Finding a Literary Agent

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Philip Overby, Jan 30, 2013.

  1. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I'm closing in on finishing my first real book, hoping to edit it and submit it out to literary agents and publishers. Problem is, I'm not sure where to look for good agents that represent authors in the fantasy (or speculative fiction in general) genre. Are there any tips or resources anyone can share about finding an agent? I know submitting a first book is a shot in the dark, but I had this conversation with my wife tonight. I compared it to exercising. When you first start exercising, you may not get results. But once you get in the rhythm (of writing and submitting) you may get closer to your goal. So that's what I'm hoping to do. Start at the top and then hopefully find someone to represent me that is reliable and trustworthy.

    Any thoughts?
     
  2. Ireth

    Ireth Mythic Scribe

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  3. Butterfly

    Butterfly Dark Lord

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  4. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    I second agent query
     
  5. The Dark One

    The Dark One Grandmaster

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    I recently sacked my agent. She was one of the biggest in Australia and, in the wake of my reasonably successful first novel, I thought I was pretty much set for life when I landed her.

    Instead, she was a total waste of time. In two years she sent out my existing novel (for OS rights) once and my new novel (for Aust/NZ rights) twice. What's more, she never once gave me the impression that she really 'got' me and my work.

    An agent has numerous drawbacks, not least that you can't do anything off your own bat without permission. I was unhappy for a while but hung onto her because I felt like it gave me extra cachet. Now I just feel that she's wasted two years of my career.

    A big agent will not give you much of his/her attention. If you want an agent, make sure they are really motivated to sell your work or you may as well do it yourself. I am now negotiating with three different publishers for my new novel (although no final offers yet). At least we're talking.
     
  6. Kevin O. McLaughlin

    Kevin O. McLaughlin Mystagogue

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    Contrary to what many agents might want to be true, the agent is the employee of the writer (well, technically a contractor for the writer, but same basic effect). The AGENT needs the WRITER'S permission to do things, not the other way around. And, thankfully, today the agent needs the writer a HECK of a lot more than the writer needs the agent. Especially in SF/fantasy, where most of the bigger publishers don't worry about whether you have an agent or not anyway.

    If your agent thinks that you need to ask permission before doing things then you have a bad agent. If your agent appreciates your asking their advice before doing something, then your agent has a decent understanding of their place in the scheme of things.
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2013
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  7. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Scribal Lord

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  8. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Scribal Lord

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    Exactly - you hire an agent, not the other way around. The confusion comes in the fact that they don't bring on "just anyone" because they only have so much time on their hands. But never forget who "calls the shots." Now your agent may look at a new manuscript that you write and say, "I can't sell this." So you can't (or should't try) to force them to market it. At that point you have choices, anything from severing the relationship, to putting the project in the drawer, or taking it on your own (in which case the agent doesn't get their cut).
     
  9. The Dark One

    The Dark One Grandmaster

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    Thing is, the agent has all the power. They may not like something so may not want you to send it out yourself because it will make you look amateurish, or otherwise ruin your reputation and saleability.

    You can say that thewriter is the hirer but that aint worth a pinch of proverbial when the agent says it's my way or the highway.

    I signed with a really big agent, so had no power in the relationship. I know now that this was a bad thing, but hoped (for two years) that the inertia and lack of responsiveness would nevertheless result in a major sale - just on the basis of who she was.

    I very much doubt I will sign again with an agent. Hopefully, I am known just enough not to need one.
     
  10. Kevin O. McLaughlin

    Kevin O. McLaughlin Mystagogue

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    Agents only have as much power as writers give them, because writers don't need them. Never really did, honestly... But now, less than ever. Today, agents need writers far more than writers need agents, and that's only going to get worse instead of better.
     
  11. The Dark One

    The Dark One Grandmaster

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    It's just occurred to me that there are far fewer agents in Australia than elsewhere. This gives them cartel-like power and writers who are less than million sellers must wait for them to be less busy serving their big clients.

    It's probably a lot more competitive in US/UK so agents haveless power.
     
  12. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Scribal Lord

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    The agent has no power, without the author's work they have noting to earn from. If they don't believe in your work, then they're not the agent for it.

    I agree.
     
  13. The Dark One

    The Dark One Grandmaster

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    You know what Michael?

    I think you have a lot of useful advice for people on these forums, but on this occasion, I think you've forgotten what it's like to have little or no power in the agency relationship. In theory, the agent has nothing to sell without the author. In reality, the agent spends all their time and effort on where they are going to make money - their established, successful clients.

    New clients (in my experience) get bugger all attention and are easily expendable. You need to remember that when giving advice to young players who don't have your standing in the industry.

    Agents have all the power and they are ruthless about using it.
     
  14. Kevin O. McLaughlin

    Kevin O. McLaughlin Mystagogue

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    I think the point Michael is trying to make is that agents are rapidly becoming superfluous. With literally *thousands* of indie books outselling the average advances for their genres, first off, it's now very reasonable to bypass the entire old guard publishing ecosystem. Write books, publish them, and if they're good, and you continue writing to build more readers, then in time you'll be earning as much as you would have been with the agent/publisher route. Still want the traditional deal? More and more agents and publishers are turning to indie writers for their next books. Of course, 2012 was the year when a good chunk of the indies thus approached *turned down* those offers, because they were already making more than the publisher was willing to offer...

    But the indie road aside, you do know that SF/Fantasy is one of the genres where most of the majors accept unagented work, right? Having a top agent from a top agency will improve your odds. Having any old agent, in our genre, really won't.

    I don't foresee ever using an agent again, except perhaps for overseas rights. Maybe not even then. IP attorneys cost less and do more for you than an agent can.

    The literary agent as a profession is in decline. Five years from now, most of the agents employed today will be doing something else.
     
  15. The Dark One

    The Dark One Grandmaster

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    Really? In Reply #12, he said all that?

    In fact, I think there's some truth in what was said (by Kevin) at Reply #13, but re Michael's posts - he (as far as I know) is by far the most successful and high profile writer here. We all benefit from his experience and wisdom, but I think in this case he's forgotten what it's like to be a struggling wannabe.

    To just glibly state that the agent has no power without your work gives new writers completely the wrong impression in terms of their negotiating power with respect to agents - especially the famous agents who can genuinely get you published. You have no power. If they take you on, they probably see it as an indulgent favour or philanthropic gesture, and will pursue your interests only when it suits them.

    No doubt, theirs is a waning paradigm, but for the moment they still have a lot more power than unpublished writers - who would do well to remember that when dealing with them.
     
  16. Jessquoi

    Jessquoi Lore Master

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    Just out of interest, who are the leading agents in Australia? And do we have strictly Australian publishing houses?
     
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2013
  17. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Scribal Lord

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    I think you are missing the important point...If you think that publishing means "being piked up" then yes you are giving others power over you...agents and publishers alike.

    But if you think that the important thing is that "You're being read" - then there are only two parties necessary - the writer and the reader. And the rest b damned.

    Because you create the content YOU ARE IN CONTROL. What you do with your power (exercise it yourself or give it to someone else) is also YOUR decision. And I think this is an important lesson ESPECIALLY for young writers... particularly because they so often throw it away then complain they have no power.



    One of the reasons I love the writing profession is that "I" am in complete control. If you give power to others - you co
     
  18. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Scribal Lord

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    Yes you are correct, and accurate are relaying how I feel- thanks for channeling me. ;-)

    A very true and valid point.

    My agent provides a lot of "value add" in the way of resources she has provide on her own dime (consultants, her own ip lawyer etc, arranging a movie/tv agent - she is really looking out after my "career" where IP's do one job are done - I can see valid points or both.

    I agree.
     
  19. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Scribal Lord

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    Technically no, but in reality yes. Kevin has known me long enough to know my feelings on this.

    I'm not forgetting you are a "struggling wannabe" but even a "struggling wannabe" should make decisions that keep them in control of their own work. I've seen too many authors sign REALLY terrible contracts because they were too "passive" and let the agent bully them into something that wasn't in the author's best interest. David Dalglish, who just signed with my publisher is a good example. I can't give all the details because they were relayed to me in confidence, but David made a bad choice and paid dearly for it. I don't want others to do similarly.

    It's not "being glib" it's a FACT. But too many authors look at it from the wrong perspective, they put more value on "being signed" then "protecting their rights" - and this is, imo, a very bad choice. If you, or the agent feels:

    Then you are with the WRONG AGENT!! Don't sign - danger....danger.

    You, of course, have the right to your own opinion...but I fear for you because with this "perspective" you are ripe for being taken advantage of.
     
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  20. The Dark One

    The Dark One Grandmaster

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    You needed to read back a bit further - my comments commenced with the news that I had sacked my agent because I had come to the realisation that she was wrong for me (and had pretty much wasted two years). I was trying to provide a cautionary tale for young players and I stand by every word.

    Including the word glib. When an inexperienced writer first starts dealing with agents they face a massive power imbalance and are profoundly grateful to any publishing professional who gives them any time at all. If dealing with a big name, any judgment they might normally have in important negotiating situations can just evaporate under the glare of the agent's luminous celebrity.

    The writer feels indulged and special just spending time with this titan of the publishing world, but they feel that the connection can vanish at any moment. If they are told that something is industry standard, they will believe. If they are told something is not industry standard, they won't care, because even a bad deal with an agent seems better...to the lonely writer tapping away in the proverbial garret...than no deal.

    Most importantly, if it's your first relationship with an agent, you won't have any experience with which to weigh the offer. Offers to new writers are rare, and flattering, and the writer has stars in his/her eyes. They will say yes...will be aghast at the prospect of losing the offer. They have no power.

    For you to suggest that they do have power may embolden one or two to say no...but that might lose them the one chance they will ever have to be published in the main stream.

    You don't have power re agents until a publisher wants your book.

    FYI, I am not inexperienced when it comes to publishing or making deals. I've been published by two commercial publishers (both small) and I am a lawyer. I may not know everything about publishing but I do recognise an unequal bargaining relationship and what it means for the negotiation process.

    New writers will always say yes Michael, you're better off giving them advice about the consequences than telling them they have the power to say no.
     
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