What to look for in an agent: results

I came across this statement recently at agentinthemiddle.blogspot.com by a NY literary agent in the biz for 20 years with more than 2000 titles sold (according to his/her own description). Answering some questions for a new client:

"4. When will I get the Author/Agent contract, and how?

I work on a handshake."

I am somewhat flabbergasted by that. Also by the statement that titles go out to AT MOST 15 publishers. What do you think?

A lot of very good, very reputable agents, agents you'd be WELL advised to work with, work on a handshake. I don't see it as a problem at all.

And if these guys can sell your book by sending to only 15 places, who am I to argue? I've sold many a project on fewer than 15 submissions.

Results are what count.


Stacia said...

according to his/her own description).

And according to everyone else, too. That's Lori Perkins you're talking about. You should do your research before you imply an agent like her is unprofessional.

Anonymous said...

The language that binds the agent and author is found in the agency clause of the publisher's contract for the work, which all three parties sign. Thus, a handshake agreement between agent and author is not cause for concern.

(If this is inaccurate, I hope Miss Snark will either not post or will add a comment.)

Anonymous said...

"A lot of very good, very reputable agents, agents you'd be WELL advised to work with, work on a handshake."

Ah. The last bastion of honor in America. -JTC

Anonymous said...

That "only 15 places" is reassuring! My agent did an initial submission in late fall to about 15 editors, with plans to go beyond that if necessary. The rejections have been rolling in, waiting to hear from the last few. Have been wondering if this is considered a bad sign, or not uncommon.

Anonymous said...

I've had a handshake deal with my agent now for going on ten years. It works for us.

But before I shook his hand, when we were courrting, he sent me a client list and his recent sales...

Anonymous said...

Some agent contracts are mainly lists of rights the author is being asked to give up and costs being delegated to the author. All of which benefit the agent, not the author. Royalties etc for actual sold books are always set out in the contract with the publisher. So if there's no agent contract, be happy.

Anonymous said...

It is quality of submissions that count, not quantity. I could blindly send a proposal to every publisher on the continent but that wouldn't make me an agent.

Sal said...

LP is Lori Perkins of L Perkins Agency. AAR. Author of AN INSIDER'S GUIDE TO GETTING AN AGENT.

A quick Google would show you that she's everything she claims.

For those who don't follow the blog, she's put up some amazing info (and an eye-opening story) about book publicity and marketing.

Agent in the Middle

Anonymous said...

I read that post by Lori Perkins. I don't know her and have no dealings with her firm. I hate the colour scheme on her blog.

If you read the full post (and assuming you have a minimum of one working brain cell you might have done) you should realise that such an arrangement demonstrates one hell of a committment by the agent and works to the benefit of the writer.

What Lori was saying is that she is prepared to put a lot of work into getting your prize gem published without any guarantee of a return until such time as you sign a publishing contract obtained through her.

At any time you can walk away with your little nugget and try somebody else without worrying about two or more agents taking a commission because you have signed a bit of paper you obviously wouldn't understand anyway. Be f****** grateful if she ever shakes your hand on a deal.

Verbal contracts are perfectly legal and at one time used to be the norm. In terms of legal history written contracts are a relatively modern development.

Verbal contracts, by implication, place greater responsibilities on the parties than a written one might. A written contract is just a statement of the main terms agreed by the parties verbally. Anything not written down or capable of being implied in a written contract doesn't exist contractually.

In a verbal contract a court can look at custom and practice in the industry, the understanding of the different parties, implied terms, the negotiating skills/abilities of the parties and the weight that should be given to these. This would work more in the favour of a new writer than a written contract might.

Be aware that a "handshake" contract doesn't give a writer the right to be a bigger arse than they might otherwise be. A contract of this nature demands trust and respect on both sides. It's a two way street.

Be very grateful if you get offered one by a reputable agent, it's a rare thing nowadays and demonstrates how much faith they have in you!

Adrienne said...

I got a nice piece of paper with a signature. I trust my agent implicitly and think she is awesome. But I really like the piece of paper. I'm not quite sure what makes a handshake better than having a standard contract for the company. I can't imagine that it is a question of being lazy. And I can't imagine it being because they don't want anything written down 'just in case', as many reputable agents seem to work this way.

Eh, whatever. I have my contract, and that makes me very happy.

Anonymous said...

To the first anon: As far as I know, the agent does not sign the publisher's contract - just the publisher and the author. The author's signature locks in the agency clause.

Anonymous said...

Handshakes aren't uncommon, and believe it or not publishing is really a very honest business built upon mutual trust. I know at least two other agents (know nothing about Lori Perkins, though), one personally, who work on handshakes and no one gives it a second thought.

It's not uncommon in other industries either: I've had a handshake arrangement with my realtor for the past ten years. I only work with her, she knows this, and we trust each other.

Anonymous said...

IF I had a dream agent based just on what I've heard Lori Perkins would be she. I've decided this because she specializes in handling fiction with a dark slant and that is what I write, not just scifi or fantasy or horror, but DARK fantasy, scihorror, and dark romance (ie romance WITHOUT the HEA, or with a HEA the characters have to kill to get.)

Anonymous said...

I'm the one who sent in this question. I wasn't trying to imply that the agent was unprofessional (and I apologize to her and all of her faithful readers if that's what you took away from the statement). I was trying to say I hadn't verified that statement (about her sales). [And yes, I have at least one brain cell.]

Agentinthemiddle blog doesn't identify the agent by name(not in the header, not in the profile) although perhaps you could read through the whole thing and find out. I didn't do that. Because my question wasn't about this particular agent, but the practice in general. What I wanted to know is if handshake deals were common.

Apparently they are.

I'm still surprised by this. I would expect written contracts. I don't think that using handshake deals makes an industry more honorable (or vice versa. An industry that relies on written contracts is not less honorable). I'm surprised by the reliance on handshake deals because communications can go awry, because misunderstanding can arise, because there's so much more room for disputes and disagreements when you haven't spelled out your working arrangement in writing. Writing adds detail and precision that handshakes omit.

I also wanted to know about submitting to 15 publishers ONLY. In other blog posts (perhaps at pubrants? or somewhere else), agents have talked about losing the love after a round or two of rejections, but still plugging on with submissions. I found the fixed and certain number of publishers in this statement intereting and at odds with the idea of several rounds of submissions by an agent.

It's a learning process. I've learned something.

Thanks, Miss Snark.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm... In Hollywood a sex deal is more common that a handshake deal, especially during flu season.

right coast, left coast... to each his own I s'pose!

Haste yee back ;-)

Anonymous said...

Sorry, xiqay. You're right. Since I found the blog through Jenny Rappaport, I knew whose blog it was and honestly thought Ms. Perkins' name was on it. I've just looked again and realized you're right, it isn't. I didn't notice because I knew, if that makes sense.

Anyway. You're right, I'm wrong. I apologize.

---December Quinn, who is sick of re-signing into beta blogger all the @&%£! time.

Jo Bourne said...

As to the 15 editors only.

This may depend upon the kind of manuscript you're submitting.

In my own field, there are only about 15 publishers who pay significant royalties.