Sunday, May 10, 2009

PROMO Day session on Agents

johndesjarlais: Molly, I'll let you begin.

Molly_Swoboda: Good day, all, and welcome to the "Finding An Agent" workshop. My name is Molly Swoboda and I will be your moderator for this session.

Molly_Swoboda: We will have a Question & Answer period following the presentation and ask you to observe a little protocol so we can be sure to get to everyone's questions.

Molly_Swoboda: If you have a question, please enter a question mark (?) in the Chat Box.

Molly_Swoboda: I will call your name during the Q&A, and you can type your question at that time.

Molly_Swoboda: I would now like to introduce you to John Desjarlais, our presenter, and multi-published author of historical mystery.

Molly_Swoboda: And *extra* congratulations, John, on the recent release of your latest book, Relics, from Thomas Nelson Publishers ( 800-251-4000 ext 2180 to order).

johndesjarlais: Thank you, Molly. Hi, everyone. Glad to be here today.

I have 3 books out and I've had 3 agents, and I found them different ways

For details on the books, see my web site

My first agent, who sold my historical novels, came via a writers conference I attended.

I pitched "The Throne of Tara" to several editors/agents there and they all passed

but one referred me to a friend who had opened a new agency, so I contacted him

and 6 weeks later he asked for the ms and 2 weeks later offered representation.

That agent retired and I searched for another for a long time (I'll discuss how later)

and finally connected with the editor of my second book who had become an agent, and he took me on.

Then, after about two years of shopping my mystery, he was in a serious car accident and had to leave the biz

leaving me in the cold. But in an online conference, I talked about my book and there was an agent in the discussion who asked to see the book and she took me on.

So this can happen many ways.

You probably all know that book publishers today are generally not accepting unsolicited ms or unagented ms for economic reasons and due to the load

The old days of interns sorting through the slush pile are over

With smaller staffs, editors rely more on agents who make their money from commissions (15-20%) and they know...

that agents will only pitch books they know will sell. So agents act as filters.

So it's important to find an agent who represents your kind of work, who'll be excited about your book and have the right connections

Agents have specialties - some only handle literary fiction, some won't look at genre work at all (SF, detective etc)

They don't handle short stories and very few will handle poetry - there's no money in it for them.

Another reason you might not need an agent is if your work is highly specialized, in which case you can submit on your own to small presses.

Many agents won’t shop small presses because, again, there’s no $ there for them.

Some writers like to be independent and just shop their own stuff and then hire a lawyer (who knows about book contracts) after getting an offer

And that's ok, They say the best time to get an agent is when you have an offer :-)

Let me say a few things about what agents do.

First, they're usually publishing veterans, often former editors with a lot of industry connections. Through all their relationships, they know editors by name

and what they like. An agent cultivates these contacts and they know about market trends, when editors move around, new imprints etc.

So an agent will get your work read faster by the right people and save you months of looking on your own

Agents understand contracts - publishers are out for their own best interests, not yours, so an agent reads all that legal stuff and gets the best deal for you (and him)

Agents keep in mind other marketing possibilities such as audio books, book clubs, action figures - ha - "subsidiary rights" --

and they work with the subsidiary rights dept of the publisher.

Agents track payments (very important) making sure the publisher pays the advance on time and royalties on time (publishers are famous for late payment)

An agent will deal with any payment conflicts, too.

So agents are advocates - they work for you. They get your book read and noticed.

Now, researching agents and finding the right one for you...

Researching is easy, getting one is harder. Anyway, there are 4 places to start to get names of agents who specialize in the material you write:

1. printed guides like Writers Market, Guide to Literary Agents (published by the Writers Market people), Jeff Herman's Guide, and Sally Stuart's Guide (for inspirational stuff)

You might find these in the library, tho they'll be older, and at chain bookstores (about $25 each.) There are indexes in the back listing agents by type of stuff they handle.

You must send stuff to agents who handle that material. Don't send your romance to an agent who says, in the guidelines, that they won’t look at genre fiction.

There's another book called LMP - Literary Market Place - a HUGE book with every agent, publisher, paper supplier etc in it - hard to research agents in it. Just alphabetical with addresses and contact info; no guidelines.

2. Writers Conferences. Agents go to these looking for new clients. Research the conference to find out who is going and go to the conference where agents interested...

Tannia-Germany: !

in your kind of work will be. Most conferences are listed in the April (or is it May?) issues of The Writer and Writers Digest magazines.

Check their websites/brochures to see what agents are attending. Often, writers sign up for very brief 'pitch appointments' and you get some face time with agents that way

3. acknowledgement pages in books. Often a writer will thank his/her agent. If the book is similar to yours, then put that agent on your list.

4. The Internet, of course. But don't just google 'literary agents' or you'll get too much. I'd start with which is the site for the AAR, ...

Association of Author's Representatives. This is a professional group with a code of ethics that agents subscribe to, and none of them charge reading fees.

Most reputable agents don't charge a reading fee, since they make their living from commissions. Beware of anyone charging a reading fee or evaluation fee.

KarinaFabian: !

They're usually predators. Some legit agents are charging a fee, tho, as a way to slow the flood of submissions. They refund it if they take you on.

Look - anyone can hang out a shingle and call themselves an agent. They don't need a license or anything. So be careful. Find "preditors and editors' on the web if unsure

It's a listing of agents that rip people off

When you make a list of agents, then you contact them in the way their guidelines say. Most want a brief "query letter" that pitches your book. One of my handouts is a sample query with notes.

Just give the agent what they ask for in the guidelines. If only a query, then only a query. Some also ask for a synopsis, or outline, or first three chapters, or first 50 pages.

Don't get fancy with colored paper or perfume - they'll laugh and toss it out.

Most agents accept multiple queries today, knowing the competition and slow turn-around time. They'll say so in their guidelines.

In a PS, say 'This is a multiple submission" (or "simultaneous submission" - same thing)

Then they know. If any asks for the whole ms (lucky day!), that agent should be the only one looking at it. So in your cover letter assure them that "this is an exclusive review."

OK, I'll stop here and see if there are questions.

premiumpromotions: ?

Molly_Swoboda: Tannia had to step away for a moment, but left this comment regarding agent appointments.
Molly_Swoboda: Tannia-Germany: I attend the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany every year. There in order to meet with an agent you have to make a previous appointment. If no, no chance to see one.

Molly_Swoboda: I believe karina also had a comment.

KarinaFabian: comment on finding agents at conferences: the MuseOnline conference will have agents hearing pitches this year, I believe. its online and free.

johndesjarlais: Yes, sometimes in registering for a conference you sign up for the pitch sessions at the same time.

KarinaFabian: let me see if I can find the website

johndesjarlais: ok, thx

Molly_Swoboda: premiumpromotions, you had a question?

KarinaFabian: and she will take registration for the agents.

premiumpromotions: How much (do you think) does an agent really look at the query...or does an agents go by referrals?

johndesjarlais: They look at the query and can tell in an instant if it's worth finishing it. It must have a great hook, and be the best writing you ever did. As for referrals...

your chance of getting your outline/synopsis/ms read is better - that's all.

johndesjarlais: A referral or just meeting at a conference is no guarantee. These are business people.

Molly_Swoboda: If you have a question, please enter ? so you can be recognized

Ladyill: ?

johndesjarlais: And btw, getting an agent is no guarantee the book will sell, either. BLEEDER was shopped 2 years with no takers.

Molly_Swoboda: Lady?

Carmen__Davis: ?

Ladyill: I'm currently living in Senegal (Africa) what about writers like me. How do we connect with Agents other than the net?

Margay: ?

johndesjarlais: Got me there. Seems to me the Internet is the best option. Anyone else have advice for Lady?

premiumpromotions: unfortunately, we who live away from the conferences are at a disadvantage

premiumpromotions: My suggestions is make BIG friends through he Internet...and try and get a referral

Molly_Swoboda: Carmen, did you have a question?

johndesjarlais: Well, I'm just saying it's one way. Contacting agents directly by mail or email (if they take email queries) is still the standard way.

Carmen__Davis: Since there are hundreds of agents, would you recommend picking one close to your geographical area?

johndesjarlais: No. Geography has little to do with it. Pick a reputable agent with a good sales record who handles your kind of work.

Molly_Swoboda: Margay? Your question.

Margay: If you write across genres - say, adult and YA - should you find an agent who takes on both or go for two different agents?

johndesjarlais: And it doesn't need to be a New York agent. Many are there, but in an age of the www, faxes and so on , location doesn't matter as much anymore.

johndesjarlais: Different genres...hmmm. The best thing would be to try the larger agencies first where they handle a greater variety of material. that way, ...

dinamalki: ?

Molly_Swoboda: dina - you're next

dinamalki: who pays the agent's commission?

premiumpromotions: ?

johndesjarlais: the Agency might have an agent who manages YA and another who does Adult - but it's all in one agency. So Go with one agency, preferably a larger one that handles a greater variety of stuff...

johndesjarlais: since once you are with an agent, you are in an exclusive relationship with that agency by contract. Done

johndesjarlais: Dina, the agent’s commission comes from the sale and subsequent royalties of your book. If you get an advance of, say $1,000, the agent gets 15% or 20% of it. After the advance is ‘earned out,’ Royalty checks are sent to the agent, who keeps his cut and makes out a new check to you for the balance. done

Molly_Swoboda: premium. Your question

premiumpromotions: Is there a service out there who would take over the books/administration of sending out queries/submissions, and then keep track of acceptances/rejections, etc. Does this make sense?

johndesjarlais: Yes, there's one in the USA called "Writers Relief" and they always have ads in the writer magazines. I've heard mixed reviews about their effectiveness. You're MUCH ...

johndesjarlais: better off doing this work yourself. I'd never outsource my query-sending.

Molly_Swoboda: John, I've been hearing a lot about termination clauses with agents.

premiumpromotions: interesting...thank you

Molly_Swoboda: What happens if you decide to part ways.

johndesjarlais: Yes, there's always a termination clause in the contract. Contracts are generally for 3 years and automatically renew, but the relationship can be ended by a written notice, often thirty days in advance,...

Ladyill: ?

Molly_Swoboda: I've heard recently through some of the Guilds about the "in perpetuity" clause. Have you encountered that?

johndesjarlais: by either party. If the agent has sold anything for you, though, he keeps getting his cut. And if houses are looking at your ms - houses he submitted to - and any of them take it, he's still the agent

Molly_Swoboda: Thanks. Lady -- your question

Ladyill: I signed a contract for 5 years with a Canadian publishing house. Is that normal?

johndesjarlais: If the agent has sold anything for you, he keeps getting his cut forever,...

johndesjarlais: and if a house he submitted to already takes it, he's still the agent for it. done. now lady...

johndesjarlais: 5 years with a publishing house? Not an agent? Hmm. I can understand if they asked for a first look at your next book (or 2) - something I don’t like to be bound to...

johndesjarlais: It sounds a bit unusual to me.

Molly_Swoboda: We have about 3 minutes remaining. Quick last question?

Ladyill: ?

Molly_Swoboda: Lady?

Ladyill: Not an agent. They published my erotica ebook Two-Play

Ladyill: So far poor sales and no request for a follow up or anything else

johndesjarlais: Well, if it works for you and gives you a sense of security and fair play, ok. But I'd think it would prevent you from submitting work anywhere else. ...

karinafabian: !

johndesjarlais: Better look at the contract closely to see if you can publish other work anywhere else.

Molly_Swoboda: One minute, folks.

johndesjarlais: I'll move to the Promo room after this to continue chatting.

Ladyill: Ok. Thank you John

Molly_Swoboda: Karina has one last remark

karinafabian: most contracts are for rights for the book for multiple years--most of mine have been 3--they don't prevent me form publishing elsewhere, just not that particular book can

karinafabian: be resold until the contract is terminated.

karinafabian: done

Molly_Swoboda: Suggest we move to the Promo Chat Room. Our next presenter, Carolyn Howard-Johnson

larriane has joined.

Molly_Swoboda: is ready to take the floor

Molly_Swoboda: Great presentation, John.

Carolyn_Howard-Johnson: Are we about ready to talk about queries!!???

johndesjarlais: Thanks, all. Hope some of this helped.

Jo_L: Thank you John for all the great info. feel free to carry on the discussion in the PROMO chatroom. or stick around and talk queries...

johndesjarlais: Best wishes, everyone. I look forward to meeting some of you over at my web site,

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