Monday, May 05, 2008

The Fee Charging Agent and the Cud Chewing Cow

The fee-charging agent
And the cud-chewing cow
Seem so much alike
Yet are different somehow
After a moment to consider
I think I know now:
It's all the work and the effort
On the part of the cow

(Yes, I took an old poem often written in high school yearbooks and modified it for my own purposes -- I didn't do a bad job if I do say so myself)

I took the time this morning to respond to a first time author who was being interviewed on The Writing Show podcast and thought that the message I sent was one worth repeating here on my blog -- you know, in case first time writers happen to stumble upon it.

What prompted my response (which you'll see below) was the author describing to Paula B, the show's host how an agent had responded to her query with a note that they'd love to see her manuscript. However, due to the fact that they have to pay readers to go through manuscripts which costs time and money, there is a $50 fee charged to read it. So, please send your full manuscript along with a $50 reading fee.

Yadda yadda yadda.

Yes, reading manuscripts takes time -- a heck of a lot of time. It's not easy. It's hard work. Ask any agent or editor out there. It's hours of painful, challenging, frustrating, tiring and often thankless work.

But let me say this: Agents make money selling books to publishers. Publishers, in turn, make money selling books to bookstores and consumers. Any agent that makes money selling "services" or charging fees to authors is NOT a real agent and should be avoided.

Here's the basic script of publishing. Author writes book. Author sends manuscript to agent. Agent finds interested editor from publishing house to accept book. Publisher pays author and agent gets their % cut of that payment. Any diversity from this model (except perhaps where there isn't an agent and the author sells directly to an editor/publisher) should be considered suspect.

Yes, reading unsolicited manuscript submissions can be painful. But good agents, hundreds upon hundreds of good agents do it every day. Because they know their business, they know what they're looking for and they know, like any patient fisherman who sits hour after hour quietly floating in that boat with their rod in the water, that they'll get a bite and it'll be good, and they'll find that author that matches their style, comfort level and area of expertise -- and they'll be able to find that author's manuscript a home. That's what a good agent does. And those good agents make their money by selling their author's manuscripts to publishers.

Simply put -- if an agent can't make money doing what an agent is supposed to do, finding "homes" for manuscripts, then that agent should hang up their pen and pursue another line of work.

However, if you are a first-time writer and are reading this, don't just take my word for it -- go read more on the subject by folks a heck of a lot more experienced than myself. Here are just four examples:

There, I gave my 15% -- er, my 2 cents on the topic . . .


Stealth said...

I swung by here to tell you HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!

I hope you have a fabulous day :)



paula said...

My thoughts exactly, Mark. There are certain costs of doing business. If you can't make the bottom line come out black, you shouldn't be doing it.

Which goes for many publishers too, BTW. Authors are not there to give them interest-free loans, and we should stop doing it.