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Welcome all dreamers, fantasists, bibliophiles, and romantics. Join me Mondays and Fridays for speculation about other worlds, exploration of the human heart and soul in fiction and fact, sojourns in history and science, advice and tidbits in the realms of story, and thoughts on everything in between...

Friday, November 8, 2013

Worldcon Treasures: The Role of the Agent


What exactly agents can offer has become an even bigger question since the advent of eBooks. Some authors argue that agents are no longer as necessary as they used to be, not when an author can post his own books on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Why bother with an agent--some might say even a publisher--when technology now allows anyone to publish their own work?

Naturally, at this years Worldcon, Lone Star Con 3, I had to check out what the agents’ perspective on this was. Hence my notes from the panel, The Role of the Agent, and here they are for you, dear readers, in this week’s Worldcon Treasures...

The very informative panelists on this topic included Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Eleanor Wood, Joshua Bilmes, and John Berlyne. I had to take notes too quickly to keep track of who said what most of the time, so thank you to all of them as a group for their sage perspectives.

WHAT AGENTS CAN DO FOR YOU:
  • Make editorial suggestions
  • Act as a intermediary between you and your editor
  • Look over contracts
  • Look over royalty statements
  • Sell sub rights (see below)
  • Help you develop your career
  • Insulate the author from the harder elements of the business
  • Act as a diplomat
  • Also act as a bulldog and fight for the author
  • Help come up with a plan to sell to a publisher’s marketing department 

SUB RIGHTS:
  • Audio rights
  • Translation rights
  • Foreign rights
  • Film rights

HOW AGENTING HAS CHANGED:
  • It stayed the same until eBooks.
  • Now, once rights reverted back to authors, they started putting their books up in eBook form themselves.
  • An agent’s job is to help make good decisions for a book, and that expanded some when eBooks came out.
  • The international angle has expanded.
  • Now, editors tend to move from publishing house to publishing house or simply out of publishing houses more. This creates instability. It’s the agent’s job to create stability within that framework.
  • The conglomeration of publishing and technological changes has made it even more necessary to have good advice like from an agent. Things are much more complex than they used to be.
  • The UK's publishing industry is a bit slower changing than the US industry.
  • The publishing industry is a corporate world, and agents and authors must deal with a corporate mentality. Accountants run things more than editors.
  • These days, it’s harder for editors to champion books in house.
  • Agents stay abreast of the business goings on so writers can write.

GENERAL ADVICE:
  • Different agents do different things, so don’t expect them to all be the same.
  • “If you’re a writer, write. If you’re not compelled to write, don’t.” -- Teresa Nielsen Hayden
  • Every dollar negotiated on your first book paves the way for the next book.
  • The agents sells two things to a publisher:
    • Your manuscript
    • Your track record
  • Agents like to get an auction going on your book.
  • The publishing business is built on relationships.
  • Agents have a kind of Spidey-sense and can tell which editors might like a certain book.
  • Sometimes signing up with an agent means the agent does things you might not do yourself.
  • Sometimes an agent has to tell the author “no” on something, like if the book just isn’t good.
  • The author/agent relationship is like a marriage. There must be give and take both ways.
  • A bad agent is worse than no agent at all.
  • The UK market is smaller than the US, but in the last three years, places to sell to there have doubled.
  • During a recession, genre fiction still has a good baseline, but there are fewer bookstores to sell books.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:
  • Publishers Marketplace: It’s a great place to look up sales by category and see what individual agents, publishers, and editors are selling. Requires a subscription.
  • Writer Beware: This is part of SFWA.org. They list agents that are good and not so good.
  • The Beware Board on Absolute Write
  • Predators and Editors: This site has great resources on scams and who to avoid as well as who’s decent.

Next Friday, we’ll look into the next Worldcon Treasure, Canon Creation. What causes a work to become part of a genre’s canon? Until then, swing back by on Monday for the first chapters of Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings, where we’ll see what this bestselling author does well and learn how to improve our own stories.

For other Worldcon Treasures, check out:

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