Friday, November 9, 2007

Agents: the Mousetrap (Ahem, I mean Prize) at the Bottom of the Box

A few months ago I sent a sample (three chapters) of my YA fantasy to The Publisher Of My Dreams. Last week, I was both surprised and delighted to receive a phone call from said Publisher requesting the full manuscript.Of course I obliged, mailing the package as fast as was humanly possible.
Now, I am fully aware that a request to see the entire manuscript is in no way a guarantee that my work will be published. But at the same time, it's as good a sign as I could possibly have hoped for, and I find myself wondering about my situation should I actually be offered a deal. You see, I have no agent... and no clue as to how a Publishing Contract works should one fall on my doorstep. I'm not saying for a second that The Publisher would try to take advantage of me, but I'd like the benefit of someone who knows what they are doing in my corner. If I were to receive an offer, would it be considered a slap in the face to The Publisher for me to then approach an agent? I really don't want want to ruin my chances by committing some stupid faux pas.

I've offered on books that then suddenly developed an agent. In all honesty, I am a tad irritated when this happens, because I'll often make an unagented author a better offer than I would an agent. Agents always haggle, no matter what the starting offer, so you have to leave room for negotiation.

But I put that irritation away. I understand that (a) it's damn difficult for new authors to get an agent (if they want one) before they have a publication deal, and (b) everyone deserves to come to the negotiation table with the knowledge they need in order to understand the contract.

It is, in fact, in the publisher's interest (assuming it's a legitimate publisher) for authors to understand the contract they're signing. The fewer misunderstandings down the road, the better.

So go ahead and get yourself an agent. Do also read Negotiating a Book Contract or something similar, because no matter how great your agent, you should still know what you're signing.

10 comments:

krw3b said...

I have a couple of friends who contacted a literary lawyer once they'd been presented with an offer from a publisher.

Is that any more irritating to editors than bringing in an agent? Less irritating? Irrelevant? Are the negotiations any different?

Bean said...

I happened on your blog using the Next Blog button. I'm not a children's writer, editor, illustrator, agent etc., so the fact that I stopped and started to read the rest of the posts came as a bit of a surprise to me. Thanks for sharing a view into a world most people never get to see.

My blog is completely unrelated to your topic but if you're curious here's the link, The Ooga Booga LIfe

cynjay said...

I think the agent question depends on how you see your career progressing. If you've written this one great book, but don't plan to write any more, then I think you can wing it. If, however, you plan to write scads more fabulous novels, then a GOOD agent who can guide and further your career is invaluable.

Anonymous said...

I'll second the advice of krw3b ... you can even find literary attorneys who specialize in children's books (SCBWI probably has some names). The choice is so often presented as get an agent or go it alone. It doesn't need to be so.

Anonymous said...

And don't forget that if you do receive and offer from the editor and have not found, or are unable to sign with an agent, there are very nice and reasonably priced attorneys out there who MOSTLY do contracts for authors and illustrators of children's books. Check with SCBWI.

I have used one myself for several of my book deals.

Anonymous said...

Also, if you get a book contract you can join the Author's Guild for 90.00 and they have a contract attorney who will review the contract for you and give you advice.

I have an agent and I'm glad I do. But, there is no harm in waiting for the next book to get an agent. If this one does well you'll still be able to sign with an agent, they are interested in writers whose books do well.

ae said...

How would a literary attorney help you with selling any rights your book/illos may have? That is if your book were to have some, or you thought it might.

I'm just curious. Anyone know?

Welshcake said...

If you take a look at Kristen Nelson's blog, she has a series of 'agenting 101' posts on how to manage a publishing offer if you are unagented.

http://www.pubrants.blogspot.com/

(sorry don't know how to do the link thing)

Good luck and well done on getting this far. I hope it works out for you!

ae said...

Why not query the agent with another book? I would want an agent to sell my book.

After all, who sold your ms (if and when you sell it)? YOU DID. Not the agent. And if EA is right about how much of an advance is pre-determined, and little room for negotiation for the agent, that says a lot to me. Never thought of it that way before.

Anonymous said...

I know writers, too, who use a literary lawyer and the per-hour fee is a lot less than the 15%. However, these people are bigger names (one reason the per-hour fee is in their favor) and don't have the problem of getting their foot in the door at a pub to begin with. More and more houses of good repute require agented mss., those who don't soon will because everybody and their Uncle Mike is subbing to them, and a lit lawyer or Writer's Guild isn't going to help you then.