So you’re an indie author writing fiction and you’ve been thinking of writing a novel for a traditional publisher and you need an agent. How do you make that work? What are the rules for working with an agent in the Indie Age?
“Jane” (not her real name) posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
I recently made a connection with a literary agent who is willing to represent me. I wasn’t seeking an agent; this happened through recommendations from a small press who is publishing my next series. I did all my due diligence and this agency totally checks out positive, but I need some advice from you.
A little about me: I have two ebooks indie published (one available in print), a contract with a small press for a digital serial style series with the option of print on demand copies later, and more ideas and drafts then I know what to do with other then publish them one at a time myself.
I looked over the contract and the exclusive clause gave me pause. They did say they could include an addendum that would allow me to continue indie publishing if I wanted, but made it clear they want access to all my writing since they will be putting work into my success as well now.
I’d love to have an agent, to be a “hybrid” author, but I’m not sure how realistic that is. The publishing industry has changed dramatically, yet lots of people are still in the same routines as before. Would signing with an agent be detrimental to me at this point?
I highly value your advice. Thanks for any input you can offer.
Randy sez: Well, I’m hesitant to give advice when I don’t know you and your work well. And I’d be hesitant to give advice even then. So consider this blog post to be “Randy’s thoughts” rather than “Randy’s advice.” I’ll tell you how I run my own life. That may or may not apply to how you should run yours.
You only need an agent if you’re working with a traditional publisher. That is, if you’re completely indie, then you don’t need an agent.
My opinion is that if you’re working with a traditional publisher, even a small one, you need an agent. Publishing contracts these days are complex, and you need somebody to explain the nuances of each contract and fight for you on the clauses that are important. The word I’m hearing is that contracts are getting less author-friendly, so you need all the help you can get.
In my experience, virtually all agents want to work with you exclusively–meaning they don’t want you to have two agents. If you happened to be working in two wildly different categories, it might make sense to have two agents, but that’s rare.
In my opinion, it’s reasonable for you to give an agent exclusivity on your traditionally-published work. An agent puts a lot of work into each client, and that effort needs to be rewarded.
Some agents are a lot more indie-friendly than others. The important thing is that you have an agreement with your agent on what your indie activities are going to be. Your agent is your business partner. You must keep them informed on what you’re doing, if you’re doing any indie work at all.
If you and your agent don’t agree on your indie publishing, then that’s a serious problem. It sounds like this agent is happy, in principle, with your indie publishing. The addendum to the contract sounds like a good idea to me, but you should also discuss it verbally to make sure that you both agree on the meaning of the addendum.
Some agents, in my experience, are just not a good fit for indie authors. Indie authors typically believe that the more books they produce, the better, because each book promotes the others. Some agents just plain don’t buy that reasoning. (And it looks to me like most publishers don’t buy it either.)
If you believe that your indie titles help promote your traditional books, and if your publisher insists on a strict non-compete clause that keeps you from producing indie books during some long window of time, then you have a serious conflict. You need to have an agent who agrees with you on the issue. And not all agents do.
If you’re going to work with an agent, you need to have roughly the same set of assumptions. Some of the points where indie authors disagree most with traditional publishers are the following:
- Life of the contract. Should it be limited to a set number of years? Should it terminate when sales volume gets “too low?” What does “too low” mean? Or should the contract go for the life of the copyright?
- Option clause. Should the publisher get an option on your next book? Or your next TWO books? If so, can you live with the terms of that option?
- Non-compete clause. What is the length of time that you’re willing to NOT publish any indie material that might compete with the traditionally-published book? How broad is the clause? Who decides what “compete” means?
You need to be on the same page as your agent on all the important questions. Any decent agent will of course be working in what he believes to be your best interests. But if the two of you can’t agree on what your best interests are, then you’re working with the wrong agent. And it’s best to figure that out before you start working together, rather than after.
Publishing is more complicated than it used to be. The trend is for more and more traditionally-published authors to do a bit of indie-publishing on the side. The trend is for more and more agents to help them with this. The trend is for more and more traditional publishers to pursue contracts with successful indie authors.
Because of these trends, I’m guessing that ten years from now, all authors will be hybrids or indies, and there won’t be ANY authors who are solely traditional. I can’t prove this. It’s just a guess based on what I see, and so it could be wildly wrong. But ten years from now, if I’m right, then I’ll say I told you so.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.
Camille Eide says
Xtremely useful & saveworthy info, Randy. These questions come up often with writer friends who are considering indie or hybrid publishing. I’m putting this in my PeeChee to keep it handy. 😉
Dona General says
Excellent – as usual. I learn more from you than anyone else. Thanks.
What is the length of time that you’re willing to NOT publish any indie material that might compete with the traditionally-published book? How broad is the clause.
Blanch Beth says
I like it