A couple of weeks ago, a woman came to me for representation. She had been offered a publishing contract by a small academic publisher who had sent her their contract. When the woman saw the contract, she felt many of its terms were unfair and she went to a friend of hers to ask if she should get an agent. The friend advised that “the purpose of an agent is to bring buyers and sellers together. Once a seller has a buyer, then the agent’s job is basically done.”
Frankly I was stunned, to say nothing of very annoyed. We are not in the real estate business – which is what this person, who happened to be a published author – had made it sound like. In fact, we do a great deal for our clients in addition to selling their books, and, as the business has changed over the years, we seem to be taking on more and more of what the publisher used to do.
First, of course, we help authors develop their idea. In the case of nonfiction, we help them refine their thoughts and produce a book proposal, which we then edit very thoroughly. In the case of fiction, we work with the author to develop and outline and craft a well written, saleable manuscript.
When we have a product that is ready to show, we submit the material to a number of publishers simultaneously and often sell the project in an auction; we negotiate the deal with the publisher and explain everything clearly to the author, advising him or her on what we think s/he should agree to. We collect all monies for the author on signing, on manuscript acceptance and at any other time designated in the contract.
I contact each and every one of my clients currently writing a book at least once a month to make sure everything is going well with their project. Too often, I have found that writers are reluctant to come forward when they are in trouble in one way or another.-Several years ago, for example, I found out that one of our novelists’ mother was dying of ovarian cancer. This was slowing her down, understandably, and I had to inform the publisher. As it turns out, the book was over a year late, but I was able to work the new deadline out with the publisher and the result was a brilliant novel. On another, more recent occasion, my client found out she had breast cancer and was reluctant to tell anyone until I called. Again, the delivery of her manuscript was easily postponed.
Of course, when there is a problem of any kind with the publisher, I am there to intervene and be the buffer between the two so that their working relationship can remain a good one.
Once the manuscript is turned in, I make sure the editing and acceptance moves along. Sometimes, we even get involved in the editing process if we feel the publisher is not doing their job. I find out the publishing schedule for the writer and make sure, when there is a cover and page design, that the client has a “say” in how everything looks.
I get the promotion, publicity and advertising projections from the publisher and discuss them with the author if I don’t think enough is planned (and more often than not these days I find myself trying to help the author supplement inadequate publishing plans for the book). In addition, I sometimes work with the publisher on finding the appropriate month in which to publish, especially when my client and I feel the publisher hasn’t given that a great deal of thought.
I review all royalty statements and query the publisher when I see anything my client or I think is unclear or wrong. (Publishers keeping too much money in reserve for returns is a typical example of something we catch often.)
And there are other miscellaneous “above and beyond” situations that always arise: the time I had to have a member of our staff edit one of out novelists’ novels because the “editor” felt it was “finished” and we knew it wasn’t; the time one of our food clients was nominated for an important award and I had to fly across the country to be there with her to make sure she was okay no matter which way it went; the time another client really needed me at her publishing party in LA and I went and returned home in 24 hours. These were all important things to my clients; as a result, they became a priority of mine as well.
After that first book is successfully published, we go on to work with the author on what kind of strategy to use in submitting his or her next idea.
So, in our case at least, my new client’s friend was wrong. Or maybe she was talking about the real estate business...