One of the great joys of being part of the Indie Revolution in publishing is meeting people with enthusiasm and vision. A great example is Laurie McLean, an agent at Larsen Pomada Literary Agents in San Francisco, who represents adult genre fiction (romance, fantasy, science fiction, horror, nouveau westerns, mysteries, suspense, thrillers) as well as middle-grade and young-adult children’s books. She looks for great writing, first and foremost, followed by memorable characters, a searing storyline and solid world building.
Additionally, Laurie is the dean of the new San Francisco Writers University at www.SFWritersU.com and is on the management team of the San Francisco Writers Conference. In 2012, Laurie started two ePublishing companies: Joyride Books (publishes out of print vintage romance novels) and Ambush Books (publishes out of print tween and teen children’s books). Recently, she conducted a webinar on the Author Learning Center, titled Agent Secrets. Based on that interview, I put together questions I thought her audience might identify with; my questions and her answers are below.
What qualities should an author look for in an agent? An author should interview an agent as they would a publicist, a printer or any other business partner, and not be star-struck to the point of accepting the first agent who offers representation. I believe an author should find an agent with the following characteristics; integrity, wisdom, knowledge (which is different from wisdom), a strong work ethic, a personality fit (this will become even more important as your career develops) and a personal commitment to their profession, because agents should be developing their careers too. It’s advice we give to all our clients, so we should do it to, and a professional relationship with you, not just a friend, but a business partner.
What makes a great client/agent relationship? It helps when you enter a relationship to know what you want to get out of it, and to be able to articulate this to your agent business partner. Do you want someone who will hold your hand, or a shark who will get you the last dime possible from a book contract? They’re not usually the same person. Do you want an editing agent to help you polish your work prior to submitting to editors, or do you want a strict business oriented agent who will concentrate solely on pitching your work and negotiating deals on your behalf? Do you want someone who is fun to work with, or do you prefer a no-nonsense, results oriented personality? Once you build your profile for what you want in an agent, you improve the probability that the agent who becomes your partner will work out well long-term.
Where do I find agents? Well, you can research agents by reading their agency’s website. Almost every agent I know has a website. Ours is www.Larsen-Pomada.com, and my blog is www.agentsavant.com. This will tell you what I’m looking for, give you insight into my personality, and show you what I’ve been successful selling. Most agent websites will offer similar information. Also, understand what literary agents can and cannot do for you. My colleague, Michael Larsen, has written the definitive book on agents, called How to Get a Literary Agent. Simple, buy this book, borrow it or pick it up at the library. It’s a fabulous tool that will educate you on the literary agent profession and how we can help you build a career as an author. You can also understand the publishing process and commit to it. I am looking for authors who write at least one book a year for at least ten years. A rule of thumb in genre fiction is that takes about five novels to build a significant fan base. Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series didn’t take off until book number five. Laurel K. Hamilton scored big on book number nine, and after that happened for each of them, the rest of the books—the previous books in the series—all became best-sellers too. I want a commitment from my clients that they are in it for the long haul, and I’ll make the same commitment back to them.
What does an agent charge? Basically an agent collects 15% of any deal they negotiate for a client as the total payment for their services. For foreign deals or movie, television and stage deals, which are called dramatic rights, they may charge 20%, which is split with a co-agent, so your agent will get 10% and the co-agent would get 10%. An agent is also entitled to reimbursement for nominal out of pocket fees incurred in the process of attempting to sell your work. Some agents, myself included, consider postage, phone charges, copying and other minor out of pocket expenses just a cost of doing business, and we don’t charge clients for these costs, but other agents do, so it is important to find out what the policies of the agency where your agent works are. Know the expense reimbursement policy of the agency whose services you are hiring before signing a contract. If it isn’t stated in writing in the contract, put it in as an addendum. If you can’t live with what an agency charges for expenses incurred on your behalf, don’t sign the contract, and never, ever, pay an agent reading fees. This is the big tip off that they are not legitimate.