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View Full Version : Can you query agents if you don't have a book, or only a few chapters?



Pisco Sour
08-27-2014, 03:07 PM
This is the situation: my debut e-book, pubbed in June this year, with the digital arm of a large publisher has had "fantastic" sales (according to my publisher) and they've also sold on the audio rights. A second book with the same publisher is presenting strong pre-order sales. My publisher wants another book from me (first chapters for perusal in the next few weeks) with a view to going straight to contract if all is well. I'm sure it will be. They want to publish the new book in 2015.

Would an agent be interested in offering representation during negotiations if there's no actual pages/novel for them to see? What's the best way to approach such a query? Someone I trust has told me I should seek an agent, and I tend to agree. My publisher is keen on a new book--pronto! I barely understood the contract last time I signed and maybe now is a good time to get better terms? But it's e-book, so I'm wondering if it's best just to go it alone again.

I'm also wondering if I'm a good prospect as a client for my other planned books, now that my debut has had such good sales and my publisher wants more.

Any advice much appreciated, including how to approach an agent under these circumstances. Thanks.

Wilde_at_heart
08-27-2014, 04:30 PM
It depends partly on how 'fantastic' is defined. And if this publisher is making an offer with a dollar amount without anything else. I don't think it would be wise for your own sake, however, to come to the table with so little of anything.

Maybe what you could do is work on a query letter in tandem with a new project and see how far you get with it. If you're anything like me, the next novel will be done long before the query letter ever is :D

Lady Chipmunk
08-27-2014, 05:26 PM
General wisdom is to have a finished manuscript to show an agent. However, your situation is a little out of the ordinary. If it were me, I'd probably email an agent, preferable one I had some connection to (represents a friend, etc) and asking if they'd be willing to help. Perhaps even take you on as a regular client for new stuff based on what you have out. But, that's just what I would do, and may be terrible advice. :)

Another option is to retain a contract lawyer with experience in literary contracts.

However, the benefit of the agent is that they know the publishers and could get you contracts with bigger ones, or with those that do physical books as well, etc. Your current publisher may be excellent, but without someone that knows the industry inside and out, you aren't likely to get the best terms that you can.

KTC
08-27-2014, 05:30 PM
It sounds to me like you have leverage to contact an agent...and maybe ask for their advice.

Pisco Sour
08-27-2014, 06:12 PM
General wisdom is to have a finished manuscript to show an agent. However, your situation is a little out of the ordinary. If it were me, I'd probably email an agent, preferable one I had some connection to (represents a friend, etc) and asking if they'd be willing to help. Perhaps even take you on as a regular client for new stuff based on what you have out. But, that's just what I would do, and may be terrible advice. :)

Another option is to retain a contract lawyer with experience in literary contracts.

However, the benefit of the agent is that they know the publishers and could get you contracts with bigger ones, or with those that do physical books as well, etc. Your current publisher may be excellent, but without someone that knows the industry inside and out, you aren't likely to get the best terms that you can.

Thanks for your input, Wilde, KTC and Lady Chipmunk. I *think* I might be an attractive proposition for an agent, though it does feel odd not to have anything to show him/her except already published books.

Jamesaritchie
08-27-2014, 08:01 PM
In your situation, you shouldn't write another word until you've talked to an agent. "Having a finished book ready to go" is for new writers what have sold nothing, and have no sale record. You are in the enviable position of having a publisher on the hook, and you need an agent to reel them in.

Quickbread
08-27-2014, 08:24 PM
Agent or not, I think you need to start (or keep on) writing if you're considering this publisher for a new book in 2015.

Aggy B.
08-27-2014, 08:26 PM
If it were me, I would put together a proposed synopsis of the new book, then show agents some sample chapters from the published book, the synopsis/summary for the next one and see what happens.

Once you've had something published, it's okay to pitch subsequent books without a finished MS, especially if your publisher is interested in getting a second book. (Better if you have solid sales numbers to back up the pitch, of course.) Not every agent will want to be involved, but I'm sure there are plenty who will see you as an author establishing a career.

Wilde_at_heart
08-27-2014, 08:30 PM
Thanks for your input, Wilde, KTC and Lady Chipmunk. I *think* I might be an attractive proposition for an agent, though it does feel odd not to have anything to show him/her except already published books.

The thing is, you're still going to need (I'd think!) an agent who is enthusiastic about your books and just *something* for them to see beyond what you've already published. Maybe look up other authors in a similar genre published by the same imprint, see who repped them and go from there?

ETA: I just noticed this would be a third book, rather than a second ... But as I suggested, in your shoes, I'd try for an agent who is already experienced selling to this particular publisher. Good luck!

Pisco Sour
08-27-2014, 08:43 PM
If it were me, I would put together a proposed synopsis of the new book, then show agents some sample chapters from the published book, the synopsis/summary for the next one and see what happens.

Once you've had something published, it's okay to pitch subsequent books without a finished MS, especially if your publisher is interested in getting a second book. (Better if you have solid sales numbers to back up the pitch, of course.) Not every agent will want to be involved, but I'm sure there are plenty who will see you as an author establishing a career.

I don't have a written synopsis (so far I'm pretty much a 'panster') except I know how it starts and where it has to go to get to the end I want, in my head. Writing a book on request like this is a new experience for me, but I've already agreed to produce these chapters for my editor (I felt pressured, but it's fine, I am chomping at the bit to write this book!) so she can have a look before we 'go to contract'.

I don't have 'solid' sales figs because I won't get my royalty statement for a few months yet. All I know is what my editor told me about my numbers and the impact my first novel has had, which is confidential but very, very good. And exciting. And I guess that's why they want another book so damn quick, to capitalise on this success. That's my guess anyway.

What I'm thinking, since time is ticking by, is to query my top agent picks tonight and tell them exactly what's going on. I'll offer them a look at my debut novel and the other one coming out soon. Can't show them what I don't have but if they ask for a syn then I'll let them know I'm working on it and if they still want to see it when its ready, and/or pages of the new book when those are ready, great. But surely they can see what I write like from my two novels, no?

Lady Chipmunk
08-27-2014, 08:54 PM
It sounds like a solid plan. How it works out will, of course, depend on the agents involved. As long as you are polite and professional though, I can't see it doing any harm.

Sage
08-27-2014, 09:05 PM
I say, why not give it a try, with the few chapters and info about your published books and about the current deal you're facing. If you send a few queries (maybe include "publication offer" in the header) describing the situation, and those agents say, "I can't take on a book unless it's finished," you'll know where you stand.

Jennifer_Laughran
08-27-2014, 09:22 PM
I get people approaching me all the time where they have offers but have not accepted them and want me to step in and negotiate - sometimes with books to show, sometimes without. Here's what I think when I get this type of email:

* Do I like their style? Do I rep this type of book? If they don't have a new book for me to read, does the author have OTHER, previous books I can read?

* Does the author have any sales history? (you will want to get ACTUAL NUMBERS, which if they are so fantastic, your publisher should be happy to share with you before the official royalty statement).

* Does the author have a game plan? Do they WANT to accept the offer and have me negotiate it, or are they looking for me to SHOP THE PROJECT to other people? If the latter, and there is no material and no sales track, that's a serious conversation we'd have to have -- probably involving them declining the publisher offer and creating a really strong proposal for me to go out with.

* Can I see the money? Does this book have great commercial potential? Is the offer already decent and they just need me to crank it up? Or is this some sort of "no advance/shit royalty" situation, in which case, what would be the benefit to ME?

* Will I actually be ADDING VALUE to the author if they are to take me on? Have I worked with this publisher before? Are they open to negotiation? If it is a publisher who will not budge on terms and I know it... I wouldn't want to step in. But if I know I can up the advance or the royalties and really help the author, then it would be worth my stepping in.

Putputt
08-27-2014, 09:33 PM
This sounds like a good position to be in! :) I don't have any words of advice, but it looks like you've gotten great input so far. I'm just curious about this bit:




I don't have 'solid' sales figs because I won't get my royalty statement for a few months yet. All I know is what my editor told me about my numbers and the impact my first novel has had, which is confidential but very, very good. And exciting.

Is it common practice for editors to keep the sales figures confidential?

Pisco Sour
08-27-2014, 10:55 PM
This sounds like a good position to be in! :) I don't have any words of advice, but it looks like you've gotten great input so far. I'm just curious about this bit:



Is it common practice for editors to keep the sales figures confidential?

I don't know if it's common practice to keep sales figures confidential. No idea. I imagine they might not want me to shout to the world (crass, to say the least, but maybe this is the issue?) Two weeks after my novel released I was told the numbers 'confidentially' and was surprised. Maybe they are only 'e-publisher good', or whatever. What would I know? The e-mail stressed that it was confidential, as if I would divulge such a thing. During my conversation with my editor a few nights ago she gave me the sales report to date, this time giving me their figures for all that my novel had grossed and a few other titbits re my sales figures to date. Again, she stressed that it was confidential into. I was happily shocked. So... sorry, dunno re your question.

Pisco Sour
08-27-2014, 11:12 PM
I get people approaching me all the time where they have offers but have not accepted them and want me to step in and negotiate - sometimes with books to show, sometimes without. Here's what I think when I get this type of email:

* Do I like their style? Do I rep this type of book? If they don't have a new book for me to read, does the author have OTHER, previous books I can read?

* Does the author have any sales history? (you will want to get ACTUAL NUMBERS, which if they are so fantastic, your publisher should be happy to share with you before the official royalty statement).

* Does the author have a game plan? Do they WANT to accept the offer and have me negotiate it, or are they looking for me to SHOP THE PROJECT to other people? If the latter, and there is no material and no sales track, that's a serious conversation we'd have to have -- probably involving them declining the publisher offer and creating a really strong proposal for me to go out with.

* Can I see the money? Does this book have great commercial potential? Is the offer already decent and they just need me to crank it up? Or is this some sort of "no advance/shit royalty" situation, in which case, what would be the benefit to ME?

* Will I actually be ADDING VALUE to the author if they are to take me on? Have I worked with this publisher before? Are they open to negotiation? If it is a publisher who will not budge on terms and I know it... I wouldn't want to step in. But if I know I can up the advance or the royalties and really help the author, then it would be worth my stepping in.

Wow, lots to think about. Thanks for your frank response, exactly what I need.

RE Do I like their style and etc.? I can send them my first two novels with this publisher and they can take a look. Also, any agent I approach would have to be interested in my genre. I've done my research on this score.

RE: Do they have sales history and etc? I do have actual sales numbers as given to me over the phone and I see no reason why my editor would lie. So I could give them to an agent.

RE: Does the author have a game plan etc? This one is tricky. I think I do, because I really like my publisher. I'd like to publish this book with them, also, but not necessarily my other books. I want an agent to negotiate for me on this project bc I think he/she could get me better terms. I think this book will sell, but everything is a risk, isn't it? The agent would be getting their 15% from sales so of course they'd need to weigh carefully that we are talking about an e-publisher here, not Big 5.

RE: the rest! Commercial potential? I think so, since they want me to write it already! If the agent can see the money, as you mention, is up to them. Maybe not, since this is e-pubbing, in which case I'd hope they were honest with me. There's no advance at this publisher but the royalties are better than most e-pubs.

Lots to think about, and maybe this isn't a good prospect for an agent. But I so don't want to go into another deal like I did last time, selling two books bc I was so excited my dream publisher wanted my novels. They've been excellent with my books and I love being part of this house. So, if agents don't want to take me on in this situation, I'll do my best to negotiate terms on my own, or get a lawyer as suggested further up the thread (sorry, need to go back and check who said that!)

EDITED TO SAY: My husband thinks I'm nuts for considering agent representation. He thinks I should go it alone again and hire a specialist lawyer, keeping my royalties for myself.

Pisco Sour
08-27-2014, 11:42 PM
Agent or not, I think you need to start (or keep on) writing if you're considering this publisher for a new book in 2015.

Yup, already getting started!

Putputt
08-28-2014, 06:14 AM
I don't know if it's common practice to keep sales figures confidential. No idea. I imagine they might not want me to shout to the world (crass, to say the least, but maybe this is the issue?) Two weeks after my novel released I was told the numbers 'confidentially' and was surprised. Maybe they are only 'e-publisher good', or whatever. What would I know? The e-mail stressed that it was confidential, as if I would divulge such a thing. During my conversation with my editor a few nights ago she gave me the sales report to date, this time giving me their figures for all that my novel had grossed and a few other titbits re my sales figures vis-a-vis other novels published to date. Again, she stressed that it was confidential into, and she was reading from an internal congratulatory sales report. I was happily shocked. So... sorry, dunno re your question.

Ahh. Well, "happily shocked" sounds great! :) Congratulations, and I hope you find a good solution soon!

Pisco Sour
08-28-2014, 10:30 AM
I say, why not give it a try, with the few chapters and info about your published books and about the current deal you're facing. If you send a few queries (maybe include "publication offer" in the header) describing the situation, and those agents say, "I can't take on a book unless it's finished," you'll know where you stand.

Hi SAge, I didn't see your response there, sorry! The problem with giving it a try with a few chapters is that a) I haven't written them yet and b)sending them when they are ready would not give enough time for an agent to read before I need to negotiate the deal. I'm writing chapters to a 'lets discuss this book' deadline of only a few weeks and then a probably 'let's go to contract'. So, unless an agent were so bowled over they decided to read in 24hs! LOL, not gonna happen, I would imagine.

Pisco Sour
08-28-2014, 10:34 AM
UPDATE: Well, I e-mailed 4 agents last night and within 2 hours two of them had responded, asking me for the mss of my published books to look over. I think that's a good start. I've send the mss and told them who the publisher is, and this morning I received confirmation that they'd got the info and books and a promise to get back to me once they'd read, but by next week at the latest. The other agents haven't responded so...

Anyway, in case anybody else is ever in this position, so far I think it was good to contact the agents, regardless of whether they offer to rep me. Even if it was just for me to get over my lack of confidence about sending a bookless query. I'll update with what happens as soon as I know! :)

Old Hack
08-28-2014, 10:36 AM
EDITED TO SAY: My husband thinks I'm nuts for considering agent representation. He thinks I should go it alone again and hire a specialist lawyer, keeping my royalties for myself.

How does your husband suggest you sell foreign and subsidiary rights?

Get an agent.

Pisco Sour
08-28-2014, 01:03 PM
How does your husband suggest you sell foreign and subsidiary rights?

Get an agent.

Good point, especially since my other novel sold subsidiary rights and I knew nothing about it until the deal was done and I was informed via e-mail. Not complaining, mind, but it made me wonder if I should have more control over sub rights with further books. Thanks!

Lady Chipmunk
08-28-2014, 06:40 PM
My understanding from the professional writers I know is that foreign language and subsidiary rights are pretty important to their long-term financial stability. If you currently have a contract that gives those rights to the publisher to do with as they will (and it sounds like you do it they got sold without your input) then you might be losing out on significant income.

That said, I do not know your contract terms, and I am not, myself an agent, so this is based only on my perceptions and hearsay. However, an agent would know, and could potentially help a lot. They really do earn that 15%.

Old Hack
08-28-2014, 08:44 PM
My understanding from the professional writers I know is that foreign language and subsidiary rights are pretty important to their long-term financial stability. If you currently have a contract that gives those rights to the publisher to do with as they will (and it sounds like you do it they got sold without your input) then you might be losing out on significant income.

When an agent handles your foreign and subsidiary rights for you, you usually pay your agent a commission of between 15 and 25% and your agent is looking for the deal which is the best for you and your long-term career.

When a publisher handles those rights for you you get between 60 and 25% of the income; and the publisher is more interested in what's good for them than what's good for you.

Foreign and subsidiary rights might not each get you a big chunk of cash but when they're all put together they can make a substantial difference to your income. An agent-friend of mine hopes to be able to send her clients a cheque every week, which is significant. Don't overlook this very valuable revenue source.


That said, I do not know your contract terms, and I am not, myself an agent, so this is based only on my perceptions and hearsay. However, an agent would know, and could potentially help a lot. They really do earn that 15%.

Writers with agents usually earn more per deal than writers without agents AND usually have better contracts. I see no downside to having a good agent behind you.