You look lovely today. Your hair is thick and lustrous, and your pants are flattering. Great work!
I’m here to talk to you about something that has been troubling me. Lots. And I think to a huge huge HUGE extent I am preaching to the choir, but I hope I can reach some other people.
Because I am upset.
And I am not upset on my own behalf.
I am upset on the behalf of…agents.
Yes, agents! Those supposedly sleazy slimy sharks out to make a buck. Those weasels with dollar signs in their soulless eyes. Those jerks who’ll take your money when you could do the same without them and with keeping your big piles of cash.
I’ve heard multiple times from multiple small presses in the past month or so that an agent is either unnecessary or even harmful. I have heard that you’ll get the same deal without them, so you might as well hang onto the commission. I’ve heard that they will take 40 to 50 percent of your earnings. I’ve heard it becomes very troublesome to get them involved because things get so complicated.
Well, here’s the deal: things SHOULD be complicated. We are not playing book club here. We are doing BOOK BUSINESS. And when I’m sick I don’t assume that Googling my symptoms is more effective than a doctor, just because it’ll save me the co-pay (with the bonus of hearing that every symptom leads to a tumor!). When my car isn’t working, I don’t call a friend who likes cars and have her fiddle with it. I go to a mechanic, even though it’s expensive and annoying and usually the waiting rooms are gross.
Why? Um, it’s obvious, right? These are professionals. I might save the co-pay but it’ll cost more down the line when my untreated whatever leads to a way more serious whatever. Should I pay the mechanic a (relative) little now or a whole boatload when the repairs don’t work and now I have serious SERIOUS trouble?
I’m sure there are small presses where, agent or not, you’ll get relatively the same offer, money-wise. Sure. But there are other things besides advances and royalty percentages. What about rights to future books? What about rights to performance, audio books, reprints, etc.? That stuff isn’t going to affect your earnings NOW but one line item on a contract that looks like nothing to you, a non-professional, might mean a lot to your earnings LATER. And I care A LOT about my earnings later.
Also I know no legitimate lit agents who take more than 15 percent on standard book royalties (sometimes performance royalties go up to 20 because there’s an extra person involved), and it makes me really angry to hear publishers are handing out this information to authors as fact to keep them from getting an agent involved.
Because, trust me, there’s a reason they don’t want agents involved IF THEY DON’T WANT AGENTS INVOLVED. It’s a reason they talk about things being complicated or troublesome. It’s because agents will spot shady shit. Agents will make sure their authors are being taken care of. Agents know that, while heartbreaking, it is better to walk away from a bad contract with no guarantee of a book deal elsewhere than accept something subpar or sketchy.
Agents also do a lot more than contract negotiation to earn their commission. Mine, for example, helps me with promotional opportunities, uses her established network that comes from years of experience to make connections I need (for blurbs, publicity, etc.), gives manuscript feedback, tells me when I’m whining and should stop it, tells me when I’m right to be concerned. My agent worked on selling my first two books for YEARS before she made any money off of them, and yet I was never made to feel like a drain on her time or energy.
And while I feel fortunate to have someone in my corner who is fantastic in these ways, I must concede I am not unique. Because I have many author friends with many different agents, and this is what they have in their corners too.
Is this a money-making business for these agents? Uh, of course. They have bills to pay. They have a living to earn. But that doesn’t negate what they bring to the table.
And if you’re really worried about your 15 percent, bear in mind that with good negotiations, you’ll likely make at least 15 percent more due to your agent’s negotiations. Like I said, even if your advance or royalties are boilerplate standards, there are other ways your agent will save you money. Even, for me, my own time counts for a lot. The fact that my agent is the one emailing submissions, reviewing contracts, tracking my royalties, etc.? That’s A LOT of time I can be spending
watching HBO Go writing my next project.
And agents aren’t perfect. OBVIOUSLY. Sure, I’ve heard horror stories, and sure, you should do your research and get recommendations and all that jazz. Don’t just sign with anyone! I spoke to two of my agent’s clients AND checked out her sales list before I agreed to be represented by her.
Do you HAVE to have an agent? Well, no, obviously. But think hard if someone dissuades you from one. It AT LEAST GIVES THE IMPRESSION that they’d prefer to work with someone who doesn’t know the ins and outs of contracts and the publishing industry. And even if their reasoning genuinely isn’t in the worst interest of their authors, there’s something to wonder about anyone who doesn’t want you to have as much power on your side as possible.
Love to you AND to your best interests,