Thursday, May 4, 2017

A Question: Do you think it's relevant now for an author, new or otherwise, to obtain a literary agent?

In preparation for this Novel Spaces blog post, I reached out to my Facebook friends and asked them to suggest a topic/question they wanted me to cover. The first reply I got was from Diane Sewell Dorse, asking: Do you think it's relevant now for an author, new or otherwise, to obtain a literary agent?

I chose Diane's question because I had never really thought about whether it was still relevant, needed, or beneficial nowadays. But considering the indie movement in literature, self-publishing being more popular then ever, seeming to squash traditional publishing, one has to wonder. So, I decided to take on the topic. After all, it's all about books, our readers, and if we decide to not self-pub, it's about that publishing contract.

While it's true that a lot of authors; 1) have no choice other than to self-pub because they cannot find an agent or publisher, 2) prefer to go the self-published route to keep track of their own sales and income, and not pay percentages to agents and publishers, 3) are established authors who have built up enough of a readership where they believe they don't need an agent or publisher, 4) there are still authors who do prefer to have an agent, and the backing of a mainstream publisher for purposes of production and distribution, to give them more time to write, and hopefully provide more income, upfront or otherwise, through advances/sales. And when it comes time for a new deal, their agent can act on their behalf to get them the best deal. I just found out as well that some agents manage a writer's sub-pubbed efforts. Interesting. 

I reached out to my agent, Leticia Gomez, CEO and Founder of Savvy Literary Services. 
Leticia was kind enough to offer the following information:

* Major traditional publishers will not consider a project unless it's submitted by a literary agent. So if an author wants to become a career writer who is published by traditional publishers, having a well-trained and hardworking agent is a must have.

* An agent can help you polish up your manuscript or book proposal before starting the submission process.

* Having an agent will give an author more credibility among his or her peer writers, editors, and film and television executives

* An agent can be instrumental in negotiating better terms and catching any red flag items on publishing contracts than going at it alone.

* An agent can help you brainstorm new book ideas and give sound career advice.

* An agent will be your watchdog, making sure advance and royalty statements come in on time and the terms of your publishing contract are carried out and adhered to. In other words an agent will handle all the unpleasant business matters so the author can focus on his or her creativity. 

Now for me, having an agent was beneficial when I started out. I had written my first novel, May December Souls, from 1997 - 1998, and was all set to obtain an agent and have my book published, like so many other authors who were getting deals back then, particularly African American writers, thanks to the popularity of the iconic N.Y. Times best-selling author, Terry McMillan.

In 1999, I shopped my books to agents, and received rejection letter after rejection letter. And then I met Michael Baisden at a book-signing. He suggested that I self publish, telling me about a book called The Self-Publishing Manual, by Dan Poynter, suggesting that I follow it to the letter. I did, and by 2000, I had three-thousand books delivered to my home, as I released May December Souls under my own company, 4D Publishing. The books were selling out, but bringing in the money was not so easy (that's another post). Before ordering another print run, I decided to again submit to agents, but this time, instead of sending a manuscript, I had a bound copy to send with successful sales. Within two weeks, I heard from three agents, and Richard Curtis was one of them. He promised that I would have a book deal within a month. Three days after I signed with him, there was an auction underway for my book, and I signed a deal with HarperCollins. He helped me work through the contract and went back and forth for me. And so it began. I had a six-figure deal, and May December Souls was re-released immediately. I was on to writing my next book, The Chocolate Ship.

I've had a few agents since then, even one whom I work with if I have ideas that fit into what he and I still discuss, and he reaches out to send the checks, so he's my friend, lol!

A few of years ago, Leticia Gomez brokered a deal for me within months of signing with her. She is warm spirited, talented, professional, and very well connected within the industry. She has the relationships with the powers that be, that agents need to have. Particularly, relationships with editors/publishers, who, as Leticia indicated above, if they're top major publishers, for the most part will not accept unsolicited manuscripts. You still need an agent to introduce your submission on your behalf, just like we did years ago. Your agent will be a good person to bounce your ideas off of, be honest with you, help you to refine the story if necessary, and just overall be your connection to possible literary deals, and maybe even TV, film, etc. 

I think the percentage agent's charge is worth it, as they need to work hard for you, and have your back. Leticia has been pleasant, positive, available, and open, and for that, I am forever grateful.

So, yes, I think that having a relationship with an agent or someone who can be the communicator in submitting and/or negotiating, renegotiating, etc. is still relevant. 

Thanks, Diane Sewell Dorsey, for your question! Thanks, Leticia!

You can reach Leticia Gomez by going to her website, Savvy Literary. Make sure to check out her submission requirements. She's my girl, so treat her right! Also, check out a list of agents to see which might be best for you depending upon your genre, etc. You can try The Guide to Literary Agents 2017, available electronically or print. 

Write on!


Liane Spicer said...

Great article, Marissa! What a great journey yours has been! I often wonder about this question myself. I started out (2006) with an agent who sold my first novel to Dorchester Publishing in 2007. It was nothing like your experience, though. There was no auction, the advance was 4-figure, not 6, and the royalties were an unbelievable 4%. Yup. 4%. That was the start of several incredibly stressful years which culminated with Dorchester going out of business right after I submitted my second novel. Amazon's Montlake Romance bought a bunch of their titles, including my first novel, Cafe au Lait, and I began to see royalty cheques for the first time.

A few years ago Lynn Emery joined Novel Spaces and wrote a series about the benefits of indie publishing that got me thinking, then another NS member, Kevin Killiany, took the indie plunge. In 2013 I took the plunge, and even though royalties were sparse at first, I got a thrill out of being IN CONTROL of every aspect of my work. I felt free to write in different genres under different pen names, to explore and experiment, to change covers if I thought something wasn't working. Starting January 2016, I've received a royalty cheque every month, sometimes two or three in one month as I've expanded to other platforms. (I was exclusive to Amazon's KDP for the first few years. NOT RECOMMENDED!) In January this year some of my titles took off on Apple's iBooks and the royalties took a jump. Nothing spectacular, but between 2016-2017 I've made more than all the other years put together since Dorch pubbed that first book.

Which brings me back to agents. Would I partner with a literary agent again? Yes, if I thought that doing so for a specific title made more financial sense than publishing it myself. Right now, I compare my 70% cut on sales with the 4% I started out with and I'm not even tempted to go the agent way again.

Mizrepresent said...

Thank you so much Marissa! This was great and beneficial information. Listing the many benefits of having an agent definitely encouraged me to pursue one, once again. When shopping my very first book I received many responses and rejections but after growing disappointed with the process I signed with a Small Press which I was happy with it the returns were minimal. I self published my next book(s) and only enjoyed the fact that someone out there was reading them, lol. I thought it was a serious enough question due to the publishing climate and so many going the Indie route with success. I am more enouraged than ever to try it again, so thank you very much for your research and response! You are appreciated!

Lynn Emery said...

Great article, and almost exactly what I would have said... about 20 years ago. This is a very individual decision, but I'd like to make a few points. First, most agents are not editors or writers, so the value of one helping me polish what I've already worked hard on has always been a sore point. Even when I was a spanking brand new author eons ago LOL. Now I even question editors changing what I've writing, but that's a whole other (controversial) topic! Second, most agents aren't attorneys. Yet they are negotiating complicated legal contracts with arcane language. I hadn't even considered this when I started out. I won't go into the long story of how this bit me on the but twice later on. Third, as a creator I'm tired of making the least amount in the publishing process while others get a percentage of my hard work, as it was/is in the traditional publishing scheme. If I get an offer for a rights deal (movie/TV rights, please and thank you, LORD), I will look for an IP attorney recommended by other writers. JMHO, influenced heavily by the earth-shaking changes in the writing biz since I started back in, oh, 10,000 B.C. :)

G. B. Miller said...

Of course, this premise is based on having a good agent to begin with and making sure you don't have a major disconnect with said agent. And making sure that you have the patience of a saint while waiting those few years out to publication.

Personally, I'm more of a here and now kind of writer, in that I simply don't have the time/patience to do things the old fashioned way. And working in the public sector for 20 years has definitely soured me on the middlemen concept of publishing.

Marissa Monteilh said...

Liane, I enjoyed reading your reply, as the parameters are interesting, and familiar. 70% is compelling, and decisions are tough sometimes, though remaining open as you said is a very good thing. Thanks!

Marissa Monteilh said...

Mizrepresent - love your name! The indie route had its challenges, and so does mainstream. Finding a mix is key. I'm glad you're encouraged to try an agent again. Best!

Marissa Monteilh said...

Hey there Lynn, you know I know the 20 year ago energy about the process, and then how it is now. I felt you from the very 1st line. And 10k B.C., I hear ya, lol! I have an author friend who uses an attorney to negotiate her contract renewal deals. I can see getting one once you, and I, sell our film right, etc. High-five, sis!!

Marissa Monteilh said...

G.B. Miller, the opening of doors has been the attraction for me, and I have, after some connections that did not work out, ended up with a couple of great agents who are great people, and have proven to be honest and supportive. That's not always the case, and those give a bad name to the whole. Thanks for your comment!