Sunday, October 26, 2008

Agent vs. Literary Lawyer

I get asked a lot to recommend an agent. I'm really loathe to do that. Here's why: I've been on the agent hunt for 15 years. *shudder* I signed with my first agent in 1994, before I joined RWA (Romance Writers of America.) I thought I was smart. I did my homework. I went to the library's reference desk and I borrowed The Literary Market Place. Then I went through the listings of agents. Targeted agents who were looking for what I wrote at the time-single title historical romance. I dismissed any who charged a fee. Then I picked my top five picks and sent out queries or partials based on their listed preferences.

One of these agents turned me down but suggested I join RWA-an organization I had never heard of, but was happy to join. After several rejections, and a spattering of requests for full, on a happy June day I signed with an agent. There was much jumping up and down and excitement. I knew I would be published any minute. She told me she had five readers read the manuscript and all loved it. All I had to do now was wait... and wait... while she moved offices-three times, lost my manuscript twice. I wrote two other 500 page manuscripts during the time she sent me three rejections from publishers. When she lost my manuscripts for the fourth time, I fired her. No, she never sold the book. But I was now part of RWA and I was learning a lot.

After two or three more years and six manuscripts, I tried again to find an agent. (After all who doesn't want to be able to say I went to lunch with my agent. Glamourous, isn't it?) This time armed with an RWA approved list and a LMP current list. I once again got a "love it" call from an agent. Before I signed I asked her some serious questions. Her answers were-shall I say- disappointing. She was not above underhanded tactics and felt they were common place. I couldn't do it. So, I did not sign. Surely, I thought if she loved the work, someone else would...

Three years later, I sold seven books on my own. No need for an agent.

Still every couple of years I think I could sell to a "bigger" publisher if only had an agent... (If you look at the RWA list, there are only three or four publishing houses that take unagented work.) So I send out queries.

Two years ago I was called by a very famous NY Agent. We set up a meeting at the RWA National conference. I was so delighted. This was my shot. She *loved* the book. She was talking auction! She wanted my photo full size on the back- every writer's dream. Then reality set in. While I signed my agreement and sent it right in- I never did get a copy of the fully signed agreement-even after a year of monthly reminders. It took her seven months to send the book out to publishers and after four rejections...she simply quit returning my calls. I fired her on the one year anniversary. Sigh.

Since then I've sold two more books on my own and listened to other multi-published authors tell their tales of agent woes. (Now, don't get me wrong, for every tale of woe there is an author who *loves* her agent. She has an agent who really sells her, looks out for her best interest and grows her career. Lucky...)

A multi-published author I know has quit looking for agents. She simply sells her own books to editors. Then she pays a literary lawyer to read the contract and negotiate the fine points in her favor. The lawyer is paid by the hour-not a percent of the royalty. This appeals to me. After all, so far in my career I've been the only one able to successfully sell my books. While it would be seventh heaven to have an agent who is a career coach, a lawyer, and an advocate, that just hasn't happened for me. Maybe, just maybe that's okay.


Fotos Pittadjis - Cyprus Lawyer and Advocate said...

Thanks great article.

Pittadjis Law Firm

Morgan Mandel said...

And think of all the money you're saving!

Morgan Mandel

Georgia McBride-Wohl said...

Thanks for sharing your story. It is inspiring and it makes me feel as if I have a chance to actually sell books without an agent. Thanks a million times.


Pamala Knight said...

Wow, Nancy. That is really a tortuous journey to publication but I admire your strength and resilience. I 'd say that "P" that starts your last name could easily stand for persistence.

Thank you for sharing your story which lends another perspective to the landscape of the great agent hunt. It's nice to know that quality work is obtained by editors with or without the help of agents.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Morgan, you're right big dollars can be saved.
Georgia, yes, you can publish without an agent-good luck in your career!
Pamala, Thanks for the great comment. I've heard that Perseverance is more valuable than great writing talent. Wouldn't it be nice to have both?