Sara Megibow returns to her monthly gig with us to talk about the big pink elephant in the room: Do you need an agent? Her answers are fresh, surprising, and absolutely candid. We never expect any less from Sara.
Just last month, a query came through the slush pile that ended like this, “I hope you love my pitch. However, if you don’t – no worries, I don’t need an agent to get published anyway.”
In other words, “Dear Agent – You’re FIRED!”
I didn’t take it personally because I tend to agree with this writer – no, you don’t really need an agent in order to get published. I like to think that I’m a great business partner for writers who DO want an agent – I certainly want to feel essential to them. Still, here are a few of the things I do for my clients and how you could take them on (effectively) if you decide to go it alone.
1) Editing. I read my clients’ books and offer editorial feedback. Sometimes it’s intense and I request several rounds of revisions. Sometimes my notes are just bits of polishing here and there. A savvy author can hire an editor instead – there are plenty of editors with excellent reputations and experience who work freelance (especially editors laid off from their jobs in NY).
2) Submissions. One of the big reasons that fiction writers are on an agent-hunt is that many NY publishing houses do not accept un-agented submissions. There are ways around this too, though. Many editors attend national and regional RWA conferences and take pitches in person. You can circumvent the system by simply pitching at conferences instead of via an agent. The drawback, of course, is that this may cost more money. But, if you really feel that your manuscript is superior, you should have the same chance of signing a book deal in person as you would through representation. Of course, there are small presses that accept un-agented submissions, so you could go that route too. There are e-presses that accept un-agented submissions and they are wonderful. And, of course, one could always self-publish.
3) Contract negotiation. My boss, Kristin Nelson, has posted an entire “Agenting 101” series on her blog about how to understand and negotiate a contract. It starts here and it’s fabulous reading! An un-agented author could negotiate their own contract (if they REALLY understand it first) or simply hire an entertainment lawyer with expertise in publishing contracts.
4) Auditing royalty statements. Our agency has recently hired a royalty statement auditor. She checks each royalty statement against each contract to make sure every payment is 100% correct. One could absolutely do this at home – it takes meticulous care (or knowing a friend who is a CPA). Here’s an example – if your contract says you should get paid 8% of the cover price of your novel for the first 10,000 copies sold and 10% of the cover price thereafter, then it’s important to watch each royalty statement to make sure that 10,001st copy is accounted for correctly.
5) Planning marketing campaigns. Our agency also has a marketing director on staff (*waves* to the fabulous Lindsay Mergens, a 20+ year veteran of the marketing side of NY publishing). I find it’s very useful to have a template for new authors that says “6 months before release you should be doing this…” “4 months before release you should be doing this..” “this is the date that your publicist will likely be assigned and this is the date by which buy-in should happen.” We also spend time scheduling guest blog posts and interviews, updating websites and blogs and trying out other forms of social media like twitter and Facebook. This is probably the easiest realm for savvy authors to negotiate alone. If one is very organized and motivated, one should be able to plan a competitive marketing campaign with nothing more than time and a computer.
6) Problem solving when something goes wrong. Honestly, this is where I spend most of my time. I respond to emails, follow up on submissions, double check cover copy, nudge on deadlines, ask about payments, etc. I’m a great teammate or business partner for the author that wants to offload questions so s/he can simply keep writing. If you are super organized and love to be in control of your entire career, this is likely something you would do for yourself anyway.
My vision for my career is this – I intend to have a small list of clients and provide a ton of value-add to their publishing careers. That value add includes the services mentioned above as well as things like tracking sales, communicating about the market, capitalizing on networking and promotional opportunities, sharing best practices, planning careers, brainstorming book ideas, etc. I expect that as publishing continues to change there will be many successful authors who do not need an agent in order to succeed (and by “succeed” I mean they will create a book of superior quality and enjoy profitable sales on that book). I want to be the agent for authors who do want a business partner. I’m not for everyone and that’s 100% ok with me. If you don’t need an agent, like the author from the above query letter, be organized, professional, meticulous, educated and go for it!
So, what questions do you have for Sara about whether you need an agent or want to try it solo? Have you already thought this question and come to your own conclusion? Share with us the reasons behind your decision.
NOTE: Sara is moving today and she will be in and out of the site depending on the reality of making sure her kitchen utensils make it on the moving truck. She’s going to do her best to get to as many questions as she can.
Love is hottest in the darkness before dawn.
Elissande Edgerton is a desperate woman, a virtual prisoner in the home of her tyrannical uncle. Only through marriage can she claim the freedom she craves. But how to catch the perfect man?
Lord Vere is used to baiting irresistible traps. As a secret agent for the government, he’s tracked down some of the most devious criminals in London, all the while maintaining his cover as one of Society’s most harmless—and idiotic—bachelors. But nothing can prepare him for the scandal of being ensnared by Elissande.
Forced into a marriage of convenience, Elissande and Vere are each about to discover they’re not the only one with a hidden agenda. With seduction their only weapon against each other—and a dark secret from the past endangering both their lives—can they learn to trust each other even as they surrender to a passion that won’t be denied?
Stop by Friday when our very own Adrienne Giordano writes about her “a-ha” moment as a debut author.
Bio: Sara Megibow, Associate Literary Agent
Nelson Literary Agency, LLC
Sara has worked at the Nelson Literary Agency since 2006. As the Associate Literary Agent, Sara is actively acquiring new clients! The Nelson Literary Agency specializes in representing all genres of romance (except inspirational or category), young adult fiction of all subgenres, science fiction/ fantasy and commercial fiction (including women’s fiction and chick lit). Sara is an avid romance reader and a rabid fan girl of super sexy and intelligent stories.
Nelson Literary Agency is a member of AAR, RWA, SFWA and SCBWI. Please visit our website http://http://www.nelsonagency.com/ for submission guidelines, FAQs, resources and sample query letters. Sara’s Publisher’s Marketplace site (www.publishersmarketplace.com/members/SaraMegibow)  is a great place to find more about her personal tastes, clients and recent sales. You can also cyber stalk Sara on twitter @SaraMegibow