Challenge,  publishing

Interesting Discussion

Strangely Enough, With a Book Agent…

Civil as I could keep it on my side. Honest, I was a good boy, for the most part. But my normal blunt self.

(And no, I will not tell you who I had the discussion with.)

Something came from this discussion that I thought I had better remind folks about here.

If you have a friend who is looking at a book agent, ask these questions of that friend…

One… Have you done a credit check on the agent?

Two… Will the agent automatically, for all clients, split payments from all publishers, meaning the publisher sends out two checks and two sets of paperwork, one to the author, one to the agent?

Three… Does the agent co-mingle funds of clients if money comes to them directly for the client?

Four… Have you got an references or done background checks on the agent? How are they respected in traditional publishing and what was the five most recent sales they did?

Five… If they are not a lawyer, do they have a lawyer in-house that will negotiate a contract?

Six… If they do not split payments, or are not a lawyer, or co-mingle funds, will they be fine with all money coming directly to the writer and the writer paying them their 15% within thirty days of arrival of said money?

If your friend is looking to get a literary agent and has not done any of the above, ask them bluntly why not? They are going to give fiduciary responsibility of their career, their money, and their reputation over to that person for years to come.

Folks, you do know there are book agents who have criminal records, right? And there are no rules to being a book agent. Anyone with a business card can be one.

You do know that it is illegal in all 50 states to negotiate a contract for someone if the agent is not an attorney? (New York is about to crack down on this, by the way.)

An agent works for the writer, not the publisher. So have the writer do what any landlord or employer would do.

So if you have a friend who is thinking of trying to “get” a book agent, make sure they see these simple questions. A book agent is a sales artists, someone who claims and believes in their heart, they are helping writers, and they can be very, very convincing.

Very, very convincing until you look at the reality of book agents in a hard business light, and those questions above shine that hard business light on the really bad practices of book agents.

But sadly, agents are so inside their own little bubble, they don’t realize how bad in business terms those practices are.


    • dwsmith

      Yup, can’t imagine anyone who reads my blog regularly would need this list, but all of us run into those writers who are still lost in the myths of traditional publishing and getting an agent. So thought I would just put it out on a Friday night when I was tired and bored and had just had contact with an agent.

  • Susan

    A terrifying post. As a control freak I feel quite nauseous right now. So many ways to screw yourself over if you want an agent. It’s a good thing I am drinking wine right now.

  • Kristi N.

    I grew up in a family where the paternal unit was on the church finance board for many, many years. So I learned early on—money coming in is separated from money going out and NEVER handled by the same person. Cash is counted by 2 people and then checked against the deposit. And audit, audit, audit. Independent audit by an outside agency at the end of the year, and taxes paid (employment, FICA, etc) audited by a CPA even when we used payroll software. A grain cooperative didn’t follow sound financial rules and now they (and the farmers) are out millions of dollars spent on personal expenses by the manager. Lesson—if you’re going to be handling money, learn the business.

  • Kate Pavelle

    Reading the list triggered a realization, Dean. Your question, “why not?” prompted a quiet, sneaky voice within me answer, “Because it probably won’t sell anyway.”
    Won’t that Critical Voice ever just shut up?
    Honestly, I think that’s what it is. I think a lot of us haven’t seen a solid financial proof of our worth and it feels kinda hard at times. Success breeds success, but (perceived) failure breeds failure, too.
    I really hate that I’m guilty of that mindset. I sold another story, an editor told me I’m better than 2 years ago, my payhip audience has a respectable conversion rate. I get reviews, although I’ve read not to read them right away (I do send thank-you notes to those who send me a review link, but when I feel compelled to peek, I just quickly glance at it. It took years to learn to do that.)
    But that’s success in itself, right? I’m not making a lot of money. Yet. Money is important for my writing to be self-sustaining, but these are really cool milestones I am definitely putting into my Brag File. (You know… a chronological list of screen-shots or files that document a “win,” something that you can revisit when the Critical Voice gets too loud.)
    But my first response to your “why not (investigate an agent)” was lack of faith in the work itself.
    Because of course, that was the first thing on my mind.
    So thank you. I’m a work in progress.