Working with an Agent

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Sep 29 2011

I do not have a U.S. literary agent, but I do have an agent in Turkey who approached me a few months ago. At that time, she said she had a publisher seriously interested in one of my novels, and has now offered it to multiple publishers in Turkey. She says she is close to making a deal. My question is whether there is a commission involved when the author hasn’t “hired” the agent, rather, the foreign agent is working on the author’s behalf sort of in the background.

What concerns me most about this question, and the many similar questions I have received through the years, is the author who jumps into a deal or an agreement without asking any questions. These aren’t questions you should be asking me, but questions you should be asking your agent.

My answer, though, is of course there’s a commission involved. The agent is not working to sell your book because she loves to sell books, it’s a job for her and she will expect to get paid a percentage of the sale and royalties. Typically with foreign rights sales she will seek somewhere between 10% and 20%, depending on how many people are involved, but that’s a question you’ll have to ask her. And note, this is the way an agent works. She’s not working in the background, she’s working to sell your book as any agent would do.


13 responses to “Working with an Agent”

  1. Avatar ryan field says:

    I think this is interesting because publishing seems to be going so global these days. I work with two editors in London, and one in Canada. A lot of excellent book reviewers are now popping up in other parts of Europe. And since the advent of e-books, readers from all over the world who didn't have access to most books are now in touch with authors regularly.

  2. Interesting, because when I first started reading that it made me wonder if there was scam potential here with someone pretending to be an agent and stealing manuscripts.

  3. Avatar Elissa M says:

    I, too, thought it could be some kind of scam at first, but not to steal manuscripts. I wondered if the author was paying any money upfront. It's hard for me to believe any writer wouldn't know all agents work on commission (whether they're selling books or real estate). But I also find it odd that an agent would contact an author out of the blue, and that the author apparently didn't ask any questions or sign any contract. This is an informative post in many ways.

  4. Avatar jfaust says:

    Actually this doesn't have scam written all over it. It's not uncommon for a foreign agent to contact agents or authors after reading a deal in Publishers Marketplace or reading or hearing about a successful book. With more and more authors self-publishing this is likely to become more common.

    There are definitely key pieces of information missing. The biggest is who the agent is and who she works for, but working without a contract, with foreign agents, isn't uncommon at all. In fact, most of the agents we work with overseas we don't have contracts with.

    The problem is that we're missing a great deal of information because the author doesn't have it. Could it be a scam? Anything can be, but you have more potential to get scammed because you aren't asking questions not because of the way the situation is necessarily set up.


  5. Fascinating. I would have been uber worried if said scenario would have happened to me. That’s why Bookends rocks!

    Gusto Dave

  6. What I find odd, is that this author isn't asking these questions of her agent.

    But, I'm glad he/she asked the question of you; it's good info for the back pocket.

  7. I think people are fearing it's a scam because there's so little information in the original letter. How did this agent find the author/manuscript? We're probably all assuming the author is unpublished because most of us are still aspiring for that goal, but even if he/she is published, the information we have makes it sound like the agent just seized the book and started sending it to publishers without negotiating any sort of contract with the author. It could all be perfectly legit, but the lack of information in the letter is enough to make imaginations run wild.

  8. Avatar girlseeksplace says:

    This has scam written all over it.

  9. Avatar Lucy says:

    That is definitely interesting. Thanks, Jessica!

  10. Avatar Angie says:

    I find this is interesting because I live in Europe.

    What I've gleaned from this fantastic blog and other places is that the publishing industry that most talk about is in the US and specifically NY. It has its own pulse and seems to evolve at the speed of light. It is almost it's own niche but a huge one in the world. I say that because when I look at the titles on the shelves in the big local book stores I see that chic lit is just becoming fashionable and no one has heard of Steampunk or other hot genres. Only recently ( like this summer) the French media started talking about YA as a new literary genre.

    Many people where I live don't even know what a kindle is and I don't live in Turkey. I can see an author being approached by an agent in a country like Turkey because if the author is foreign then she is well known in the local expat community.

    When I read your post , limitations of common knowledge I thought about what I just said.

  11. Avatar Jen Daiker says:

    This is something I'm seeing more and more. Foreign agents coming in and seeing potential for greatness in their country. I think it's a beautiful opportunity, but you're right, they should feel confident enough to ask those questions to the person that will be helping them sell their book.

  12. Avatar ryan field says:

    "It's not uncommon for a foreign agent to contact agents or authors after reading a deal in Publishers Marketplace or reading or hearing about a successful book."

    You're right. It happens all the time. And it's usually legit.

  13. Avatar Nicole says:

    As long as she doesn't ever ask for any money upfront. If that were to change, I'd say run very fast in the other direction.