Steve

What if You Get a Book Deal on Your Own and Then Want an Agent?

What happens if you get a book contract before you have an agent? What if, by some miracle, an editor sees your work and wants to publish it? (1) would having a publisher interested in my work make an agent much more likely to represent me, and (2) would it be appropriate to try to find an agent at that point (when a publisher says it wants to publish you)? My fear is that querying an agent and receiving a response could take several months, but I’d need to accept a potential contract with a book publisher right away (I would think). Is it appropriate to ask the editor to speak with an agent on your behalf to speed the process?

This is a great topic, but there are a few questions within the question. Let me try to break it down.

How do you let the agent know of this situation? Believe me. An agent is likely to read an email (even if originally sent to an assistant) that has a subject line with the sentences, “Contract offer in-hand. Are you interested in representing me?

Many times we have had authors approach us with contracts in hand and seeking representation. Usually a ready-made deal will get an agent’s attention, but there are questions we will ask:

(a) Who is the publisher? There is a big difference between a major company and your local independent publisher. Not all publishers are created equal. (Do some serious due diligence concerning your particular publisher.)

I remember a situation where the publisher who had made the offer to the author was not well known in the industry, they appeared to be a startup, and the terms in the contract were onerous. This was not a publisher we could recommend the author work with. We declined to represent the project. The author signed the contract anyway, without an agent. A few years later the author came to me detailing their regrets and wanted my help to get out of the contract they signed! Not a happy ending.

There are also packagers, subsidy publishers, and vanity presses that can easily confuse a new writer into thinking that their contract offer is similar to getting a contract offer from Penguin Random House. This is not a criticism of those companies but merely to present their contract offers as a contrast to what is offered by traditional publishing. Do your due diligence and practice discernment.

It is one reason why The Christian Writers Market Guide has one section for “Book Publishers” (aka traditional) and another section for “Independent Book Publishers” (aka nontraditional).

(b) Is this a real contract offer or an editor who said they were interested? This is a big difference. I once had a writer literally beg for representation because an editor had said they were interested at a conference (and when I wrote “literally beg” I meant with all the fullness of what that phrase suggests–on their knees pulling at my arm). Found out later the editor had been stopped in a hallway and after hearing the author’s pitch said to the writer, “Sure, I’ll give it a look if your agent sends it to me.” (FYI: That is not a contract offer.)

(c) What is your content? To maintain our integrity, we would still need to see your book. We never will represent someone’s work without seeing it first. Our company becomes associated with that material. If your contract offer is from a major house, trust that we will not sit on the content for long. There is no need to ask the editor to get involved at this stage. It would put them in an awkward position, especially if they would prefer working with a different agent! Also do not ask the editor which agent they prefer. I repeat, you would be putting them in an awkward position. Better to ask, “I’m thinking of working with Steve Laube as my agent. Are there any red flags that you feel comfortable sharing with me?” (I anticipate a few jokes in the comments with that set-up line.)

(d) Who are you? We may have never met or talked. We need to find out if you are who you say you are. If we have met in the past, remind me of the context.

If your first book was contracted and the publisher is talking to you about a second book, but you now think you should have an agent in your corner, please contact one. There any many instances where the first book was done solo but the subsequent deals had professional help. 

I have a client right now whom I met at a conference. The writer pitched their idea and I thought the idea intriguing, but I challenged the writer to “blow me away” with their sample material and send it to me. At the same conference the writer connected with an editor at a major publisher. That editor became quite enthused and worked directly with the author for a few months refining the project. I did not know this was happening and was simply waiting for the proposal to arrive at our office. Good news is that the editor and publisher offered a contract. The author immediately contacted me with the deal in hand. I asked a few questions, including:

(a) “Can you send me the material that got the editor so excited?”

(b) “Have you agreed to contractual terms yet?” Fortunately the answer was no. NEVER agree to terms with a publisher if you want to have an agent become involved. If you do, the agent is handcuffed in their ability to adjust certain rights and terms to your benefit.

(c) “Why do you want an agent? You already have a deal in hand!” The author said, “Steve, I know my limitations. If I were to represent myself, I would have a fool for a client.” We signed and have been working together ever since.

I also want to make sure the writer knows what an agent does for a client beyond the sale or the book deal. It is a myth that all an agent does is have exotic lunches and influence editors with their wiles and force of personality. In today’s publishing labyrinth, an author needs a guide. I firmly believe that every author needs a good agent by their side. But that is a post for another day.

 

[An earlier version of this post previously ran in March 2012.]

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Writers Expect Good News

Writers expect good news…any day now. Is it the curse of eternal optimism?There is this hope within each writer that it will be their manuscript that is chosen for publication. And the money will rain on them like a spring shower.

Despite the odds.

Despite the competition.

Despite the cynical, horrible, no-good, very-bad agents who review them.

Expectations

Are these expectations realistic? Of course they are. It is the essence of hope. For without hope there is no reason to continue the pursuit of the craft. You have to believe that you have what it takes.

Are these expectations practical? Of course not. Who said the writing profession was “practical?”

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Many Happy (?) Returns!

by Steve Laube

Every first-time author is confronted by the reality of “Reserves Against Returns” as part of publishing economics. It is usually a shock and elicits a phone call to their agent crying “What happened to my money?”

Did you realize that book publishing is the only “hard goods” industry where the product sold by the supplier to a vendor can be returned? This does not happen with electronics, clothing, shoes, handbags, cars, tires…you name it. If it is a durable good the vendor who buys it, owns it (which is why there are Outlet Malls – to sell the remaining inventory). Except for books. Somewhere along the line the publishers agreed to allow stores to return unsold inventory for credit. In one sense, publishers are selling their books on consignment. Bargain books are actually resold by the publisher (after getting returns or to reduce overprinted inventory) to a new specialty bargain bookseller or division of a chain (which buys the bargain books non-returnable).

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The Wild Pitch

In honor of the upcoming baseball season I thought it would be fun to explore the art of pitching.

A couple years ago I was watching a Major League baseball game and the pitcher unleashed a horrific throw that sailed about eight feet behind the batter. It floated to the backstop without a bounce and everyone in the stadium wonder what had just happened. It looked like the pitcher lost his grip and could not stop his delivery. In baseball terms this is classified as a wild pitch.

Unfortunately many writers unleash a pitch on an agent or an editor before it is ready to deliver. Let me list a few actual letters I have received.

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Rumor Control

I was talking with an editor this week who asked me, “How are things going? I hear that your agency is barely making ends meet and that you’ve had to take on other type of work to survive.”

I must admit that I was so startled by this rumor that words nearly failed me.

“Where did you hear that?” I exclaimed.

“Oh it was at a recent writers conference and folks were talking, and your name came up.”

At the risk of sounding defensive, let me set the record straight.

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Marketing vs. Publicity

by Steve Laube

Recent I have run into a common misunderstanding. Some writers use the words “marketing” and “publicity” (or P.R. “public relations”) as synonyms when actually one is a subset of the other.

There are marketing departments that have a publicity division or a marketing department that outsources their publicity. The two go hand in hand and should compliment each other.

The best way I can define it is to say that:

Marketing is all about creating multiple impressions.

This can be through ad placement, in-store displays, banner ads, reviews, contests, etc.

Publicity is all about meeting the author.

This is done through radio and television as well as through all forms of social media.

The difference is that author “feels” publicity because they are involved. They do not “feel” marketing, per se.

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Writers Learn to Wait

Ours is a process industry. Good publishing takes time. Unfortunately time is another word for “waiting.” No one really likes to wait for anything. Our instant society (everything from Twitter to a drive-thru burger) is training us to want things to happen faster. Awhile ago I wrote about how long it takes to get published which gave an honest appraisal of the time involved. Below are some of the things for which a writer must learn to wait.

Waiting for the Agent

We try our best to reply to submissions within 6-8 weeks and are relatively good about that. But if your project passes the first review stage and we are now reviewing your entire manuscript remember that reading a full manuscript is much more demanding than reading a few short proposals.

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Give Thanks to God

http://www.gratisography.com/

There is a verse in scripture which sets out in bold relief the great besetting problem of the human race. It is Romans 1:21: ‘for even though we knew God…we did not give thanks.’ Astonishing! How can we actually know God and not give thanks? Scarcely a day passes in which we are not deluged by at least a hundred instances of God’s goodness to us. Thanksgiving ought to be the most natural of human reflexes, as spontaneous as drawing breath.

Doubtless there are a plethora of reasons why we do not feel thankful. Perhaps business is stressful, or marriage is disappointing, or parenting is unfulfilling, or health is deteriorating, or school is unrewarding. Or maybe we simply take for granted God’s goodness to us.

How important it is, then, to rehearse frequently all that God does for us. Only then will an unending torrent of thanksgiving be unleashed from our hearts. Nowhere is God’s goodness more compellingly set out in His word. Immerse yourself in what follows, luxuriate in the story of God’s grace to you. . . and be thankful!

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Who is like the Lord our God? Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He who is enthroned above the vault of the earth . . . and who stretches out the heavens like a curtain. How majestic is His name . . . When we consider His heavens, the work of His fingers, the moon and the stars which He has ordained, what are we that He should take thought of us?

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Bring the Books (What Steve Laube is Looking For)

“Bring the books, especially the parchments,” is a sentence in 2 Timothy 4:13 that has teased readers for 2,000 years. What books did the Apostle Paul want to read while waiting for trial? Theology? History? How-to? (Maybe a little escape reading? Pun intended.)

Another writer chimed in a while ago by saying “Of making many books there is no end.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12) And if we read the statistics he wasn’t kidding. 300,000+ published in the United States alone last year.

And yet there is an allure to the stories of great novelists and a fascination in the brilliance of deep thinkers. It is what drew me to the book industry in the first place having been a lifelong reader and a burgeoning collector of my own library.

I can safely say that the allure and fascination remains unabated. I’ve had and continue to have the honor and privilege of working with some of the finest minds and talented writers in our industry. The photo above is from my office showing every book represented by our agency. Hundreds of amazing books by amazing authors.

Meanwhile I am still searching for the next great story, the next great concept, the next great writer. So, to answer the question, “What are you looking for?” I will attempt to clarify a few things.

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Who Owns Whom in Publishing?

Updated February 3, 2018 For a comprehensive list check out The Christian Writers Market Guide. Available in print at your favorite retailer or as an online subscription (updated weekly) at www.ChristianWritersMarketGuide.com. Our emphasis in this post is the Christian publishing industry. There are many fine commercial publishers that do not publish …

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