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Agents, Publishers and Loyalty

If you’re an author and are considering signing with an agent, be sure to read this earlier post. It includes comments from agents and authors, giving you a pretty good feel for the pros and cons of using an agent.

Next, determine whether you want to sign all your projects with an agent or just the next book you’re working on. Most agents will allow you to sign one book at a time with them rather than locking in with them for all your future works. Why do I point this out? It’s due to something my group ran into recently…

One of our acquisitions editors signed a new project with an author who is represented by an agent. This particular author happens to be very loyal to their agent. So loyal, in fact, that when the agent left one agency to join another one, the author wanted the book project to travel with the agent. It doesn’t work that way.

The author signed an agreement with the agent for representation. If the author subsequently decides to switch agencies, the author needs to handle that switch, not the publisher. The publisher had nothing to do with that agreement between the author and agency.

What’s unfortunate in all this is that the original agency doesn’t want to lose the deal and have it signed with one of their competitors. In reality, however, the author doesn’t want to write for that agency now that the agent has moved on. So, the project dies with that author/agency and the publisher is forced to find a new author if they want to proceed with the title.

Before you sign with an agency, be sure to ask yourself whether you’d still want to write the book through the agency if your particular agent happens to leave. Also, before any of you agents out there start coming down on me for this observation, let me also say that every bit of this applies to your editor/publisher as well. If you’ve built a great relationship with your editor/publisher, ask yourself if you’d still write that book for the company they work for if one/both of them leave before it is published. People do tend to change jobs/companies, of course, and it’s better to have thought this through beforehand rather than trying to undo something that’s already underway.


Anders Tomilsson

I've always heard computer book agents staple a cover sheet saying, "I think this would make an excellent book!" and send it to someone who distributes the book within the imprint.

That sounds like it's worth 25% to me.

Personally, I'd rather figure out the process with some give & take within the publishing group, learn the hard way, and if things are on a tough schedule, put my personal work on a side burner (stirring it occasionally) to get finish on a proper schedule. And if an agent had the ability to grease the skids, they'd get a nominal fee and the remainder of their monies would be based upon the various tiers of sales. How high the tide comes in determines how high all of the boats float. Otherwise, the agent has no purpose beyond the initial, formal introduction. (supply-side economics: "When the tide comes in, all of the boats float")

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