Saturday, May 01, 2010

A Bird in the Hand

Tweet-Q: Would you rather rep a writer with a deal on the table? I heard this is ideal for 1st.
I don't presume to speak for every agent here, but for myself, I'd actually say this is a less-than-ideal situation.

If you have an offer from a publisher already, and you query me (or any agent) with a subject line like "Offer From Random House!" or similar, I will definitely read your query immediately. However, that is by no means a guarantee that I'll offer rep.

I still have to love the book.

Also, when I send out a project that is MY project, I have worked hard to craft a great pitch. I've made sure that the manuscript is in as good a shape as I can make it. I have created a submission list based on both my knowledge of individual editors tastes and needs, and with the input and advice from my entire agency.  Publisher expectations are also set - they know the kinds of rights I am going to want to keep, for example, and they will make their offer accordingly. I have often timed the submission in a particular way for a particular reason... and I find that I have a pretty good success rate.

When YOU do those things, and then try to bring me in after the fact, I haven't been able to do any of that good stuff, including (especially) choosing the editors that I think will be the best fit.

The offer on the table is usually not a great offer. The publisher is usually not in a particular mood to negotiate considering that there was no agent involved when they first made it... so while I'll probably be able to negotiate the advance up to cover my commission, and improve the terms, it isn't like you'll be leaping into a totally different sparkly-deal stratosphere just because you hired me.

The point I'm making is, it is fine to do things backwards and get an agent after you get a deal, it will probably help you and certainly won't hurt you.  But it is by no means better to do so.  And I personally think you are likely to get a better deal with an agent in your corner from the beginning.

(And for those who think that they CAN'T get an agent as a debut author... I'm gonna have to call shenanigans on that one. Half my clients are/were debut authors!)


  1. I...kinda thought almost everyone is a debut author when they snag an agent, lol. Shows you what I know.

    Nice post on an interesting topic! Thanks for sharing! ;)

  2. Well, Debra, there's this persistent myth that getting published is a Catch-22 - "You can't get a deal without an agent, but you can't get an agent without a deal!"

    False, on both counts. :)

  3. I never even considered trying to get a publishing deal for a novel without an agent. It's my belief that a great agent knows the best editors and publishers, so why try to do it on your own?

    I've written for magazines for years and always assumed the editors knew what was best for their magazine and their readers. The same goes for agents.

    Love your blog, by the way! :-)

  4. Thank you so much, Jennifer. Wow. The last thing I expected in return for my late #askagent question was a full blog post!

    To be honest, the one holding me back from submitting to agents is the YA author/instructor with whom I work one-on-one for a class. He's been in print for almost 20 years, so he may speak from a different era. (And part of the class involves researching suitable markets.) You'd definitely call shenanigans, to put it simply.

    In all my other discussions on this topic, everyone agrees with you. For the good of my YA work, it seems I'll have to disagree with my main voice of authority on the subject. (Oh, adulthood, you ironic beast.)

    P.S. How serendipitous you answered my question, Jennifer. Since starting an agency search (in secret, of course), AB's been on my shortlist. :)

  5. Anonymous6:49 AM

    During a critique session at SCBWI last year I met with an editor who is interested in my manuscript. She requested the full and then asked for revisions.
    Now that the revisions are complete I'm holding off on sending them to her so that I can query agents. My hope is to acquire an agent and allow them to handle negotiations if the editor chooses to offer a contract. Or maybe even find another publisher if said agent feels the manuscript would be better suited there.
    I know an agent can do a much better job at this point than I could.
    But am I doing the right thing?

  6. I know there are small genre publishers who won't consider an author if she/he has an agent. It's good to know what agents think about having a deal on the table. before seeking an agent. Thanks for your post.


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