Getting an Agent

I've promised to be forthcoming about every aspect of the process of getting my book published, so here goes another post on it. 


Last week I off-handedly mentioned that I was looking for an agent.  Later, was speaking with my buddy Square-Peg Karen (keep an eye out for a cool collaboration we're working on) and she asked me for clarification about the publishing process. 

"Don't you usually get an agent before you get a publisher?" she asked.

Yes, indeed that is true.  At least when you are dealing with the big New York publishing houses.  Most of those folks won't even talk to you unless you have an agent.  Think of agents as the gate-keepers in an industry that is overwhelmed with authors trying to claw their way through the doors.

Twenty years or so ago, the big New York houses had their super-star authors, and then those on the mid-list, and then the ones they'd take a chance on, the books that might sell only a few copies but whose authors might eventually rise to the top.  Not so much anymore.  Due to the vagaries of the publishing world, the big houses really want a sure thing.

Like there are any sure things.

Enter the small publishing houses.  Once the big boys stopped taking so many risks, they opened the doors for small publishing houses to spring up and assume that role.  Then, with the advent of digital and Print on Demand publishing, it became even easier to start a small press.  And so the small presses of the world fill an important part of the overall publishing world.

And they don't require agents to submit.

The press (I'm getting close to being able to reveal the name) that is publishing my book doesn't offer an advance, but instead a much higher royalty.  The big boys offer an advance but small royalties.  I kinda like this arrangement because it means my earnings are proportionate to my efforts.  Sometimes with the big boys, your book gets lost and then you're stymied.  I've seen this happen to a couple of my good friends.

But back to my agent search.  Last week I corresponded with a lovely agent whose name I'm protecting because I'm not sure he wants to be inundated with submissions.  I had written him to inquire if I needed representation.  He asked me some questions and then got back to me, explaining that I'd already done the hard part, gotten the book accepted.  He further explained that it probably wasn't going to be worth my while or the agent's while to have him negotiate a contract.  And here's a nugget: most agencies have a minimum commission of $2500, which would be on an advance of $18,000.

So I'm abandoning my search for an agent for now.  The plan is to get good sales with this book and then leverage them to get an agent for my next novel.  Unless I decide I like the independent publishing route best, which is a distinct possibility.

I'm in contact with my editor, and once I get a signed contract, I'll be naming names.  Yay!

Do you have experiences, good or bad, with agents?  The publishing world?  Please comment.

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Think about what kind of publishing experience you want.  Do you want to have the control?  Or do you want to give it up to someone else?  We're lucky to live in a time when both options are possible.

Photo by brokenarts.  Plus, Typepad's photo editor is wonky which is why the image has so much room of its own.  And by the way, its an image of a gate.  You know, gate=gatekeeper=agent.  You probably got all that without me explaining it.

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12 Responses to Getting an Agent

  1. Don 03/26/2012 at 04:43 #

    I think your going about this in the best way. Once your book becomes published, and hopefully enjoys good sales, it should be the agents, and not you, who should be banging your door down, not the other way around! I like that way a lot better… a whole lot better.

  2. J.D. 03/26/2012 at 05:50 #

    Very interesting, Charlotte.

  3. Zan Marie 03/26/2012 at 06:01 #

    Choices like this are the reason this business is so hard to get into. Thanks for the info, Charlotte. do you have handy lists of small publishers to share or ways to find them?

  4. Charlotte Dixon 03/26/2012 at 06:33 #

    Don, I like the idea of agents chasing me a whole lot better, too. The other way around is no fun.

  5. Charlotte Dixon 03/26/2012 at 06:33 #

    Thanks, J.D., I’m learning all kinds of new things!

  6. Charlotte Dixon 03/26/2012 at 06:34 #

    You know, Zan Marie, I really don’t. Someone else asked me that and I had to admit that I’m a bit stumped as to how to ferret out good small presses. I knew to submit to mine because a friend told me about it. I’ll have to look around and see if I can find an answer to your question.

  7. Karen 03/26/2012 at 07:41 #

    Charlotte, I am learning so much from your posts. Thank you for sharing so much about your agent search and what you discovered!

  8. Charlotte Dixon 03/26/2012 at 07:45 #

    Karen, I’m so glad the posts are helpful. I really want to be as open as possible about this whole process, figuring we can all learn from it! Thanks, as always, for coming by.

  9. Amberr Meadows 03/26/2012 at 15:16 #

    I’m not to this point of needing an agent, but I did share it with someone who does. Thank you!

  10. Charlotte Dixon 03/26/2012 at 16:23 #

    If I can demystify the publishing process by posting about mine, I’ll feel I’ve been of service. Thanks for coming by.

  11. Milli Thornton 03/27/2012 at 12:37 #

    Charlotte, sounds like you’ve landed on your feet! From what I’ve read about the realities of advances and royalties, I still like my higher royalties deal where it’s (like you said) about my own efforts.

    I read once that most books from new authors have a shelf life of about three months, unless the author really shakes a tail and gets the word out. I’ve kept my book alive for 12 years now. I may sell less books per month as an indy than if I was with a powerful publishing house, but I’d rather have the longer shelf life, in every sense of the word. :~)

    Your idea of how to leverage your opportunity sounds like a success-builder. And I’m looking forward to when you can announce which press you’re with. Such inspiring stuff!

    P.S. You might already have a book on this topic but, if not, check out How to Be Your Own Literary Agent by Richard Curtis. He was a top literary agent for more than 25 years and he tells it like it is. (Hmm, I see my copy was last reprinted in 1996, so maybe you’ll find something more current if you go a’huntin’.)

  12. Charlotte Dixon 03/27/2012 at 14:34 #

    Milli, Thanks for all the commentary. It means a lot coming from one who’s been there. 12 years, wow! I”m impressed. The more I think about it, the more excited I am to be a part of the indie publishing world. And thanks for the tip on the book, I’ll check it out.

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