Let's do the Math

Dear Miss Snark,

I am an unpublished novelist who has been querying agents for more than a year. Three weeks ago I received my first manuscript request from an agent, and tonight I found an offer of representation from said agent in my mailbox. You can imagine how excited I was.

He didn't call you? or talk to you? or email you? It just popped into your mailbox like publishers clearing house sweepstakes?

Unfortunately, paragraph 12 of the agency agreement reads (in part): "The Author agrees to provide the Agent with $475 exclusively for marketing the Work in the form of check, money order or other postage costs."


Gee...glad he doesn't want blood or anything.

Ya, no shit. I'd be weeping too. Then I'd reach for my abacus.

For ease of doing the math in my head tonight figure your manuscript
is 500 pages. To run it through the xerox once is about $15.00. Add sales
tax here in NYC of just under ten percent. That's $16.50 for cost.
Figure he messengers it to an editor somewhere in the 212 and he is
in the 212 also. $20. That's $36.50 a pop for costs.

If an agent can't afford to shell out $36.50 to send a manuscript out, I have only one small tiny question: why's he in business? How's he paying his Verizon bill? His ConEd bill?

oh right...those guys are important. the author isn't.
ok. I get it now.

The contract goes on to explain the money will be accounted for in a log the author receives
quarterly, and in the event of an advance of greater than $10,000
the Author is fully reiumbursed. The contract is also clear that unused marketing money shall be returned to the author in the event of contract cancellation, blah, blah.

So, if he gets you a small deal, you pay for it?
Oh I like this idea.
I bet it's a moneymaker.

What makes me sad is I found this agent on Publishers
Marketplace because he sold a book in May that is similar to mine. The agent included press clippings of his recent book and film sales with my mailing.

He had press clippings about a book he just sold?
From whom?
Notices in Publishers Marketplace don't count.
If you're a member, you can post anything you want.

Miss Snark's clippings files tend to be pr for books that are published and that date is generally a YEAR after the sale. Unless he's in the Hot Deals column at PW?

Sad and deluded, the acceptance letter taunting me, I'm considering telling this agent he may represent me if the up-front fee portion of the contract is scratched.

I can hear the desperate unpublished novelist speaking in the above paragraph, and I now ask you for a reality check.

He asked for money up front / He sold a novel similar to mine last month.

I'd be interested to hear what he says about excising #12.
Have you ever talked to him?

What should I do, Miss Snark?

Well, you're gonna do what you're gonna do.
I think his business practices err on the side of exploitation.

Standards and practices in the world of agenting are clear: Authors do not pay Agents.
Agents remit to authors.
If expenses are charged to an author, they are to be paid only when the work is sold and the money collected.

Not only is he billing you ahead of time, you only get it all back if you get more than a $10K advance. There are a lot of novels that sell for less.

One of the first things I'd do is find out who his clients are and give them a bell.
Maybe he's legit. Maybe he's just weird. And maybe Miss Snark is secretly Carrie Nation.

Let me know what happens.


Anonymous said...

Three years ago, I accepted representation from an agent who had sold one fairly big book long ago. I didn't research enough, and later found out that the author had changed agents and the agent had never sold anything again or anything else I could have found!! Yes, this agent asked me for upfront "management fees," like copying, mailing etc. One year went by, no information about editors reading/rejecting my manuscript. Nada. Maybe one or two responses to my e-mails asking about what was happening. Finally, I called and wrote saying that I really thought I should have one iota of feedback. Agent got angry and returned my manuscript and none of the money I had sent. There were four checks in all. What a patsy I was!!! Yes, listen to Miss Snark. If this agent did this to say, ten writers, she would have made an easy ten thousand, twenty authors, etc. Check that agent out....there are so many resources...I was stupid not to!! Now I use every resource I can find and make sure the agent is legit and active and has sold something in at least within ( what do you say Miss Snark?) six months. The internet, AgentQuery.com, PM, PW, on and on. Maybe even a website. I would think agents would be proud of the books they have sold. Enough, like Miss Snark I need expresso.

Ellen Fisher said...

We're lucky to be writing in a time when we have so much information at our fingertips. It's more difficult for scammers to operate nowadays... if you're cautious. My advice is to Google this agent like crazy and post queries about him on any writing loops you're on. Look for information and you'll almost certainly find it. Conversely, if there's nothing about him anywhere on the Internet, that's probably useful info too. It shouldn't be hard to find information on any reputable, established agent.

Miss Snark said...

You don't have to dance the light fandango with all that stuff. Just ask the agent. "What have you sold".
Agents like anyone else will lead with their best stuff.

If an agent does anything OTHER than give you a list of books that have sold within the year that's a warning sign.

Now, publishing goes through fallow periods. It's entirely possible to hit a dry spell for six months. Go knows it's happened to the Snarker. However, goat sacrifices (since a virgin couldn't be found for love or money in the 212) and naked dancing at the full moon in Central Park fixed that problem.

Some agents are just starting out. They'll tell you that. They can be damn good. One young hungry agent is better than an old fart with a big fat credit list sitting around telling you what can't be done.

Repeat after me: "What have you sold?"

Miss Snark said...

I mostly agree with Ellen but would add a note of caution.

Groups of writers, particularly those online (except this one of course) can be ...for lack of a better word,...paranoid.

I've had some dealings with people who clearly came at the conversation thinking I was out to screw them. (none of them were Angelina Jolie or Denzel Washington or George Clooney so I wasn't)

Most agents are pretty decent folks who love books
and like writers at least three days a week.

We make a living only if we actually SELL your work. We're motivated to help you succeed.

Googling is great.
Publisher's Marketplace is great.
Nothing beats a straightforward question like
"what have you sold" and asking that agent's clients "what's s/he like to work with".

I've seen some of those writers boards trash very reputable agents cause they weren't with AAR. Some agents don't belong to AAR cause they also do book packaging.

I've seen those writers boards trash agents cause they couldn't find them "listed" anywhere. Some very good agents have a full roster and take new clients only by referral so they aren't listed anywhere.

I've seen them trash agents for writing critiques and not writing critiques.

Look at the diversity of opinion we have just here on this blog and you can see that one person's snark is another's morning coffee.

"What have you sold"
"What's s/he like to work with".

It requires more work than reading a bbs but it's YOUR career we're talking about, not some nitwit in East Paranoia who was rejected 198 times and now spends his writing time surfing the web posting about evil agents.

Repeat after me: What have you sold?

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark, I fear you're paying WAY too much for your messenger service -- mine charges $7.50 a destination provided the total weight doesn't exceed 4 pounds. Do you want their number?

Your Snarky-Comrade-in-Arms

Ellen Fisher said...

Good point, Miss Snark, although there are times when a little paranoia is a good thing. As someone once said, even the paranoid have enemies:-). When I Google someone, I take angry rantings with several grains of salt-- some authors are simply irritated by being rejected and foolish enough to rant about it in public. But if you find numerous complaints against an agent (or a publisher), it's probably wise to proceed with caution, if at all.

Miss Snark said...

Dear Snarky Comrade in Arms.

You betcher boots I want that number!


And the $7.50 just makes the math WORSE!!
It drops the unit cost of "postage" in the 212 by a significant percentage.