ProTalk Discussion: About Agents - 6/21/05


Log file opened at: 6/21/05 5:41:04 PM
*** Verla has set the topic on channel #kidlit to ProTalk Discussion - About Agents IN PROGRESS
Della: oh, it's 9 pm already!
Verla: So tonight we are going to discuss.... AGENTS!
Verla: Most everyone thinks about an agent at some point in their writing career
Verla: and of course the first questions most writers have when they start writing are, "Do I need an Agent? How do I find one?"
Verla: So I'm going to ask each of you... DO you need an agent when you write for children?
Della: no, and you are proof of that, Verla
Della: at least early on, right?
Verla: When I first started writing I was sure I needed one. And I did get one.
Verla: But... I got an agent that was NOT a good agent for me!
Verla: and I count myself extremely fortunate that she never sold anything before I parted with her!
Verla: I sold my first two books with no agent, and had a contract about to be offered to me for my third book before I got my current wonderful agent
Amishka: how did you know she wasn't a good agent for you?
Verla: Ami, she wouldn't communicate with me
Verla: I wrote to her and got no answers
Verla: I called her on the phone and left phone messages and never heard from her
Verla: I called her person-to-person and she didn't respond
Verla: I sent her a letter with a SASE (self-addressed-stamped-envelope) and didn't get a response
Verla: I sent her a SAS postcard that said, "I am Dead ____ I am Alive _____" and never got a response
Amishka: thanks
Della: lol yikes!
Amishka: maybe she was dead
Verla: I tried for three (or was it four?) months and NEVER HEARD FROM HER
Amishka: wow
Verla: no, I heard later that she had decided to stop being an agent, and never bothered to contact her clients to let them know, ami
Verla: so finally I sent her a letter telling her because I couldn't reach her, I was terminating our relationship
Verla: and THANK HEAVENS I had requested a written agreement with her...
Verla: because in the agreement it said that any stories she had submitted to publishers she would still be the agent for until 3 months after termination of our agreement. So I waited three months after I sent her the letter, and then sent out my stories again on my own. And two months later, I made my first sale to Putnam from the slushpile!
Verla: The scariest part of all of that is that when you take on an agent, they handle ALL THE MONEY YOU MAKE FROM THE SALE OF ANY BOOK THEY REPRESENT FOR THE LIFETIME OF THAT BOOK!!!!!
Verla: can you imagine if she was getting my royalty statements and payments for my books now instead of them coming directly to me?
Della: Why did you feel you needed an agent, Verla? Obviously your books were selling w/o one.
Verla: I hadn't sold any books yet at that time, della
ErinS: ha!
Della: I mean, after two books sold, then you got your wonderful agent...why at that point did you feel you needed one?
Verla: the reason I wanted an agent when I got my current one is a crazy story, della. And rather long...
Della perks up
Verla: because you see, I was still running scared after my first bad agent experience and didn't think I really wanted an agent
Amishka: what happens if that agent goes out of business or something and then the book is still in print.
Della: ahh, I bet
Amishka: what happens if they die?
Verla: Hopefully those are some of the clauses covered in the agency agreement, ami
Amishka: obviously they can't handle the monies do they revert directly to you?
Verla: if they aren't in there, you should ask that they are included!
Verla: depends on the agreement, ami
Amishka: just wanting to know thanks
Verla: if your agent is an independent, then they might revert to you
Verla: if your agent is part of a company (like Writer's House, for instance) then your contract stays with the house and they will continue to handle your finances. This is true if your agent leaves the agency and goes somewhere else or off on his/her own, too
Verla: Ami and Shirley... are your agents part of a company or are they independents?
ShirleyH: Independent
Amishka: company
Verla: I'm with an agency, so if anything happened to my agent, I'd just stay with the company for all the books they have already sold for me
Verla: I accidentally got my current agent, della
Verla: I was working in the local motel in the little tourist town where I lived in central California and was checking in some guests one night
Verla: when I mumbled something to a man about "You'd never know I was a writer from the way I wrote that phone number down for you!"
Verla: and he perked up and said, "You Write?
Verla: "What do you write?
Verla: I told him, "picture books"
Verla: he said, "Are you published?
Verla: I said, "I have two books under contract right now with Putnam..."
Verla: (two picture books, I said)
Verla: and he asked me, "Who's your agent?"
Verla: I said, "I haven't got one..."
Verla: He said, "You DON'T?
Verla: turns out he was the father in law of the chairman of the board of Curtis Brown LTD and his son in law's sister was one of the best children's book agents there... and he played golf with her all the time...
Verla: he looked at some of my work and told me to contact her. Gave me her phone number!
Verla: LOL
NOTE: LOL = laughing out loud
Verla: I did, and she took me on as a client. That was in 1995
Torty: That's gotta be destiny, Verla
Verla: It's been a good marriage for us.... :-)
Della: wow! great story!
Verla: naw, it's my big mouth, torty
Torty: lol- whatever works!
Verla: I tell everyone to ALWAYS tell EVERYONE you are a writer!
ErinS: yeah, that' very cool
Verla: You never know who might be tempted to connect you to someone you want/need to help you in your career
Torty: great tip. Except for the fact it aso encourages every man and his dog to ask you to read their ms
Verla: naw...
Verla: I tell people I can't read their stories, torty... unless I really want to
Torty: good policy
Verla: but getting back to agents, what's the most burning question you people have about agents?
Amishka: or if the company dissolves in any way then they can't collect from any of the books they've handled
ErinS: So, Verla do you want to read my story?
ErinS: heh. heh.
ErinS: :)
Verla kicks erin to the dungeon door and glares at her
ErinS tempts Verla with chocolate cookies...but first she has to let Erin out.
NOTE: Verla let ErinS out. The cookies were delicious!
Verla: it's a very good feeling when you get the right agent
Verla: right, ami and Shirley?
Amishka: absolutely
ShirleyH: Yes
Verla: (is anyone else here "with agent"?)
Amishka: mine is wonderful
Amishka: I just checked my contract and if the agency goes bankrupted then the publishers send directly to me
Verla: that's a good clause, ami
Torty: Do you think you could have been equally successful without one? You already had 2 books under contract after all.
Verla: I think I probably would have sold the same number of books, Torty... but I know I wouldn't have gotten as good of contract terms without my agent.
Amishka: exactly
Torty: fair answer. Thanks Verla
ShirleyH: I recently got a 2 book deal, and I am certain I would not have without my agent.
Della: Congratulations, Shirley!
Torty: Good for you, Shirley!
Verla: and she takes the stress off of me for the business end of things
Verla: she also advises me when I'm not sure of things...
Verla: like I wasn't sure when they wouldn't buy one of my cryptic rhyme stories whether I should market it elsewhere or wait for them to change their minds about it. That was five years ago. She advised me to wait for them, because they'd been so good to me
Verla: So I did. And they finally bought that book a couple of months ago
Torty: Another congrats. You guys are booming
Anne_Marie: Verla, which book was that/ Did I miss something?
Verla: It was Pony Express, AM
Anne_Marie: Cool, Verla! I think I missed that one.
Amishka: I prefer to keep my relationship with my editor about the book and not the negotiations
Verla: Me, too, ami! (about the relationship with editor) I turn all "sticky" questions over to my agent and let her battle it out with the editor. Keeps my relationship easy with my editor
Torty: So, have you ever disagreed with your agents advice? Where do you stand there?
Amishka: I haven't yet Torty
Torty: that's great. You must really have an excellent relationship ami
Amishka: it is
Verla: I have sometimes not agreed with my agent, Torty. When that happens, we discuss the issue thoroughly. Then, she lets ME make the decision. So far, I've always gone with her advice... after all, that's why I pay her! And so far, her advice has always been "right on" and I've never been sorry

Torty: that's an excellent way to look at it verla
Torty: Do you think it was easier to get an agent BECAUSE you were already under contract. They know they're backing a winner from the start
Verla: I don't think having books under contract made any really appreciable difference, Torty... (in getting my agent.) I think she would have taken me on anyway, because in her words, "I was blown away by your writing, Verla. I loved it!"
Torty: That's great Verla. Must be great to have that admiration from her
Amishka: That's what my agent said too, Verla - though she didn't use your name
Amishka: wonder if that's an agent term
Verla: heh heh... could be, ami
Torty: So, no-one here has a horror agent story? I've heard a few of those
Amishka: Verla had one at the beginning
Torty: Sorry I was late and missed it]
Verla: Just my first agent story which I told at the beginning, Torty. I think you missed it. You will have to read the transcript to see it now
Torty: I'll do that
Verla: I know of a lot of horror stories from others though
Verla: one friend of mine went with one of these agents who "charges fees" for everything
Amishka: I've heard of some agents who never really sent anything out
Verla: I warned her not to sign with the woman, but she was so excited about getting an agent, she signed anyway
Torty: I have to say it has put me off. I have not even looked for an agent. I figure I'll wait till a contract comes up first
Amishka: oh no
Torty: oh no is right
Della: ugh
Verla: The agent charged her over $150 to "edit" the manuscript
Verla: then charged her fees to send it out to each place when she did finally send it out
Verla: and of course, it never sold
Amishka: agents aren't there to edit though I do know some who do but don't charge
Verla: yes, ami. Some agents love editing their clients' work
Verla: but mine does not.
Amishka: neither does mine
Amishka: she'll tell me if it's not ready
Amishka: but usually I know when it's not ready anyhow
Verla: she says, "Writers write, Editors edit, and I (the agent) take care of the business end of things."
Della: Has anyone here worked with Mary Flowers from SCBWI? I'm thinking she or another literary attourney may be an alternative to having an agent? Any thoughts?
Verla: I haven't, della
Amishka: I've heard she's very good Della
Amishka: but haven't worked with her
Amishka: I was thinking about it just before I signed with my agent though
Della: If I make another PB sale, I'm thinking I'd ask her to negotiate
Verla: but I would think that might be the "next best thing" to having an agent. At least she would be familiar with books contracts, etc.
Amishka: If I hadn't signed with my agent I would have contacted Mary instead of another agent
Verla: if you get an ordinary lawyer to look at your contract, you can get yourself into trouble...
Della: so you've heard good things, too, ami?
Amishka: yes
Della: good to know
Verla: because regular lawyers aren't familiar with the normal terms and conditions of literary contracts
Verla: they sometimes ask for conditions and terms that are not negotiable... where a good agent or literary lawyer will be familiar with the norm, and will only ask for conditions that are normally negotiable.
Verla: examples: royalty rates are normally not negotiable until after you have sold one or more books to the same publisher
Verla: the option clause is always negotiable
Verla: as are the # of free books, and some of the normal "rights"
Della: So IF an editor calls to make an offer, what would I say so that I could have time to contact Mary Flowers? I hear you shouldn't agree to anything initially over the phone
Amishka: say before I agree to anything I have to see a contract or something like that
Verla: I would say, " OH Thank you for your offer! I'm very excited about the possibility of working with you, but I'll need time to think about this before I actually say yes. Can you send me a copy of the contract so I can look it over?"
Della: ok, bottom line is to GET a copy of the contract in front of me.
Verla: if you are planning on contacting a lawyer or agent, you can also say, I'm currently in negotiations with an agent so I'd like to contact him/her about this before I make any final decisions"
Verla: Or... I've submitted this story to an agent also, and would like to contact the agent before I make any decisions
Verla: depends on the situation and if you have gotten any response yet from the agent
Verla: sometimes they won't send a contract until you say yes, della
Della: ahhh
Verla: in that case, you need to just write down all the terms they've offered... and then share them with the agent or literary lawyer
Verla: and ask if they would be willing to negotiate this contract for you
Della: I guess I could say, I'm planning on using a literary lawyer and would like to see the contract before committing?
Verla: sometimes, they will take on a single contract for you, too
Verla: you could say that, della
Verla: the bottom line is... don't be afraid to wait to say yes!
Della: ok, it's hard when you're heart is racing and you want to scream!
Verla: LOL yes it certainly is, Della
Verla: remember, it most likely took them MONTHS before they decided to make this offer on your story... and it won't hurt them a bit to wait a few days or weeks for you to make up your mind to accept their offer or not
Torty: If you do say yes and the contract then seems unreasonable is it too late to seek negotiations. Is a hysterical yes over the phone counted as a verbal contract before you sign?
Verla: LOL torty...
Verla: what you need to say is, Yes, as long as everything looks okay in the contract
Torty: sounds very fair to all involved
Verla: but remember, if you do say YES to them, you are agreeing to an advance amount, royalty amount, type of book, etc...
Verla: so if you get someone to come in after that, they don't have much to negotiate for you!
Torty: do they tell you all this in the initial phone conversation?
Della: My editor at Sterling gave me this info on the phone, and then followed up with email.
Verla: they did in mine, torty. Told me the size of the book, that it would be a full color picture book, that my advance would be $X and my royalties would be the standard 5%
Della: She gave me amt. of advance and royalties. That's it. The rest was in the contract.
Verla: then... I negotiated the option clause and some other things after I got the contract. Having an agent would have been much easier!
Torty: wow- i'm surprised anyone could take all that in in the instant they realise their dreams are coming true
Verla: I was writing it all down, torty
Verla: I had to! I would never have remembered any of it later otherwise
Torty: so now your agent gets 'the call?'
Verla: yes, and the agent calls me, torty... then I get a followup call from the editor later, after my agent has negotiated the terms with her
Torty: By the way verla I hope you were simply being discreet with your advance amount and not talking in Roman Numerals. $X (10 bucks) seems a little measly (g)
Della: lol, torty
Torty: sorry, just remembered it's protalk. Will pipe down now
Verla: no no no... pipe UP, torty!
Verla: that's what a proTalk is... discussing the subject!
Verla: and yes, I was being discreet, torty.
Verla: now my agent will call and say something like this, "I got a call from the editor, Verla, and she has offered us these terms for your story...."
Verla: I discuss the terms with my agent and let her know which ones I'm happy about and which I don't like. She tells me which ones she's happy about and which ones she doesn't like (not necessarily always the same terms! LOL)
Amishka: I was half asleep when my agent called with the details she thought I wasn't excited
Amishka: though at the time I already knew it sold
Della: Ami, did you get your agent after you sold Shoes or was it in acquisitions? or?
Amishka: I had my sample contract from my agent and the real one on the way when I got the call. I had to tell my editor to call my agent with the details
Verla: they inevitably call at the worst possible times. You are in the middle of a raging fight with your spouse... or your kids are experiencing the worst battle of WWIII under your feet... or... you are just about to race for the bathroom in distress...
Torty: LOL verla
Verla: just remember whatever happens, WRITE IT DOWN!
Verla: because you will NOT remember later what was said. LOL
Verla: and it's perfectly okay to tell the editor... Oh THANK YOU for telling me! This is a really bad time for me to talk right now, though. Can I call you later today (or tomorrow) when we can discuss everything calmly?
Verla: find out what time it's good to call her (or have her call you back if phone bills are an issue)
Verla: and then BE there, and have the kids farmed out, the husband glued to the TV or lawn mower outside, and have your pad and pencils beside you ready to go... along with all your questions written down
Verla: this is a good plan for when an agent calls you to tell you she loves your work and wants to represent you, too
Verla: have a list of interview questions written down to ask the agent
Verla: like... do you edit and if so, do you charge for it?
Amishka: I actually had to call my agent and tell her I had an offer
Verla: :-) ami
Della: That's a twist, ami
Torty: does she get the same conditions although you did the legwork ami?
Amishka: I was kind of hyperventilating or something and then she tells me about a cardinal (bird) outside her window and I'm like Huh?
Amishka: but she really got my mind settled enough to let me tell her what was going on
Verla: when I talked to my agent on the phone, she had called and said, "I love your writing and would be thrilled to work with you."
Verla: I told her Thank You, but I do want to see the agency agreement before I make a commitment
Verla: she mailed the agreement with a note saying, "Call me if you have any questions."
Torty: you are so level headed Verla!
Amishka: Verla, my agent sent the sample contract by email for me to look over and ask any questions on
Verla: there was a clause in there that said something about "extra charges are sometimes added onto the account"... so I called her and said, "I'd like to know what these extra charges are...."
Verla: and she said, "Oh, that's when my husband and I go to the Bahamas, you pay."
Verla: I dropped the phone on the floor!

Amishka: LOL
Della: cute
Torty: lol- hope they were flying economy
Verla: and when I picked it back up, she was laughing her head off... she said, "Oh, Verla! I was just KIDDING. Those are just for overseas postage and copy charges, etc." I knew then, I'd found the perfect agent for me. Anyone with a sense of humor like that is definitely a good agent for me.
Verla: and since 1995, I've had "extra charges" of a whopping $6 one time on my account....
Amishka: we work a lot through emails
Verla: EEEK! Our hour is UP!
Verla: is there anything else about agents anyone wants to discuss quickly before we close our ProTalk?

Della: Do agents contribute to the marketing/publicity of a book?
Torty: great question, della
Della: like setting up book events, etc?
Verla: I think some might, but mine doesn't della.
Verla: some require the publisher to agree to a certain amount of publicity in the contract
Verla: anyone else have anything to say about agents?
Torty: are you required to produce a certain amount of work to stay contracted with an agent?
Verla: that depends on the agent, I think, torty.
Torty: thanks
Verla: most agents won't keep a client unless they feel they can sell their work
Della: Thanks, Verla. Informative Protalk!
Verla: I'd just like to add one word of warning...
Verla: An agent will handle all the money from the sale of all the books sold through the agent for the LIFETIME of the books. Regardless of whether or not you terminate your agreement with the agent.
Verla: It's like getting married and having children.
Verla: so you had better be VERY sure you will be happy working with that agent for years to come!
ponytailmo: even if they go out of print and get picked up by another publisher?
Verla: ask the agent questions that matter to you
Verla: I don't think so, pony... but it would depend on your contract and agency agreement
Verla: find out how the agent communicates with his/her clients
Verla: does the agent send you rejections? (mine does, as I asked her to. That way, I know where the stories have been and what the rejections say)
Verla: does the agent expect a certain amount of work to be submitted regularly by you?
Verla: does the agent submit to magazines? Which ones?
Verla: does the agent submit religious stories?
Verla: does the agent submit exclusives or simulatenously?
Verla: these are all important things you will want to know. What does the agent do if you submit a story that's not ready to submit? If a story doesn't sell, can you submit it on your own?
Verla: (assuming the agent no longer wants to submit it)
Verla: anyone else have anything to add?
Verla: If not, I'll now proclaim this ProTalk as "closed".... :-)
Verla: great discussion folks!
*** Verla has set the topic on channel #kidlit to Writers & Illustrators of Children's Literature Meet Here Nightly - Welcome!

Verla Kay
Copyright © 2005
All Rights Reserved