Monday, July 30, 2007

Looking for an Agent . . . with Contract in Hand

Every once in a while it happens. Actually, it happens a lot. A publisher gets in touch with you directly, either through contests, conference pitch appointments, or work you’ve written in a literary journal, and asks to see your work. Of course you submit it, why wouldn’t you? Why would you possibly turn down a request from a publisher to submit your work? So you happily go about your business, writing, editing, and submitting to agents, when bam! that editor calls and offers to buy your book. She likes it! She wants to publish it, and what the heck are you going to do now?!

Well, that’s entirely up to you of course. My suggestion is that if you want an agent to help negotiate your contract and guide your career, you should get one immediately. Don’t accept any offer. Don’t even say okay. Thank the editor (profusely is okay) and let her know that you are going to find an agent to work with, but will be in touch shortly. Then get out that list of dream agents and start emailing immediately.

Calling is okay too, but I think that sometimes emailing is better (and I have no idea why). Either way, get in touch. Give the agent your name, the title of your book, let her know if she has it already and when you sent it. Let her know which house and which editor made the offer and tell her you need to know within two days' time. A really interested agent shouldn’t need any longer than that. And of course let her know all the ways in which she can reach you.

And when the calls start coming in you can start evaluating who would be the best agent for you. Refer to my previous post on what Questions to Ask for more information.

I’ve actually been in this situation a great number of times. A few authors I now call clients, and a few I just didn’t feel that I loved their work enough to take them on, so I wished them well and hope they signed with someone they adore.

Since I don’t remember things that happened yesterday, let alone months ago, I’ll let others comment on how they handled this very situation when it happened to them.



Diana w. said...

If you negotiate a contract for a client under these circumstances, are you committed to them afterwards? Or is this a one-time deal?
I ask because you mentioned you've turned some down.

Sally MacKenzie said...

Actually, this is exactly how I got Jessica as an agent. I'd had an appointment with her at a conference and liked her, so when a contract landed in my lap a few weeks later I called her. However, this was my second contract. When I got my first contract--through a contest, not a submission--I just took the offer without an agent.

While a little risky, this actually worked out for me. I was just getting back to writing and had absolutely no contacts in publishing. I'd never even seen, let alone met or talked with, an agent. Chosing someone at that point would have been as intelligent as throwing darts at the RWA list of agents. Also, after working through my first two-book contract, I had a MUCH better idea of what I wanted and needed in an agent.

So I'd advise keeping in mind that no agent really is better than a bad agent. If you haven't been researching agents already, you might not want to rush into a relationship with an unknown quantity. You can always hire a literary attorney to advise you on the contract and alert you to any really bad clauses. (Not that I did this, of course.)

And even though I'd pretty much verbally accepted that second contract when my editor offered it--I wanted to continue my series--Jessica was able to negotiate more favorable terms. (I always go through my contracts clause by clause, comparing one to the other--a practice I highly recommend even if you have an excellent agent.)

And then Jessica really had fun with the third contract, LOL!

Anonymous said...

I had this happen to me recently. By coincidence, the day after the publisher called to accept my novel, one of my dream agents responded to a query with a request for a partial. I explained what had happened, hoping she would request the full manuscript. She did, read it, liked it, and was my agent 24 hours later.

Meanwhile another dream agent, who had already requested the full manuscript, decided to pass - she just didn't much like the novel. I respect the fact that (as Jessica noted) agents will turn down a manuscript even if it's found a publisher; this indicates that they need to feel strongly about the ms and/or writer before committing to a partnership.

Kate Douglas said...

A fellow writer contacted me when she was offered a contract, looking for other agent recommendations. Jessica had already passed on her story, but I suggested she contact Jessica again and see if she might be interested. Jessica was and the author is now her client. Just another thing to think about. Not every refusal is set in stone.

spyscribbler said...

I've always wondered: pretend you love the book and look forward to working for a new client.

Would you have rather been the one submitting and finding editors, or is the end result the same? Is one method better for the author? The agent? Does it ever make any difference?

Christine Wells said...

This happened to me, too. When I emailed Jessica about an offer I'd received, I'd done all my research on agents. She wasn't the only agent I contacted, but I was so impressed with her professionalism that it was an easy choice. Jessica submitted to all the houses I could have wanted and mere days later, I had a contract with Berkley. Wow, that was a year ago now! The book is out in September:)

Chumplet said...

Just wondering... does size matter? If it's a small press,with little or no advance, would the author be better off just running with it, or would an agent be interested?

BookEnds, LLC said...

Answers to some of your questions.

Diana W...the reason I will sometimes say no is that I don't want to negotiate contract by contract, I want to help authors build careers. Therefore I need to feel I love the work, the writing and would want to read a lot more. Therefore if I say yes it's, hopefully, a career decision for us both.

Spyscribbler. Of course I would rather be the one to submit, but in the end I don't really care. When the offer comes in, depending on the situation, I will often use it as leverage to get interest from other publishers (and in that case I will submit it myself).

Chumplet: Size does matter. If it's a smaller press you probably won't get as much enthusiastic interest from agents.

Sally MacKenzie said...

Congrats on having the book almost out there, Christine. How exciting! Have fun with it.

Christine Wells said...

Thanks, Sally! It seems like it's been a long wait, but it will be worth it:)

phoenix said...

I enjoyed this post and really appreciated that you came back and answered some of the commentors' questions, Jessica. Insight like this is terrific; so much better than simply being told to call your top agent picks if you have a contract in hand. Well, OK, but what then? Nice to get the first-hand perspective!

Lorelei said...

Just had this happen. Won a contest, got a publisher, called-- not an agent-- an attorney. Finished sorting out the contract last week, and am on to rewrites.