To Agent…or Not to Agent…

I had an agent about 15 years ago…back before I really needed an agent. I hadn’t sold any books yet…and she didn’t sell anything for me, either. So we parted amicably after a couple of years. But a couple years after that, I sold my first two books on my own. So I contacted her, and she was kind enough to handle my contracts for me for a flat fee. Too bad she’s not still agenting…she believed in me once (before any publishers did), and she did well by me when she handled my contracts…I’d gladly sign with her again now.

But since that’s not an option, I’ve been going back and forth, trying to decide whether to look for another agent or not. I’ve managed to sell nine books on my own (not counting any work-for-hire books). I don’t know that I did particularly BAD for myself…though there is a clause I should have done something about in two of my contracts (and I ASKED about it at the time…the person I spoke to was going to “get back to me” on it. But when she didn’t get back to me, I didn’t push. I didn’t want to be “difficult.” I was just so thrilled to get the contract in the first place that I let it go. Now I’m paying for that mistake with smaller royalty checks.).

Could an agent negotiate better contracts for me? I already have editors who are receptive to my work, could an agent find MORE editors who would be receptive? Could an agent get me in to a larger house? Do I really want/need to be at a larger house? Would an agent do more with subsidiary rights? These are all questions I ask myself when I start wondering whether I should look for an agent.

And sometimes I do more than just wonder about it. Sometimes I actually go so far as to query agents. I’ve queried a number of them in the last few years. But I’m beginning to wonder if I’m at the absolute worst point in my career to be looking for an agent? I’m not a beginner…I’ve already sold books on my own. So an agent can’t take credit for “discovering” me. But on the other hand, even though my books seem to be doing okay, I don’t have the name recognition to tempt an agent, either.

A couple months ago, I almost got involved with a complicated publishing contract (long story…and it didn’t work out, so I won’t bother going into it). I didn’t want to deal with it on my own, so I asked a friend of mine (who is more established than I) for advice. She suggested I talk to HER agent at Large Well-Known Agency. Well, her agent wasn’t taking on new clients, so she passed me on to another agent at Large Well-Known Agency. I got the impression Agent #2 at Large Well-Known Agency would be getting back to me the following week. But she never did. In fact, I e-mailed her myself, too (which was maybe my mistake), but she has never gotten back to me.

Here are the other responses I’ve gotten from other agents I’ve been in touch with over the last few years:

1. “Hmm…this is all very interesting. But I have to say I’m ‘on the fence’ right now about whether or not to offer representation. Let me think about it…” (This was five years ago…if said agent ever hopped “off the fence,” he never let me know about it. Maybe he’s still thinking?)

2. “I’m just not excited enough about your over-all body of work.” (I can respect that…books/manuscripts are subjective. I want an agent who IS excited about my over-all body of work. This was apparently not the agent for me. No hard feelings.)

3. TWO separate agents at two separate agencies said to me, “we don’t feel we can do any more for you than you’ve already done for yourself.” (What does THAT mean? I can’t help but wonder if it really means, “How in the world did YOU get published???”)

4. Two other agents never responded at all.

5. And finally, about four months ago, an agent read the first 50 pages of the dreaded science fiction mystery that I keep whining about here. At the time, her response shocked me. She said basically the story moved too slow! EVERYONE who’s ever read any of it says it’s fast-paced. (And I’m not just talking about my sixth grade test readers here…I’m also talking about adults…published children’s book authors who are my peers and members of my critique group.) In fact, some of my readers say it’s “TOO fast.” I’ve always felt that I needed to slow down and develop character a little more — that was going to be my goal for my next draft. But this agent felt the story moved too slowly. That’s interesting to think about now, because my 16-year-old (who is actually a fabulous writer and critiquer himself) and I started talking about a whole new direction for this book to take yesterday (which I will blog soon…), and that new direction will allow me to introduce the “bad guys” MUCH earlier in the story…so it’s POSSIBLE the “dreaded science fiction mystery” will yet turn into the “exciting, fun-to-write science fiction mystery.” But I digress…the point is, maybe that’s what this agent was trying to tell me all along? Maybe my character needs to stop reacting and start taking action earlier? I’m not sure the door is entirely closed with this agent…and she did offer me some free advice on another situation a year ago…I probably could go back to her if I so chose…but she is not offering representation at this time.

So…in the meantime, I bit the bullet and queried not one, but two agents yesterday. (It’s okay to QUERY more than one, right? You just don’t want to SUBMIT to more than one at a time…right?) I’ve never queried more than one agent at a time before. But I can’t decide between these two. I’ve never met either of them, but I’ve read interviews with each one, and I like what I read. I’m familiar with the work each has placed. And I actually know people who work with each one and are very happy. So, we’ll see what happens. The reason I decided TO agent again is because I have a manuscript that has gone to committee with a new publisher and I may be about to receive an offer…I really don’t want to screw up another contract. And I have learned through experience that just because you have a contract in hand does NOT mean that an agent will jump at the chance to negotiate it (which is also good…I don’t want an agent who only wants me because there’s money on the table…I want an agent who is interested in ME, and interested for the long haul). Will one of these agents work out? Only time will tell…

7 thoughts on “To Agent…or Not to Agent…

  1. Good luck, Dori.

    I really loved having an agent, too — and the mutual first agent we shared did a lot for my career. She sold two series plus represented a third series. I miss her. I had another agent since then with a very large agency and I liked her, too, but when nothing sold, she dropped me.

    Since then I’ve had a few dozen rejections from agents — although I have continued to sell books. In fact I have 2 outstanding agent queries, but after an intial “let’s see more,” neither one has contacted me, so I’m guessing it’s a “no”.

    For now I’m sending projects out on my own. I’m not a tough negotiator, but I do know some things I want in a contract and I’m not afraid to ask for improvements. Still I have aspirations to have movie/TV versions of my books, and that requires an agent, so I’ll keep looking for someone to share my career aspirations.

    GOOD LUCK!!! I hope you have some great news soon. LJS

  2. Hooray! Linda’s reading my blog! 🙂

    You’ve had a few DOZEN rejections from agents??? Seriously??? I thought your being on your own now was a conscious choice.

    It sounds like it’s not uncommon for agents to not respond at all…

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