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The Dark and Hidden Rituals ... or, what's it really like to get an agent?

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  #1  
Old 06-13-2007, 06:21 AM
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Default The Dark and Hidden Rituals ... or, what's it really like to get an agent?


"Get an agent." I don't know about you, but this has always been the terrible, scary, horrible, no-good hurdle I have avoided in trying to get my writing off the ground. Get an agent?! But I'm just a freelancer, a part-timer! I haven't even finished a manuscript! Agents only deal with established writers. And agents are evil! Isn't that what all my creative writing teachers said?*

But I've come to accept it: I need to find representation at some point, if I'm ever going to break into novel writing.

I've been reading all sorts of stuff about agents lately: finding one, approaching them, negotiating the relationship, etc. They all make it sound so easy, or so hard, but they never seem to ring true. And besides, I still have questions that none of the books or FAQs seem to want to answer.

So I come to you, a forum full of fellow writers, with a request and a couple of questions I haven't yet found the answer to.

First, the request: tell me about your experience in seeking representation. I've read all the hypothetical advice; but what was the actual experience like? was it horrible? Easy? Fulfilling? I guess what I'm looking for is the story, to go along with the theory.

Second the questions:
  1. At what point do I seek an agent? Now, when I'm in the middle of writing a manuscript? Later, when I have the manuscript completed? Even later, when the manuscript is polished?
  2. I have very little spare money at the moment. So, do agents cost anything up front? My general understanding is that agents take a percentage of any money made from the book. But do I pay them anything prior to the book sale? And if so, how much generally? Can I, a newbie with a mediocre job, even afford representation?
Thanks for reading my ramblings. I look forward to any responses.

--W@L

* Yes, those frustrated poets and po-mo novelists who only published with small press publishers, 'cuz, you know, that was *pure* writing. Not like those hacks who make all the money.

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Old 06-13-2007, 11:22 AM
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Literary agents are very difficult to secure unless you already have successful published books to your credit. I wrote to every agent in North America who had an email address and several in Europe and only a few even bothered to respond -- with a form letter saying they weren't interested.

I gave up trying to find an agent and contacted small publishers directly. Big publishers won't read your work unless it's submitted by an agent. That path is a vicious circle because agents are so picky.

Never pay any agent upfront money. That's a scam. Legitimate agents get 10%-20% of book royalties and film rights.
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Old 06-13-2007, 03:49 PM
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So I need an agent to get published, and to get an agent, I need to be successfully published?

--W@L
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Old 06-13-2007, 04:08 PM
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Originally Posted by Writer@Large View Post
So I need an agent to get published, and to get an agent, I need to be successfully published?
Like I said, it's a vicious circle. Try submitting to small independent publishers. You won't make a lot of money because they can't afford much advertising/promotion, but it's better than not getting published at all.
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Old 06-16-2007, 05:19 AM
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Hmmm. That just seems awfully ... I dunno. Fatalistic? But I thank you for your advice.

Has no one else tried to go the agent route?

--W@L
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Old 06-17-2007, 06:44 AM
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I agree with Starrwriter - it's always best to go with a small Indie publisher first, get your stuff in print and THEN submit to agents. That way, you're providing a 'Writer's Resume' that you can point to in your Cover Letter, stating that you've published 'this,' 'that' and 'those' books. It adds credibility, in other words. Like publishers, agents are swamped with submissions, but UNLIKE publishers, they don't usually have a large crew of editor-types willing to read each and every submission that comes in. As to your questions:

1. At what point do I seek an agent? Now, when I'm in the middle of writing a manuscript? Later, when I have the manuscript completed? Even later, when the manuscript is polished?

Don't look for an agent or a publisher until you've finished the manuscript. For one thing, you can't sell something unless you have it in your hands to sell. (Unless you're writing Non-fiction, but this is a different scenario altogether, where you write a Book Proposal & send that in to a publisher, hoping they like the idea and will finance your research). Write the manuscript & then rewrite it - at least 3 times, polishing your prose to eliminate wordiness & get rid of anything that doesn't contribute to the plot. Keep the word count around 80K-90K tops. Anything longer than that will not be seriously considered. Once you've done this, you may want to have a paid editorial service look at the manuscript for you, just to be sure you've gotten all the nits. Don't do this, though, unless you're willing to invest money in your book - editorial services are expensive & you may pay up to $1,400 or more to edit your book. Best thing to do is learn to edit for yourself. Once edited, you'll need to Format the manuscript the way they want it (12pt Courier type, 250 words per page, 25 lines of type per page, print on NICE paper, etc. - see a Writer's Market for Format criteria). If all looks okie-dokie, learn how to write a Query letter, Synopsis and a cover letter, then refer to a copy of Writer's Market for a list of publishers - preferably a 2007 Edition. WM lists ALL known & reputable publishers as well as their criteria for publication, how much they pay, etc., and I believe there's a Writer's Market with agent listings as well. Follow the instructions and tailor your submission to the publisher you have in mind. If the entry says, 'Agented Submissions Only," you'll need to find an agent to crack that particular nut.

2. I have very little spare money at the moment. So, do agents cost anything up front? My general understanding is that agents take a percentage of any money made from the book. But do I pay them anything prior to the book sale? And if so, how much generally? Can I, a newbie with a mediocre job, even afford representation?

As Starrwriter said, you should never have to pay up front to get your material published. If you see an ad saying, "We'll publish your book for a small fee of $750," it's probably a vanity publisher or Print-On-Demand (POD) service. They'll print your book, but they won't promote it - you have to do that yourself. If you see an ad for an agent that says they're charging a 'Reading Fee' or else want money up front to represent your book, chances are 999.99 times out of a 1,000 that it's a scam. Reputable agencies want only a Query Letter, Synopsis and 3 Sample Chapters. If they like it, they'll ask for the rest of the manuscript. If they like the MS, they'll contact you and agree to represent you. Agents' fees are paid AFTER the book is published (their job is to place it with a BIG publisher). How it breaks down is like this:

1. They make money ONLY if YOU make money. They will not take the manuscript unless they're very sure it will sell. So make it good.

2. Their fees break down like this:
The publisher usually pays YOU anywhere from 8% to 15% (more or less, depending on the publisher) for per-jacket sales. For instance, a publisher offers you 8% of sales. If your book is printed in paperback and sells for $10.00 each (USD), you'll get 80 cents for every book sold. If a million copies sell, your cut is $80,000. Before the ink is dry on your check, the agent will charge you 30% of that (give or take a few percentage points), which will be $24,000. You keep the rest, which is $56,000. Not bad, considering that $56K is more than most average people make in one year's salary. If you sell 8 million paperbacks, multiply that figure I gave you by 8. Bottom line is that if an agent agrees to represent you and your book doesn't sell, you don't get paid and neither do they. That's why they're picky about submissions.

EDIT: If your book is REALLY impressive & the Publisher thinks it'll sell like hotcakes, you'll get a Book Advance, usually a percentage of the book's estimated annual sales for 1 year. This figure could be anywhere from a $1,000 to $900,000, depending on how much they like the book & how well they think it will sell. Agents will get 30% of THAT, too. But, first-time authors RARELY get an advance. First-time Non-Fiction writers usually DO get fat advances, though, but these are usually tell-all books about celebrities, or a celebrity-written book (like a professional golfer putting a book out there about his favorite golf tips). Most fiction writers will get an advance on their second or third books, if the first one did well in sales.

Another scary thought for ya:
Agents and publishers will usually only read the first couple of paragraphs of your sample chapters or MS (manuscript). They will accept or reject your manuscript based on that - they simply don't have time to read the rest of the submission. If it doesn't grab them right away, it's rejected, so make your first 3 paragraphs top-notch.

Yes, it's all a stupid dance, and with millions of writers out there doing the same thing you're trying to do, you HAVE TO be the best. Editors, Agents and Publishers aren't always 'right' when rejecting an MS, either. If they don't like it right away, they toss it. In the case of Ernest Hemingway, he was rejected forty-some-odd times before publishing his first novel, and J.K. Rowling was rejected 50+ times before Harry Potter sold. You just have to keep at it until you break through this 'wall' (so to speak).

Bear in mind - all the published novels you see on bookstore shelves are not necessarily the work of the 'best' writers out there. They're simply writers who didn't let rejections stop them and they kept on until finally they placed their book with someone who gave the MS a chance. Making the golden transition from Writer to Author IS tough, and deliberately so, but if you're tough as well as persistent, you'll get there. I've been trying to publish a couple of novels since 1999. I don't think my problem is lack of trying, it's that I haven't written a good first three paragraphs to draw their eye yet. Sooner or later I will, though. It's all in your attitude. You just have to WANT IT badly enough & be willing to dance the dance.

Best,
Jillian
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Last edited by OnceUponATime; 06-17-2007 at 07:46 AM..
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Old 06-17-2007, 10:26 PM
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All good advice, but I was horrified at the 30% going to the agents! Here in UK it's 10%. I've never heard of more than 15% going to an agent. Plus some agents do charge for photocopying the manuscript, but they add it to their bill rather than asking for money up front.
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Old 06-18-2007, 05:03 AM
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Originally Posted by josiehenley View Post
Plus some agents do charge for photocopying the manuscript ...
To me, that is petty BS since agents only accept a very few manuscripts to represent. Photocopying is part of the standard costs of doing business.
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Old 06-18-2007, 12:41 PM
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Thanks to everyone for the perspectives. They help a lot .

Another scary thought for ya:
Agents and publishers will usually only read the first couple of paragraphs of your sample chapters or MS (manuscript).
I actually have heard this advice before (one of the above-mentioned creative writing teachers, one who'd been more commercially successful than the rest). As such, I have polished my opening chapter to a spit-shine.

--W@L
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Old 06-26-2007, 07:10 AM
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Default Writers Who Recently Got Agents

Recently, after 161 queries, I got an agent.

I've written a piece on my blog describing my quest, and I'm offering a free e-book with guidelines and tips on writing the query and getting an agent.

This is not a sales pitch. Now that I finally broke through, I want to help other writers do the same.

Thanks,

Chris Orcutt
http://www.orcutt.net/weblog

Last edited by corcutt; 06-28-2007 at 05:24 AM..
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Old 06-28-2007, 02:02 AM
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I hear Chris's e-book is very informative.

(making amends, Chris!)
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Old 06-28-2007, 05:37 AM
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Default Thank you, Mike!

As I mentioned on another board, Mike, your initial reaction to how I offered the ebook was correct. I should have been clearer that, while it is free, I am asking for a legitimate email address so I can contact folks when my novel is published.

I'm a newbie to forum etiquette, so please excuse my ignorance.

By the way, I've been getting incredible positive feedback about the book, so I appreciate your supportive comments.

Sincerely,

Chris Orcutt
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Old 06-28-2007, 05:45 AM
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Chris, I will have to check your e-book out. And thanks for sharing your experience!

--W@L
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Old 06-29-2007, 08:24 AM
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Default My intentions are pure...

Thanks, W@L!

While going through the hell of getting an agent, I kept notes on what worked, what didn't, and my feelings about the process.

Afterwards, I was so livid about the process that I wanted to say some things that might help other writers avoid many of the problems I had and the mistakes I made.

Feedback about the e-book has been excellent, and since I consider it a living document, as I have more time to think about my experiences, and as I collect comments from readers (and I will credit those writers for their comments), I will improve the e-book.

I truly want to help other writers break through.

Thanks,

Chris Orcutt
http://www.orcutt.net/weblog
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