Commission on Gift Books

Dear Miss Snark,

An agent is interested in representing my illustrated humorous gift book. However, she is asking 25% instead of the usual agently 15%, saying that this is normal for gift books. I know you do fiction, but have you heard anything like this? She is a licensing agent, really, and has only done a few books (all gift, I guess).

Miss Snark is clue free about this so she called her colleagues and threw herself upon their mercy.


Cathy Fowler at the Redwood Agency (via Kristin Nelson) says

If you have a regular agent you should just pay the 15%. No reason to pay more. There are plenty of literary agents who handle gift titles. If it is connected to some other merchandising product though then it might be best to keep all with the merch agent and pay the higher % for the book.

Jenny Bent at Trident Media:

I've never heard of a book agent doing this, however I do know that licensing agents do take a larger percentage for their work.

Ben Salmon at Rights Unlimited:

Alas, I'm afraid I can't be a major help. I have not directly represented a gift book, though I did work on one peripherally, back in the day. In that case, the standard 15% commission applied.

My gut says that 25% is not standard. It makes me uncomfortable, unless I'm missing something here. I would never even THINK to ask for more than standard commission on a gift book. It wouldn't be a shocker, either, if I took one on (I'm not opposed to them, just haven't fallen in love with one yet). Imagine someone asking you to rep a gift book featuring pictures of poodles wearing Village People outfits. You might make an exception to your no gift book policy. I feel the same way about dachshunds... (insert sound of Miss Snark having heart failure)

That said, we really are talking about the same publishers, more or less. While there are smaller houses that specialize in only gift books (just like there are houses that specialize in Haitian lesbian literary fiction), there's at least an editor or two at most of the major houses who can acquire gift books, if not an imprint dedicated to them. Maybe the editor doesn't specialize in them, but they can be done if the publisher thinks they can sell enough copies. There are also publishers who excel in gift books that we pitch regular projects to, like Sourcebooks, Adams, Workman, Running Press, Quirk Books, the now defunct Chamberlain Bros. (Penguin Group), even a freaking editor at TOR and that's just off the top of my head without even finishing my first cup of coffee this morning. Unless I was involved in the actual packaging of the project (trust me, I make a better agent than book packager anyway), I see no difference between working on and shopping around a gift book than the rest of what's on my list. If this licensing agent gal is super amazing, maybe she's worth a quarter of the gross money, but I'd be surprised if this author couldn't find an agent who'd be happy to rep a gift book for standard commission.


Mark said...

"even a freaking editor at TOR" Yes well, as a last resort I suppose. Gift books? That's a new one on me. Agent rates do not change to my knowledge, and the worst case scenario is this: "Alas I couldn't sell your book, that'll be $500 in postal and copying costs for my time. Have a nice day and good luck with the project."

Anonymous said...

I am the asker of this question and am gobsmacked. . . . .not by the original agent asking 25% but by the thoroughness and generosity of these responses. Blessings be upon the anonymous Miss Snark. Blessings also upon the named responders.

Anonymous said...

FWIW, my agent is shopping a gift book proposal for me right now, and will take her standard 15% if she is successful in selling it.

Desperate Writer said...

Hey, I just got a mini Dachshund puppy! He's so adorwable. :) Pics on my blog!

December Quinn said...

Agreed, anon.

How long do you think it will be before Mr. Salmon gets a pitch for a daschsunds-dressed-as-bikers-cowboys-construction-workers-Native-Americans-cops gift book? :-)

Anonymous said...

Mark, have you ever even had an agent?

Everything I saw in your catalog was P.O.D.. Xlibris. Writer's House etc.

Just curious.

Anonymous said...

HAITIAN LESBIANS??? who is this, I desperately need to know.

Having trouble selling lesbian book. :-(

Gerb said...

Tut, tut. Play nicely, Dwight.

Anonymous said...

"HAITIAN LESBIANS??? who is this, I desperately need to know."

OK, perhaps I exaggerate slightly. But I made my point, yes? But let me give credit where credit is due…

At BEA, I had a conversation with the very smart Johnny Temple, the publisher of Akashic Books. He told me his list is pretty full now and he's not looking to acquire projects at the moment... except for books by Caribbean and African authors. When describing his sensibility merged with what he's looking for, he told me that should I stumble across a Haitian lesbian author, I can ignore his current No Submission Rule and send the project his way.

And let me state, for the record, that I am currently representing a book that, to use official trade vocabulary, is considered to be "gifty." While a nonfiction book that will be sold in regular distribution channels, it will most likely be packaged in a way that will appeal to the gift book market and be sold in channels such as Anthropologie. I am charging standard commission.

Ben Salmon

jenny bent said...

Hey! Johnny Temple told me the same thing (about the Haitian lesbian book). I thought he was just trying to get rid of me. Now I feel better. :) Still haven't found one, however....

Jenny Bent said...

P.S. I represent a lot of gift books and charge the standard comission. But if we are talking about a licensing agent, who can perhaps also sell merchandising rights to your gift book, such as games, toys, etc., it might be worth the larger commission. Just really do your homework before signing with a licensing agent (who are their other clients, etc.) because in my experience they can be pretty sleazy.

Don Tate II said...

My licensing agent also handles books. Rarely do I let them negotiate a book on my behalf because they do take a 25% commission (as most art agents do), and a 40% commission, or more, on product merchandising. The couple of books that they did negotiate for me, paid high advances which justified paying the higher commission. I say, find a lit agent who'll negotiate for 15%, or you'll kick yourself in the end.

Anonymous said...

I don't get it. Doesn't "gift" mean it's free, nada, nothing? That's how it works in my family.

So what's the big deal? 15% 25% Heck, a hundred percent of nothing is still nothing. Quit obsessing.