You might find it impossible not to be...
J.A. Konrath, author of the popular Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels mystery series, is currently on virtual tour promoting his new standalone horror thriller Afraid. Afraid will arrive in stores March 31, published under the pseudonym Jack Kilborn. I’ve read the first few chapters, and can honestly say I've never been more creeped out. If you’re looking for white-hot jolts of marrow-zapping electric fear, Afraid promises to deliver.
Joe Konrath has always been a champion for writers trying to break into the business, and you can find a slew of useful tips on his website and blog. Today, he has been kind enough to stop here and share some wisdom on the subject of landing a literary agent.
As most of you know, agents are sort of the intermediaries in the publishing process. A typical scenario would be for a beginning writer to finish his or her book, revise it until it shines, and then start sending letters (called queries) to agents. If an agent agrees to represent the writer, s/he will then submit the manuscript to publishers for consideration. Agents typically work for 15%-20% commission.
There are agents who blog, and most literary agencies have their own websites, but I thought it might be nice to get a successful author's perspective. So, without further ado, allow me to introduce author J. A. Konrath.
First of all, Joe, thanks so much for stopping by.
I’m happy to be here, Jude.
Why do writers even need agents? Wouldn’t it make more sense for writers to submit directly to publishers, thereby keeping all the money from advances and royalties for themselves?
There are multiple answers to that question. First off, many of the big publishers don’t accept unagented submissions. In case you hadn’t noticed, everyone and their brother has a book they want to sell. Hell, my dog is working on a manuscript (it’s called A Paws In Silence.)
Publishers have appointed agents as gatekeepers, using them to vet out the crap. A good agent only submits good books, which save the publisher a lot of time.
Secondly, agents do more than sell your book. In fact, they don’t actually sell your book at all. They sell the rights for a publisher to print and distribute your book for a certain length of time.
Let me repeat that, for all the newbies out there. You don’t need to register a copyright for your recently completed opus. You own the rights automatically. Then an agent sells those rights to different companies.
Besides North American rights, that cover the US and Canada, an agent will try to sell to many other countries as well. They’ll also try to sell book club rights, movie rights, TV rights, theatrical rights, first serial rights, among others.
Finally, a good agent does more than sell your stuff. They keep track of who owes you money, make sure you get the best contract possible, offer career advice, and often work with you to improve your manuscript.
Not a bad deal for just 15% of your income.
Good points. Well worth the commission, I think. So, when should a writer start shopping for an agent? How did you know you were ready?
When you have a perfect, polished, marketable manuscript.
What exactly do you mean by marketable?
Marketable means it has a pre-existing audience. If you walk into a Barnes & Noble, you’ll notice the books are all divided into sections. Make sure your book fits into one of those sections.
Was it easy for you to find an agent?
It was easy as pie. But this particular pie took twelve years to bake. During that time I wrote nine unsold books and got over five hundred rejections.
There’s a word for a writer who never gives up. Published.
I agree. Persistence is crucial. What if an agent agrees to represent you, but insists on charging upfront fees. Is this ever a good idea?
It’s a great idea for the agent. I may give it a try. Agents don’t need any sort of license or accreditation, so anyone can claim to be one.
So I’m going to place an ad in a magazine, calling myself an agent, and asking for a $25 reading fee.
If I can get 200 people a month to submit, I’m making a pretty decent living without having to sell a thing. Then if I charge these people an extra $20 a month for office supplies, or phone calls, I could be earning six figures a year, preying on newbie writers.
Or a better bet is to only submit manuscripts to agents you belong to the Association of Author’s Representatives, who follow a strict canon of ethics which states they charge zero fees. You can find them at www.aar-online.org.
Where are some other good places to look for reputable agents?
Besides the AAR, there are two yearly books, The Writer’s Market and Jeff Herman’s Guide.
But the best way to find an agent is to meet one in person. Go to a writer’s conference where agents are taking pitches, then pitch to them.
Once you sign with an agent, are you pretty much guaranteed to become published?
No. Agents sell maybe five to ten percent of the projects they take on. But a good agent will continue to build you, nurture you, and stick with you until a sale is made.
Afraid is a rather dramatic departure from your first five novels, the aforementioned Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels series. Was your detour into the horror genre something you discussed with your agent before you wrote the book?
My agent suggested it. I’d always wanted to do a horror novel, and had a lot of fan mail asking me to do so. I pitched her a concept, she liked it, and a few years later I had a horror novel, and a contract for another one.
Where do you think you would be in your career right now if you had never landed a literary agent?
I’d be asking you if you want fries with your burger. I’d also suggest pie for dessert. Mmmmm. Pie.
Man, all this talk about pie is making me hungry. Is there anything you would like to add in closing?
I’m all about helping newbie authors, because publishing is a difficult business to break into, and real professional advice is hard to come by. My blog and website are full of information about agents, writing, editing, marketing, and promotion. Best of all, they're free.
Now please rush right out and buy 17 copies of all of my books. Do it now, before you forget.
Thanks again to J.A. Konrath for stopping by and sharing his insights. Coming soon, a full review of his newest novel, Afraid, right here on this blog. So stay tuned!