Tag s | Book Business

Four Myths about Agents

I was amused when I recently received a note from an author who had decided I’m a human rather than an infallible goddess. Not sure if I should be glad or disappointed! Since many authors don’t interact with agents, let me dispel a few myths about us:

1)  Myth: Authors don’t need an agent for traditional publishing. Some traditional publishers will accept unsolicited proposals, but those publishers are few. Editors receive more proposals than they can review. Therefore, agents: 

a. Screen manuscripts for editors. While every editor and every agent don’t agree on which books should and can be published, editors take agent submissions seriously. We’ve already weeded out scam artists, crazies, spammers, and writers who refuse to research the market. And yes, the agent’s unsolicited slush pile contains quite a few of these, um, gems. Our prescreening means editors can spend their time reading submissions that have a serious chance with their houses.

b. Talk to editors to stay up to date. Because of our access, agents can talk to a wide variety of editors to help us keep up with current needs. One Pub Board meeting can change the publisher’s strategy and those without close access to the editor will unintentionally waste everyone’s time.

2)  Myth: Any agent is better than no agent. The information above discusses reputable agents doing their best to serve writers well. Unfortunately, a small percentage of agents:

a. Charge reading fees. Don’t pay an agent to review submissions. You may say, “But I paid an agent for a critique at a conference.” Here’s the difference:

1. At a conference, the agent is offering time and talent and guarantees you’ll walk away with ideas and suggestions for improvement – unless your work is perfect, and then he’ll say so. Considering the time and care the agent spends on a paid conference critique, no agent can make a living this way.

2. An agent reading submissions requested at a conference or unsolicited submissions to consider for representation makes no guarantee of any feedback whatsoever. You may not even get a response. (At our agency, we do try to respond.) An agency charging reading fees for all submissions indicates that a substantial portion of their income may be derived from fees instead of earned for what an agent is supposed to do, and that is, represent the interests of authors to traditional publishers.

b. Don’t submit. I can’t guarantee your work will be accepted when I send it but I guarantee no one will contract for it if they never see it. If your agent is too busy or overwhelmed to submit for you, find another agent.

c. Overcharge. Industry standard for books is 15% commission. The agent isn’t paid until the author is paid.

d. Ask authors to pay expenses. Years ago, agents could legitimately charge for long distance phone calls, postage, and photocopying. But today, agents should be aware that authors are supposed to be receiving checks from publishers, not writing checks to agents. For example, authors should not be charged a monthly retainer fee, a marketing fee, or for an agent’s travel.

3) Getting an agent automatically means my book will sell. We all wish this were true, but sometimes an agent has to market several of an author’s projects before finding success. While you wait to hear from Project #1, work on Project #2.

4) My work will sell just like THAT with an agent. Like you, (and even the editors) we wish we could speed up the process, but most of the time we cannot. There may be some specialized exceptions, such as an agent has the right book for the right publisher at an opportune time and it’s rushed to press. An example might be a political book addressing an election happening then. Otherwise, most books are perennial enough that the editor doesn’t have to stop everything to publish them that moment. A thrilling story is always a thrilling story, an inspiring devotional collection is always an inspiring devotional collection, and an instructive self-help book is always an instructive self-help book.

Your turn:

What are myths you’d like to dispel about agents?

Have you ever run into agents whose practices you’ve questioned?

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Same Message, Different Reader

When a published book is successful (sells well), the publisher and author begin pondering how to be successful again with the next book. Often times, the solution to the repeat-success puzzle in non-fiction is having a similar message but aimed at a different audience. You’ve seen it happen many times, …

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The Literary Agent: How Does This Work?

While literary agents have been part of the publishing eco-system for decades, it wasn’t too many years ago agents in the Christian publishing market were rare. Fast forward to today when most of the larger Christian publishers require an author have an agent before they will consider publishing them. Before …

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Two Ways to Think About Your Book

Two of the many complexities within book publishing are how often the book buyer and the book reader are different people and how books may sell only in limited locations. Some people read only what someone else buys for them. Some books sell primarily in one city at one retail …

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Promotion: Faithful or Self-full?

“What’s the difference between promotion and self-promotion? How do we promote ourselves/our books so that we honor God, respect others, and use common sense?”

The constant tension between marketing and ministry has plagued the Christian author, speaker, bookseller and publisher forever. Why? Because Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple. Because we are commanded to die to self and to humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord….

And yet, our society…our culture insists, even demands, that we market and promote our message.

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Making Decisions for Others

Because book publishing is surrounded by semi-regular failure, no matter if you are an agent, author, or publisher, the ability to deal with adversity is a defining characteristic of anyone who is successful in it. It’s a lot like baseball, where a high level of failure and adversity are part …

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Create Magic with Words

Years ago, I took my five-year-old daughter to Toys R Us to meet “Barbie.” “Barbie” turned out to be a cute and charming teenager who, yes, looked like the classic blonde image of the doll. She wore a pretty pink gown. I expected a lot more fanfare around this event. …

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Writers Beware! Protect Yourself

The writing profession starts off as a private venture. Creating ideas and stories in the privacy of your own home. But those of you who become serious about the work and slowly become more visible the issue of personal protection needs to be addressed.

I cannot emphasize this enough.

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