An Interview with an Agent… (VI)

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 🙂

From here out, it’s mostly audience questions.

Q: I’ve edited a lady’s memoirs. It’s a WWII story. I’m not qualified to be an agent. If I send a query letter to you, what would your reaction be? She’s eighty-five years old.

AK: You’re the one responsible for getting my interest, if you’re writing the query letter. But the contract is with her. If anything were to happen to her, her family would have to abide by the contract.

SB: I sometimes get queries through someone not the author. Especially memoirs. But keep in mind that everybody has a story. I will make contact however it’s set out in the query letter.

Short break “for the agents to eat candy.” This is when I spotted the print of the luminous tree.

Q: Are you open to queries from workshop members?

[Information withheld. Essentially, yes, but using a method that was meant to be provided only to the people at the meeting.]

SB: As with any agent, you shouldn’t query me if you’re writing romance or science fiction, poetry, horror, or adult fantasy. I do like YA fantasy.

AK: Right now, I take manuscripts across the board. Historical fiction. Memoirs are hard. I’ll probably take a look at it if it’s a straight memoir. I don’t do children’s books. I do middle school and YA. I don’t do erotica. I haven’t made those contacts.

SB: I represent nonfiction across the board.

AK: Self-help, metaphysical, business books.

SB: It’s easier in fiction to talk about categories. If it’s nonfiction and good, I’ll want to take it on. You have to write a book proposal if you’re writing nonfiction. Not the manuscript, you don’t have to write the book before you sell it. Proposals are hard. They structured. Some good books on writing proposals are The Shortest Distance between You and a Published Book by Susan Page. You have to have the book completely mapped out, including a table of contents, chapter summaries, and two sample chapters. That’s what the agent uses. Provide your expertise and give your credentials; explain why you’re better than other writers on the same subject.

AK: Look in Writing for Dummies [YT — is this out of print? Couldn’t find it] and use the simplified proposal. Then choose another book.

[This was Beth again.] Q: The writers here have varying levels of experiences. What are the typical royalties, etc.?


AK: Royalties are 7 1/2% to 12%, depending on the house.

SB: The standard for hardcovers is 10% for the first five to ten thousand, 12 1/2% for the next ten thousand, and 15% after that. Trade and mass market editions pay six-seven-eight percent. They’re lower. For big publishers, that’s what’s standard. The figures are based on the list price of the book. Small publishers, the figures are based on net, which is what they sold the book to the bookstore for, about 50% of retail. Small houses pay on net. Big houses pay on retail. But to make up for the difference, some smaller publishers will pay bigger rates than the standard.


AK: The trend is not as high. On average, advances are five to ten thousand, which is really good for these days.

SB: It’s terrible right now. The publishing houses practically bankrupted themselves. Advances are paid out in halves or thirds over a twelve- to eighteen-month period. Royalties, the book has to earn back that amount. You don’t owe them any money. You’ll earn royalties sooner than later.

AK: Smaller houses have to pay back what it costs to publish the book, then you’ll earn royalties.

Negotiating power of agents:

SB: You have some as an agent, but not necessarily about advances and royalties. The publishers are not going to do any marketing if you’re not a big name. You can keep film and translation rights, get rid of the option clause where the publisher has the first option on the next book, audio rights. We don’t really get to negotiate rates, but we negotiate the breaks. Instead of ten percent for the first fifteen thousand books, we can get ten percent for the first five thousand books and 12.5 percent for the next ten thousand books. The more known the author is, the more we can negotiate.

Beth: Does this hold true for big agencies as well?

SB: Yes. Some agents are like gods, they’re so powerful.

Q: I have one book with a New York publisher, and it’s out of print. Can I go to smaller publishers? I ahve the rights to it. I have an agent, but she won’t represent the book to smaller publishing houses.

SB: Yes. But your agent has to release the book. They have to write a letter. Publishing the book depends on doing reprints. Is the book still relevant?

AK: I want to look at the sales.

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