The Not-So-Secret Agent Stuff

Another question I get asked a lot is:How did you get published?"

There are several variations of this question:
Did you send your book to a lot of publishers? How did you know where to send it? And my personal favorite: Did you pay a lot to get it published?

The obvious answer is: I got an agent. And she sold my book.

This is a subject I am much more comfortable talking about/giving advice on. In fact, this is where you and I become BFFs. I will give you websites (Agent Query; Predators & Editors*, The Writer’s Market) where you can search databases of agents, and I'll even tell you a little about query letters (although I’ll neither write it for you nor critique it). Boundaries, people. Boundaries.

And why am I so accommodating when it comes to discussions of agents? Because this is not only a topic I feel I can be useful on (I’ve done a little research, you know?), but something I feel rather strongly about.

There are plenty of people out there (and I know at least one personally) who have decided to go the less-traditional, non-agented route. And I think that’s great for them. Really, I do. They have their reasons. Some feel they have exhausted their resources trying to find an agent to represent them, others have just gotten fed up with waiting for an agent to notice them, and some of them have gotten lucky and found a publishing house to represent them all on their own. And I am first to applaud their decision! I’m a big fan of the no-right-way-to-get-things-done school of thought.

Me, personally, however? There are some really good reasons I want an agent standing behind me.

First of all, most (and I do mean MOST) publishers won’t even look at a manuscript from an unagented author. Especially first-time authors. And even if their website says they will (sure, go ahead and send your manuscript to this generic address!), an agent will get your manuscript out of the slushpile and onto an editor’s desk. The right editor. And trust me when I say, your agent does his/her research before they ever send out a manuscript. They’re not sending your Vegan Cajun Cookbook to an editor who acquires only MG adventures for boys.

Secondly, besides negotiating a better monetary amount for the sale of your book, you want to have an agent for the down-and-dirty contract negotiations. These are sticky and messy. Even with my agent, the first contract that HarperCollins offered was not the contract I ended up with. There are lots of things to consider: who will hold foreign rights, e-books, merchandising, film/TV rights, how long/for how many books are you under contract? The list is endless. These are not things the average person should ever navigate on their own.

And then there are all of the things your agent does for you after the sale. Your agent will be your go-to person for pretty much everything. Don’t like your new cover? Call your agent. You and your editor disagree about edits? Call your agent. You want to throw a hissy fit about…well, anything? Please, do not call your editor…call your agent! She’ll talk you down and figure it all out. She’s willing to put on her black hat and be the bad guy so you don’t have to.

If she holds your foreign rights, she’ll sell those. She’ll sell audio. She’ll find your film agent, handle merchandising, and don’t even get me started on video games! Seriously, please don’t…I have no idea about them. Zip, zilch, nada…

My point is, there are good reasons to pay out the 10-20%** for an agent, she’s worth the money! So polish your query letters*** and start-a-pitchin’. You’ll be glad you did!

* Please-oh-please-oh-please, never sign with an agent that wants you to pay them money up front. These are scam artists, people! SCAM ARTISTS!

** Industry standard seems to be 15%.

*** Query Shark – A blog about query letters. You can see examples!

Aside from the links I’ve already given, here are some blogs and websites that I think are useful: (The Association of Author’s Representatives) (Absolute Write – Online Forums for discussing writing),category,Nonfiction.aspx (This is generally a non-fiction site, but has great general information!) (A great literary agency site!) (Miss Snark…enough said!) (An editor’s perspective.) (Don’t pretend you’re not already stalking, er, I mean following him!)

Now get out there...I fully expect to see more posts like this, and this, and this!!!


Excellent advice! I'm suffering through the rejection so I can some day have a post like those :)
Thanks Kim, you're awesome at advice giving and this is well timed!
lisa and laura said…
Great post Kimberly! Agents are god sends. It's definitely worth all the rejection and heart ache it takes to get one.
Katie Anderson said…
Great post!!!!!!! And having an agent makes it all that much more fun (and profitable). I wouldn't know where to begin with negotiating a contract or selling foreign rights?

As hard as it is to get one, it's the wisest thing to do. And this post is a great jump start!
Heidi Willis said…
Great resources! Query Tracker is also an excellent resource! I loved the way it helped me organize my "hit-list." :)
Thanks, guys!

And Sherrie - Trust me, my rejection letter pile is *this* high!!!! *holds hand up to waist* Hang in there!

Frankie - Hurry up and finish NaNoRevisMo (or whatever the heck it's called), so I can post a congrats to you too!
Little Ms J said…
Aw, I feel like Little Orphan Unagented after reading through all the comments! Thanks for the links. I guess I should get cracking on that whole annoying query thing.
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