Thursday, March 30, 2017

Top 5 Misconceptions About Literary Agents

I've had two book deals with 'Big 5' publishers and I had a lot of unrealistic expectations about what 'getting published' was like. I'm actually launching BOOK DEAL SECRETS: How To Succeed With New York Publishers, An Insider's Guide For Authors which will take you through the process step by step. I've had so much great response to my blog posts about traditional publishers, I've beefed them up for a book. Not only will BOOK DEAL SECRETS prepare you for dealing with a publishing house, if you're on the fence about whether to go traditional or self-publish instead, it will definitely help you decide what's best for you. (More details below btw!)

As a 'hybrid author' - both indie and traditional - I've noticed a lot of misconceptions out there about getting published. Some of them have to do with literary agents. I had a different agent for each of my book deals so I've had a lot of experience dealing with them. It's a tricky, but vital relationship, so it's good to know what to expect.

MISCONCEPTION #1: Agents will call you just to check up on you.
Or to hold your hand, encourage you or tell you what a great writer you are. I know as authors we all want this and need this - and I always suspected this was how the author/agent relationship worked. But good agents are much too busy to stroke your ego all the time. You'll get some back-patting when an agent takes you on. After all, they're representing you. Obviously, they love you - and your manuscript! But after the honeymoon is over, a good agent is always on the phone making deals. Or vetting contracts. Or fielding queries. They don't have time to be your cheerleader.
In fact, I think one of an agent's prime skills is the 'poker voice.' You can't really tell what they're thinking when they talk to you. It's all about managing expectations. Every good agent - everyone in the business in fact, myself included - has seen a sure-fire hit sink without a trace and a supposed dud race to the top of the charts. It can be a heartbreaking business. A good agent gains nothing by trying to build up your ego. They'd rather have you humble and hardworking than overconfident and arrogant. So don't expect to be coddled! It's a professional relationship first.

MISCONCEPTION #2: You pay your agent.
Nope! It's the other way around! The publisher actually sends all your money to the agency first. Then your agent takes his or her standard 15% and cuts you a check for the remaining amount. I guess it's easier for them to do that than chase you around town for their piece of the pie!

MISCONCEPTION #3: Agents only care about your Work In Progress.
Good agents will actually care just as much - maybe more! - about your next book too. Or 'Next Work' as it's called in your contract. Everyone in the business wants to work with a career writer, publishers and editors included. That means someone who can write about a book a year. So make sure you've got some ideas - even a good start - on your Next Work too.
Don't let a day go by when you're not writing. Okay, you can take a weekend! But the prolific James Patterson never takes a day off and Stephen King only allows himself one day off a week. Much longer than that and he says he loses the flow of the story. So if you want to have a successful, long-term career as a writer, you'll always be thinking of your next book too. Very few first-time authors get  multi-book contracts, so your agent will want to close a deal on your Next Work asap.

MISCONCEPTION #4: Agents can't understand publishing agreements.
I'm reading more and more experts say that you should always hire a lawyer to vet your contract because agents don't understand them. I don't buy it! Yes, publishing agreements are long and complex and they're getting worse every year. But negotiating contracts is an agent's job! Of course a good agent can understand them.

Now literary agents don't specialize in film options, that' true. So a reputable agent won't try to negotiate your film deal or even all of your translation rights. They'll have reliable co-agents to do that.
But when it comes to your main publishing agreement, any good agent will know how to navigate the legalese. And they will also have your back! After all, they'll be earning 15% of every dollar your book makes, so they don't want you getting cheated by the publisher either. (A reputable publisher won't try to cheat you in the first place!) So go over the contract yourself. It's not impossible. Film deals are much worse! If you have questions, discuss them with your agent. If he or she seems inexperienced or doesn't clarify things for you, then feel free to hire a literary lawyer to vet the document.

btw new author contracts are very standard anyway. There's not much you can change about them. Both of mine from two different publishers were almost identical in terms of content. So if you've got a reputable agent and publisher, trust them and sign your contract - or you risk having the offer withdrawn. If you have questions that nobody can answer to your satisfaction, of course hire a lawyer to cover your butt. Either that, or find a new agent and publisher! (There's a lot more to cover about contracts in the book btw!)

MISCONCEPTION #5: Your agent will read your manuscript while you sit there.
I love these scenes in movies or on TV: where an agent (or editor) reads a whole manuscript in his or her office while the author sits there waiting for the feedback. This particular fantasy fueled me much of my life from watching movies like Romancing the Stone where Joan Wilder's agent read her latest novel with Joan waiting patiently for the feedback, staring out the window at Manhattan's skyline.  Most recently, it happened to Noel Solloway in HBO's The Affair. Didn't Misery have a similar scene too? With James Caan as author and Lauren Bacall as agent?
At any rate, reading a manuscript is not like scanning a script or a play. If you've ever printed off an average manuscript (90,000-100,000 words in the traditional publishing world), you know they're around 400 pages long. Unless there's an urgent deadline, most agents (and editors) are too busy on the phone during the day to read a whole book thoroughly - and they certainly don't want to do it while you're around to pester them.

This is how it will work with your agent because this is always how it worked with both of mine. You'll have emailed your manuscript as an attachment. If you're submitting it for the first time after an agent has solicited it, you may have a bit of a wait on your hands. The agent will read it in their preferred format, either digitally or as a hard copy. Every good agent is going to have 'notes' for you. These notes may be official and in writing, particularly if you're not working together yet. But once an agent has signed you on, you'll probably get recommended changes over the phone. 
One way or another, the chances that you're in the office while your agent reads your manuscript are incredibly slim. So instead imagine your agent poring through your manuscript at home or in the office after everyone has gone home. Imagine them jotting wonderful comments in the margins, laughing, crying and reading long into the night because they couldn't put your brilliant book down. Fantasize that they'll call you first thing in the morning to tell you that you nailed it and that you've got a seven-figure "offer" from (insert dream publisher here). Because if you're going to fantasize - and as writers we should! - might as well get the details right.

I'm really excited about BOOK DEAL SECRETS: How To Succeed With New York Publishers, An Insider's Guide For Authors! Subscribe to the blog or follow me on Twitter @SLMcInnis and I'll keep you posted on it! I'm busy editing, but it'll be out very soon! Thanks for stopping by!

No comments:

Post a Comment