By Writing Excuses | July 24, 2011 - 6:10 pm - Posted in Business, Career, Editing, Submitting

Agent Sara Crowe joins Dan and Howard again to talk about what an agent does. This simple, off-the-cuff episode offers a nice, inside look into what a literary agent can offer you, your manuscript, and your career.

Sara Crowe represents both Dan Wells and his brother Robison Wells. You can find her on Twitter at saraagent.

There’s no book-of-the-week this week. Audible only needs four of these per month from us, and five episodes will air in July. Listen for a book-of-the-week in Episode 9 on July 31st.

Writing Prompt: Your agent is actually a warlock using magic to make your book sell. Unfortunately, something about your book means this process is going to go horribly, horribly wrong.

This entry was posted on Sunday, July 24th, 2011 at 6:10 pm and is filed under Business, Career, Editing, Submitting. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

23 Comments

  1. July 24, 2011 @ 8:25 pm


    Excellent info. Thanks.

    All I have to do now is get an agent.

    Posted by Tony
  2. July 24, 2011 @ 9:30 pm


    I felt like this podcast had more solid information about what an agent can do, than any book will share. While some things, like making a book go to auction, are little more than dreams for most, it’s good to have an idea of what’s involved.

    Very informative and a joy to listen to.

    Posted by Len Berry
  3. July 24, 2011 @ 10:10 pm


    I understand german. So i think i’d like to read said book. Who’s publishing it book in germany and what will it be called “schwarzer Dunkleheit”?

    Posted by Tennyson
  4. July 24, 2011 @ 11:19 pm


    Excellent podcast. Many thanks to Sara for making herself available.

    Whether it’s best to go with an agent or go alone certainly depends on a writer’s goals, their temperament for the business side of writing, and the current state of their career. While I see the advantages that having an agent can bring, I wonder if there’s a certain threshold below which it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to partner with an agent.

    Since agents get paid a percentage of any contracts signed, and since their business depends primarily on cultivating long term relationships with editors, there’s a point of marginal returns where they have more incentive to side with an editor than to fight for an author. For example, if the offered advance is $10k, pushing to get the advance up to $12k is only going to earn the agent another $300. If a significant percentage that agent’s stable is signed with that editor, that agent may not be inclined to risk their relationship with that house by fighting for a higher advance–not because it’s in the author’s interests, but because it’s in the agent’s interests.

    This is one possible scenario that worries me. Another is that an agent’s feedback, while well-meaning, might lean so far on the commercial aspect that it kills the story. While it’s true that good stories sell the best, they also tend to take risks and be dangerous in ways that make their success harder to predict. I worry that by revising for an agent, I might not improve the quality of my manuscript so much as turn it into a clone of the latest bestseller, which may or may not be in the interests of the story.

    As someone whose heart is in a smaller niche genre that isn’t likely to see any break-away bestsellers anytime soon (space opera), I don’t know whether it makes sense for me to get an agent until I’ve built an audience, made a name for myself, and have other things that I can leverage when I come to the table. Besides, I have a much more entrepreneurial spirit and actually enjoy the business side of writing and publishing.

    Posted by Joe Vasicek
  5. July 25, 2011 @ 6:30 am


    @Joe Vasicek

    “I don’t know whether it makes sense for me to get an agent until I’ve built an audience, made a name for myself, and have other things that I can leverage when I come to the table.”

    That is the goal for me, not getting an agent just to have one.

    Posted by Tony
  6. July 25, 2011 @ 6:44 am


    Dan said that he didnt know all the legalese, that is why he needed an agent…

    Erm…That is why you need a lawyer (preferably an IP one). One you pay to simply check on everything you do, your agent does, etcetera.

    Trusting an agent to act as the sole guardian of your best interest is like asking an accountant to handle all of your business dealings. If you have a good one, you are in the gold, if you have a bad one, you will end up begging on the corner.

    For example see: http://kriswrites.com/2011/06/01/the-business-rusch-agents-surviving-the-transition-part-3/

    Posted by TW
  7. July 25, 2011 @ 8:50 am


    @Joe
    The concerns you raise with an agent are only really concerns if you have a bad agent. I honestly cannot imagine a scenario where a good agent will hurt your career, no matter what stage your career may be in. That said, finding a good agent is the whole trick.

    Posted by Dan Wells
  8. July 25, 2011 @ 11:59 am


    @Joe –

    Your criticisms are shown to be spot-on with regard to real estate agents, but the difference with that is that you’re only selling one house.

    While it may be true that an agent will have an incentive to get a $10k deal today instead of maybe $12k in 2 months because of a marginal return to them, that seems to be more than mitigated by things like auctions, foreign sales, and knowing what other rights to fight for that you would miss on your own. And honestly, an agent would be stupid if they didn’t try to maximize the money they get based on the time they put into selling your work.

    Hopefully Dan will chime in if I’m way off base on this.

    Posted by Duke
  9. July 25, 2011 @ 11:59 am


    @Joe –

    Your criticisms are shown to be spot-on with regard to real estate agents, but the difference with that is that you’re only selling one house.

    While it may be true that an agent will have an incentive to get a $10k deal today instead of maybe $12k in 2 months because of a marginal return to them, that seems to be more than mitigated by things like auctions, foreign sales, and knowing what other rights to fight for that you would miss on your own. And honestly, an agent would be stupid if they didn’t try to maximize the money they get based on the time they put into selling your work.

    Hopefully Dan will chime in if I’m way off base on this.

    Posted by Duke
  10. July 25, 2011 @ 1:13 pm


    For clarification: note that I know nothing about the publishing process (aside from what I’ve heard in these podcasts and have read in the standard “how to write” books and have never published anything. Also, the first thing that I let out into the wild will be self-published under a pseudonym since it’s pretty much a joke/bet deal (that I’ll be certain to let you all in on) that I would be ashamed to have to harass an agent with.

    Posted by Duke
  11. July 25, 2011 @ 1:55 pm


    Off Topic: Congratulations for the appearance on LifeHacker. http://lifehacker.com/5824294/what-are-your-favorite-podcasts

    On Topic: Sara is great. 15 minutes, well spent. Thanks.

    Posted by John Waverly
  12. July 25, 2011 @ 2:38 pm


    Another great ‘cast, though, as usual, I always want more. I’ve been reading some scary stuff about the boilerplate contract changes and how many rights the publishers are now trying to get – the life of copyright one in particular is especially scary.

    General question: – do you guys work out who’s going to do the writing prompt in advance, or is it whoever manages to ask the other guy first? ^_^

    Posted by Laurie
  13. July 25, 2011 @ 3:55 pm


    @Laurie: regarding the writing prompt, the process varies. When we’re recording in batches (like the many sessions we did with Mary, which you’ve not heard the last of , no not for months) we’ll often pass the batons for coming up with a writing prompt and coming up with a book-of-the-week, so that when we get to that point in the cast nobody is surprised.

    Just as often, however, Brandon will ambush one of us. Or if we’ve got a guest, we’ll ambush the guest.

    This time around I believe I signaled Dan that I had a writing prompt and he’d be taglining us out. If any of you folks in comment-land were present at the live recording, maybe you recall the hand gestures. Or maybe you were too busy watching Sara, and missed the subtle, silent interchange that defined the parameters for the last two minutes of the ‘cast.

    Yes, there are a LOT of subtle, silent interchanges when we record these. The hand signs for “don’t pick me, I’ve got nothin'” and “ooh ooh pick me pick me pick MEEEEE” get used a lot. Brandon usually ignores them.

    Posted by Howard Tayler
  14. July 25, 2011 @ 8:21 pm


    Duke’s comment is close. The reason a literary agent is going to be more trustworthy than a real estate agent is that a real estate agent is only selling you one house, while a literary agent is embedding him or herself in your entire career. If you don’t think your agent is working hard enough for your interests, you get another agent; the lazy agent who accepts 10k instead of 12k, as in your example, is losing out on a lot more than $300, he’s losing out on your entire career as a writer. Writers invest their time and energy in your career, and unless you’re planning to remain 100% self-published, they will help further that career significantly.

    Posted by Dan Wells
  15. July 26, 2011 @ 12:18 am


    True, but like you said, finding a good agent is the trick, and with blogging and social networking, may be a whole lot harder than finding and connecting directly with an audience of readers. If you’re not interested in breaking in with a traditional publisher, how much help is an agent really going to be?

    And let’s leave aside agents-as-publishers–those are a whole other beast entirely, and the conflict of interest issues are such that I wouldn’t want to have anything to do with them.

    Posted by Joe Vasicek
  16. July 27, 2011 @ 4:15 am


    I think you’re right in that if you have no interest in traditional publishing an agent isn’t neccessary. My question would be why? A lot of people seem to have this idea lately that they will buck the status quo and go it alone to great success. I find this curious. I maintain a decently heavy presence on social media. I follow a lot of author’s blogs, writer’s blogs, and reviewer’s blogs. I am on many writing sites. I read 2-5 books per week.

    What’s all of this leading up to?

    I’ve purchased exactly one self published ebook from Amazon. I even chose a well reviewed one. It was terrible. Absolutely terrible. The worst part is there were a million others and I had never heard of any of them. Fool me once…

    Can people make it self publishing? Some are, but compared to the vast majority out there, traditional publishing still seems to be the best route. I mean, there’s enough bad published books out there that managed to make it past agents and editors who look at literally hundreds of manuscripts a year. Why remove even that filter?

    On topic, I really enjoyed this podcast. I think this gives a good basis for why an agent is neccessary. I believe Dan said previously that he makes his bread and butter from foreign sales. That’s something that is nearly impossible to achieve on your own. Also, if you’re looking to make writing a career, I can’t imagine doing all of that grunt work and still producing quality work at a quick pace.

    I would love to see some podcasts focusing more on the business side of writing, i.e. healthcare, incorporation, tax filing, etc.

    Great stuff, keep it up please!

    Posted by fireflyz
  17. July 27, 2011 @ 1:32 pm


    That was a fascinating podcast. My respect for agents grows ever stronger!

    Posted by Jane
  18. July 28, 2011 @ 6:46 pm


    and despite someone’s best efforts to keep LiveJournal down… A transcript!

    http://wetranscripts.livejournal.com/47590.html

    Posted by Mike Barker
  19. July 29, 2011 @ 12:53 am


    An attempt at the writing prompt. Spent more time on it than I had intended. As normal. Thanks guys.

    Posted by Nate
  20. July 29, 2011 @ 3:19 am


    Kristine Kathryn Rusch actually advises not to get an agent at this time: http://www.adventuresinscifipublishing.com/2011/06/aisfp-124-kristin-kathryn-rusch-and-scifi-trivia/

    Posted by tam
  21. July 29, 2011 @ 9:54 am


    @Dan @Joe and @Duke, To me the argument against real estate agents has the same flaw as the argument against literary agents.

    A real estate agent isn’t selling just one house. They have built their career selling lots of houses and will need to continue to sell lots of houses so that they can keep eating. Just like literary agents, real estate agents build their client list mostly via networking and word of mouth. So it’s in the agent’s (real or literary) best interest to do as good a job as possible.

    I would never choose a real estate agent at random without first asking around to check their reputation. I wouldn’t do it with a literary agent either.

    As an author I am an expert on my story, but I’m not an expert in grammar, spelling, marketing, foreign sales, movie rights, audiobook rights, or any other aspect of book publishing. Could I become knowledgeable in those areas? Sure. I’m pretty smart. I know how to read, so I can learn to do anything I want. But every hour I spend learning about how to sell books to german publishers is another hour that I’m not writing.

    At some point you have to realize that it’s ok to pay other people to do something for you that they are experts at. I know how to grow my own food, but I still shop at the grocery store. I know basic construction, but I paid someone else to build my house. I know how to solder, but I bought this computer from a store. There are just too many other things I want to do with my time for me to try to become an expert in everything.

    If I wanted to become an expert in selling books, I’d have become an agent, not an author.

    Posted by Lee Falin
  22. July 29, 2011 @ 11:59 pm


    I recently started listening to this podcast on Zune Marketplace, i love it, very informative and helpful, however lately is getting more difficult to ignore the fact that one of the memebers (i think is Brandon but not 100% sure) is often saying uh, umm, uh, ummm, uhh, ummm when talking sometimes as often as every 2 or 3 words, it is really distracting, and annoying. I’m not sure why it bothers uh me so umm much, but uh, i doubt im the uh, only one who umm notices it. Ive learned so much already, I mean no disrespect at all, its just very distracting and annoying like the toilet running when youre trying to watch a movie or go to sleep. Does this bother anyone else, or Im I uh, making too much of a umm big deal of it? what the reason he does this so much?

    Thanks, good job, NO disrespect.

    Posted by Paul S
  23. August 5, 2011 @ 8:18 am


    [...] 6.8: What an Agent Does – always good to hear more about agents, especially when you’re looking for one! [...]