"An Agent Wants My Book"
by Diane Eble
It would seem almost a dream come true: You
publish with a good 'publishing services" (self-publishing or print on demand) company. They produce a beautiful
book. You give it a great launch and it gets on the bestseller list.
The success attracts a top-notch literary agent.
Now the big question is: Should you go with the agent, who may be promising you a
huge contract with a Big Six publisher?
Surprisingly, the answer is NOT a no-brainer.
It may not be in your best interest as an author to let the agent take your book
and shop it around.
Here are the considerations from someone who's been in publishing for a long
time and has seen all sorts of things happen (few people will tell you what you're about to learn).
Consider Their Agenda
Know that agents are contacting you because you're successful, and they want to
get in on it. Nothing wrong with that, but take everything from agents with this is mind.
If they promise you a big publishing deal, ask for their track record RECENTLY. So
much has changed even in the last year or two, and big publishing deals are getting rarer. Ask what they've done in
the past year or two, giving the most weight to the most recent deals.
If they refuse to divulge that as "confidential," it's understandable, but insist
on finding out which houses they sold to and for how much. These deals are a matter of public record
(sort of, if you subscribe to the right industry publications).
Find Out Your Costs
1. Ask what the agent's fee is (usually 15% of your royalties) and
what kinds of royalties other authors in your shoes (new author if applicable) have gotten. If they say you're
going to be an exception because of your track record, that's flattering but ... beware. You may not get a
better deal than average.
2. Know what you'll be giving up with a traditional publishing contract.
Namely, control. The publisher will own the rights--probably forever.
This is because with technology the way it is, books need never go out of print.
If they don't go out of print, you can't get the rights back. This could cost you big time, especially if your book
is tied to other products.
A publisher will want to change the book itself--the cover, copy, likely even
title and perhaps content, to make it feel and look "new." Likely they will demand in the contract that you take
the current book off the market completely for a period before, and certainly after, the new book is
There is usually a "non-compete" clause in publishing contracts that would
preclude you from selling anything out there that's like it, for instance an ebook version. If you have other
products deemed "too similar," they may ask for rights to that or say you can't sell it.
Of course, all these points would be things you could negotiate in a contract.
Just know what the "norm" is that they'll be used to in the book industry and will push for.
For some people, loss of control of the content is huge, for instance if
your book is part of a larger strategy to open doors to other more lucrative products. If the publisher doesn't
outright ask you for a piece of the rights, they may not want you to put in any notices about your other products,
links to your site, etc.
3. Understand that you will get only a fraction of the book's profits.
Usually 7.5-20% of NET, meaning after the distributors' discount--usually 55%. Even if they offer you a huge
advance, that may be all you'll ever see for the book.
Advantages of a Traditional Publisher
What are the advantages of going with an agent and traditional
1. They take care of the publishing aspects--printing,
warehousing, marketing (maybe, for a time), and distribution. If you've already self-published,however, you've been
through this yourself. You can decide if it was too much of a hassle or if, now that you've already plowed that
territory, you want to be able to continue to plant and cultivate what you've already sown.
2. Possible greater exposure, especially with the media. A big publisher
has certain PR, media, distribution channels already in place.
However, know that very few publishers actually put in the contract what they'll
do with marketing and promotion. I can't tell you how many authors I know have been promised the
moon--verbally--and nothing ever came to pass. Promises are only as good as the circumstances of the moment
And those circumstances may include the publisher being bought out, staff people
leaving and projects languishing, or even contracts you thought were in the bag being canceled. I've seen all this
happen many a time, and more.
A publisher will be interested in promoting your book only as long as it continues
to sell and their resources and circumstances allow. You as author are primarily going to be responsible for
selling your book. With a traditional publisher, you'll get less of a piece of the pie for your efforts.
3. Wider bookstore distribution. What about distribution in bookstores?
Yes, traditional publishers do have an edge over most "self-publishing" companies.
Here's why, though: Traditional publishers let bookstores sell on consignment,
meaning, the bookstores can return books any time for a full refund. This is why so few bookstore buyers deal
with self-publishing companies, most of which are reluctant to allow returns. Bookstores say, "No returns, no stock
But they give a book 3 months max to sell well, then they'll ship them back to the
publisher. That's why publishers hold back royalties on a sizable percentage of bookstore sales. When the books are
returned, the publisher and author eat the costs.
The Deciding Factor in Publishing Decisions
So should you go with that agent who is dangling the carrot in front of
That depends on which publishing path you're on, or should be on.
Few people realize there are really three distinct paths to publishing. You need
to understand which path makes the most sense for you, and then decisions--such as whether to hire an agent, to
self-publish or even not publish a book at all, but to go with other formats for your information--will become
If, for instance, you're on publishing path #1, an agent contacting you like this
would be a dream come true. Take it!
If you're on Path #2 or #3, then it may not be in your best long-term interest to
run with such a deal.
To find out which publishing path is right
for you, I invite you to listen to a free teleseminar on "Three Paths
to Publishing: Find Your Best Publishing Path" and get the accompanying