Question about Literary Agents

Every time I think about literary agents, the same two questions peak my curiosity. So, for those who have experience in this field, or know a lot about this topic…

  • Is it suggested to send queries to more than one agent at a time, or should you stick to sending queries to one agent at a time? Which works better?

  • If you DO happen to find a literary agent to represent you, do they represent all of your future books too? Or do you find other agents when that time comes? I’ve been very curious about this one specifically, because I’ve seen a select handful of well-known published authors who have books published in one genre, then have a few published in another COMPLETELY different genre, so I was wondering how that works when it comes to having your agent.

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  1. I think the recommended strategy is to send queries out in batches of 5-10 to different agents. That way, if you get no bites you can consider tweaking the query to be more enticing.

  2. Yes, they’d represent your future work, too.

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Yes, you do send multiple queries at a time – you have to. I sent out hundreds of queries before I got picked up. Now, if you are getting “full requests” the industry standard is to give that to only one agent at a time. The way you handle it is when a second request for full comes in, you mention it’s already out with someone else and you’ll get a deadline from them when they can get done with it and then you’ll send it out to them. At the same time, you write the person who has the full, and tell them you’ve had a second request for full and ask them when you can expect them to make a decision so you can update the other agent for timing considerations. Agent will think very highly of you if you work in that manner.

It depends. Generally, an agent will want to represent all your work (unless you are writing in multiple genres and some of the genres aren’t in their wheelhouse. In that case you would have multiple agents and your arrangement went them would “carve out” what properties each has. Also keep in mind that you might change agents. It could be that they just aren’t serving you the way you want to. It could be that they go out of the business. It could be that you no longer see eye to eye. In that case they will continue to earn on work they had previously sold for you, but they SHOULD NOT get any royalties on other works where they were not involved int he contract. You have to be careful, though. Some agency contracts will attempt to “double dip” where if they EVER worked on something of yours they want their cut even if they aren’t the agent who eventually got the project across the finish line.

Lastly, I generally tell my agents what they can and cannot represent, since there are many titles that I either sell myself or self-publish. So, for instance my agent never sells any of my audiobook rights (as I already have good contacts with the major players in those areas). So when I do a new project sometimes they get none of it, or maybe just overseas translations.

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Thank you! This was very helpful! How do you avoid “double dip”, is that something people often accidentally overlook in the contract, a loophole, or something else? Can you explain that for me? Because I never want to get caught up in that in the future lol.

Yes, it’s a byproduct of not carefully reading the contract. When I look at any contract I examine it for “worse case scenario.” What you should be thinking about is…what if we part ways and I get a new agent, what does the old agent get paid for and what they don’t. I’ve seen MANY agent contracts that have “double dip” clauses and usually it requires changing them (which they are willing to do if you approach them right). In my contracts it says quite clearly that they are ONLY paid for contract that they negotiate. And I provide a provision such that if we “part ways” while they are actively working a contract then they have some period of time to “get it across the finish line” (30 or 60 days) and if they can then they get the commission, and if they can’t then the other agent will get the commission if they later get the project signed.

Most often the “double dip” arises by language that says something like “For any project that I’ve represented at any time I will receive 15% of all income produced by that work.” So, that kind of language includes projects they didn’t get signed, but could also include formats that weren’t signed. So, let’s say book #1 was sold to a US publisher by agent A. Later you part ways and Agent B sells foreign translation rights for book #1. It could even be sold years later, but if your contract had such language, you’d have to pay both Agent B AND Agent A.

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What other advice should one look for when dealing with agents?

You want to know their track record…so finding out what books they’ve sold is a good idea. Once you know the author’s names, it’d be reasonable to reach out to some of them and ask them if they are happy with their agent or not.

Just wanting to follow up on this point. I’m trying to work towards having one series that I publish traditionally and a second series that I keep indie (I like variety, options). Is it possible to work something like this out with an agent? I would like to maintain control over my indie work.

Or am I just trying to have my cake and eat it too?

Of course, you can do that. I have the flagship novel of one series contracted with a publisher. The second series is on WP paid stories, at least the first two are. You contract for a book, and perhaps a “world” ie. everything related to the book you query. You can then suggest other works, assuming you are successful, but especially if you are starting out, the agent will go for one novel first and take it from there.

You absolutely can do that. It’s becoming increasingly common to have a mix of traditionally published and self published books. Just be sure to set expectations UP FRONT. If there’s a contract ensure it’s clear that you won’t owe them any money for self published works excepts for licenses they specifically broker (like foreign languages).

Of course you can. The agent WORKS FOR YOU. You get to decide what properties they can sell and which are “hands off.” I do this all the time with my agents.

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You can “carve out” whatever you want. It may be when you started with the agent their contract said they were going to represent (a) all your work or (b) all your work in a given world, but you can add addendums to the contract. You can for instance have a series that an agent sold books 1 - 3 on that you now plan on publishing future stories in and you can self-publish them and the agent isn’t due any money.

The important thing is that as you start the work (or just after you finish it) you have made it clear to the agent (and adjusted the contract), what is theirs and what is yours.

Exactly.