several hundred submissions they won't have to go through so that is why they have gone to dealing with agents only. Sometimes if the author meets them at a conference the editor will invite a submission but chances are if they are a house that say 'agent only' the house themselves will help get an agent involved if they find they have interest in a project. Those are no-brainers for us of course.

So writers get an agent to represent them to the publisher, to handle the negotiations, to be a buffer for them to the publisher if problems arise. When we send a submission we are in essence putting our stamp on it which makes it something of an endorsement. In addition we are in essence selling a client our contacts. All agents have contacts in common, but we all have contacts that are different as well. We don't sell books to publishing houses, we sell to editors that we have established relationships with. Personal tastes enter into this. I have an editor that so far I have never failed to sell her a project I have decided is a fit for her. Our tastes are that similar. There are other editors that have connected on deals because the project appealed to both of us. Of course, I also have a couple of other editors that are very good friends of mine but we have never connected on a project. Our tastes are very dissimilar.

On occasion I realize I have used all of my contacts to no avail for a client. In such a case I have gotten with the client and released them from their contract to allow them to get with a different agent with a different set of contacts who might could get their book placed for them. I have had new clients come to me after being with another agent for the same reason.

Finding the right agent is a bit like dating. I'm looking for projects that are well written, where the content of the project appeals to me, and where I think it is a good fit for the contacts that I have. The potential client is looking to see if they are comfortable with me as a person and they too are interested in seeing if I seem to be operating in areas that would be a fit for their project. A good fit means a good working relationship.

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