View Full Version : Double Agents

06-19-2014, 09:52 AM
I'm curious how many agents are doing double duty, as an author, publisher, editor or other related task besides being an author's agent. I seem to run into quite a few who are an author and agent, fewer who are an editor and agent, and a few that run a small publishing house and act as agents to larger publishers.

In the changing world of publishing, is this common? (I don't remember it as much from decades past, but it could easily be my memory or experiences...)


PS: Yes Mandy Hubbard, this question is pretty much about you. :)

06-19-2014, 07:22 PM
I'm curious how many agents are doing double duty, as an author, publisher, editor or other related task besides being an author's agent.

PS: Yes Mandy Hubbard, this question is pretty much about you. :)

HAHA! I won't even give you the side-eye.

In any case, I would say you'd get a different answer for agents in the first 1-8 years (or so), and thereafter. One of the biggest agencies I know tells her agents, "Don't expect to make a living at this for five years."

I have 23 clients, at the 4 yr and 4 months mark 70% of my clients are now sold, but many did not sell on that first project I signed them for. It was a 1, 2, 3 year process for some clients.

Let's say you were really agressive and signed 10 clients in the first 12 months. This would be pretty awesome-- as a new agent you are not on everyone's list just yet-- writers often sit back and wait to see that you prove yourself. There are gems from the start, but I can't even tell you how much the quality of my slush has improved year over year. (not to mention the quantity).

If you sold half of them your first year for $30,000, that would be a pretty rockin' success rate for a brand new agent. Hopefully those other five sell later, but sometimes new agents don't totally have a feel for what sells and what editors want, so a couple of those clients may not pan out. Mostly you just stick with it and find a way to break them in a year or two later.

5 sales x 30,000= Gross sales @ $150,000 x 15% $22,500.

Which sounds good (the same as you'd get at a 40hr a week job, $10/hr-- uh, except that you pay more taxes as a self-employed person), but guys, new agents split that with the agency. Sometimes the agents get an overall 10%, sometimes it's a 50/50 split with the agency, sometimes it's even less.

So that great start probably means you made about $10K... Except that 10K is spaced out between "on signing" checks when the contract is mutually accepted, delivery (when client finishes edits) and publication. Meaning said Rockin' new agent probably gets actual pay checks of maybe $5K.

yes-- Agent with 10 clients, 5 fab sales to big 5 publishers, pocketed $5,000. (IF said fab agent lived in New York.. YIKES).

I don't think writers completely GET IT, when they hear that it takes a long time for an agent to build a list and make money. It's this sort of theory that doesn't quite settle in.

It really does take about 5 years for that snowball to start rolling faster- bigger projects come your way, your backlist titles start earning out, subsidiary sales income trickles in (Foreign is slow to pay-- so it could be a year or more after client's book sells to say, Germany, before you see a check), and more payments are triggered as books come out for previous sales. Plus sometimes it's easier to sell an option book than a new sub. (Or at least, takes less work, sometimes.)

NOW, onto the types of jobs-- it's a conflict of interest for an acquiring editor at a publisher to be a literary agent, in most cases, and I'm not aware of any editors at well known, reputable (or large) publishers who also agent. Generally they must leave editing to become an agent. Some agents freelance edit. I wish it were easier to do this without getting the side-eye from the writing community, but I do understand that there's a chance for a conflict here, too-- charging for edits and then signing a writer as a client. There are easy rules to put in place to prevent conflicts, but it still raises eyebrows.

In most cases, what you have are:

1) New agents who have a second job they simply don't talk about, unrelated to publishing. They may be a cashier or a waitress or any number of things. It's sad that it can't be more open, but man, do writers love to speculate on an agent's "commitment" and wonder why they aren't successful enough to agent full time. AGAIN, i feel like they hear the theory of "it takes a long time to make money" but they feel like agents live in a magical land where we just eat books for lunch or something.

2) New agents who have spouses/family who are supportive and thus they don't need to get another job.

3)New agents who WORK for the agency. I think this is something writers never really think about or realize, but MANY agents-- almost entirely those NYC agencies where there is an office in which all the agents go to M-F--start out as either a foreign rights agent or a receptionist/assistant type. A writer would not blink an eye if their agent answered the main agency phone, but the fact is that assisting senior agents/acting as a receptionist type is MASSIVELY time consuming and often means they're cramming the time to build their own lists into evenings and weekends. So it SOUNDS like they are simply an agent, when in fact their "other job" is just as time consuming as an agent who also cashiers or something, and they are only working part time to build their list, hoping one day to transition over to focusing on their clients and not their boss's clients.

So.... wow I just wrote a book!

06-19-2014, 07:52 PM
It was a great book, though. Super informative and insightful. I have even greater respect for my agent now and the patience she's displaying in building a very carefully selected list of clients.

Thanks so much for sharing, Mandy!

06-19-2014, 07:58 PM
So.... wow I just wrote a book!
Unfortunately it seems, writing books pays about the same as being an agent. Not enough to live on. :)

The agents I personally know all seem to have slipped into the business through a side door, as a writer or publisher, sometimes editor. Both agents I know well were writers who went to the dark side (or right side depending on where the line is...) as the publishing world went beyond the big six/five and university/literary presses and into the digital world. They kind of just got out on the front end and started repping the writers they knew.

The agents I had years ago were the big NYC agents and they started out of college as interns, assistants, slush pile readers and so on. Both left the publishing world, one magazines and one books, to join large agencies. Both made almost enough money to take a vacation once in a while. At the time, I didn't even know there might be agents elsewhere (and there may not have been, late 1970's).

Every writer's conference I'm at and every forum I am in (such as Absolute Write) has agents, and they are rarely the big name NYC agencies. Almost all seem to fall into your realm. And for some reason, almost all seem to be looking for stuff I don't write. :(


06-20-2014, 12:05 AM
My agent, MacKenzie Fraser-Bub, works for a large agency (Trident) and as far as I know, it's her only job. Personally, I don't care what she does on the side - it's her business. But I know that although she's relatively new, she has at least 15 other clients besides me, and I have been super-impressed with her ability to organize and do all the things she has to do. I never realized how many things agents have on their plates until I actually got one. She has my utmost respect and admiration.

06-20-2014, 01:14 AM
I don't know your agent personally so I am NOT speaking to anything about her, but I just wanted to say that yes, as far as ANY client would know, agenting is an agent's only job. There's just no way for an agent to be open about "Oh Hey I work thirty hours a week at X other job" without writers openly discussing and disseminating what this means about her commitment to agenting, or how good she is at it, etc, etc.

One thing I neglected to mention is that some of the larger agencies operate on entirely different set-ups, with different commission splits, monthly draws/checks, holiday bonuses, all kinds of other things. I can't speak to that in any detail as that's not my experience.

06-20-2014, 05:32 AM
Thanks, Mandy, that was really enlightening. We accept that most writers need to have other jobs, especially at the start of a writing career, and few would say this means writers aren't serious about writing. I never really thought about agents being in the same situation.

06-21-2014, 03:10 PM
As Mandy's client, may I also add that she's brilliant, savvy, and very responsive. I've never, for one second, considered her writing/publication to be any sort of conflict with her agenting.