I recently received two very similar questions, and rather than answer them separately I thought I’d lump them together.
I received a contract in the mail from a publisher today. I do not have an agent. I queried widely without success prior to submitting the manuscript to a few publishers that accept unagented material. I have a lawyer friend who has reviewed the contract and says it’s pretty standard, but I want (and have always wanted) to work with an agent. The publisher wrote within the offering letter that many elements of the contract are open for negotiation, and I know several items are not worded in my favour and should be changed, but I do not feel qualified to do so.
Should I try to find an agent now? How should I go about doing so? Is it acceptable to contact some of the agents who rejected my query – as these are the people I spent time researching and I know I would like to work with? How do I get my contract offer out of the slush pile?
if you submit your work to a small publisher and they’re interested in publishing the book, is a small press too small for an agent to be interested in representing a new author? Should the author not accept the publisher’s offer if an agent is willing to look at their work and submit it to a large publisher instead?
First off, I think both readers should review the posts I’ve made on similar subjects. If you go to Turn that Deal Around you’ll also see a link to another post that talks about what an agent can do for you if you get an offer from a publisher.
Let me take a stab at these questions. . . .
Whether you get an offer from a small press or a large press there is no guarantee that an agent will want to handle the deal for you. A good agent will want to read the book first before making the decision, to make sure your writing is something she wants to add to her list. That being said, I know there is a myth that goes through writers’ circles not to even bother looking for an agent if it’s a small press because agents aren’t interested in small presses. I’m not sure who started this rumor or why it continues to spread, but it’s just plain ridiculous. Agents are interested in getting good books published and every agent worth her salt knows that sometimes that means going to a small press. We also know that a lot of really great careers start at small presses. Sure, sometimes the money is smaller, but if I’m looking at an author’s work I’m seeing a career, which means, in my mind, the money might start small, but I’m seeing bigger things to come.
If a small press deal comes your way, the time to get an agent is the minute you get the offer. Sure, you can pay 15% to negotiate the contract, but typically once the contract is sent you’ve already agreed to a number of terms, including advance, royalties, and territory. These are the big ones and, frankly, these are what an agent will negotiate to make her money. If you have the contract in hand, those are already finalized. If you’ve had a publishing lawyer look over the contract and negotiate on your behalf, you probably don’t need an agent at this point.
As I said in the previous post referenced above, talk to the agent before you accept the offer. Simply let the publisher know you’d like to bring an agent on board and you’ll get back to her. There are a ton of agents out there and it’s unlikely you’ve actually submitted to them all. The other thought to consider is that it’s unlikely they’ve all read your proposal. For those who only rejected on query you might want to go back to them this time to see if the offer pushes them to want to read your work.