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Old 12-16-2012, 08:39 PM   #1
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The Role of Agents After A Writer Starts to "hit it big."

I'm curious about something, but I want to make it clear that this doesn't pertain to my situation or my wonderful agent. I was just wondering about something Stephen King had said.

***

Suppose you write a story or a series and you get an agent to represent that work. Through a lot of hard work, your agent sells the story or series to a publisher. Yippee!

Okay, now suppose you are selling a fair amount of books and the publisher wants you to do another story or series and offers you the same terms that your agent negotiated for the first project...terms that you find satisfactory.

Questions:

Does the agent still take their percentage for the second project? Or are they only entitled to royalties from the first project?

In this situation, should an author even have an agent for the second project since the second project is basically sold to a publisher before it's even written?

And if an author should have an agent for the second project, what added advantage is it to have an agent for a story that a publisher already wants?

Just wondering....
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Old 12-16-2012, 08:51 PM   #2
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I think that once you have an agent, the agent negotiates all deals with publishers on your behalf. Any communication you have with your publisher goes through your agent, so if your publisher wanted another series out of you, they would approach your agent, who would pass it on to you. Conversely, if you had an idea for a series, your agent would pitch it to the publisher.

Of course, I could be totally off base - I'm still a beginning writer with no publications to my name, ha.
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Old 12-16-2012, 09:03 PM   #3
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The agent does more than just sell manuscripts. The agent negotiates the terms of the contract and finds other deals, including foreign rights and film. I think continuing to have an agent is a good idea and that the agent earns her cut.
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Old 12-16-2012, 09:17 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RobertEvert View Post
Okay, now suppose you are selling a fair amount of books and the publisher wants you to do another story or series and offers you the same terms that your agent negotiated for the first project...terms that you find satisfactory.
Just because they're satisfactory to the author doesn't mean they couldn't be better. Your agent should know when to push for better terms and what can be improved.

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Does the agent still take their percentage for the second project? Or are they only entitled to royalties from the first project?
They are entitled to their commission for any project they represent and sell for you. Since most agents represent your entire body of work (rather than working on a book-by-book basis), they would have submitted the proposal to the publisher. Or, if the publisher approached the author, it would have been communicated through the agent, because that's the agent's job.

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In this situation, should an author even have an agent for the second project since the second project is basically sold to a publisher before it's even written?

And if an author should have an agent for the second project, what added advantage is it to have an agent for a story that a publisher already wants?
Okay, yes, technically you could drop your agent and manage things on your own. (You would have to abide by whatever agreement was made in the agency contract -- for example to protect the agency, many have a time period during which they are still entitled to their commission if a work is sold.) But should you? That's up to the author, but I would say having an agent is just as important (if not more, given that if you're doing well you'll have even more requests on your time).

An agent's job isn't over once the book contract is signed. They can sell your foreign rights, film rights, audio rights, etc. They can nudge the publisher if they're late on something (for example, late on sending out a check) which means the author can avoid being put into an awkward situation directly. They keep up on which editors might be a good fit for the author if the current publisher doesn't work out. Say your editor leaves, for example, and you don't like working with the new one. Or say you want to sell a different series to a new publisher. Etc, etc.
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Old 12-16-2012, 09:20 PM   #5
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I haven't "hit it big" yet, but here's how I understand things would work. I'm sure others will correct me if I'm mistaken.

First, agents do a lot more than just get your MS in front of a publisher. They handle negotiations, problems that might arise with editing, scheduling, disputes about the accounting/payment of royalties, foreign, film and other rights... and probably a lot of other stuff I haven't encountered yet.


Quote:
Originally Posted by RobertEvert View Post
I'm curious about something, but I want to make it clear that this doesn't pertain to my situation or my wonderful agent. I was just wondering about something Stephen King had said. And that would be?

***

Suppose you write a story or a series and you get an agent to represent that work. Through a lot of hard work, your agent sells the story or series to a publisher. Yippee!

Okay, now suppose you are selling a fair amount of books and the publisher wants you to do another story or series and offers you The publisher would not make the offer to you directly, they would have to make the offer to your agent who would then relay it to you. the same terms that your agent negotiated for the first project...terms that you find satisfactory. Well, let's stop right there. Even if assuming the terms were "satisfactory" the first time around, if the books had sold beyond everyone's expectations and I had "hit it big" the same terms might not be "satisfactory" the second time. And even if they were, why wouldn't I ask for more? It's business. If the publisher actually approached the author with an offer, my assumption is that the author has some sort of leverage. I'd use it.

Questions:

Does the agent still take their percentage for the second project? Or are they only entitled to royalties from the first project? Again, the publisher would most likely have made the offer to the agent, not to the author directly. (Unless something else had transpired in between, like the author and the agent had parted ways...)

In this situation, should an author even have an agent for the second project since the second project is basically sold to a publisher before it's even written? Even assuming the publisher approached the author directly, bypassing the agent, if the author knew he had "hit it big" why not negotiate for more? Why accept the same terms as before?

And if an author should have an agent for the second project, what added advantage is it to have an agent for a story that a publisher already wants? Agents do much more than just get the MS in front of the publisher. As I've already said, they can negotiate better terms, more money, etc. Agents will also help resolve disputes that can arise later, such as if there are problems their editing, one party falls behind in the schedule, some terms in the contract are not met, there are accounting disputes in royalties, there are payment delays or even no payments, a party wants to void the contract, author wants to terminate contract and get rights back, sell of foreign rights, film rights, etc, etc.

Just wondering....
Hope this helps.
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Old 12-16-2012, 09:24 PM   #6
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All of this does help. Thanks. And again, I was just curious.

I can't recall what King had said exactly, but it was something about earning their commission after he made it big. It was kind of a sarcastic comment, not mean, just kind of funny. And it got me thinking....
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Old 12-16-2012, 09:35 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RobertEvert View Post
All of this does help. Thanks. And again, I was just curious.

I can't recall what King had said exactly, but it was something about earning their commission after he made it big. It was kind of a sarcastic comment, not mean, just kind of funny. And it got me thinking....
I suspect I know what you are talking about.

You might want to check out this thread.
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Old 12-16-2012, 10:40 PM   #8
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I suspect I know what you are talking about.

You might want to check out this thread.
Ah!!! Yeah, it was something like that. Thanks, Little Ming! I'm a big King fan. I hadn't see this thread before.
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Old 12-17-2012, 12:16 AM   #9
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The better you do as an author, the more work a good agent has lined up for them to do.

Negotiations not just for English print, but International print rights, including reprints of sections, or short stories in other collections or textbooks, or translations, or film rights, or reprint rights or ebook rights.

A good agent builds for the future, with things like escalation clauses at specific sales targets. A good agent knows what the standard rates are for ebook royalties, and knows when to ask for more.

A good agent is proactive, looking at sales numbers in Bookscan and other data, and looks towards the future all the time.
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Old 12-17-2012, 12:40 AM   #10
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I have one friend whose editor took months and months longer than planned to send her edit letter. Her agent was there to nudge the editor repeatedly and, when that didn't help, to ask the editor's boss what was up. Turned out the higher-ups thought the edits had been sent ages ago, and that this was a pattern for the editor. My friend was assigned a new editor.

Another friend sold her book with the understanding that only minor edits would be necessary. Later, her editor demanded that she change a crucial plot point, one that would destroy the entire book. (This was not the friend being a diva; everybody else who had read the book agreed.) Cue: agent.

You need your agent to sell your book, but also to help manage your career, negotiate contracts, suss out disputes, chase down money, and all the dozens of things listed above. The bigger you get, the more you might want an agent; having to manage all that on your own in addition to all the time being a Big-Time Author sucks up... welp, some people can do it, but I sure wouldn't want to.
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Old 12-17-2012, 10:26 AM   #11
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Good agents do wonderful things for their author-clients.

And for the record, I think King is wrong.
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Old 12-17-2012, 05:37 PM   #12
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much as I admire King, he's also the one who in On Writing was still advocating you build a novel career writing shorts first and getting "networked" that way. Now, if you can, there's nothing inherently wrong with that advice, but there's so few short markets now compared to when he was starting that many, many people skip this and write novels right off, if that was their area of interest, instead of trying to build a portfolio of shorts....which I got the impression he was utterly unaware of.

beware the guy telling you how to start out who did his starting out several decades before......which doesn't mean ignore him, only consider what he says carefully.
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Old 12-17-2012, 08:48 PM   #13
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Here's another story: a writer with a very good agent happened to pitch and sell his third book to a major publisher all on his own, because he knew the editor. He saw no reason to pay 15% to his agent on his deal, so he used a lawyer friend to negotiate the contract.

It was a middle grade book that was later licensed to Scholastic for use in their book fairs, where it sold over 200,000 copies. But the lawyer friend, not being experienced in publishing contracts, had not negotiated for the writer to keep those licensing rights, which a good agent would have done. Therefore, the rights were the publisher's alone to sell, and the writer was entitled to nothing.

This writer has made no royalties at all on those 200,000 sales, because he tried to do an end run around his agent.

It's a good example of how an agent earns his 15%.
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Old 12-17-2012, 09:08 PM   #14
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Wowsers, Anne. That's a horrible story.

I know that publishers often license all rights to books they acquire (especially if it's a big deal), and then find new publishers for the various subsidiary and foreign rights in those books: but I don't think I've ever heard of a publisher doing so and not paying the author concerned a royalty on those sales.

It's usual for the publisher who arranges those licenses to retain 50% of derived income, and to pay the author the remaining 50% (on which the author will, of course, pay her agent 15%).

Another good reason to use an agent if you can. Good agents are worth their weight in gold. Bad ones? Not so much.
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Old 12-17-2012, 09:37 PM   #15
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Wowsers, Anne. That's a horrible story.

I know that publishers often license all rights to books they acquire (especially if it's a big deal), and then find new publishers for the various subsidiary and foreign rights in those books: but I don't think I've ever heard of a publisher doing so and not paying the author concerned a royalty on those sales.

It's usual for the publisher who arranges those licenses to retain 50% of derived income, and to pay the author the remaining 50% (on which the author will, of course, pay her agent 15%).

Another good reason to use an agent if you can. Good agents are worth their weight in gold. Bad ones? Not so much.


I'm not sure exactly why the author is entitled to nothing in this case. To me it seems incredibly unfair. But that's what he's being told, and his lawyer followed up on it.
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Old 12-17-2012, 10:14 PM   #16
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It could be that the contract specifies that he'll earn nothing from any sales of the book or any subsidiary or foreign rights the publisher licenses until the advance that he was paid has earned out. That is sometimes the case. But to be honest, I'm clutching at straws here.

If that is the reason for his lack of payments then that's another reason to have a good agent, as a good agent would have done all she could to ensure that each sale was accounted for separately.
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Old 12-17-2012, 10:23 PM   #17
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Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

I read an article in a now-out-of-print version of Writers Market where a popular author said she only needed the agent AFTER she got big because that's when she needed better negotiations for foreign rights.

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Old 12-18-2012, 01:05 AM   #18
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I don't know any writers who are as well-placed as a good agent to sell foreign rights to their books.

Why should we wait until we're "big" to sell those rights? The agent of a friend of mine sold her debut novel into several European territories before selling the UK rights to that book: without her agent, my friend wouldn't have sold anything, as none of her publishers will take submissions direct from writers.

I've looked at this from the points of view of an author and an editor, and I've yet to see anything that convinces me that writers are better off looking for an agent after they have a publisher, or once they're established. If you want the best deals with the best publishers, and the widest readership, then write brilliant books and get a good agent.
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Old 12-18-2012, 02:46 AM   #19
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Here's another story: a writer with a very good agent happened to pitch and sell his third book to a major publisher all on his own, because he knew the editor. He saw no reason to pay 15% to his agent on his deal, so he used a lawyer friend to negotiate the contract.

It was a middle grade book that was later licensed to Scholastic for use in their book fairs, where it sold over 200,000 copies. But the lawyer friend, not being experienced in publishing contracts, had not negotiated for the writer to keep those licensing rights, which a good agent would have done. Therefore, the rights were the publisher's alone to sell, and the writer was entitled to nothing.

This writer has made no royalties at all on those 200,000 sales, because he tried to do an end run around his agent.

It's a good example of how an agent earns his 15%.
I dont know the specifics of this, but i do know that even when you sell these kind of rights to your publisher (And FYI, a bookfair right is not one you generally keep-- pubs insist on it), you are given a split in your contract, or a reduced royalty rate based on lower price point/high discounts. WIthout an agent he probably got a crappy split or really low royalty. However he's getting SOMETHING, he probably just has not seen it since the advance has to earn out.

but FYI, as impressive as 200,000 copies sounds, I know folks woh have sold 100,000 through the book fairs and they still only see very small gains-- think a few thousand--becuase it simply works differently. Scholastic does a whole new print run of lower quality paper and prices it much lower, and then becuase of the discount, the royalty is very low. it's FANTASTIC exposure, but authors dont get rich on scholastic bookfairs. I've heard that a book is EXPECTED to sell 100K+ when it hits those, but you still dont get rich.
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Old 12-18-2012, 02:47 AM   #20
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Oh, and to the initial poster-- I'm an agent, I have 10 books sold now, and I basically decide myself which publishers/editors i want my books to go to based upon my relationship. But I would NEVER represent myself/go it alone.
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Old 12-18-2012, 03:40 AM   #21
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I dont know the specifics of this, but i do know that even when you sell these kind of rights to your publisher (And FYI, a bookfair right is not one you generally keep-- pubs insist on it), you are given a split in your contract, or a reduced royalty rate based on lower price point/high discounts. WIthout an agent he probably got a crappy split or really low royalty. However he's getting SOMETHING, he probably just has not seen it since the advance has to earn out.

but FYI, as impressive as 200,000 copies sounds, I know folks woh have sold 100,000 through the book fairs and they still only see very small gains-- think a few thousand--becuase it simply works differently. Scholastic does a whole new print run of lower quality paper and prices it much lower, and then becuase of the discount, the royalty is very low. it's FANTASTIC exposure, but authors dont get rich on scholastic bookfairs. I've heard that a book is EXPECTED to sell 100K+ when it hits those, but you still dont get rich.

Thanks so much for that information.... proof yet again that it's good to have an agent around!
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Old 12-18-2012, 07:01 AM   #22
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Siri Kirpal is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsSiri Kirpal is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsSiri Kirpal is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsSiri Kirpal is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsSiri Kirpal is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsSiri Kirpal is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsSiri Kirpal is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsSiri Kirpal is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsSiri Kirpal is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsSiri Kirpal is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsSiri Kirpal is so great that we've run out of appropriate compliments
Quote:
Originally Posted by Old Hack View Post
I don't know any writers who are as well-placed as a good agent to sell foreign rights to their books.

Why should we wait until we're "big" to sell those rights? The agent of a friend of mine sold her debut novel into several European territories before selling the UK rights to that book: without her agent, my friend wouldn't have sold anything, as none of her publishers will take submissions direct from writers.

I've looked at this from the points of view of an author and an editor, and I've yet to see anything that convinces me that writers are better off looking for an agent after they have a publisher, or once they're established. If you want the best deals with the best publishers, and the widest readership, then write brilliant books and get a good agent.
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

I wasn't suggesting it. Just pointing out another author's take on the situation.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
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