getting your 15% worth

In case anyone was wondering what else they might get for that commission paid on sales…. Among other things…. Attention to subsidiary rights. I just spent the last two and a half hours revising my author information files so I could print reports to include with the copies of recent publications I’m sending to my agents in Spain and Germany. And then writing the pitch cover letters that accompany those packages, detailing the contents and why my foreign rep should spend their time on these works. And shortly I will be carrying what looks like serious poundage to the post office so I can fill out the customs forms and try not to cringe too much at the postage cost. I’m not complaining. It’s fairly likely these packages will yield a translation sale that will mean more money for both the author and myself. In fact, I’ve had a pretty good year on that front; over 10 sales, and two of them in countries where I hadn’t placed before. I’m actually pretty excited about that.

I think it’s just that it’s Friday and it’s been a busy week, and I’ve been thinking about a couple comments I saw somewhere recently about agents and what they do for you and whether they are worth it. Maybe some of them aren’t. Not all agents are created equal. But I am *not* just sitting here, reading brilliant manuscripts and being wined and dined by the literati. Oh, for the glamorous life of an agent as portrayed in fiction. Because that’s what those kinds of stories are. Agents — good agents — work hard to assist each and every client to succeed to the best of their ability. That’s your 15% worth. And, if you’re not getting it, you should discuss it with your agent. But, as long as I’m having a cranky moment, here… before you do that, look well to your own glass house. Because not all writers are created equal either. And if you’re not giving it 110%, perhaps that should be addressed before you find your agent lacking. It’s both accurate and fair, I think, to say that agents will pay more attention to writers who are trying harder — who are pushing themselves at the craft level, and who are producing novels that are saleable on a regular basis. They have to consider the realities and restrictions of an industry which publishes a limited number of books per year with an ever-dwindling supply of over-worked editors to buy those books.

I don’t need any reassurance, here. I got that yesterday. *waves* at mizkit and puzzlehouse, among others. And, while it’s nice to hear (you’d be amazed at how rare the thank-you’s are to agents), I didn’t even really *need* those. I just really liked them. *g* I know that I am working hard. I know that I am doing the best job that I can for everybody. But I also know that triage is a reality I have to face, and that my rating system of who goes first might not make sense to everyone (especially if they always want to go first). Heck, I even have a client who keeps knocking *herself* out of triage because she’s turning in other things that prevent me from getting to an earlier item. But I will get there. And I’m reasonably certain she’s aware of that. I wish everyone else was too.

And now back to work. At least there are a few perks… While I was waiting for a meeting at Random House on Tuesday, I got to rub my fingers on the manuscript for George R.R. Martin’s A Feast for Crows. Yes, Virginia, it actually will be published.

28 responses to “getting your 15% worth

  1. Well, I keep trying to thank you, damn it, but I never know where you’re going to be, and everything I want to send in the way of thanks is perishable.

  2. > While I was waiting for a meeting at Random House on Tuesday, I got to
    > rub my fingers on the manuscript for George R.R. Martin’s A Feast for
    > Crows.
    And you didn’t photocopy it? ::sighs:: Can’t believe it’s been pushed back *again*. Still, the manuscript actually being there is a good sign…

  3. So is it kosher to post about yesterday’s goodness on my blog? 🙂

  4. i notice, from reading various writer sites, that those who don’t have an agent, or have a not stellar one… are the first to gripe and gripe loudly. having worked (briefly) for a scam agent… i dunno, i have a sort of inside, sort of skewed perspective. okay, i ALWAYS have a skewed perspective. *grin* and not tryin to kissbuttock here (much) but you’re the sort of agent i want for myself when i’m ready for agentedness. (when i surfed my way onto your LJ, i actually called my boyfriend-now-fiancee and told him that i’d found the agent i want to have.) anyway. from all appearances, you’re one of the good ones. the really good ones. and that’s today’s ramble from newroticville.

  5. And here I thought agents spent their time in personal helicopters shuttling from one big book launch extravaganza to the next.
    Seriously, the most important thing about your blog is that you tell it like it is from an agent’s point of view. You don’t mince words and you are specific in the points that you make. This is invaluable information and much appreciated.

    • Note to self: get personal helicopter and have pad installed on roof of house. Heh.
      Thanks for your feedback. It’s good to know. Really. Because, you know, it’s rather a large part of the reason for bothering to “talk” about it.

  6. But I am *not* just sitting here, reading brilliant manuscripts and being wined and dined by the literati.
    *sigh* Another fondly held conviction shot to hell.

  7. A while ago, someone (my mind supplies Tobias Weinlaub, but don’t quote me on it, I’m at work and the link is at home) someone posted a survey of SF/Fantasy writers, asking basically ‘is an agent worth his/her money?’
    It was… pretty conclusive. Overall, [income minus authors cut] beat [income unagented] hands down, across all categories, even without the outlier. ($600K advance – wonder who *that* was…)
    For me, it’s never been a question – I’ve taken a brief look at how much work an agent actually *does*, and decided I’d rather spend my time writing, and even should a publisher bite before an agent does, I’ll be happy to hand over 15% in return for the whole foreign rights and in-house placement and, and, and that I, on my own, would just not be able to get.

  8. The few writers I know who are fortunate enough to have you as an agent sing your praises loudly!
    And then they say “leave her alone, she’s mine!”
    Wine and dine invitation for you is open should you ever come to (not so)scenic Carlsbad, CA.

  9. Inquiring minds want to know: is it worth getting an agent (and, conversely, is it worth an agent’s time to book a writer) if a writer does not plan on writing full time? If a writer neither intends nor needs to jump through hoops such as, say, Holly Lisle does, writing proposals and trashing them; rather, someone who wants to write and sell on spec? (If on spec means write completely then sell, and I’m not reversing terminology. Which I may well be.)
    Thanks in advance. Sorry for the mini-ramble – long weeks, all around.

    • Okay… I’m not sure I understand what the second part of your question means, with the writing and trashing of proposals. Can you give me a more specific example? By my understanding, writing on spec means before contracts are signed, and generally in novel-length fiction that means the entire manuscript.
      Now, with regard to “writing full time” — again, can you clarify what you’re asking? Do you mean not having a day job? Or do you mean writing very irregularly?

      • Ack, I’m sorry for the confusion.
        By my understanding, writing on spec means before contracts are signed, and generally in novel-length fiction that means the entire manuscript.
        Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. I’ve been led to believe that this is an uncommon and discouraged practice. But this is what I desire to do. Holly Lisle, on the other hand, sells ideas, as do many others I’ve spoken with. Holly, in particular, has to submit proposals for novels she wants to write, which her editor then either approves or nixes. If the proposal is nixed, the idea is trashed, and it never gets written.
        I don’t plan to write full-time. At least, not for a long time. I want to write; to always write. But I want to hold down a(nother) job. I don’t want to necessarily subscribe to the 1-to-2 book a year contract. I feel like if I have an agent, they’ll expect something from me at regular intervals. From where I’m standing, it all seems very constrictive.
        What if I only wanted to sell a book every three years? Every five? Would you (hypothetically) still sign me?

    • I thought it was mostly non-fiction that was written after proposal… and that fiction was mostly written on spec. Maybe Holly Lisle can write on spec because she has enough published books?

      • She has enough published books, but she’s not even midlist. Her books haven’t been selling very well. And from all the snooping around I’ve done, most publish authors seem to sell based on proposals or even just, “I want to write X. ‘Kay?”

  10. George R.R. Martin
    It exists?? Must run and tell my husband…(sound of pounding feet and much screaming)

  11. Hi Jennifer,
    I’ve reading your blog for a while, and thank you for your insight.
    I have a question now that the topic of 15% is brought up.
    If one writes category romance (such as Harlequin or Silhouette romance lines), does she need an agent? If so, under what circumstances? I heard that Harlequin and Silhouette contracts are not negotiable and that it’s not worth 15% to have an agent from a published romance writer who just left her agent. What’s your perspective on this? What can an agent do for a category romance writer?

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