Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Bad Manners

I've been querying for my first agent. Some queries went out a few months ago with requests for the full but no response otherwise. Some queries went out a week ago with almost instant requests for fulls. And then phenomenal turnaround times in reading the MS.

Great feedback, some rejections and one accepted offer of representation later, I emailed everyone who still had a partial or full manuscript to update them on my new agented status.

I got an email back from an agent who was holding on to the full the longest stating they had spent the day reading my manuscript and deserved to respond to the offer. Bad manners, they said. But there was no exclusivity attached.

Is it bad manners? Have I gone against established protocol? I should be happy to have jumped this hurdle and focus on revisions and preparing my manuscript for the next step. But that response really took me by surprise and made me question how I've gone about the process. How should I proceed during the next stage of writing life without making another stupid mistake? Many thanks for your insight.

If it makes you feel any better, I made many similar mistakes when I got my own agent this summer, despite my years of working in the business. It's a very tricky thing because some understandings are unwritten, and I honestly don't know how agents expect us to know them if they never talk about them.

In general, people who get an offer from an agent usually call up the other agents who were considering a partial or a full and ask them if they also want to offer representation, because authors like to keep their options open and are not necessarily sure that the agent that responded is the one they want. When I got my book offer, I called every agent who had a partial or full and told them I had a book offer, and would they like to consider my work more seriously? Most responded within 24 hours, some begging for more time. Then it became difficult to choose, and I wasn't quite sure how to go about doing it. It's not easy for anyone.

I don't think what you did was bad manners. Some authors do jump on the first (or second) offer, and leave other agents in the dust, because that was the agent they wanted in the first place. In fact, it was very polite (and correct) of you to inform the others that you now had an agent and they should remove you from their consideration pile. If they expected more from you, they should have told you so, or demanded an exclusive. I would mark that agency off your list for down the road; it doesn't seem like they're right for you, anyway.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Things That Make Me Laugh #3

In a query, someone described his novel as having "more irony than shootin' irons."

Does anyone want to explain to me what that means?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Agent Salaries

I've been getting a lot of these:

Just out of curosity,

How much do agents (on average) get paid? What's the low and high end?

And here's another:

Once you become an agent, even if you have to give up a part of your income, don't you get a "base salary" and benefits? Wouldn't that be worth holding on for?

So, you know how when you sign with an agent, they find you a publisher, and then take 10-15% of your earnings? That's their paycheck.

Agents don't "work" for anyone but themselves and their clients. There's no one to provide them with a salary or benefits. Their income comes entirely from a small percentage of their clients' total earnings. This means that a year could pass where an agency could make no money whatsover, if none of their older clients have written books that sold that year, or they fail to sell any works from new clients. Most agents are smart enough to make some money every year, but that money could easily be under $4,000.

So how do they stay in business? An agent relies on an author (or preferably a few) that make considerable advances and write books on a regular basis of once every 2-3 years. And when I say "considerable" I mean, "over 100,000 dollars." Remember that the agent gets only 15% of that, tops.

A new fiction author will generally make around 5,000 dollars in an advance and then not earn any royalties. That's $750 for the agent. Now math isn't my strongest suit here, but to be able to earn $30,000 (with no benefits, no overtime, no 401k) the agent would have to take on 40 new authors a year, which is by anyone's reckoning an insane amount of authors. The agent simply wouldn't have the time to edit and sell all those manuscripts.

Most clients of the agent are not significant earners, but a few have to be, or the agency doesn't stay in business. My boss has a few clients who make about $250,000 or $500,000 advances, but those authors don't write a book a year, or even a book every other year. She just hopes one of them will come through, so she can pay her electricity bill.

In answer to the second question, as to why don't I become a salaried agent, it's because the job doesn't exist. If I started out as an agent today, I would have to build up contacts and a client list, and then sell the manuscripts of my clients to editors. It could easily be two years before I see any money at all, and more before I see enough money to constitute a living wage.