Three By Three-Things Undervalued When Working with Agents

It’s time for the next installment of Three by Three, wherein we get some sage words from three pros in the field on something publishing and/or writing related. Last time, we had some wise advice on reviewing ( This time we get some writer advice from agents. The topic: three things undervalued or underappreciated by writers when it comes to agents. I’d like to thank Ginger Clark, Nathan Bransford, and Jennifer Laughran for taking the time to chip in on this post. I hope you find their tips/advice useful.

From Ginger Clark:

1.  Using the carrot rather than the stick with editors.  Almost all editors are over worked and over scheduled—if they aren’t, they are not trying hard enough and are not worthy of your time.  Editors need to be appreciated and treated with respect and gratitude.  An agent who is known for bullying editors and treating them like enemies is not necessarily always going to find you the right match for your book. 

2.  That said, a good agent should know exactly what you need in the following clauses: the option clause; the audit clause; the out of print/reversion of rights clause; the “first proceeds” clause; the warranties and indemnities clause; the….are your eyes glazing over?  A good agent’s eyes will NEVER glaze over when it comes to contracts.

3.  Subsidiary rights.  I’m not just talking about film rights—I’m talking translation, non US English language sales, audio, etc. etc.  This will sound crude and cold, but you know how they say that a car is worth more as separate parts than as a whole?  You can usually make more money selling your rights to many different parties than if you sell all the rights to one publisher.  Find an agent who knows her way around the film world, the translation markets, the other major English language markets (the UK, Australia/New Zealand, Canada) and who has strong connections with audio publishers. Did you know that Brazil and Portugal are two entirely separate and vastly different markets, though they share a language?  A good agent will.

From Nathan Bransford:

1. Professionalism, patience, and understanding will get you everywhere.

2. Remember there is not enough time in the day to do all the things aspiring authors ask of agents.

3. Agents are people too. Most of them.

From Jennifer Laughran:

Lots of people want to be writers. Lots of people are good at writing. Lots of them are probably better than you. You don’t just have to be talented – you also have to have patience, and work hard, and be smart and focused and dedicated (or very lucky!). Most people I know spent about ten years seriously writing before they were published. As is true in most of life, in publishing there’s no quick-and-easy way to become an overnight success. Things that look “overnight” from an outsider’s perspective were probably many years in the making, or a stroke of rare bizarre luck unlikely to happen twice.

This seems obvious, but judging from the number of authors (newbies, but well published authors too!) who find themselves jealous of others successes at times, or puzzled about what “should” be happening in their career or with their books, or trying to find meaning in Amazon numbers… it isn’t obvious. Look, STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHERS. This is not only futile, but will lead you to heartbreak. No two books that I have sold have EVER had identical time-lines or been published the same way. So when well-meaning idiots give you advice like “this is how much money you should get for your next book” or “if your publisher takes a long time, it means they hate you and are going to cancel your contract” or “if an agent was really interested, he’d have called you within 24 hours”… tell them to shove it.

Some writers get frustrated at what seems like a lot of red tape involved in getting an agent. The thing is, the guidelines and expectations agents have for querying are really simple, and each of them is there for a reason. We are not making authors needlessly jump through hoops – we are trying to streamline the process for everyone’s sanity. All the agents I know love books, and love working with writers, and sincerely want great books to find great homes. Unfortunately, we have to do a lot of stuff in the dream-crushing department, which makes us seem heartless. Please remember that if we say no to your work, we aren’t making a value judgment about you as a person… it just means we don’t feel we can sell the book. If anything, that is a judgment about our own abilities. I promise, we really do want you to be successful.

Some great words. Thanks again, you three. Your work and words are greatly appreciated. Link and pass around the post to your heart’s content. Happy writing!


7 responses to “Three By Three-Things Undervalued When Working with Agents

  1. Thanks for posting this, Jim! Great advice, especially the part about every book having its own path. In hindsight, I feel lucky that I was able to land an agent/sell my first book relatively quickly (though it sure didn’t feel that way during querying and submission). However, after the sale, I went through periods where I was doubting myself, comparing my experience to other authors who sold around the same time as me. I wanted there to be a playbook for the publishing process: Is this part taking too long? Was this rushed? Am I supposed to do this or that myself? But there really is no such thing as “normal” in publishing, is there? And once I realized that most writers, published or not, are plagued with self-doubt about the process and where they stand in it, I was better able to relax and enjoy it.

  2. Can I just say what a relief to find someone who accurately knows what they’re talking about on the internet. You certainly know how to bring an issue to light and make it advantageous. More people need to read this and understand this side of the story. I cant believe youre not more popular because you definitely have the gift.

  3. Thank you for sharing the advice! It’s always helpful to know what to look for in agents and what agents are looking for in writers. Thanks