Sara is back and she is tackling another sticky issue – what does it mean to be a good literary agent? Now, we’ve e all been involved in those conversations about response times, rejection letters, and general deets on literary agents and their working style. But, what should really matter when seeking representation? Check out what Sara has to say . . .
Who is a “good” literary agent?
I recently received the following email in our query inbox, “Dear Sara Megibow, thank you so much for sending a response to my query. Even though it was a form rejection letter, it’s still better than nothing. You are a really great literary agent.”
This is a polite and thoughtful email response. Typically, it’s not necessary to respond to our rejection letter however the nice ones are always better than the mean ones. Still, and this pains me to say it, there is an error in this person’s response. OH how I hate to admit this because I’m sure my rating at querytracker will go right through the toilet. Yikes. Here goes…
An agent’s process for responding to slush pile submissions (and the speed at which they do so) is not an accurate way to evaluate whether or not that agent is good at their job. Some agents personalize each and every response. Some agencies (like ours) send out a response to everything with a form rejection. And some agents don’t respond at all unless they are interested in the book. I know some writers compare notes: “X agent responded in 12 days” and “Y agent didn’t respond at all” and “Z agent’s form rejection is polite” but I’m here to tell you that this is not a good way to evaluate your potential business partner.
Of course I like being known as a “good” agent but let’s go over what that really means.
My job as a literary agent is to turn my clients books into money. Period. Publishing is a business and I represent one potential business plan for a writer. I offer representation when I believe there is financial potential in a book. Reading submissions and presenting books to publishing houses represents the vast minority of my time each week. Negotiating and auditing contracts, selling subsidiary rights (audio, foreign, film, etc), auditing royalty statements and organizing production, publicity and promotions are how I spend my time. These are the tasks I perform to make my clients money. Looking at it from this point of view, I can’t very well call up Tiffany Reisz to say, “I couldn’t shop THE SIREN for film this week as I was responding to slush pile submissions.” The biggest misconception about the job of a literary agent is that we serve the pre-published author. Unfortunately, that’s not true – we exist to make money for our current clients. That’s a harsh and ugly thing to admit online, but it’s the truth. Another way to look at it is like this – if I offer you representation you’d want me spending my time on your books, right?
The Catch 22 of this scenario is that in order to make money for our current clients, we have to HAVE clients and the vast majority of those clients come from the slush pile. So, how to respond to query letters remains a relevant discussion. I stand by our decision to respond to every email even though it costs us tens of thousands of dollars each year to do so (and it takes hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales in order to make the 15% agency fee to cover that cost). I WANT to be known as nice and friendly and I believe that pre-published authors deserve a response. So there you have it – even though it’s not a perfect process, our agency continues to respond to every submission. But remember – that’s not what makes me good at my job.
A GOOD agent is one who can make you money, not one who responds quickly to the slush pile.
In researching agents, here are good ways to evaluate: Does an agent:
- Negotiate competitive contracts, including royalty rates (profit for an author shouldn’t just come from the advance money)
- Audit royalty statements
- Sell subsidiary rights
- Monitor the production process for quality and innovation
- Help organize publicity and promotions
- Communicate the publishing process effectively so all members of the team can be focused on writing and sales as opposed to being focused on errors and misunderstandings
- Work with an author to craft the career the author wants for him/herself
How would you find this out about an agent?
- When an agent offers representation, ASK! (it’s ok – you’re not being nosy. These are important questions)
- Ask to speak with an agent’s other clients to get a feel for some of these behind-the-scenes tasks
- Follow an agent at www.publishersmarketplace.com or on their agency website and watch for subsidiary rights sales or blog posts about these issues
- Meet agents at conferences and ask good business questions
- Follow agents on their blogs and on twitter (I’m on twitter at @SaraMegibow where I try to answer questions) (My boss, Kristin Nelson, blogs at http://pubrants.blogspot.com/ and she’s tackled each of these topics thoroughly over the years)
I hope this information helps! As you are researching agents for your career, remember to focus on the things that agent will do to make you money. Painful as it sounds, responding to the slush pile is not one of those tasks.
Happy writing and thanks again for having me here at Romance University!
Yes – she went there. So, what questions or comments do you have about Sara’s post? What is your experience with agents and the slush pile? Did it impact whether you would accept an offer of representation? Did it stop you from submitting?
On Friday, the fabulous Theresa Stevens is back!
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 @SaraMegibowHow an agent chooses what books to read.
- Sara Megibow Sells Romance!
- Sara Megibow Sells Romance – Interpreting the Rejection Letter
- Sara Megibow Sells Romance – Ask Her Anything
- Sara Megibow Sells Romance – Submission Suggestions
- Sara Megibow Sells Romance – The RU #AskAgent Event