Finding an Agent

So you've written a novel; now what? In this series, debut author-to-be Crystal King describes the traditional publication process from start to finish: the lead-up, what to expect along the way, and how building her social media platform has made a difference. In this installment of "On the Path to Publication" Crystal talks about her process for finding her agent and shares a list of questions to ask any potential agent you are considering. 

I finished writing the first draft of my novel FEAST OF SORROW in the fall of 2011. It's hard to believe that it's been five years since I wrote the last word, in the local library, crying like a baby to myself because I had just finished writing a book! Me! 

That was a happy moment, followed by three years of querying agents and revising my manuscript based on agent feedback. The responses from agents were pretty consistent. They thought it mainly that it was too long (143K words). And yet, what they wanted me to change was mostly to add scenes and details around certain characters and plotlines. Of course, you can't cut words and simultaneously add scenes so it was a bit of a conundrum. 

The "too-long" refrain was common because it's a holdover from the publishing world. As a debut author if they publish x amount of hardbacks at x amount of pages and they don't sell that's a lot of hard costs down the drain. But the truth of the matter is that people are less likely to buy hardbacks anymore. They want digital or paperback which brings costs down quite a bit. 

Fortunately for me, however, books are getting longer and debut novels such as Books like City on Fire (911 pages) and A Little Life (720 pages) put my paltry 416 pages to shame. 

I also had some agents who wanted me to make my book into something it wasn't, which I wasn't willing to do especially if the agent wasn't willing to sign me on the dotted line. The changes I did make to the book ended up making it a better book, most definitely, but do keep in mind as you go through the process that there is a point where you need to be true to yourself and to the work at hand. 

Everything worked out though. I was fortunate to be introduced to my agent, Amaryah Orenstein at Go Literary, at a writing conference party by a friend who had been working with agents throughout that day. It was the end of the party and people were starting to leave but I gave Amaryah my best elevator pitch about the book (world's oldest "foodie" who wanted to be gastronomic adviser to Caesar and died in a crazy way) and from the very moment I uttered all those words she was hooked. AND I felt really good about her and her enthusiasm. I sent her the full manuscript shortly afterward and two weeks later she offered representation. 

I didn't accept right away. 

Instead, I set up a meeting with her to talk further. We're lucky enough to live in the same city so we went to one of my fave restaurants (why wouldn't I? My whole book is about food!) and I peppered her with questions. 

I mean, I really peppered her with questions. My writing group partner, Anjali Mitter Duva, had landed an agent a couple years before and she had this comprehensive list of questions that she had cobbled together from various places that she asked her agent. It was so good that I took it with me and now I'm going to share the list with you below. You won't likely need to ask your prospective agent all of the questions but it's a good place to start. 

When I asked Amaryah how she was going to pitch the book to editors she told me she was also going to look for editors who dabbled in food and cookbooks, not necessarily historical fiction. That was music to my ears. She understood that the audience for my book was bigger than the historical fiction niche. She got it. 

I signed in June 2015 and got the deal in November 2015, finalizing the contract with Touchstone Books/Simon & Schuster in January 2016. My novel will be released on April 25, 2017. A long road for sure, but worth it!

A year and a half later Amaryah is still my biggest champion and source of fantastic advice on everything related to my novel and to the publishing process. I definitely made the right choice (and so did she!). 

If you want some great advice on finding an agent, others have taken on that subject fairly well:

and now, onward, to the agent questions! 

Questions for agents

Background

  • Are you a member of the Association of Author’s Representatives?

  • How long have you been an agent? What is your background? What do you feel are your strengths?

  • Do you have other clients who have similar works? If so, did you successfully sell them?

  • What are some recent sales you’ve made? For how much?

  • What drew you to this book? What do you see as its strengths?

  • Is there a current client or two that I could contact as references?


Plans

  • Do you envision this as hardcover or paperback?

  • How do you envision this book being marketed? (I.e, this will give you an idea if you and your agent are on the same page about the span and scope of the publicity/audience/etc.)

  • How involved do you get in creating the marketing plan?

  • How many editors do you typically submit to? What happens if we don't sell the first round?

  • Do you have any specific imprints or editors in mind?

  • What ideas do you have about paths to publishing? Traditional/e-book/interactive, partner publishing, etc.


Working style

  • Since you are local, how much do you think we’d be meeting/working in person?

  • How hands-on are you, in terms of editing? Can I expect you to help me polish this or do you like to be handed a finished, ready-to-go version.

  • How communicative are you with your authors? Do you mind being nudged or sharing information or would you rather keep me in the loop on a need-to-know basis?

  • How do you typically communicate with your authors? Email/phone? What should I expect as we go through the submission process?

  • What are you looking for in an ideal author to work with? (this let me know their expectations etc.)

  • How will you keep me apprised of the work you are doing on my behalf?

  • Do you consult with your clients on any and all offers?

  • At what point do you prefer to see new projects?


Arrangement

  • Who will actually be handling my work? (any other staff?)

  • Scope of representation? One book? One with right to refusal on the next?

  • How do you deal with foreign rights? How would you handle movie and TV rights?

  • Do you have a film co-agent?

  • What are your commissions for: 1) basic sales to U.S. publishers; 2) sales of movie and television rights; 3) audio and multimedia rights; 4) British and foreign translation rights?

  • What are your policies about charging clients for expenses incurred?

  • If we should part company, what is your policy about handling any unsold subsidiary rights to my work?

  • Do you issue 1099 tax forms at the end of each year? Do you also furnish clients upon request with a detailed account of their financial activity, such as gross income, commissions and other deductions, and net income, for the past year?


Things to look out for in contract

  • Scope of representation

  • Duration of contract (prefer open ended)

  • Time frame for forwarding $$

  • Extension of authority to agent to negotiate on my behalf

  • Termination clause

  • Effect of termination on concluded agreements and ongoing negotiations

  • Arbitration in event of a dispute

I'm sending along a little bit of luck with this post, that those of you who are looking for an agent. Every little bit helps!
About the Author

Crystal King is a 25-year marketing, social media and communications veteran, freelance writer and Pushcart-nominated poet. She is the author of the FEAST OF SORROW, about the ancient Roman gourmand, Apicius, and the forthcoming THE CHEF'S SECRET (February 12, 2019, Touchstone Books) about the famous Renaissance chef Bartolomeo Scappi. Currently Crystal works as a social media professor for HubSpot, a leading provider of Inbound marketing software. Crystal has taught classes in writing, creativity, and social media at Harvard Extension School, Boston University, Mass College of Art, UMass Boston and GrubStreet writing center. A former co-editor of the online literary arts journal Plum Ruby Review, Crystal received her MA in Critical and Creative Thinking from UMass Boston, where she developed a series of exercises and writing prompts to help fiction writers in media res. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or at her website: crystalking.com

See other articles by Crystal King
by Crystal King
on

Topics:

Publishing