SCBWI

Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Agents: Getting One, Keeping One, Working With One and Loving One

by Kitty Griffin

 

Why do it? Get an agent?

Some people get an agent because they don’t want to deal with the hassle of the sale, with the numbers, with the rights, and with translating legal documents that pretend to be written in English.

I got an agent because I figure giving someone 15% of myself is better than me getting 100% of nothing because agents make their money by knowing everything they can possibly know about what is going on in children’s book publishing. I don’t have time to learn all the editors names, let alone keep up with the hippity hop chess game they play with moving their careers from one house to another.

A good agent is going to know which editor is looking for what. She is going to know how to negotiate advances and make sure that the contract is done to the writer’s advantage. She is going to handle the subsidiary rights. She is going to be the writer’s advocate.

So, how does an unpublished writer get an agent? Sometimes they have to wait until they are published. It can be as hard to get an agent as it can be to get published. This is not an easy business.

How do you know when you are ready for an agent? First, you must say, I want an agent. There are lots of published writers who work without an agent and who do just fine.

• First you have written some good stories. You have had them critiqued. You have re–written.

• These are good stories. You are convinced.

• And you decided, yes I want an agent.

GO FOR IT

 

How do you get an agent’s name?

From a writer’s group. From a conference. From a writer’s guide (caution here, not all guides check references).

(Sometimes, you might enter a contest and an agent contacts you. WRITER BEWARE!!! This can be a trap into fee–charging hell. A GOOD AGENT IS TOO BUSY TO CONTACT YOU.)

So, you get a couple names.

1. Go to www.publishersweekly.com go to the AAR MEMBER list and look for the names of the companies you are interested in. AAR members sign an ethics agreement which states they will not charge fees.

2. Go to www.sfwa.org/beware/agents.html and look for their Predators and Editors section. Go to the agents section and look at the names of the companies you are interested in. See if this is a company where they have been indicted (mail fraud is a typical one) or if they are not recommended. Usually, they are not recommended because they charge fees.

3. Make certain the agency you have selected has NO FEES CHARGED: A FEE IS ANY AMOUNT PAID OUT–OF–POCKET BY A WRITER BEFORE THE SALE OF HIS/HER WORK. (SFWA.ORG) Any expense. Some agents will say, “you have to pay submission expenses.” Remember, there are writers who have spent THOUSANDS of dollars on submission expenses and their work has never been sold.

4. Make certain that this agency represents people writing for children. Not all agencies represent juvenile writers. DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME OR THEIRS by submitting to the wrong place.

5. Find out what they want—do they want the whole manuscript or a summary and sample.

6. Make certain your submission is up to professional standards!! Check SCBWI guidelines for these.

7. Review your query letter. Dorothy Markinko, long–time, respected agent says MAKE IT SUCCINCT! Stay focused. DON’T COMPLAIN! DON’T CAMPAIGN AND DON’T COMPLAIN! There are books on the market that will help you develop a query letter. Remember, the first line of that query will be as important as the first line of your story. They have to hook the reader!

8. Here are the three worst mistakes a writer can make when submitting to an agent: (Thanks to Tracey) INSTANT REJECTIONS:

• Send a submission where the cover letter is addressed to a competitor (or in Tracey’s case, Dear SIR).

• The cover letter begins “This manuscript has been rejected by 40 children’s book editors, so now I’ve decided it’s time to get an agent.”

• Call the agency and demand to speak to the agent because you want to give your pitch over the phone. THIS NEVER WORKS. The agent has to READ your WRITING to know if you can WRITE.

9. If using email, make certain the agency will accept an attachment.

 

So it all comes together and the agent agrees to represent you. Now what?

1. Remember that you are not the agent’s only client. DON’T BUG THEM.

2. Give the agent time to represent your work. If after six weeks you don’t hear anything, yes, send an email or a note and ask if your piece has been sent out. If you want to talk to your agent, again, email and ask if you can set up an appointment for a time to call and chat.

3. What if while you were getting an agent you sell a story. You say yes to the editor. Can you call up an agent and say, I’ve got this hot deal negotiate it for me? No, if you agree to terms with the editor, you must stick to those terms. Use the agent for the next sale.

4. Some agents edit, some don’t. Before you sign, ask.

5. Your agent will also represent you in any dealings with the publisher when problems arise. Besides being able to decipher royalty statements, for example, an agent can challenge inaccurate payments without damaging your relationship with your publisher.

 

When is it time to find another agent?

When your gut tells you.

If the agent you have isn’t working out for you, start looking around for another.