An Agent’s Role in Publishing Paid Me

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: May 12 2022

I think an agent’s number one job is to have the hard conversations. It’s to let a publisher know when they’ve really fallen off the mark with a cover. When cover copy is just plain boring and, most importantly, when the offer they’re making is not at all what they would be paying if the author were a white man. In past conversations about publishing paid me, authors have been wonderfully transparent about what sort of advances they’ve been receiving. And it’s of no surprise to anyone that white male authors lead the way by thousands, likely tens of thousands of dollars.

A reader asked what role an agent plays in specifically the gender pay gap. I chose to broaden that conversation.

Show Me the Money…the Job of an Agent

It is 100% the job of an agent to fight for your value. This includes not just the advance the author is getting paid, but also the royalties and other rights. This means negotiating. Sometimes fearfully, but never driven by fear.

No agent should ever accept the first offer made. No author should ever accept an agent who isn’t negotiating on their behalf.

An agent should understand the market and be able to say to you, I hear your concerns and I’ll negotiate the hell out of this and also, I know what the market is supporting now and I know what you deserve based on that.

An agent’s role in the conversation about publishing paid me is to be on the front lines of change.

2 responses to “An Agent’s Role in Publishing Paid Me”

  1. Avatar Dani Gold says:

    Hi, I love your blog and thank you for the transparency as ever. I have a question if you get chance to answer, I’d hugely appreciate it and understand if not. It’s so confusing because all we ever hear about are the six figure deals or the times where p.o.c or women were paid less. It’s impossible to understand what ‘normal is’ and where the ‘power’ lies as it’s such a closed industry. Authors STILL don’t talk about their wages openly – and I was told recently by a UK agent that it is possible to receive anywhere from £4,000 per title at the start of a career in thrillers. Who decides how much a MS is worth I guess? Does the market decide the value of a MS or is it down to an agent’s past success and contact list with publishing houses?

    • Hi there! I hope you don’t mind that I (a literary assistant) respond! We’re always glad to hear when people find the blog helpful 🙂 You’re definitely right that so much of the financial part of the industry is opaque. From my understanding, the acquiring editor at the publishing house and their team will decide how much they think a manuscript is worth based on several (market) factors. Their relationships with agents could technically be a factor (maybe they think the agent picks manuscripts with the “it” factor), but primarily the agent’s role in deciding how much the MS can get is in the negotiation. The agent has to know what kinds of deals their agency has gotten with the publisher in the past, what comparable books have sold for and how they performed, whether their client could be impacted by their identity as an author of color or as a woman and how to advocate for them, and what to negotiate for (royalty rates, subrights, etc.). But even well-established or “successful” agents take and celebrate those $4,000 deals because they’re fairly standard for some markets! Hope this helps clear some things up 🙂