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.