Sunday, March 25, 2007

The mark of a good agent

I promised a post on how to identify a good business book agent a while back and have been avoiding it ever since. But, it's Sunday afternoon and I finished an article early, so here goes.

  1. A good bizbook agent doesn't charge a fee to consider taking you on as a client. I think good agents can take a quick look at your book proposal and your resume and decide if you are worth their time. If you want more than a 'yea' or 'nay,' however, they have every right to charge you for their professional opinions or to read and comment on a manuscript or any of the other stuff that writers seem to expect for free.
  2. A good bizbook agent doesn't make you sign away your life in return for representation. A writer's output is his or her income flow. Don't ever give an agent or anyone else control over that flow thru options on your next work or any other contract clause.
  3. Once you're signed up, a good bizbook agent tears you up. Unless you're great, a good agent should be able to offer suggestions for fine-tuning your work. You should challenge those suggestions to be sure they make sense, but you should also take them seriously.
  4. A good bizbook agent sticks it out. Ask agents about their process. If they dangle proposals in front of the usual suspects once and if nobody bites, forget about the proposal, forget about them. Publishers reject and accept books for all sorts of nutty reasons that have nothing to do with the books. I had one proposal that was rejected and later, accepted by the same editor! Good agents know that the market and the players are always changing and they are always looking for the right opening -- even if it's a year down the road.
  5. A good bizbook agent is honest about the offers you get. Many, maybe most, offers from publishers are lousy offers. If you find your agent is saying every offer is great, call him on it or get a new agent.
  6. A good bizbook agent reads your contract, makes sure you don't sign anything that is not in your best interest, and is willing to negotiate with publishers as long as it takes. Your demands have to be reasonable, but if they are, your agent shouldn't be the one shutting you down. By the way, the only way you'll know whether agent is shutting you down is if you learn what should and shouldn't be in contracts, refuse to sign anything that is not in your best interest, and are willing to negotiate with publishers as long as it takes.
  7. Finally, a good bizbook agent knows that it's far better for you to let off steam with him as opposed to your publisher. So, he lets you curse and yell all you want and never holds it against you. (Thanks for that, John.)

No comments: