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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Getting an Agent

Hello Fellow Writers!

Yesterday I didn't sit down until 9:30pm to write. That's probably because when the baby fell asleep, instead of using the time to write, I took a nap as well! When DH came home I was still out at my writing group at the Barnes and Noble, but when I came home I stayed up late to write my 2000 words, bring my word count up to 37,500.

I spent some time perusing fantasy author Tamora Pierce's website yesterday, and she has so much to share that I wanted to put an excerpt on here about getting a literary agent.

How can a new writer get an agent?

Agents are great, but they are also hard to come by. The most important thing to keep in mind is that agents generally don't want to talk to non-famous writers until that writer has a complete book manuscript in hand. This makes sense: many people start books; it takes something special to finish one. Short stories when published look great on a writer's record, but few agents will represent someone whose only work is in short stories and articles, because there isn't all that much money involved. Don't forget, agents have expenses of their own that have to be covered by their commissions: it's hard to pay a secretary when all you get is forty or sixty or a hundred dollars per short story sales!

If you think an agent is the way to go, the best way to find one is to track down THE WRITER'S MARKET (for the current year; these books come out with updated information every year in November) FOR AUTHORS' AND ARTISTS' AGENTS. Try the library first--these books cost about $25 each. If you can't find a copy in the library, try any good-sized bookstore in the Reference Section. It's important to get the book for the current year, because there are always changes in the industry: an agent may decide (like mine) not to take on new clients, or an agency may close, or agents may decide to concentrate on different books and authors than they did the year before. The annual issue of the MARKET will tell you what agencies are looking for new clients, what kinds of books and writers they represent, whether or not they charge a fee to read manuscripts (if they do, I wouldn't send anything to them--I don't trust agents who charge writers to read books), their address, and how they want you to send material to them. (Some want the whole manuscript--ms. for short--some want a query letter, a one-page description of what the book's about, in letter form.)
What does an agent do?

An agent's services depend on the agency. First, an agent reads and comments on your manuscript and advises about the need for rewrites, depending on whether the agent thinks s/he can sell the ms. as is or if it needs more work. The agent then sends the ms. to editors/publishers s/he believes are right for this particular book; often these are people the agent knows professionally through meetings at lunches, conferences, and professional parties. When a publisher makes a contract offer, the agent is the one who negotiates the terms: not only how much money should be paid and how it should be paid out (on signature of the contract, on delivery of the finish book, on publication), but also who controls foreign rights (some publishers have their own divisions in other countries where they feel the books will sell; others will leave such rights in the agent's hands), movie rights, book club rights, and most recently, electronic book rights. The agent also negotiates how much of each sale the writer gets, and the terms for when books go out of print (it's sometimes possible to get out-of-print books back from publishers, and re-sell them to new publishers). The money from the publisher goes to the agent, who checks how many books were sold and to whom and if you got the right amount of money for the number of books sold (some publishers aren't honest--it's the agent's job to keep an eye on them, though you should learn to read your own contracts and statements in case your agent misses something or neglects to pay you all that you are owed). The agent takes out her/his percentage of the money (you didn't think they did all this for free, did you?).

Agents' commissions run from 10 percent to 25 percent of all the money that comes in for you, depending on what services the agent provides.
Most agents will also do all this for any magazine pieces--stories and articles--you may write--once they have taken you on as a book client. If someone wants to quote from your work, an agent is the one who handles the legal agreement and sets a fee on the use of your work. Many agents have relationships with literary agencies overseas; if your publisher doesn't control foreign rights to your books and you do, your agent will send copies of your books to their foreign agencies in countries they think would like your work. Agents will take in and send on your fan mail, and explain the mysteries of the publishing industry.

Today I will be upping my word count to 40,000 words. That's right - I'm getting really close to hitting my goal of writing an entire 50,000 word category romance in one month for NaNoWriMo!
Wish me luck, and good luck to you too!
Yours Truly,
Shoshanna Evers

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