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Aspiring authors often ask me whether it’s important to have a literary agent. My answer, as an experienced writing coach, is always yes. Recently, that answer really hit home when my client, Dr. Ellen Weber Libby, e-mailed me to say that her agent, Regina Brooks of Serendipity Literary Agency, had not only found her an ideal publisher, but had negotiated several unusual and important items in the contract.
But let me step back and tell you just one reason why it’s important to have an agent. Years ago, before I became a writing coach or even a published author, I took a class with Barbara Ganim, an expressive arts professor at Salve Regina University. Barbara has published many books, but her first made her no money, because she signed a contract that paid royalties on profits, not income from the book. Apparently, it’s easy to attribute all kinds of expenses to a book and never show a profit. She learned her lesson and found herself an agent to negotiate her contract for her subsequent books.
We actually did not have an agent on my first book, and it’s possible that a couple of missteps on the part of the publisher (printing dimensions and cover) would have been avoided had a literary agent been involved in the process.
There are several things Regina did for Dr. Libby, beginning with staying true to Dr. Libby’s vision. Dr. Libby envisioned a groundbreaking psychology book, something confirmed by several luminaries and old-timers in the field when they heard about her subject—the favorite child and its effect on different members of a family, the adult who was favorite, and society at large.
Regina sent the book to several publishers who expressed interest in this book, but they envisioned a self-help book for a large, mainstream audience. Dr. Libby was not interested in doing that. Says Regina, “I took my lead from Elly. She said she could do a follow up book that is self-help but that she first needed to define the favorite child complex and provide case studies. I saw that Prometheus was selling books in a similar vein and, sure enough, they were interested.”
Dr. Libby signed a publishing contract with Prometheus, and I was surprised by some of the things Regina was able to negotiate for her:
1. Regina says, “With all authors, I make sure they have consultation on cover design, cover copy, publicity materials, anything going out and representing their brand.” Regina negotiated an opportunity for the author to look at these materials before they went out.
2. Most publishers want immediate turnaround for any revisions to the manuscript. Prometheus wanted 72 hour turn around. Given Dr. Libby’s busy schedule with clients all week, that just wouldn’t work. Her literary agent negotiated an extended turnaround time.
3. The publisher also wanted the book sooner than the author felt she could deliver. Regina negotiated for a more suitable time frame for completing the book.
4. Another thing Regina negotiated was that, if the publisher was negotiating world rights, the publisher would be required to send the agent copies of the contract on behalf of author.
Many agents would have moved on in the beginning of the process when publishers weren’t seeing the same picture as the author, particularly since a psychology book won’t get nearly as high an advance or likely sell as many copies as a self-help book. Here’s where it’s important to have an agent who believes deeply in your project and wants to have a long term relationship with you (they’re not just thinking short-term).
Once you have a literary agent, it’s important to appreciate that person. Acknowledge them in your book and blog. Send them thank you notes!
Have a story of what your literary agent did for you? Please share it and thank them publicly! Post a comment on this writing blog.
Have a question about literary agents? Post it as a comment, too.