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Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

More on literary agents

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett


This whole mess with the International Independent Literary Agents Association got me to thinking that it might be a good thing for me to talk about my brief encounter with an agent.

No, I don't have an agent right now. But once upon a time I had an offer in hand. A friend of mine told me that she thought I could do better and gave me the name of her agent. I called the guy. It turned out that one of his clients had sold a book to this line, and he knew exactly what they were willing to pay, and he told me that he was pretty certain he couldn't get any more out of them - and even if he did I'd probably make less than the offer in hand after his commission. The conversation lasted about five minutes, and ended with a cordial "keep me in mind." Wow. What a guy.

I should note that I was able to verify his information independently.

I was out a long-distance call (a legitimate business expense) and a few minutes of my time. The agent was out five minutes of his time. But this is how I know he's an honest agent: He could have said, "Hey, let me send you a contract and I'll talk to them for you," knowing full well that he couldn't get blood out of a turnip. So I'd have made the same advance LESS his commission and probably would have not submitted other works if I could help it as long as I was under contract to that guy. I'd have lost out big time, and he'd have made his 15% for doing practically nothing. Worse, if he had been a fee-charging agent, he'd have had his fees plus his commission and I'd have had less money to spend.

You know, it really does take someone with integrity to turn down an easy 15% on a sale in hand like that. It was clear that he really had my best interests in mind.

You can compare an agent to a salesperson who works entirely on commission. You've been accosted by salespeople on commission - if they even think they can sell something to you, they're tenacious. They're hungry. If they can see up front that you're going to buy, then they'll let you pass and concentrate on better prospects. Legitimate literary agents work on commission, so they're going to reject any manuscript that they don't think they can sell. They want to concentrate on making money.

Here's another way to look at it: Why pay an agent some amount for a year of representation that doesn't guarantee a sale when you can go with an agent who won't get paid until they sell your work? That first agent will also get a commission if they sell your work, so you're really coming out ahead with the second agent.

This, in a nutshell, is why I really don't understand why agents charge fees. Perhaps it's the Scots in me, but I'm cheap. I'm willing to pay for services rendered, but why pay up-front with no guarantees when I can pay when and if the sale is made? Out of money that I'll have in hand? Gosh, that seems like a no-brainer to me.

You don't need an agent to get a book published. I am proof of that. I know several authors who don't have agents. There are publishers out there who accept unagented manuscripts. TOR is one large publisher that accepts unagented submissions.

But if you decide that you need an agent, please do your homework. Don't believe what I tell you. Don't believe what any one web site or book tells you. Keep digging, and you'll find the truth.

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Filed under: Writing               
10/28/2006 5:16:59 PM
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