Please understand that I didn’t catch every word, so this is more the “flavor” of the answers than exact quotes. My comments are in [brackets]. Any errors are mine alone 🙂
Q: Some basic questions about contracts. First, do you have verbal or written contracts? What are the basic clauses? What should not be included in a contract?
AK: I have paper contracts so new authors have something to hang on to. [YT — hear, hear!] My agreement is that we will be exclusive for a year, but on a handshake basis after that. The exception is previously published authors who are looking to publish in a different genre. It’s all about trust. I’ll make a contract if we need a paper contract, but I don’t if we don’t. There’s always a way out for my authors: write me a letter if you think it isn’t working out. Everything that’s going to cost you, as an author, money should be written down. If I have to use another agent, it’s 10 percent for each of us (for example, if your book is turned into a movie).
SB: I do have a written contract. When I started working as an agent, I was mostly representing unpublished auhors who didn’t understand the business. I would explain the term clause, explain what costs I would pass through (mostly photocopying, but now I use e-mails). I do like them. When I’m first representing you, I want to lay out how it’s going to work. You can get out of the contract. I also have contracts for my protection. If I sold a project to a publisher, I’m married to that project. I should always get commission on that book. If I’m still trying to sell a project and we part ways, there has got to be some kind of timeframe before I turn the project over to another agent. I have a 12-month clause.
SB: Authors have to wait one year before they can resubmit the book to someone I already submitted the book to. The exception for contracts would be an experienced writer.
Q: How many clients do you have, Anita, since Sandra already told us.
AK: I have about 25 clients, 12-13 really “in the works.”
Q: What percentage of work do you place or sell? Is that a typical percentage? Is it different between fiction or nonfiction?
AK: It’s about 50/50. I’m so new. I have no idea whether that’s typical.
SB: It depends on what level you’re at, how big your agency is. You get better the longer you’re in the business. I don’t give up easily.
AK: Me neither.
SB: I have two or three books I’ve been trying to sell for years. But the authors haven’t said that I should stop trying. If I didn’t love the books, the authors and I would have parted ways. But they have a good story to tell. I have a story for you. I went to a writers’ conference in DC in 2003. A woman pitched a novel to me. I thought it was interesting. I asked to see the manuscript. So did five other agents — she had six of us after her. The book was a masterpiece. We all wanted to represent her. She didn’t pick me. I watched for the book for years. I thought maybe she’d changed the title. I always called it the book that got away. December 2006, the author contacted me and asked me if I was still interested in the novel. Her agent had sent the novel to twenty houses, and they had all turned her down, because the book wasn’t commercial enough. The agent had told her that if the book couldn’t be sold to a big house, he didn’t want to sell it. But me, I’ll sell to anybody! I read it again, and it was every bit as good. It got turned down at the big houses. I finally sold it to Ghost Road Press in Denver, which is as small as it gets. The editor loves the book. I’m not going to make any money on it, but I’m thrilled. I really love their work [YT — I think she meant Ghost Road’s].
The book is called Seal Woman. It’s set in Iceland after WWII. Icelandic farmers needed women to cook and clean and whatever. There were a lot of single German women after WWII, so the farmers posted a notice in a German newspaper. They weren’t mail order brides. [YT — Someone from the audience says, “Slaves.”] Yeah, exactly. And they went. But it’s a really interesting story. It’s about a fictional woman who travels from Germany to Iceland to start a new life, but she can’t leave behind her memories. The author’s name is Solveig Eggerz. The book should come out in May 2008.
The first door prize was given away: a $25 gift certificate for hair services. Both men and women could use the certificate. I was one number off: not meant for a new ‘do.
Q: Do you prefer e-mail or written query letters?
SB: It doesn’t matter. Now, I do look at my e-mails first. It’s easier to put paper to the side.
Q: What do you tell your first readers?
AK: They read the manuscript after I’ve read the first three chapters. They’re looking for flow and content, not typos.
SB: I don’t have readers. It’s just me. I have a couple of people who look at my queries when I’m overwhelmed. They have the form letter. One of them especially. He knows what I like. We have similar tastes and sensibilities. He’s a good judge of smart writing. I’m so busy, 99% of what comes in has to be rejected. Unless he’s really sure I’ll like it, he sends it back. The first sentence of my form letter is “I’m sorry this is a form letter.”