Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Question and an Answer

(This post has been updated in bold. Also, I would like to say that these posts in no way reflect the opinions and thoughts of the agent I read for, and not all of the things I post about are things learned from AA, so don't assume that what I say is coming to you straight from the mouth of an agent, okay? Okay, sorry, I felt that might be necessary to say.)

First of all, sorry I never got around to responding to all of your comments. I promise I read them all, and I'm happy to say there are quite a few books you all are reading that I've never heard of and will have to look up. Oh, and there's a new background again because my old one expired and I got tired of looking for it...

Now then, there was a great question asked the other day by Alexandra Shostak, who has a great blog by the way, in the comments of a query post, and I wanted to answer it on the blog. She said, "It's interesting to hear that some previously published authors are querying agents. I always wondered how that worked, Amanda. Wouldn't they already have agents? Or, if not, why, and would that be a red flag at all for a prospective client? (Maybe they're difficult to work with, for example?)"

I'm going to attempt to answer this to the best of my knowledge, so if you're an industry pro and you're reading this, feel free to chime in! Here's the thing, most of us all know that most agents want to represent people for their entire career not just one book, but when an author gets an agent they sign a contract. That contract is only good for so long, and at the end of whatever time frame the contract states (usually 2 years if I'm not mistaken), a new contract is required.* However, if the relationship is not going according to plan, this would be a good time to part ways with the agent.

This doesn't always work this way, sometimes people want out before their contract is up; I know nothing official about this. I believe that it is much like backing out of a publishing contract and could get incredibly messy. (I don't know a whole lot about parting ways with agents as I am neither an agent nor an agented author, for more info on that you'd have to talk to someone else. Sorry.)

Parting ways with an agent is not necessarily a red flag or a black mark on the author as a person, there are many reasons why things would not work out, just don't ask me for a list of them. That being said, if an author is looking for a new agent and they mention that they still have an agent, that is not a good sign. This indicates that they more than likely haven't even talked to their agent about their professional relationship; so what is to stop the author from firing another agent without warning?

If you are having issues with an agent, TALK TO THEM. Problems cannot be solved without communication, and if you build yourself up as a difficult client, people WILL hear about it.

If the published author parted ways with their agent in an unpleasant way, that could be a red flag, as we all know by now that news travels fast in the publishing industry and that people talk. So if the author was a bad client and missed deadlines repeatedly or was disrespectful, then it could definitely be a red flag, especially if the agent has already heard about what happened from another agent. It could also be a bad thing for the author if they don't mention up front that they had or currently have an agent, because that just strikes me as bad form; it's starting out with secrets, and that's never a good thing. This is a relationship after all. 

Moving on, if things are fine between author and agent, why else would a published author be querying? It's entirely possible that after signing with an agent and being published, the author has decided to write in a different genre. If the author's agent does not rep that genre, then selling the book is going to be hard. The agent won't have contacts in that genre and may not know the market well enough to do it justice. If that is the case, the author has to decide if they really want the new book published, and for argument's sake, let's say they do.

Now let's pretend the author has an agent that reps YA and MG only, but the new book is adult. The author would have ideally already discussed the new book with their agent and told them that they are going to look for another agent to rep their adult book, because not talking to your agent is rude. Plain and simple. (Note: they are your agent and you are under contract with them for your books, so talking to them is part of your job. I didn't mean to make that sound like you would be doing them a favor or something by telling them about your book.)

So, the author has a new book they've written and they decide to query agents. The proper way to do this, is for the author to mention that they are already repped and published, but that they are looking for another agent to rep their book in the new genre/age group.  This would probably go up front in the query letter, as it gets an agent's attention, much like you would state right off the bat that XYZ publisher is interested in your MS if an editor had requested it (this is just personal opinion here). Not mentioning this can make the agent assume that the author is keeping secrets and/or that they haven't discussed this with their current agent when the author emails back with a 'hey BTWs I'm repped by Awesome Agent,' which brings us back to the signs of a bad or difficult client. (So not going over that today, because I know very little about this and most of it seems like common sense anyway.)

Don't be hard to work with. I think that's the underlying point I'm trying to make here, and that this is both very complicated and very straightforward at the same time. I hope this is helpful to some of you, or at least interesting. I'm not an expert by any means, so please don't take this as fact; I am still learning. Thanks for stopping by!

Also, I can already tell I won't be able to keep up with posting every day, so I'll see what I can come up with from now on. But I have an interview with the absolutely wonderful Kiersten White for you all tomorrow. I actually can promise you that, as it's been sitting in my inbox for about a week or so now, so be sure to check in for that. And don't forget to check out my interview with author/agent Mandy Hubbard if you missed it last week!

**Be sure to read the comments, because we've already had input from Mandy Hubbard, so be sure to see what the real agent has to say about this topic! And thanks Mandy for dropping in!**

*Mandy was kind enough to point out that I was wrong about the contracts. This was just something I'd heard a few times on another agent blog, but clearly it is not the norm. Am definitely going to look into contracts more now, lol.


Mandy Hubbard said...

Hey! A few things:

A) Many, MANY agent contracts dont specify 1 or 2 year commitments. A lot of them simply provide for a 30 or 60 day notice for termination. So you would not have to stay for 2 years and then part ways.

B)I dont really care if they dont mention up front in the query if they were previously represented. I should know it by the time I'm offering representation becuase we need to talk about what didnt work for you before and what you want now, and whether your projects are fresh or shopped. (It DOES tick me off if I find out your previous agent shopped the same book you're offering to me, and I didnt know it).

C)I'm on my second agent. My two closest pubbed friends are on their 2nd or 4th agent. My first two clients both were previously agented.

Its really common, becuase there are so many reasons to part ways. Many times its because your agent just isn't that excited by your next project, or the one after that, or the one after that.... and you come to the realization that maybe your career and her tastes don't mesh. Or maybe her communication sucks, and you have no idea what is going on half the time. Or maybe she leaves the business (pretty common, sadly).

D) On the situation with an agent repping YA/MG only and your next project is adult, it's not "ideally" that you would discuss it before querying other agents. You have to. Becuase I specialize in those areas, but my contract doesn't say I ONLY represent your YA/MG. If I have an existing client who wants to write picture books or adult romance or a number of things, I would look at it case-by-case and possibly submit those as well, or suggest they get a second agent for those genres. Depending on the contract, you may or may not be able to just run off and get a secondary agent.

Kathryn said...

Thanks for the info, Amanda, and the imput, Mandy! Very helpful information.

Yay Kiersten White interview tomorrow! I look forward to it! :)

Candyland said...

Awesome post, and thanks for the input, Mandy:)

Katrina L. Lantz said...

Great topic, and gotta love Mandy Hubbard for cruising the writer blogs and helping us all out! Very helpful info, guys!

Palindrome said...

Thanks for all the info!! These are things we need to know if we plan on becoming part of the industry.

Jade said...

I would imagine that another reason why a published writer was querying an agent would simply be that they didn't have an agent. I know Maggie Stiefvater sold her first book by herself to Flux (I think) and only signed with her agent for her next book/s.

Anyway, interesting stuff. Agent-talk is my crack. Thanks, dude.

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