By Maria Ferrer
NOTE: On Monday, August 16, Agent Eric Ruben will be RWANYC’s Guest Blogger. He will blog about how he selects his clients, and what he does and doesn’t do for them. Plus, his take on the e-book / digital rights question.
THE QUEST. Before you start your quest for the Perfect Agent, ask yourself: Do I need an agent? The answer is…maybe. Some big name authors don’t have agents; most do. Some authors who write short stories or magazine articles don’t think they need agents; neither do some big fiction writers. Other writers swear by their agents. YOU have to look at your situation – what you are writing, whom you want to submit to, what your goal is -- and decide. For example, our very own Cathy Greenfeder did not have an agent when she sold her first two books to e-Wings Press, but now she is in the market for one. Another important consideration is the publishing house you wish to submit to. If they only deal with agented authors, then you need an agent.
DO YOUR RESEARCH. Find the books that you like, the authors you admire and find out who is their agent. Sometimes you can call the publisher and ask. Sometimes the authors list their agents in their books or on their websites. Look up that agent in the Literary Marketplace and on the AAR database. Check out their track record with the RWA National office. Research their reputation, their practices. Visit the agent’s website; look at their recent sales. Are those books like yours? Are those houses you want to write for?
Also, think about whether you want to be in a small literary agency or a large one. A small agency has hungry agents who are going to be eager to work and sell. This could be a plus.
It could also be a negative if your agent dies or moves to Brazil. A bigger agency may seem for secure. Do your research and find out which one will work best for you; where will you feel more comfortable; which will position you better career-wise.
SUBMIT, SUBMIT. Now that you’ve done your research and you’ve narrowed your list to three agents, let’s say. Try to meet these agents informally at a local writers’ conference or at the RWA National Conference. An informal talk can help you narrow your choices even further. If you can’t meet them beforehand, no problem; you can still submit to them. NOTE: the agent(s) you are soliciting should NOT charge a reading fee. If they do, move on.
THE INTERVIEW. This is NOT your interview, but theirs. YOU are the employer; they are the employee. Remember that. Don’t be scared of them. They are going to be working for you. And the main issue is not money because they get a standard 15% of your earnings. Think instead career planning – your career. Start the interview by explaining to the prospective agent YOUR Vision for yourself; where you see your career going; where you want to be five years from now. Then ask questions, lots of questions. What success have they had in selling your type of novel? How many authors in their “stable”? (Yes, it’s called a stable.) What publishers do they have better relationship with? What are some things that they’ve negotiated for other authors? No question is silly. This is an interview. If you are anxious, write down the top 5 questions you need answers to and practice with a friend. REMINDER: It’s an interview, you don’t have to sign or make a commitment that day.
THE CONTRACT. In the old days, agents and authors had verbal contracts. This is the 21st century, you need a written contract. Make sure it includes the commission rate and the agent should detail any extra fees you might incur. The contract should include specific language about the termination of the agreement by either party.
Thirty to sixty days written notice to terminate contract is pretty standard. And make sure you include a provision on what happens to unsold projects that they’ve pitched on your behalf, and that they forfeit any interest in future works. Also, be on alert. Sometimes agents sneak in a clause that gives the agent a piece of every project you write for a publisher with whom she/he negotiated a contract indefinitely. Watch for this clause and take it out ASAP.
THE RELATIONSHIP. Some authors are friends with their agents, for others, agents are business partners nothing more. You are the one who decides on the nature of your relationship. If you need a lot of hand holding, make sure the agent you pick is a nurturer. If you need monthly or quarterly updates on your books, say so at the beginning. Your relationship with your agent is as important as your relationship with your editor. Be courteous and professional.♥
AAR, is the Association of Authors' Representatives. Almost all agents belong to this organization. The AAR has a strict Code of Ethics that all agent members must abide by. Their website (aar-online.org) has a database of all its members with submission guidelines and areas of expertise. This is a good place to start.
The Literary Marketplace also has agent listings, with names, addresses and areas of expertise.
RWA National publishes an annual listing of known romance agents in the RWR. They also keep track of agents that members have had problems with.
Maria Ferrer is juggling several projects, and is always amazed when things get done. When not writing, she is blogging at http://www.4horsewomen.blogspot.com/ or at http://www.latinabookclub.com/.