Literary agents look to change ‘distant’ image

24 October 2014

From The Bookseller:

Literary festivals can “provide help and support for new writers” and enable them to ask questions in a “relaxing, happy, supportive environment”, event organisers and literary agents have told The Bookseller.

Festivals can also bring would-be authors closer to the publishing process by connecting them with agents, who want to move away from the perception that they are “very distant and difficult to meet”.

Earlier this year, the Battersea Literature Festival and the Literary Kitchen Festival included dog walks led by literary agents as part of their programme.

Agent Jo Unwin, of the Jo Unwin Literary Agency, said she started the dog walks “because it seems to me that the people who find it easy to submit to agents aren’t necessarily the best writers”. She added: “Some people feel more entitled to write than others, and it’s just a way to open things out a bit. Of course the danger with being too open is that you get inundated by unpublishable work, so it’s all a bit of a balancing act.”

. . . .

Andrea Mason, founder of the Literary Kitchen Festival, agreed: “Agents are people like us and they want your manuscript.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

No, I don’t want to read your self-published book

2 October 2014

From Ron Charles at The Washington Post
Roger Sutton, editor in chief of Horn Book magazine, has had it with what we politely call “indie writers.” Yesterday, he posted “An open letter to the self-published author feeling dissed.

Dear self-published author:
I can imagine how frustrating it is to have your book refused possible review coverage by the Horn Book simply because it is self-published. But here is why that situation is unlikely to change anytime soon.
If we met at a party or something, I, and I think my colleagues at the other review rags, would tell you that we don’t review self-published books because there are too many of them. More than half a million such titles are published every year in this country, and I’m guessing children’s books account for at least 100,000 of those. Right now, I’m dealing with about 8,000 titles a year of traditionally published children’s books, of which we review approximately 5,000. If we were to commit to giving self-published books the same level of scrutiny we give to what we already cover, I would need to increase our staff exponentially, which is not going to happen.


Thus my final point. Self-published children’s books seem remarkably ignorant of the great history and scope of children’s literature. You don’t need this awareness to write a good or even great book for children (I know several worthy children’s book authors who pay no attention to the field or its heritage) but you do need it to publish a good or great book for children. (Or even a terrible one. Trade publishers publish bad books all the time, but they publish them for good reasons.) An editor isn’t there to “fix mistakes.” His or her most important job is to understand what contribution your story makes–or doesn’t–to the big world of books and readers. That’s what is most missing from self-published books for children today.

He begins kindly enough: “I can imagine how frustrating it is to have your book refused possible review coverage by the Horn Book simply because it is self-published.” But then he lays out the case from the review editor’s point of view. He’s bracingly blunt.


I contacted Sutton this morning for additional comment (and to see if he’d been assaulted yet). As I suspected, his open letter had been inspired by an e-mail exchange with a “self-pubber.” Those of us in the business know these exchanges well. They’re pretty much why I don’t answer the phone anymore. There’s always some aggressive or depressed “indie writer” on the other end insisting that his book is spectacular, unlike anything else being published today. If only I’d read 25 pages, I’d be hooked.
I asked Sutton, “What do you say to the indie writer who reminds you that Walt Whitman was self-published?”

“You are not Walt Whitman,” he said


At The Post, we’re getting about 150 books a day. A day. And these are books that had to find an agent. And then a publisher. And then were professionally edited. And now are being professionally marketed by people with money on the line. Many of these books, of course, are bad, but many — far more than we can review — are interesting, engaging, informative, moving, timely and/or newsworthy for various reasons.

All the winnowing and editing work that went on before a galley ever arrives at our door make this job possible. The idea of dumping several hundred thousand additional books on our small staff every year is terrifying.
Are there great, truly great self-published books being produced — and ignored — every year?

I’m sure there are, and that’s a tragedy. But it’s not a tragedy that I can solve by reading 25 pages of every one of the 300,000 self-published book that would land in our office if we opened the door.

See the full article here at The Washington Post (Link may expire)

From Guest Blogger Randall.


25 September 2014

From agent Natalie M. Lakosil:

HATE – Non-publishing lawyers

I cannot tell you how frustrating it is when I have a potential client have a non-industry lawyer look over our agency agreement. Primarily, this is because a lawyer not familiar with the industry is likely to suggest changes to industry standards (like commission rate).

. . . .

Be sure to check out the AAR Canon of Ethics if that agency is a member; if they are, there are standards they will adhere to.

. . . .

If you have someone looking over the contract, and the agent responds with: sorry, this is standard, don’t automatically feel like you’re getting a bad deal.

Link to the rest at Adventures in Agentland

PG qualifies as an industry lawyer and he will attest that some agency contracts are terrible. They will seem doubly-so for an attorney from the reality-based world outside of traditional publishing.

The statement about the AAR Canon of Ethics is laughably naive. If a member violates the Canons, is there an AAR court that will force the agent to compensate a wronged author?

PG scanned the Canon for about sixty seconds and found over a half-dozen provisions that at least some of its members ignore. The Canon may be most charitably described as aspirational.

There are intelligent and competent literary agents who diligently and honestly serve their clients. The problems are that anyone, competent or not, can call themselves an agent and authors, particularly inexperienced authors, often have a difficult time distinguishing between the wheat and the chaff.

Be Diligent and Let Your Agent Do the Talking

20 September 2014

From Books & Such Literary Management:

Publisher mistakes happen. Oversights occur. Disagreements with your publishing team take place. Delays cause negative ripple effects. Any one of these can have a detrimental, sometimes devastating, effect on your book during the production process. Not if, butwhen any one of these happens, it’s best for the sake of your career to be diligent and let your agent do the talking.

. . . .

Staff changes and publishing house acquisitions cause upheaval, not to mention staff reductions, which pile more work onto those who remain. It’s a prescription for trouble. That’s why it’s increasingly important for authors to be enthusiastic, cooperative, gracious, prompt with your due dates…and quietly diligent.

An author’s diligence is key because once the contract is signed, the communication shifts to the publishing house interacting with the author directly. Your agent, who can’t be everywhere at all times for every client, relies on you to notify him or her at the first hint of trouble.

. . . .

Author issues over covers can be sticky situations. Covers are within the publisher’s realm of responsibility. However, a good agent will negotiate wording in the contract, providing a client the right to give input on the design. Designers occasionally are resistant to perceived criticism of their work and to the extra time and work a redo will mean to their schedules. Agents are experienced at negotiating these situations delicately toward a win-win solution, allowing you, the author, to retain your positive, warm and friendly relationships with your publishing team, which is of prime importance.

. . . .

The editors found so many errors that the publisher decided their only recourse was to recall the entire first printing from all the distribution channels and shred the books. Of course, by that time some of the books already were in readers’ hands. In the time it took for the publisher to correct and print new books, marketing momentum had been lost, and was later reflected in poor sales.

The agent stepped in again to press the publisher to find a way to overcome the debacle. That chapter still is being written.

Link to the rest at From Books & Such Literary Management and thanks to David for the tip.

When the editor, cover designer and book formatter work for the author, these situations are less likely to occur in the first place and easier to deal with if they do.

Row over literary agents’ ‘transparency’

15 September 2014

From The Bookseller:

Industry database Agent Hunter has accused the literary agent community of appearing “elitist, exclusive and hostile to outsiders”, and has released a Transparency Index (TI) rating every agent and every agency.

But Sam Edenborough, president of the Association of Authors Agents, has hit back at comments made by the group, formed by crime writer Harry Bingham, saying that Agent Hunter is offering “shrill criticisms”.

Agent Hunter, part of the editorial consultancy The Writer’s Workshop, said its research is the “first authoritative guide to the world of literary agents”.

It found that 66% of literary agents are women, 86% of them are based in London, and less than 3% are black or Asian. Agent Hunter said: “Those data might suggest an industry out of touch with broader society, so it’s concerning to note that many agents release strikingly little information about themselves, thereby discouraging approaches from new writers.”

. . . .

Bingham said: “At present, the literary agency industry can look elitist, exclusive and hostile to outsiders. I don’t believe it is any of those things in reality – but the lamentable standard of disclosure tends to disempower writers and discourages them from seeking conventional publishers. We urge literary agents to bring their communication practices into the 21st century – and we praise those agencies who have already done so.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

What a Typical Week Looks Like at One UK Literary Agency

13 September 2014

From Publishing Perspectives:


A raft of submissions have come in overnight. One author writes, “At this time I respectfully request you unsheathe your sharpened red pen and engage me. In good faith that you are up for the challenge, let us dance.” Afraid I’m not really up to such frenetic activity first thing on a Monday.

Other submissions include: “a 130 page essay on Roberto Bolaño’s poetry,” the “historical origins and cultural significance of Jamaica’s national dish,” “a Short Social History of the Clitoris” and something describing itself as “erotica-tinged space and techno-fantasy fiction.” Also, a clever submission in which Bible stories have been written as Cockney rhyming slang, in broad Yorkshire, in SMS text, in Egyptian hieroglyphics, for toddlers etc. — difficult to assess and, I suspect, not something which will sustain reader interest.

Film enquiry from US and I pass it on to my film agent.

The monthly newsletter has gone out and various requests have come in for titles, especially from scouts, foreign agents and publishers. I send it on to various editors, serial buyers, film producers who I know don’t subscribe to the newsletter, or probably don’t read it if they do. I get a bounceback saying it was “blocked by MailMarshal: Because it may contain unacceptable language, or inappropriate material.” I wonder which bit of the newsletter this refers to.

Meeting with Daily Mail journalist to throw around ideas for a possible book.

Eleven pages of monthly stats for website visits for the previous month are in from Jing Dong, who runs the website, and I share these with David Haviland. It shows visits are pretty constant – in some months, a particular article will go viral and cause a spike in views. As usual, new visitors constitute about 80% of the hits and Twitter is the most important feed. We look at the referral sources, how long visitors stay on the site, and what they look at.

Give feedback to author on manuscript which I’ve read over the weekend.

Lunch with editor. He’s keener to discuss changes in publishing than the authors I’m pitching but still enjoyable.

Chase some film monies on behalf of an author.

Invitation from a university for the launch of their creative writing course anthology.

Liaise with editor on cover design for an inspirational memoir.

Receive a ‘warm invitation to you to participate in the 2nd Summit on Child Abuse & Human Trafficking’. Is this as participant or delegate I wonder, and how did they get my details?

Rework proposal with author in light of publisher’s feedback.

Meeting with ghost writer brought in by publisher to work on TV tie-in. She’s seeing several agents in a beauty parade. I give her biscuits with her coffee.

Reworked version of a diet book proposal from author which is ready to go and I pitch to various editors.

Discuss titles with author and his ghost. Publishers don’t like the original title and we don’t like their suggestion. Eventually we come up with something which is not ideal, but the author and publisher like it.

Sort out details of an audio deal.

Leave office at 6:00pm to give talk to a writing group.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives and thanks to Eric for the tip.

On Agency Clauses

29 August 2014

From Adventures in Agentland:

A typical agency clause will read something like:

Author authorizes Agent, located at (ADDRESS), to collect all gross sums of money due under this Agreement. Any receipt of such sums shall be a good and valid discharge of Publisher’s obligations to make payments to Author. Agent is empowered to act on behalf of Author in any and all matters arising out of this Agreement.

In the article, the author addresses why this is problematic, and recommends either not having this clause, and having all money go directly to you, or modifying it to be revocable at any time.

For the record, I HIGHLY respect SCBWI, and I HIGHLY respect the author of the article. The intention behind it is very good, and authors SHOULD think about what they’re agreeing to; it IS problematic if you’ve signed with a “schmagent” – someone who disappears, along with your statements and royalty checks, leaving you high and dry.

I shared my post with Sara Rutenberg, the author of the SCBWI article, who pointed out: “Unfortunately, there are so many agents out there who are unscrupulous. The column was written in response to a number of people who found themselves in [the position of being with an agent who is not remitting timely or disappears]. It is critical to [discuss the agency clause] up front, or people will not feel comfortable taking actions needed to protect themselves.”

. . . .

I think it would be a mistake to feel that you are getting a bad deal from, or not sign with, an agent or agency that insists on this language.


There are several issues with direct payments. If you have your royalty statements and payments coming to you, instead of your agency, you would be responsible for remitting your agency’s commission and, at the end of the year, also remitting a 1099 to that agency for what you paid them. I actually can’t imagine that any foreign publisher would be ok sending payment to the author, instead of the foreign co-agent who brokered the deal – but, in that case, you’d be responsible for remitting payment to your agent, your co-agent, and dealing with any tax withholdings applicable to the specific country’s laws when you pay your co-agent (and then have to remit a tax form to them, too, at the end of the year).

You would also be responsible for sharing statements with your agent(s). Why? We need to check them! Think mistakes never happen? Think again!! It is part of my job to monitor any statements that come in, to be sure everything is calculated and reported correctly.

. . . .

You can absolutely discuss the split payment option with your agent upfront. However, keep in mind that not all publishers will agree to this (particularly in the case of subsidiary rights), which is why an agent may not agree to contractually be obligated to secure split payments for you.

. . . .

But, as I said, this isn’t something every agent will agree to, even if discussed upfront. And that doesn’t have to mean the agent is a schmagent, or that you’re getting screwed. The agency clause is VERY common. At the end of the day, if you have doubts about whether or not you can trust your agent to handle funds or statements – why are you signing with this person?! I think the true warning, and really, what Sara was after too, should go against schmagents, rather than the agency clause. You sure as heck should have done your research to make sure the agent offering rep is legit.

The agent-author relationship should be one of trust. If you’re worried your agent is going to, or currently is, screwing you over…you’ve got issues that need to be addressed immediately, either in conversation with your agent, or by parting ways/not signing with that agent.

Link to the rest at Adventures in Agentland and thanks to Sandra for the tip.

The original post is incoherent in spots, so allow PG to clarify a few points:

1. The agreement between author and agent as well as an agency clause in a publishing agreement should always provide for split payments with 85% going directly from the publisher to the author and 15% paid to the agent. Each payment should be accompanied by a royalty report delivered to both the author and the agent.

There are no benefits and many potential downsides for an author to have the entire royalty check sent to the agent. At a minimum, there will be an unnecessary delay of a few days or a few weeks between the time the royalties are paid to the agent and the time the author receives his/her share of the royalties.

And if an agent runs into financial troubles or develops a drug habit . . . . Stories of agents stealing from authors are legion. PG believes most agents are honest, but everyone is better off to avoid the possibility of temptation. An old Mark Twain (PG thinks) saying applies here, “Many a man has been saved from sin by the lack of opportunity.” Mark Twain spoke before gender language equity, but the saying would also apply to many a woman.

2. PG usually doesn’t play  the lawyer card, but the advice to check out your agent and go on trust (instead of a proper contract) is typical of the way non-lawyers think about business relationships. And very few agents are lawyers.

How long does the contract last? While PG strongly objects to their length, a typical publishing contract lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years in the US and for a similarly long time in most other industrialized nations.

Under a standard agency contract, how long will the agent be collecting royalties when an author signs a typical publishing contract? You guessed it, the life of the author plus 70 years.

Agents die. Agents go out of business. Agents sell their businesses to other agents. Agents merge their businesses with other agencies. The probability that the agent who sells a book to a typical publisher will still be around when the publishing contract finally ends is very close to zero. The probability that, at some time during the life of the publishing contract, a total stranger will take over administration of the contract in place of the original agent is close to 100%.

Your original agent could be the Mother Teresa of the agent world, someone who would never, ever do anything to harm an author under any circumstances. But, when Mother Agent goes to her heavenly reward, she could be succeeded by Mother Devil. You don’t want Mother Devil’s hands on your money.

3. PG could mumble on about other problems with the original post, but he won’t. Like many other fields of human endeavor, some agents are wonderful and capable, other agents are terrible and incompetent and most are somewhere in the middle.

Some of the problems with agents are a result of the fact that anybody can call themselves a literary agent regardless of qualifications or the lack thereof. Cathy Convict could walk out of a twenty-year stretch in Folsom Prison on Monday afternoon and set herself up as Cathy Agent on Tuesday morning.

For all their shortcomings, lawyers must hold a valid license to practice law. For all their shortcomings, bar associations can and do cause lawyers’ licenses to be yanked if the lawyers don’t follow the rules. Clients can file complaints with bar associations without hiring a lawyer to assist them. For all its shortcomings, the threat of losing a license helps keep lawyers in line.

If a lawyer does what virtually all agents do – receives all the royalties payable under a publishing contract, then pays the author 85% of the proceeds – the lawyer would be required to maintain a trust account separate from any other bank accounts for the purpose of holding client funds. The lawyer would have to deposit the publisher’s check into the trust account and pay the author directly from that account. The trust account is subject to audit by the bar association to make sure client money is handled properly.

Trust account mismanagement is one of the quickest ways to lose a law license. A complaint from a client to a bar association about trust account problems may be the best way to fast-track a bar association investigation of that lawyer. A lot of lawyers (including PG) strive to avoid receiving client funds in order to stay clear of potential trust account issues.

None of these safeguards apply to a literary agent. There is no agent’s license to yank. The agent may have a trust account, but nothing requires the agent to put all client funds in the trust account. If a client has a complaint about improper behavior by an agent, there is no agents’ bar association where the client can lodge a complaint. An author has no way to resolve a large problem with an agent short of hiring an attorney and, if that doesn’t work, filing suit against the agent.

The Most Important Partnership an Author Can Make

27 August 2014

From author Beth Revis:

Writing is a lonely gig. It’s very internal by nature; we spend all our time working inside our own heads. But while writing is lonely by very definition, publishing is not.

I always knew it took a village to make a book: editors, publishers, marketing, and so much more. But now that I’m self publishing a project, I thought it would be a little different. I still hired an editor and a book cover designer and formatter and I’m working with others to market, but it’s a far different process.

Fortunately, there’s one thing that stayed the same.

My agent.

An agent is among the very most important working relationships that an author can have. Writing is solitary, but the business side of writing doesn’t have to be.

. . . .

Having an agent–having the right agent–is one of the most important things an author can do. Self pub, tradition pub–it doesn’t matter. An agent will help you to make these decisions, guide you to the path right for your career. An agent is a business partner whose sole concern is to make sure you make the right business decisions. And more than that–an agent (at at least my agent) is my friend.

Link to the rest at Beth Revis and thanks to Sandra for the tip.

Here’s a link to Beth Revis’ books

Longtime Agents Slash Fees, Try To Shake Up Industry

27 August 2014

From FanGraphs:

When deciding who will represent them in contract negotiations, professional baseball players can choose from hundred of certified agents. There are big shops like Boras Corporation, Excel Sports Management (Casey Close) and Wasserman Media Group (Arn Tellum), and smaller agencies like Frye McCann, Sosnick Cobbe and Jet Sports Management. Whatever their size, most agencies charge a commission between four and five percent of the value of the player’s pro contract. For that commission, the agency does everything: negotiate the contract, arrange for equipment endorsement deals, and advise the player on financial planning and taxes. It’s a concierge approach: the player is cared for 24/7 in all aspects of his life, whether at home or on the road.

. . . .

Proformance [Baseball] dropped its commission to one-and-a-half percent and will stick to what Stringfellow calls “the business of baseball” — negotiate the player’s contract and equipment deals, advise him on baseball rules, and answer questions when the player reaches out. No more flying to have lunch with the player six times a season. No more marketing efforts to land local appearances and commercials. No more financial planning and taxes.As Beck and Stringfellow see it, most agencies charge four to five percent commission to cover the costs of all the other services, whether a player wants or needs them.

. . . .

The Major League Baseball Players Association doesn’t set minimum or maximum commission rates for certified agents. The four to five percent rate charged by most agencies is simply an industry standard that’s developed over the years. How did Beck and Stringfellow arrive at the one-and-a-half percent figure? They calculated how many hours they spend on average to negotiate a player’s contract and determined what “fair and reasonable” compensation for that work would look like.

According to Stringfellow, Proformance spends 300 hours or so on an arbitration-eligible player. Work begins in spring training and culminates the following winter when the contract is finalized. If an arbitration-eligible player signs a one-year deal for $10 million, Proformance will earn a one-time fee of $150,000 for that 300 hours of work, or $500 per hour — on par with, if not less than, what top attorneys charge for their time. Free agent contracts take well more than 300 hours of work, but have a higher rate of potential return. If a free agent signs a four-year deal at $15 million per year, Proformance will earn $225,ooo each year of the four-year deal, or $900,000.

Link to the rest at FanGraphs and thanks to Felix for the tip.

Query Question: editor interest but no agent

20 August 2014

From Janet Reid, Literary Agent:

I recently parted ways with my first agent (amicably, of course) and have had requests from editors at mid-size and larger houses to see my future work. I have a manuscript that has been polished and is ready for submission. Should I send to those editors while I’m querying, or should I wait to see if I can secure an agent before doing so?

Don’t send your work to editors before securing an agent.  If you do so, you’ll find getting an agent is MUCH harder because you’ve trampled all over the crime scene and contaminated the evidence.  

Link to the rest at Janet Reid, Literary Agent and thanks to Amy for the tip.

PG is curious to know what makes this a crime scene.

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