Ask the Agent: Earning Our Keep
How do agents earn their 15% commission?
Ah, how do we earn it… let us count the ways.
4 An agent can often use their negotiating skills and knowledge of the marketplace to secure an advance that’s at least 15% higher than you could have gotten on your own. It’s nice when they pay for themselves right up front.
4 Agents have access to the publishing houses through their relationships with the editors and publishers, something that most unagented writers don’t have. Agented proposals generally go to the top of the slush pile. Or circumvent the slush pile altogether.
4 Some publishers don’t accept unagented manuscripts; so if you want to submit to them, an agent’s your hot ticket.
4 Most agents edit, revise, critique and otherwise help shape and polish proposals, sample chapters and even complete manuscripts before submitting to publishers, thereby giving your work the best chance of selling. (Many agents are former editors.)
4 Agents’ familiarity with the market enables them to target your proposal to the right editors at the right houses.
4 Agents negotiate all the confusing clauses in your contract regarding things like options, subsidiary rights, cover art, etc. (and hopefully they’ll help you understand it, too).
4 Agents serve as career coach, helping you to strategize your long-term plan for success. And berating you for wanting to write in more than one genre at once.
4 Agents handle negotiations with the publisher, and later can step in to advocate or mediate if there’s a disagreement between author and publisher, allowing the author to remain friendly with their publishing house (i.e. the agent can be the bad guy when necessary).
4 Agents handle all the business concerns between author and publisher, freeing the writer to focus on writing (and that all-important marketing).
4 Speaking of marketing, agents also provide guidance in marketing and author platform-building. You know, that stuff we all hate.
4 Agents enjoy eating and also like houses, clothes and cars. Some agents even have children with expensive orthodontia and horse-obsessions. (I’m not speaking from experience or anything.) The point is, they can’t pay for any of that if they don’t sell projects. Believe me, if they take you on as a client, they are highly motivated to sell your book.
4 Agents always know the best bars restaurants within a mile of every writers conference location. And occasionally they’ll even buy you a drink (I mean, a Diet Coke).
4 Of course, the really good agents have incredibly informative blogs in which they give away all the company secrets pretty much every darn day of the week. But I don’t know any agents like that.
What have I missed? Those of you who have agents, chime in. (But let’s not use this as a forum to tell us your lousy-agent stories.)