A Literary Agency Getting Authors Published Well
Questions from WriterNet
How will you help grow my career?
I began my publishing career as an editor with a strong hand, and I can add value most in the areas of manuscript/story development and finding your voice. I will give you candid and honest feedback about the work you’re doing. I will caution you if I think your current work is below your own standards or those of your readers. Then, after taking my comments into consideration, I expect that you will push back. By helping you increase the quality of your work, by circulating this to the best publishing outlets, your career will grow.
How long have you been in business as an agent?
As a literary agent, I have been in business since October 2009.
What is your previous experience in publishing?
I spent about 25 years as an book acquisitions editor at three mid-sized publishing houses, moving up through the ranks, including 5 years as an editorial director and 10 years as a publisher (chief operating officer-level). My professional experience as an acquisitions editor and publisher has been in non-fiction, but I am also equipped to handle fiction.
Who in your agency will actually be handling my work? Will other staff members be familiar with my work and the status of my business at your agency?
Some proposal editing may be outsourced to one of my trusted colleagues, but all work is reviewed by me. I will not hand off you and your proposal to someone else (unless some emergency arises).
Do you issue an agent-author agreement? May I review the language of the agency clause that appears in contracts you negotiate for your clients?
Yes, My Book Agent requires a signed agreement with an author before a campaign is constructed. I send a blank copy (a specimen) at the time I offer to represent an author. Contact us to request a specimen.
And yes, you can review the agency clause, which is a paragraph inserted into the publisher’s agreement with the author. The agency clause usually specifies that the publisher will send payments to the agent on behalf of the author and that the agent will deduct fees before remitting the remainder to the author. Some clauses carry a third element, namely, that the agent can sign on behalf of the author. My Book Agent neither seeks nor agrees to this aspect. Contact us to request a specimen.
Do you place a minimum time requirement on our relationship? If so for how long?
Our minimum agreed upon time is 30 days. Some agencies do insist on 2 or 3 years for new authors. We hope to achieve this sort of representation time (or longer!). We think, however, that working on the relationship and being productive are better building blocks than is legal obligation.
Do you handle foreign rights? Movie and television rights?
Yes, I have handled foreign rights for over 20 years (Book Expo America, Frankfurt Book Fair, and London Book Fair). I have used sub-agents for television, movie, and other sub-rights. Then, large publishers have their own rights departments and sometimes insist on conveying all rights in the book deal. When this benefits the author’s potential revenues while maintaining a modicum of creative input, I encourage authors strongly to consider this.
What about ebook rights? Self-publishing as an option?
Ebook rights are a central issue in many negotiations. Often times, publishers offer authors too low a percentage of the proceeds, especially when third parties are actually exercising these rights. As the ebook portion of sales continues to increase, it is my duty to negotiate the best deal on ebook rights and the entire package for authors.
Self-publishing is an option for authors. It means that the author becomes his or her own publisher and that the need for a literary agent is lessened (but could remain for sub-license and subsidiary rights). I have enrolled authors whose first book was self-published and who now (because of a change in the market) want to approach publishers. I do not enroll, however, authors who are seeking to self-publish their first work. (Other agencies are better at this. For our input, contact us to request a short list.
If we should part company, what is your policy about handling any unsold subsidiary rights in my work?
If rights have not been sold, then these are returned to you, the author. If, however, some rights have been sold, then I as agent have “an irrevocable interest” in the rights and can continue to sell them. I am open to setting a time limit on the solicitation of other rights offers.
What happens to my work if you leave the agency?
My Book Agent is a “doing business as” of My Book Editor LLC, registered in the State of Ohio and recorded as an S corporation by the Internal Revenue Service.
To summarize the details of our agency agreement with authors we represent:
- Paragraph 9: Agency or Author may terminate the agreement with a 30-day notice (subject to rights already sold)
- Paragraph 10: If I should die, become incapacitated, or leave, then the rights remain with the corporation.
- Paragraph 11: Neither party can assign rights without notifying the other party.
How will I be kept apprised of the work that your agency is doing on my behalf?
- Before a submission campaign begins, potential publishers are researched and a candidate list developed.
- That list is shared with the author, who can raise questions or make suggestions; usually a dozen publishers are listed in the campaign with two or three groupings.
- A weekly email report is sent to authors during the mail-out phase of the campaign.
- During the one to three months it often takes to get replies, an occasional email is sent.
- Whenever any contact is received from a publisher, this is conveyed to the author within 24 hours.
- Any offer is discussed with the author; the agency agreement prevents the agent from acting without explicit approval from the author.
If I’m not happy with our relationship what can I do?
Hopefully, you will present your unhappiness in a way that can lead to changes and improvements. If I cannot make it right, then you can invoke the 30-day notice (paragraph 9).
Do you consult with your clients on any and all offers?
Yes. The author has the ultimate decision in this area. Some author-agency agreements contain a clause that the agent can sign on behalf of the author. My Book Agent neither seeks nor agrees to this aspect. Contact us to request a specimen of our agency paragraph that is inserted into your agreement with your publishing.
Do you keep different bank accounts separating author funds from agency revenue?
Yes. Keeping separate accounts is a core principle in accounting transparency.
What are your commission rates? What are your procedures and time-frames for processing and disbursing client funds?
The standard agency commission is 15%, with 20% on foreign sales.
Most publishers issue royalty checks every six months. Each publisher’s check is deposited into our author royalty deposit account. We then issue checks to our authors for the net amount after our commission is removed. We strive to place an author’s royalty check into the US Postal Service one week after we receive a check from a publisher.
What are your policies about charging clients for expenses incurred by your agency?
Paragraph 4, Expenses: “Agency shall pay expenses of selling the Work, except: photographic reproductions; photocopying of proposals and partial or complete manuscripts; purchase of galleys and books; and legal advice and representation regarding the Work, solicitation of such to have been agreed upon by me [meaning, you the author] in advance.”
Are you a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives?
I am not currently a member of AAR, which requires in part that an agent be in business at least 18 months. (My agency incorporated in October 2009, but opened in late-March 2011.) I do abide by their Canon of Ethics. Throughout my career, I have negotiated publishing rights with publishers’ and literary agents on over 1,000 titles.
When you issue 1099 tax forms at the end of each year, do you also furnish clients upon request with a detailed account of their financial activity, such as gross income, commissions and other deductions, and net income, for the past year?
My Book Agent uses Intuit’s Quick Books software for all its financial processes. We can print a “statement of account” report at any time that lists this information. For each author, we also list gross income, itemized deductions, and net income in a separate print-out.