I know that if you are offered a contract by a publisher, then you can start calling agents and asking for representation. I also know that the publisher had better not be something that is beneath an agent's notice. I was wondering where the line is drawn, particularly in the case of university presses. Are all university presses beneath an agent's notice? Are the big ones, those that publish 100 books or more per year, treated the same as regular publishers?
Or do you look at the size of the advance and decide whether an agent would think it worthwhile based solely on that, regardless of whether you are dealing with a university press or some other type of publisher? And, if that is how you figure it, then how big does that advance need to be? I don't want to make a pest of myself by calling agents if agents wouldn't be interested anyway.
P.S. I'm talking about this situation when it involves trade books, not scholarly monographs, because I know that scholarly monographs don't pay beans even with the big guys.
First, don't call. Email.
Second, there's no hard and fast rule on how big a deal you need before an agent will take you on. I've done big deals like this, and small ones. It mostly depended on the project and whether I thought the author was a good investment.
You're not making a pest of yourself if you email to ask if they are interested in this deal.
You're not a begger at the banquet of publishing, come hat in hand asking for a favor. This is my business; now it's yours too. You have something of value, I offer a service. The negotiation is about whether it's a good match, not whether you or your offer are beneath anyone's notice.
I know it sounds like agents think of themselves as all high and mighty (don't call! don't drop in! don't speak before noon! Include an SASE!) but I assure you it's primarily a management tool to keep the cluefree from clogging our day planners. Act like a professional, expect to be treated as a pro, and it's all good.
And if an agent doesn't bite, email me again and I'll give you the name of a contract review specialist who will help you negotiate the contract so you don't sign away rights to your first sprung loinfruit.