Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Category Romance Authors and Agents

I am yet unpublished, but I am targeting a few Harlequin/Silhouette lines. I have done some research on the submission guidelines for H/S and have read that the response time for unpublished and published authors can be similar, and also that most H/S authors do not need agents as H/S contracts are somewhat “boilerplate.” After reading all of this, I am curious about the benefits a category romance author receives from being agented.

You know, I’ve touched on this topic a number of times and mentioned it in other blog posts, but until now I’m not sure I’ve ever done an entire post on category romance, so I’m glad you asked this question.

For those not familiar with the romance genre, category romance is best described as those romances published by Harlequin/Silhouette under their romance lines. This does not include imprints like Mira or HQN, but lines like Silhouette Desire, Harlequin Superromance, Silhouette Special Edition or Harlequin American. Obviously there are many, many others, but hopefully that gives you a sense of the difference. Writing for an H/S line typically means following the very specific guidelines on their web site, including types of characters, level of sensuality, types of story lines and word count.

I’ve always said that authors targeting H/S do not need agents. As you said in your question, this is a company that accepts and quickly responds to unagented material and has a contract that is more or less boilerplate and doesn’t allow much room for negotiation. If you are currently unpublished and looking to break in through H/S, my suggestion is that you skip the agent (and the time that takes) and go directly to the source. By the way, this is the only case, or I guess one of the very rare cases, when I would ever suggest you skip an agent and go directly to the publisher. If you are looking to submit to Mira, HQN, Spice or any of the H/S single title imprints, I would strongly urge you to find an agent first.

Okay, finally, on to your actual question, and that’s what benefits an author can actually receive from being agented if you’re primarily writing for H/S? To really answer that I’m hoping some of our H/S authors chime in or H/S authors with other agents give their opinions. Because while I can certainly give my opinion, the best opinions will come from authors who have been there.

I think the biggest reason an H/S author gets an agent is to help manage breaking into single title. Another reason, however, is that it’s sometimes nice to have someone in your court to nag your editor about submissions, due dates, contracts, money and scheduling. That’s my job, and I think for many H/S authors, over time, it’s nice to have someone else take on those tasks rather than doing it themselves.

If you’re planning a career in H/S you can certainly write for years without an agent and, honestly, I don’t think you need one. However, there might come a day when you simply decide that it would be nice to have someone else there on your team and you’ll know when that times comes. For now, though, as an unpublished author, I would continue pursuing publication with H/S on your own. I think you’ll find it’s more efficient.



Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how the current H/S contract reads, but I've heard about joint accounting or basket accounting. My understanding is that this is when the contract states that two books must earn out before an author earns royalties...as opposed to dealing with each book individualy on a multibook contract. Can an unagented author negotiate things like this? Will they be listened to or is this one reason having an agent helps, even if you're unpublished?

Anonymous said...

Is there any advice or particular areas an unpublished and unagented category author should focus on with their first contract? Anyone who has been through this, please share.

150 said...

Harlequin American? That sounds like a politically-correct way to talk about clowns. :D

Anonymous said...

I'm a H/S unagented author who had an agent, but no longer. The agent actually created delays in getting my submissions to my editor.

That's not to say that I don't wish for an agent, especially now when I'm trying to figure out if it's a good time to nudge my editor.

The benefits for a agented category author are the same as the benefits any other agented author has after the deal has been negotiated.

Hopefully your agent will be willing to be the bad guy if need be, will be a sounding board for your submissions, will have a good relationship with your editor and know what is selling. She'll have the benefit of working with many different editors, category and non-category, and she can use that collective knowledge to her and her clients' advantage.

You don't want an agent who JUST concentrates on negotiating the deal. You want an agent who has your back.

Ultimately, my old agent DIDN'T have my back. And she seemed a little ashamed of me at RWA conferences.

But she sure didn't mind cashing 15% of my advance and royalty checks.

Anonymous 9:04 said...

Anonymous 9:04 again ...

So much for preview. That was supposed to read:

The benefits for AN agented category author are the same as the benefits any other agented author has after the deal has been negotiated.

As for the multi-book contracts, I've always had separate accounting, not joint. I earned royalties after each advance earned out. YMMV.

Anonymous said...

I am an agented H/S author. I submitted on my own, but when I knew the offer was coming, I got an agent. I wanted an agent for a few reasons.

1. I talk writing and stories with my editor. I don't have to discuss business with her. I like this.

2. The contract may be boilerplate, but a good agent still knows what he or she can get done within the contract. My agent got things I would have never known to ask for.

3. Career. I absolutely love writing for the line I write for, I love my editor, I love the support of the publisher, I love my job. :) But this is a career, and I want the best advice possible in how to sustain it, and how to grow it and how to diversify when I'm ready to do so.

No, you don't need an agent to sell to Hqn or to negotiate your contract or anything else. Only you can decide whether it's worth 15% of your money to have an agent in your corner.

For me, it was a good business decision. And if you do decide to get an agent, my advice is to find someone who knows category pretty well. I chose my agent based on several factors, but one of the things that caught my attention was her list of clients who already wrote for the exact line I was about to sell to.

I am pleased with my decision to get an agent, and more than pleased that I don't have to talk business with my editor. My agent is the pit bull I need her to be, and I'm not the bad guy or the difficult author.

Kate Douglas said...

Anonymous 9:10--I like your reasoning, and agree with your analogy. My agent is my pit bull and I trust her to stick with whatever questions I have until they're answered. I tried for many, many years to have a career in publishing but it didn't happen until I signed with an agent. I can't imagine negotiating my way through contracts on my own. I'd much rather concentrate on writing and know that someone with the expertise of a successful agent is dealing with the business part of my career.

Anonymous said...

From what I hear, romance authors get paid so little, it's not worth it. A friend works like a dog to crank out 4-5 titles a year, but every time she tries to "break out," her agent tells her to do more of the same. Sounds to me like the agent prefers her cut over her writer's career. Why not go it on your own for now? You can always hire an agent later.

Wendy Qualls said...

I swear, I could have written this question today! I was aiming for my romance to be a single title, but the more I wrote, the more I realized the plot and length fit more with a category romance. The problem is, I don't read category romance. I have picked up a few now, to see what the differences are, but I don't have the first clue what the different lines are and what the requirements for each are, other than what is listed on their websites.

I do plan to look for an agent, partly because I want someone to be able to tell me "They don't say this, but such-and-such line won't accept single mom heroines" or "Your bedroom scene is too tame / too spicy for that line." I could dedicate the next six months to reading all the series romance I can find and forming my own opinions that way, but I think getting an agent would be well worth my time.

The downside - if I want to have an agent, I'm guessing I can't start submitting on my own to the few lines I know, right?

Anonymous said...

I've been agented and unagented in category, and there IS a difference. When I was agented, I was able to negotiate the payout schedule of my advance, and my advance was several thousand higher. Would I still get the money? Sure, but a year and a half later. I'd rather have my money up front, where it can be earning interest in MY bank account, not theirs, thanks.

I left my previous agent when I didn't think she was aggressive enough, and was unagented for a short time. When I tried to negotiate my own advance on a particular title, I received 1/3 lower than the other authors in that anthology. I was told that the advance wasn't negotiable and everyone "got the same amount." Uh, no. I sold another title with a new agent and my advance was nearly double the first one. I hadn't sold any new titles since then, but my new agent negotiated the point that I'd hit a bestseller list with the previous one. So yes, it does make a difference.

An agent can also negotiate how much you need to submit (1 chap + synopsis, 3 chaps + synopsis, synopsis only) in a new contract. Many of my friends who are unagented still have to submit a full manuscript.

Some might argue that I could negotiate that on my own, but when I tried, it didn't work. There's a different in the way you're viewed as an author.

I won't go back to being unagented again.

Anonymous said...

Spending six months reading category lines is not a bad use of your time. They aren't as easy to write as they look. You should sample across the lines, find the one or two lines that really resonate with you, and that's probably the kind of story you will write.

It's a mistake, all too common perhaps, that to think because they are short, they are easier to write. (You didn't say that, but it is a common thought.)

IMO, an agent will want to know that you know what you're writing. It's not their job to tell you you've written a Blaze or a Presents or a Super Romance. When I got my agent, I knew what I'd written and I had a plan. Nearly 10 books later, I can say it's working out quite well.

Anon 3:31 - Amen!

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:31,

Your post is really eye opening. Given those advantages, it's a wonder that some agents still don't want to help out new category authors. Is there a particular source you found most helpful in selecting an appropriate agent (willing to push for category authors)?

Anonymous said...

It's not really a particular source--though I did use Publisher's Marketplace to check out the agents' sales records--it's more about finding the right agent who will support you in every stage of your career. I'm hoping to do both category and single title, and my current agent supports me no matter what choices I make.

And to Anon 12:06--I've made more money in category than many friends have in single titles (over 5 figures earn-out on my first book, and it's still going). You can't beat the foreign sales of Harlequin/Silhouette.

-anon 3:31