Tuesday, December 6, 2016

You Don’t Need to Say Yes to A Literary Agent If You Don’t Want To

When I finished my first book I followed the traditional publishing order of progression:
1. Write a damn good query letter

2. Send it to a ton of agents

3. Cross your fingers and pray for a miracle
Over the years I tweaked my query letter a million times to see what worked and what didn’t. I kept a massive spreadsheet of all the agents I queried, what version of my query letter I sent, what I sent them (e.g., chapter excerpt, synopsis, etc.), their general response time, and the status of my submission.

It was EXHAUSTING. And soul-crushing. Especially when I would receive a generic rejection letter like: “This project isn’t right for my list.” Or the worse possible response - no response at all.

In the end, I received lots of partial and full manuscript requests. Maybe a dozen exclusive full manuscript requests. Then, my big break came.

An agent loved my story and wanted to represent me! But...I had to make some changes to my story. We’re talking era, character names, major parts of the story taken out, etc. Whatever she asked for I did it willingly (even though I didn’t agree with the changes) because I thought that was my only option. I did three rounds of revisions with her over the course of a year.

The result?

A book I hated and didn’t even recognize anymore. She had changed everything and buried my voice, and ultimately, we parted ways. That experience led me to explore the world of self-publishing, and the more I researched it, the more it appealed to me. I started connecting with self-published authors and asking them about their experiences. One told me she turned down a major publishing deal with a Big 5 publisher because they were constantly harassing her and trying to get her to change things she didn’t want to. There seemed to be a general consensus among these authors though - ultimate freedom! And that’s exactly what I wanted.

So began my journey to publish Strange Luck. I couldn’t believe how much happier I felt while writing and how much time I had saved when I stopped querying and tracking my submissions. I wrote The Nightmare Birds next. Then something strange happened. An agent out of the blue read my first book, loved it, and wanted to represent me. It was magical. It was everything I had ever wanted, but, I was weary to give up everything I had worked so hard for. All of it made me question what I truly wanted as a writer. After a lot of thought, nail-biting, and some hair-pulling, I ultimately decided I wanted to do what I was currently doing - self-publish.

Friends and family looked at me like I was crazy (and you probably think so too), but when things came down to business and I got the final contract on my desk, it just didn’t feel right. So many things were going to change and I was terrified of losing my story all over again. I fired off an endless lineup of questions to the agent, hoping with all hope that my feelings would change, but they didn’t.

This experience prompted me to write this article to hopefully help those who might not know they have options. Whether you have an interested agent, or are debating between self-publishing and traditional publishing, below are some questions I asked the agent that helped me determine if it was a good fit or not. Please remember that each literary agent is different. They have different abilities, personalities, connections, wants, and experiences. It may or may not be a match for any or all of those reasons. It's okay to say no. The most important thing you can do is to trust your intuition. If it doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not. If they are everything you've ever wanted and you feel great about it, then by all means scream "yes" from the rooftop. Do what works best for you and your story.

Questions to Ask A Literary Agent Before You Sign:
1. How long have you been an agent? 
2. How long has the agency been in practice? 
3. How long is your average client relationship? 
4. Are you a member of AAR? 
5. How long would our contract be? 
6. What percentage of projects that you sign do you sell?

7. If you’re unable to find a publisher, what would be the next step? Would I need to re-edit and then resubmit, or would the publisher accept me on the condition that I work with their assigned editor and make the changes? 
8. Can I speak to one or two of your clients about their experiences? 
9. What is your procedure and time-frame for payment of author royalties and advances received from the publisher?

10. How often would you update me regarding publishing prospects and developments?

11. Have you represented books in this genre before?

12. If a publisher did accept my book(s), what kind of control would they have?

13. Do you think my books have a stronger market in the US or internationally?

14. Can you tell me about a few recent sales you made? Any with the publishers that you have in mind for my book?

15. Will you represent every book I write, including the ones I’ve already self-published?

16. What are the terms of your contract? Is there a specific length of time, etc.?

17. What co-agents do you work with for foreign rights, film rights and other sub-rights? Is there someone in-house who specializes in this? Can you tell me about some recent successes selling sub-rights of a project?

18. What support (e.g., marketing, promo, etc.) would the agency offer me?
19. What is your commission?  
20. If I did receive an advance from a publisher, would it be considered a "loan" against future sales?

21. Do the publishers you work with have a "do not compete" clause?

22. If we did sell the books to a publisher what would happen to the current books out there? Would they be replaced on Kindle with a new cover uploaded, etc., or be deleted entirely and posted as a new title? What about my current reviews out there? Would they all go away?

23. What would be the significant benefits of me signing with a publisher vs. remaining self-published? What could a publisher offer me that I’m currently not already doing?
I hope that this article helps you make the best decision possible for you and your book.

As for me, if another opportunity were to present itself I would start by asking the same questions and going from there. It may or may not be a match, but that's okay. In the meantime, I'm perfectly content with doing what I'm currently doing.

Have you checked out my other posts on writing and self-publishing? You might enjoy these, too: