Agents Who Represent Single Titles Instead Of The Author Are Con-Artists
Do you have an agent?
If no, you need to look into getting one. To make it to the real big time in the writing industry, you really need representation. Yeah, you can make some money on your own, but not much. (While 100% empirical and based only on casual chats with a few dozens of other professional writers, the limit for non-represented authors looks to be in the $125,000 a year range, and even that’s hard to get. Some of you may be thinking, “Wow! That would be great!” I know there are a fairly large number of you reading this who could be doing ten or more times that.)
If you answered “yes”, are you sure your agent is really working hard for you? In many cases, I’ll bet you’re wrong.
For the purpose of this discussion, I use the term “agent” to mean the traditional literary agent as most authors understand it and are familiar with. On the other hand, I use the term “representative” to mean something more, something more closely resembling a talent agent.
Most of the agents out there represent a single book at a time. You send them your manuscript, they read it, and they might accept that story. Then they shop it around and try to sell it to a publisher for you. You then write another story and send it to the agent, and they may or may not accept that one to represent.
WTF is that game?
A representative doesn’t pick and choose stories to accept from a writer. They represent the writer, not a single title. They take the good (and every writer will eventually create a great story) along with the bad (and every writer will produce a steaming pile of crap now and then).
A representative knows the market and the publishers and will work with the writer to make every story better and more attractive to publishers. In most cases, a representative will know after reading a few pages just exactly what publisher to pitch the story to for sale, and they will work with the writer to make the story the best it can be in order to make that sale.
And, as an aside, the representative will know when to bypass the publishers and go instead to producers and studios to get something on video.
When you consider that the best estimates for book releases are in the two-million per annum range and less than 2,000 (0.1%) of these sell more than 25,000 copies, you need all the help you can get.
A representative has editors to pre-edit the story. Simply put, the less editing the publisher has to do, the more likely they are to buy the story, so the representative gets it ready before the publisher ever even sees it.
Sometimes, after reading a story, a representative will come back to the writer and say, “…this is great! I’m gonna have publishers beating down the door for this one!” Other times, they may say something like, “Wow…this really sucks a big one, but if we make a few changes here and there, I can sell it. Just don’t buy that new Mercedes yet.”
So, how can you tell the difference between a typical agent and a representative? That’s actually pretty easy…
The first clue is that an agent will want to see your current story and not much more. That’s because all they want to sell is your current story. A representative will want to see the current story you have for sale AND pretty much everything else you have ever written. This is because the agent wants to sell your book but the representative wants to sell YOU.
Another hint is that many agents will try to impress you with long lists of their clients. Actual representatives rarely tell who they work with. And the reps will almost never accept unsolicited submissions…they will contact you.
The next tip is that an agent doesn’t care where you want to be in the industry in five years. A representative cares about how much you want to make, how much time you want to spend with your family, and other things like that because they are looking at the writer as a product to sell, not just the current book.
Agents and representatives are both motivated by money and they are both, essentially, sales people. They are both selling a product, but the product is different.
The agent wants to sell your book. In other words, “How much money can I make selling this story?”
The representative wants to sell you. In other words, “How much money can I make selling this author?”
See the difference here?
Representatives also tend to think long-term while agents think more in the short-term.
In case you’re wondering, all the reps in the industry that I know of charge about the same 15% off the top that agents charge.
Think about things…again, if you really want to make it to the big time, you will need some sort of help.
If Your “Publisher” Wants Money, They Are A Printer, Not A Publisher
See also Rules One, Two, and Three as they are closely related to this Rule.
This Rule summarizes the previous three rather nicely.
Honestly, this is just common sense, and needs very little in the way of expansion. On the other hand, that has never stopped me from expansion anyway.
Look closely at your publisher. Do they want money to edit your story? Do they want you to pay for or provide cover art? Do they want to charge you a fee to read your story? Does your publisher charge you to have your story listed for sale in their catalog?
In other words, are you, as the writer, going to have to pay the publisher any money at all? What about paying for things that are a part of the publisher’s costs of doing business?
If so, you are not dealing with a publisher…you are dealing with a printer.
If you are dealing with a printer, that’s just fine as long as your goal is to be a printed writer. But let me give you a little tip here…save some money and go down to The UPS Store or maybe the FedEx/Kinko’s and just have them print your story. They can do a nice book-like layout and even put a cover on it (if you provide the art) and make you as many copies as you like.
Yes, it really is just that simple.
Here are seven things that are common to real publishers:
1 – They do not charge for editing.
2 – They do not charge for cover art.
3 – They do not charge to read your story.
4 – They do not charge to have your story in their catalog.
5 – They pay royalties.
6 – They pay an advance.
7 – After you are established—and if you’re any good at all—they will contact you (or your agent) asking for new stories. (In practice, this one may take a while to happen…you need to get established and that will take a variable amount of time.)
Again, if the operation you are dealing with doesn’t do all of these things, you are—at best—dealing with a printer.
At worst, you’re being conned.
Never Pay For Cover Art
See also Rules One, Two, and Four as they are closely related to this Rule.
As outlined in Rule Number One, cover art is a part of the cost of doing business, but that cost belongs to the publisher, NOT the author. Just like with editing as detailed in Rule Number Two, the biggest reason is Rule Number One itself, that money flows TO the author, but there are other more subtle reasons.
I know a few authors who do their own cover art, and I envy them to a large degree. I’m horrible at anything even hinting at graphic arts. PhotoShop is an absolute mystery to me. I just can’t do it. I need an artist who can make all of this work.
The exact same arguments for using the publisher’s editors apply to cover artists, but to an even larger degree…I would estimate that 90% or more of the advertising for a book is directly from the cover art. Think about it…
A potential buyer is strolling through the bookstore (brick-and-mortar or online, it doesn’t matter). Before they read the blurbs or thumb through the book to get an idea of the story, they see the cover. Does the art make them pick up the book to read the blurbs or thumb through the content? If not, a sale just passed you by.
Just like with editors, it all has to do with motivation.
A contracted artist will create a cover that the writer likes. Yes, that’s important, but it’s only number two on the list of priorities, and that’s being generous. The writer is not the person we need to sell the book to…not even close.
An artist working for the publisher will create a cover designed to market the book to the public. In other words, something that will make the aforementioned shopper pick up the book and look deeper.
Once again, the motivation is money, but the difference is where the money comes from.
Contracted artists make their money by pleasing the writer. Ideally the artist will read the book before doing the art. In practice, this almost never happens.
Publisher’s artists make their money by selling books. All major publishers require the artist to read the book before doing the art. In practice, very few small press and e-pubs even pretend to do this.
If you’re one of the lucky ones who can (and has the time) to do your own artwork, then you’re ahead of the game, but there is one thing you need to do…if you’re providing the cover art, then demand a couple of extra percentage points on the royalty. After all, the publisher doesn’t have to pay an artist, and you deserve to be paid for that part of the work.
But the real bottom line is that no matter the details of the publication (self, small press, or major print house), the cover art is of supreme importance. We’ve all seen great works sit on the shelf because the cover sucks. Make sure this is done right and well.
As an aside, you will often hear small press authors complain that they have no input to the cover design. Stop whining and start reading and changing the contracts before you sign them. If the publisher balks, walk away. Insist on right of veto on the cover art.