Friday, December 19, 2014

Agent vs. Schmagent

When I wrote my post on breaking up with agents, I was sort of assuming that the agent you have is competent. But the reality is that there are plenty of non-competent "agents" out there. While this may seem like a dreary post to end the year with, January tends to be a busy busy month as agents hit the ground running - and offer rep!

So, as you begin the New Year and search for that dream agent, here are some common types you should avoid:

The Spaghetti Agent 

Coined by the infamous Nathan Bransford, this is an agent who basically takes on everything and anything and just throws it out there, hoping something will stick.

How do you recognize a Spaghetti Agent?
Track record, for one. How many clients does this agent have vs. how many they've sold? Editorial vision, for another. Do they think this is ready to GO, maybe only minor edits, when a few other established agents feel it needs some work? Last, stamina; how many editors do they submit to, and when do they throw in the towel? It's usually best to ask current clients this question!

The Dinosaur Agent

I don't mean agents who have been in the business for forever; I'm speaking here to agents who WERE in the business forever AGO and haven't really been active since, or who are nearly extinct.

When signing with an agent, experience isn't all you should weigh; if this person isn't focusing on agenting, it's unlikely she's interacting daily with the editors to whom she's submitting. This interaction is key - not only is turnover rampant, so too does the market and tastes change, and editors prioritize submissions based on agents they know and trust - part of why having an ineffective agent can be more detrimental than no agent at all.

This industry is also evolving at a breakneck rate, and an agent who hasn't been in the loop for years just won't be able to offer the same long-term and potentially hybrid guidance as one who is. A Dinosaur Agent might even be completely ineffective at the submission process because of this! For example, it USED to be a practice, so close as ten years ago, for agents to be reimbursed for the costs of submitting manuscripts, because they submitted paper copies by regular snail mail. However, this is an old practice, and should really not take place anymore (yes, there ARE still some holdouts, but they're the exception). Hardly anyone accepts, let alone expects, paper submissions; so an agent sending this way is likely to end up either ignored, or in the trash!

The Opportunist

This is an agent who signs a client JUST because:

  1. there's an offer already on the table (the author approaches the agent with an offer from a publisher in hand) 
  2. there's an offer of rep, and thus, they want to jump on that bandwagon because of COURSE it'll be good  if someone else wants it or 
  3. the author is already published and under option and looking for a new agent, and it's just an easy sale to continue where another agent left off.

Now, not each of these situations are bad if done for the right reasons; it's when they are done JUST because of the situation that you're looking at a red flag.

How do you know if the agent is offering rep for the right reasons? I had a post on that too! But in sum:

  1. Track record. What has this agent already sold in the genre you're approaching them with? What is their editorial experience working with others in this genre, and what contacts do they have within this genre, to help you PAST this initial deal long-term? (The latter may be more important if looking at a newer agent). 
  2. Has the agent read your other work? Or at least a partial and/or discussed what else you're working on and your career vision? THEY SHOULD. 
  3. What are YOU looking for long-term, and what will this agent be able to do to help you achieve that? Are you looking to sign just because you're desperate for contract help, or because you think this agent is a perfect fit for your career?

The Lawyer

I had a love/hate on this previously, but in sum: having a law degree and/or law experience does NOT equal knowledge in ALL areas of law. Publishing law, intellectual property law, copyright and patent law - there are LOTS of different specializations even within the creative world! An entertainment lawyer handles vastly different things than a publishing contracts lawyer.

You are seriously going to look like a difficult person to bring in someone who doesn't know what they're talking about to negotiate or handle your contracts - and quite likely, paying money for non-advice. Even if it's free, you will just frustrate all parties by bringing in someone who has not negotiated a publishing contract before (and even more specifically, a publishing contract in your genre).

Your Neighbor

Who may be a lawyer. Great. See above.

The point of this one is, everyone will have their two cents on your career, your books, etc etc - rely only on the advice of those in the industry and/or have experience to know what they're talking about.

The Scam Agent

Money should always flow to the author, not from - an agent is paid on commission. Period. Definitely check out Writer Beware and any warnings on Absolute Write before signing with an agent. Warning signs include: fees charged, flaky and unreliable communication, zero to very little sales/track record (especially with reputable publishers). Word of caution: be wary of rants vs. facts.

I also want to throw a word of caution out about a few more types that aren't quite so lethal, but that you should be aware of and think through pros and cons before signing with:

The Hobbyist

There are agents who don't go in to make a career out of being an agent; they might focus in ONE really niche area, or perhaps juggle just a few clients - and they might be really fabulous at it. But this isn't necessarily going to be the agent with the entrepreneurial or long-term mindset you may be looking for. Again, just weigh what you are looking for longer-term vs. what this agent can offer in the short, and what fits best with YOUR career.

The Newb

I was a Newb. Every agent starts out as a Newb. That isn't a BAD thing - UNLESS the Newb has NO support, NO contacts, and NO idea what they're doing.

New agents are bound to make mistakes (though heck, so are established agents); it can also take longer for new agents to get responses (editors prioritize reads based on agents they know vs. don't). A new agent is much more likely to either switch agencies or leave the business, and a newer agent might still be figuring out their place in the game (what to represent, what they like/love, etc). This can lead to some rogue signings - suddenly signing a picture book and then is totally NOT the direction I want to go in as an agent...though also comes hand-in-hand (usually hopefully) with faster turnarounds on reads and edits (from agent) and a HUNGRY mentality to really bust butt and get out there. The point is, there are pros and cons, and you should think about them.

I think the most important thing to consider is the new agent's support system: who do they have (in YOUR genre and in reputation) to rely on for mentor-ship? What experience did the new agent start with?

Along with the resources mentioned above, RESEARCH!! I like this post about agents, and really: use your judgement. Take a moment to pause and really weigh through what you're looking for and what you're getting into.

If you get an offer from any of the above, politely decline their representation (hey, there's never a reason to burn bridges). If you think you may currently be represented by one of the above, your first step will be reviewing your agency agreement, to see if it outlines how you can terminate (in writing, email/snail mail etc), when (if there's a set term, etc) and what ramifications (i.e., does she remain agent of record?) there are.

Once you have your ducks in a row, either give the agent a call and let her know you're parting ways, or send a termination letter. It doesn't have to be fancy - it can be as simple as:

Dear Agent, 

Please accept this letter as termination of our agency agreement, dated XXX. 

Thank you, 
Movingonta Bettathings

You will want to outline the terms of the termination, if there are any; for example, if you have books with the agent, what he/she continues to represent or commission, what rights, or if there are no books, that you are free and clear.

If you find yourself in an unfortunate squabble over rights and commissions after your termination (scam agents in particular will try and squeeze every last bit out of you) the Author's Guild is a great resource to help you.

Finally, a word of warning/advice: no matter how frustrating it gets, stay professional.

1 comment:

  1. How do I begin the process of finding a good agent and agency to present an idea to?