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Thread: Aren't agent 'fees' part of the game?

  1. #1
    tuttle
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    Question Aren't agent 'fees' part of the game?

    Don't flame me on this one. I am new to this board.
    I am curious to this whole agent/20% commission and charging of fees

    VS.

    "I am the author and I shouldnt have to pay a DIME until the agent gets ,me a big fat advance from the publisher...."

    Even if an agent is brand new, its his/her first day in their new office, and they had say, a dozen potential clients send them their precious stories.

    If even half that signs up with this new agent, he/she said agent needs to make copies of all those stories, make follow up calls to the editors, pay the electric bill, pay the rent on the office.....

    all before......
    (and IF they can get one or two editors to buy the stories, which could take several months....) .....getting a dime of commission.

    Now unless they have a really big loan from the bank their dipping into wouldnt it make sense to charge some kind of fee to cover some of their overhead?

    And then once they get the commission then I agree that they would need to cover their own costs AND make sure they continue bringing in new clients and push for that really big sale so they have a career...

    BUT....when all agents start out...
    They still have the same bills as we all do.

    and 20 percent of say, a 50,000 dollar advance is STILL not alot of cash flow.

    Again....I would agree that AFTER they get a list of steady clients and have a career going, they shouldnt be charging fees but if an agent is new, isnt charging a couple bucks for the first few months with a writer a nessecity?

    After all, this isnt just the authors career and reputation, its the agents rep on the line also.

  2. #2
    I write stuff and break boards. dragonjax's Avatar
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    NEVER

    Absolutely not. It's not the writer's responsibility to pay the agent's electric bills. Period.

    Let the agent take out a personal loan if he can't get a business loan. But the agent should NEVER charge an upfront fee. End of story.

    Please note that there is a world of difference between an upfront fee and business expenses (say, charing a client for copies and postage).

    NEVER pay an upfront fee.

    Any legitimate agent earns his bread an butter through placing manuscripts at publishers. The agent earns his commission. (Standard commissions are 15% domestic, 20% foreign--which usually has to be split with the local agent in the other country.)
    "Undying Love," a short story by Jackie Kessler in FANTASY FOR GOOD - a charity anthology to help fight colon cancer

  3. #3
    13th Triskaidekaphobe Richard's Avatar
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    Agents don't start with nothing - by and large, they set up shop having previously worked for a larger firm, and thus have the ability to bring some of their clients with them. The ones starting literally from scratch, who have just decided to become a literary agent one day, you almost certainly don't want anyway.

  4. #4
    tuttle
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    I'm sorry....



    Thats what I meant...



    office expenses

    A reading fee is a reading fee is a reading fee wherever in the world you stand and shouldnt be paid.

    But even then....most authors can do their own mailings and pay for their own stamps. An agent sure HELPS cut in front of the slush pile line.
    And as in all businesses...its the couple of BAD ones that ruin it for everyone.

  5. #5
    volitare nequeo AW Moderator veinglory's Avatar
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    Investing in a start up company is a venture capitalist's job, not a writer's.

    Writers seeks agents to sell their work and pay them for doing that and nothing else. Agents make money from selling that work and taking a cut.

    To my mind any other use of money is not part of being a writer or part of being an agent-- and it shouldn't be dressed up like it is.
    Emily Veinglory

  6. #6
    Preditors & Editors Requiescat In Pace DaveKuzminski's Avatar
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    First of all, you're relying upon an agent to have contacts within the publishing industry. After all, if the agent doesn't, then what advantage does the agent have over you?

    Okay, we've settled one point. The agent has to have contacts. Those contacts generally come from within the industry by virtue of either being with a publishing company in a position of assistant editor or higher or from having worked with an established agency through which contacts were introduced. Either way, the individual has been exposed to other editors from other publishing houses through socialization, conferences, and so forth.

    Of course, agents have expenses. However, so do other businesses. However, those other businesses don't expect you to give them a down payment while they go out to see if someone will sell a product at wholesale to them to provide to you. Instead, they invest their own capital and put it at risk that customers will seek them out to purchase what they have to sell.

    However, the job of a literary agency isn't quite the same as retail aside from initial investment. Instead, it's more like selling a house and like those agents, payment isn't given up front. Instead, payment is conditioned upon success because that is the only thing that matters. People, be they home owners or authors, do not have time to learn the techniques of selling, though some do. Instead, they rely upon specialists.

    However, past experience has taught that not everyone can sell. Many kinds of sales positions have evolved to depend upon the commission method of payment so that those without sales ability will be weeded out. This is very true for literary agents. We don't care if some have to move on to other pursuits. If they don't have contacts and sales ability, then they're useless. Consequently, only those who have already succeeded in making some sales either for a publishing house to another or for an established literary agency are truly ready to be agents. As well, they shouldn't make the jump into operating their own agencies until they have sufficient funds to sustain themselves because that is what is expected under the commission method.

    Therefore, anyone who attempts to convince others that they are legitimate agents should be prepared to negotiate on a commission basis. Otherwise, they simply don't belong in the industry.
    When it comes to PA, the royalty check and the reality check arrive in the same envelope.

    Remember to be kind to writers who step in PA. They really don't know how bad it smells.

    The difference between PA and WLA? None. Both have the stench of dead and dying books emanating from their doorways.


  7. #7
    Writer Beware Goddess Absolute Sage victoriastrauss's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tuttle
    Don't flame me on this one. I am new to this board.
    I am curious to this whole agent/20% commission and charging of fees
    Standard commission actually is 15%. A higher commission is only charged when co-agents are used (for instance, if your agent is trying to sell your book in foreign countries, she'll ask the help of an agent in that country who knows the turf, and they'll split the commission).

    Now unless they have a really big loan from the bank their dipping into wouldnt it make sense to charge some kind of fee to cover some of their overhead?
    Most people setting up a new business will take out a bank loan. Why shouldn't this be true for literary agents?

    Agents do expect clients to bear some of the cost of submission (not general business overhead, such as rent or legal fees, but costs the agent wouldn't incur except for representing the writer, such as postage, phone calls, photocopying, and the like). However, accepted practice among reputable literary agents is to let those costs accrue and deduct them from the client's income. So the agent does get reimbursed, but only if he succeeds in making a sale. This is part of the whole idea of incentive: if the agent's financial success is tied to his clients', he's much more highly motivated to make sales than if he gets an upfront payment. As Dave pointed out, this is similar to how real estate agents work.

    Unfortunately, literary agenting is a completely unlicensed and unregulated business, so people can pretty much do as they want. That's why anyone can set themselves up in business as an agent, whether or not they're qualified, and amateur or scam "agents" who charge upfront fees can do so with impunity.

    Just to make things confusing, there are also some successful agents who follow nonstandard practice, asking for some sort of upfront deposit or sending periodic bills to their clients. But they're in the minority, and in any case are easily distinguishable from fake agents by the fact that they have substantial track records.

    and 20 percent of say, a 50,000 dollar advance is STILL not alot of cash flow.
    True, assuming the agent makes only one sale. But a successful agent is going to be making multiple sales, and also selling clients' subsidiary rights (i.e., foreign rights, dramatic rights, and numerous others) so there will be a constant inflow of cash.

    After all, this isnt just the authors career and reputation, its the agents rep on the line also.
    You are 100% right. That's why an agent who is serious about becoming successful will avoid upfront fees.

    - Victoria

  8. #8
    tuttle
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    Wink THANKS!!!

    Thank you to all who replied

    I am sure this will help all newbies to this board (like myself) who are curious (and hopefully cautious) about all of this.

  9. #9
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    On the getting of agents

    Read, learn, and inwardly digest.

  10. #10
    Empirical Storm Trooper MadScientistMatt's Avatar
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    Start up capitol is a requirement in any business, and agents have it pretty easy compared to some businesses. They've got postage, copying, rent, and electricity. Compare that to some industrial startups. There are some services you could offer where you would need to buy a piece of machinery costing at least a quarter of a million dollars just to start out on the bottom rung. And in order to be competative, you would have to sell on the same terms as your competition - that's generally giving your customers 30 days to pay for the parts after delivery. There is no client who would pay for an order before you have ordered the machine, had it shipped to your site, and set up by factory technicians, a process that can take weeks.

    And yet I've seen some people who went straight from being an employee somewhere to setting up a shop with this kind of equipment. If you have a good business model and a list of potential customers, it's possible to get a loan to start a business like that with high startup costs. Then you can get your building and machinery and start looking for clients - which can be anything from a large factory in another state that doesn't have machinery like yours to your hot rodding neighbor who wants a few parts made for his car - and hope you can stay afloat long enough to start getting the money to pay off your loan. Lots of contract manufacturers have started that way and made it, by being competative with established companies even while having to pay back their loans. The established companies often have loans to pay off on their new equipment, too...

    The point is that even businesses which require considerably more money to start up than a literary agency are expected to treat clients the same way a very well established company would. If you want to compete with established businesses, you will have to act like an established business would, whether you are one or not.

  11. #11
    Super Opus jeffchele's Avatar
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    It all boils down to $$$.

    I am not published yet but i do read. I have been reading on the web and several books about publishing. The thing that I have read the most about is that an honest agent will not get any money until your book sells. He knows it and takes you as a client knowing it. He makes all the calls, copies etc, his expenses and puts it all into an account and charges your account for what you agreed upon in advance. When you collect money, an advance or a royalty, you get this amount deducted. You do not have to pay it until you are getting paid. You do not pay the agent in advance for anything at all. This is important... You will never pay upfront for your work. You get paid when your work sells, or if it's good enough in advance. You are not in the business of starting off a new agent, your in it to make money for yourself. Any agent worth a damn will tell you this.

  12. #12
    Nearing the end of an era sgtsdaughter's Avatar
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    I think of people who ask for me for my money so that they may have the privilege of reading my work like this . . .

    Do you pay the plumber before he unplugs and repairs the sewer line that's overflowing in your living room?



    Do you pay the dentist before he drills a hole in your molar and then removes it?



    Do you pay the mechanic before he changes your oil and replaces the worn out brake pads and rotors?



    No, you pay these men after the cesspool has been removed, after you have been made to endure pain for the hopes of a better mouth in the future, and after your vehicle is road safe and compliant again. This should be your same rule of thumb for agents. You pay someone for services after they have been performed--not before. When your employer pays you, does he do two weeks in advance or two weeks after you've slaved in the mind numbing cubicle? Thus, pay the agent after the work has been done. A good agent will place your work quickly--so he gets paid--a bad agent will . . . well you know.



    Sorry to sound harsh, but after you get scammed (or near scammed) a few times you learn to develop a thick skin.
    "You and I are both fetishes--just ask your partner."

    And we already know that I can't spell. Stop your snickering now.

  13. #13
    One Hit Wonder? Kasey Mackenzie's Avatar
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    Attorneys pay for their legal training.

    Doctors pay for their medical training.

    Teachers pay for their educational training.

    I am paying for my education and training.

    Agents are no better or worse than these or other professionals, so yes, they pay for their training and startup costs just the same as everyone else does.
    Good things come to those who wait...and work their tails off!!!


    Coming Soon on Kindle: Reborn in Fire

  14. #14
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    "Unfortunately, literary agenting is a completely unlicensed and unregulated business, so people can pretty much do as they want. That's why anyone can set themselves up in business as an agent, whether or not they're qualified, and amateur or scam "agents" who charge upfront fees can do so with impunity."

    I'm pretty certain that in California and in New York, all talent agents, including literary ones, have to be registered with the state.

    If you're dealing with an agent in those states and he or she isn't licensed, run!

    Check out the talent agency law in California. Talent and artist, as defined by that law, includes writers.

    http://www.modelingscams.org/1700.html

    According to this site, a lot of other states are starting to regulate all talent agencies as well.

    http://www.agentassociation.com/frontdoor/faq.cfm

    So it's a good idea to check with the state and/or local authorities in the area where your would be talent agency is. That's of course, if it isn't a big one. Big agencies like ICM Books are of course licensed (ICM books licensed in the state of New York).

  15. #15
    Apex Predator Jaws's Avatar
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    Exclamation

    A literary agent is not a talent agent, and is not subject to the rather cursory regulation in California and New York that is applicable to dramatic talent and writers (and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the music industry and photographic modelling). Literary agents do not have to register with either state. All it takes to be a literary agent is a phone and a mailbox. That doesn't make one qualified to actually represent literary properties.

    Some of the big agencies do pay their fee to the respective states, but that's uniformly because they also represent activity that falls inside the licensing statutes. It does not mean that their actions as literary agents are regulated; quite the contrary.

    Despite Hollywood's general tendency to lump writers in with "talent," they're not—that's just ignorant (and pejorative) jargon. Legally, only screenwriters, dramatists, and musical composers/lyricists are "talent." Those who write books, novels, articles, etc. are not. See Cal. Lab. Code § 1700.4(b) ("… other artists and persons rendering professional services in motion picture, theatrical, radio, television and other entertainment enterprises"); California case law specifically excludes print publishing from "entertainment enterprises."

    What this means, folks, is that "licensing" of agents does nothing whatsoever for authors (and precious little for everyone else, but that's another topic entirely; see, e.g., Buchwald v. Superior Court, 62 Cal. Rptr. 364 (Cal. App. 1967)).
    CEP
    blawg: Scrivener's Error (includes links to main site)
    Any legal comments in this message are general commentary only, and not legal advice
    for your specific situation. You should not rely on such comments — or any other published
    comments, by me or anyone else — as anything other than general guidance.
    Unfortunately, no scam agents, vanity publishers, or other similar carrion-eaters were bent,
    folded, spindled, or mutilated in creating this post (not for want of motivation).
    Of course it's "fine print" — it's small and red.

  16. #16
    in a van down by the river eldragon's Avatar
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    Red face Alot of good things said ......

    and I agree with the statement that you are counting on that agent, not only to try to sell your work, but also to have contacts to help him sell it. I just ended a 6 month contract with an agent, who, in 6 months, sent off about 5 sample letters to various publisher's. He didn't get a single reply from anyone.

    He sent me this today:

    This is less a reflection on your work than of the current situation in publishing. The market for first works has become increasingly soft due to continuing consolidation and economic tightening in the book industry. As an Authors Guild "State of the Industry" report put it: "Many publishers continue to reduce costs by publishing less . . . the author who is not a proven producer of bestsellers can expect to have difficulty making a sale." Publishers Weekly has reported that "it has become more and more difficult to sell first works or midlist titles because editors are afraid to take a financial risk with a book whose appeal cannot be predicted." Recently the New York Times Book Review described current publishing practices as dumping midlist authors, cutting back on unknown writers, and going for broke on the big, gaudy titles of top-listed house talent. There are exceptions, of course, but by and large the market for new writers at this time is not a promising one nor is it likely to be for the forseeable future.



    I can't help to wonder if he put as much effort into selling my book, as he put into finding quotes to justify why he didn't sell it.


    I think not.

    Here's another clue that he stunk as an agent : He did not offer a single word of criticism on my entire manuscript.

    I am hoping to sign up with a better agent, and she has two copies of my manuscript right now. She has read the first half of the book and sent the second copy to her senior editor. She says my book is good, but needs many changes.

    That's more like what I expect to hear. No book in the world needs no changes, or editing.

    I paid my first agent $50 in fees. The second one, if signed, doesn't take a cent from writer's.

    Wish me luck!
    Pam

  17. #17
    Writer Beware Goddess Absolute Sage victoriastrauss's Avatar
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    Was this James Haversham of California Literary Services?

    - Victoria

  18. #18
    in a van down by the river eldragon's Avatar
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    Unhappy yes -

    He probably sends the same form letter to everyone. Most of his contacts were.
    Pam

  19. #19
    in a van down by the river eldragon's Avatar
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    remember this one?

    This one is a common read on the internet. He copies and pastes alot.



    "Many internet discussion groups are little more than playgrounds for disgruntled and usually unpublished writers suffering from the Bruised Ego Syndrome ("it can't be my book, it must be my agent") who often perpetuate factual misinformation with their grievances. West Coast Literary Associates has suffered from this misinformation. Moreover, many literary agent listing services automatically label "not recommended" any agency that charges any fee of any kind."
    Pam

  20. #20
    Preditors & Editors Requiescat In Pace DaveKuzminski's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by eldragon
    "Many internet discussion groups are little more than playgrounds for disgruntled and usually unpublished writers suffering from the Bruised Ego Syndrome ("it can't be my book, it must be my agent") who often perpetuate factual misinformation with their grievances. West Coast Literary Associates has suffered from this misinformation. Moreover, many literary agent listing services automatically label "not recommended" any agency that charges any fee of any kind."
    Gosh, they must really hate me and P&E.
    When it comes to PA, the royalty check and the reality check arrive in the same envelope.

    Remember to be kind to writers who step in PA. They really don't know how bad it smells.

    The difference between PA and WLA? None. Both have the stench of dead and dying books emanating from their doorways.


  21. #21
    in a van down by the river eldragon's Avatar
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    they say ........

    an author says "It can't be my book, it must be my agent", when the author doesn't doesn't sign up with the agent.

    They say "It's not your book, its the times." Blaming the publishing industry when they don't get the thing published.

    So, it's the book, or the change in publishing. (So says the agent who failed).


    My belief now, is that it is my book and my agent. I know now that my manuscript wasn't ready to be submitted to publishers, but this agent never said a word about it. I'm sure he turns no one down. Lucky me!
    Pam

  22. #22
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    "Some of the big agencies do pay their fee to the respective states, but that's uniformly because they also represent activity that falls inside the licensing statutes. It does not mean that their actions as literary agents are regulated; quite the contrary.

    Despite Hollywood's general tendency to lump writers in with "talent," they're not—that's just ignorant (and pejorative) jargon. Legally, only screenwriters, dramatists, and musical composers/lyricists are "talent." Those who write books, novels, articles, etc. are not. See Cal. Lab. Code § 1700.4(b) ("… other artists and persons rendering professional services in motion picture, theatrical, radio, television and other entertainment enterprises"); California case law specifically excludes print publishing from "entertainment enterprises.""

    Thank you for the clarification Jaws. A lot of the information on the licensing of "talent" agencies in California and New York referred to writers as talent, without specifying what kinds of writing.

  23. #23
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    West Coast Literary Associates has suffered from this misinformation. Moreover, many literary agent listing services automatically label "not recommended" any agency that charges any fee of any kind.
    Perhaps West Coast Literary Associates would like to share with us the titles and authors of some of the books they've placed with publishers?

  24. #24
    Writer Beware Goddess Absolute Sage victoriastrauss's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by eldragon
    "Many internet discussion groups are little more than playgrounds for disgruntled and usually unpublished writers suffering from the Bruised Ego Syndrome ("it can't be my book, it must be my agent") who often perpetuate factual misinformation with their grievances. West Coast Literary Associates has suffered from this misinformation. Moreover, many literary agent listing services automatically label "not recommended" any agency that charges any fee of any kind."
    A few months ago when California Literary Services first showed up, I pointed out that its URL was registered to Richard Vanderbeets of West Coast Literary, and that its contract and other materials were eerily similar to West Coast's. A few days later, I got an anonymous e-mail informing me that Haversham was a former employee of Vanderbeets who'd set up his own agency, and Vanderbeets was retiring and closing down West Coast.

    Well, I'm still getting questions from people who've been offered contracts by West Coast. So either Vanderbeets is hanging on longer than expected, or someone was fibbing. My original hunch hasn't changed: I'm betting that James Haversham and Richard Vanderbeets are one and the same, and that California Literary and West Coast Literary are mirror operations.

    - Victoria

  25. #25
    in a van down by the river eldragon's Avatar
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    Probably

    I asked California Lit Services these questions and got these answers;

    I asked :
    <<Have you had success with your new agency in publishing books for new authors?>>

    He answered: The Agency has been in business only since this summer and has properties currently under review at New York trade houses but no final determinationss/offers yet forthcoming.

    I asked: And lastly, Are you affliliated with The West Coast Literary Services Agency?>>
    He answered: California Literary Services is not affiliated with West Coast Literary Associates but is a new and separate enterprise. West Coast Literary Associates is now in the process of shutting down its operation because of undeserved bad publicity the past several years.

    Many internet discussion groups are little more than playgrounds for disgruntled and usually unpublished writers suffering from the Bruised Ego Syndrome ("it can't be my book, it must be my agent") who often perpetuate factual misinformation with their grievances. West Coast Literary Associates has suffered from this misinformation. Moreover, many literary agent listing services automatically label "not recommended" any agency that charges any fee of any kind.

    James Haversham is heading up California Literary Services. Dr. Richard VanDerBeets, who is 72 years of age and not in good health, will retire as soon as West Coast Literary Associates' current client obligations for contracted properties are fulfilled.
    James Haversham
    CALIFORNIA LITERARY SERVICES


    Obviously they know each other very well. Unfortunately, Haversham has less luck publishing than VanDerBeets... who at least had a few success stories.
    Pam

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