"Agents: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" with Linda George

Thursday, October 4, 2001

Moderator is Kristi Holl, author of 24 books, 150+ articles, and the web editor for this site.

Linda is Linda George, author of more than 30 books, fiction and nonfiction, plus articles and stories for publications like Writer's Digest and The Writer. She has books with a number of publishers, including Harlequin Historicals, plus she's published two novels on Linda publishes a free newsletter with articles, conference information, and marketing tips called "Linda's Heart." If you'd like to subscribe, send her an e-mail at with Subscribe in the subject line.

Names color coded in blue are visitors who asked questions.

Interviews occur on Thursday nights: 9-11 p.m. Atlantic/Canada, 8-10 p.m. Eastern, 7-9 Central, 6-8 Mountain, and 5-7 Pacific

Moderator: Good evening, everyone! Welcome to tonight's interview with Linda George on the subject of "Agents: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly"! I'm Kristi Holl, your moderator and the web editor for this site. Linda has published over 30 books and had seven agents, so she is well qualified to speak on this subject! Welcome, Linda!

Linda: Hello! Welcome, everyone!

Moderator: Linda, could you first give us an overview of your publishing history? How long have you been writing and what types of things have you had published?

Linda: I decided in 1979 to pursue my dream of writing professionally. I took the basics course from ICL, then the book writing course. I made my first three magazine sales during the basics course. In January, I'll have been a professional writer 23 years. My husband, Chuck, and I have written 38 books in the past 5 years alone, mostly YA and children's nonfiction. I write for Harlequin Historicals as Madeline George, and I've had two novels published by Deep South Press. Right now, I'm working on two middle-grade novels and another historical for HH. Chuck and I are instructors for ICL. I teach the basics course and the book writing course. I love sharing what I've learned about writing professionally.

Moderator: At what point did you decide to get your first agent?

Linda: I happened onto my first agent at a conference in the early 1980s. I was pitching a book to an editor and told her I had 8 novels finished. "You need an agent!" she said and introduced me to the first one she saw. The agent assumed the editor had read my work, but she hadn't. I wasn't ready for an agent then and I terminated our agreement about six months later. Having an agent means being pressured to write, and I wasn't ready to handle that pressure. My next agent loved everything I wrote. Then, she left the agency and the agent who replaced her was unenthusiastic about my work. An agent is one person with one opinion—just as an editor is one person with one opinion. When you have an agent, you ultimately have to please two people who may have very different opinions of your work. After dealing with 7 agents, I decided I'd rather stick to the editor and his opinion and not try to please an agent, too.

Moderator: You've had seven agents in the past. Do you have one now?

Linda: I don't have an agent now. About 18 months ago, Chuck and I terminated our agreement with Agent #7 because we wanted to write something other than what she prefers to represent. She didn't like reading romance novels and didn't really like children's/YA nonfiction. She preferred representing SF/F fiction and mysteries. Since our goals were different, we decided she wasn't the best agent for us at this time in our writing careers. We parted amicably. Since she negotiated our books with royalties, those royalties still go to her, she deducts her commission, and sends us the rest. We'll be hearing from her twice a year for several more years. There are no hard feelings between us, and that's essential if we're to get our royalties in a timely manner after she receives them from the publisher. Some publishers will agree to issue two checks—one to the author and one to the agent—but it's a struggle to get them to agree to it.

Moderator: Do you have to have an agent (at least for a while) to be a successful professional writer?

Linda: No. You don't have to have an agent to be successful as a writer. In fact, you may sell more of your work without an agent! Why? Because agents are busy people with many clients. They have to take care of contracts and submissions and follow-up calls for all their clients. If you're sending out your own manuscripts, you have only one writer to take care of—you! And no one will ever represent your manuscripts with more enthusiasm than you will.

Moderator: When do you need an agent?

Linda: Agents are experts at reading contracts, spotting sections or clauses that are primarily in the publisher's favor, and negotiating changes so the contract will be more favorable to the writer. If you can learn to read contracts and negotiate changes, you'll save the agent's commission. In some cases, the agent will negotiate better deals for you and more than earn her commission. If you aren't comfortable reading and negotiating contracts, then having an agent is definitely a good thing for you. And, if there's ever a dispute with an editor, your agent talks to the editor and works things out so you don't have to do it.

Moderator: When do you NOT need an agent?

Linda: Some publishers have "boilerplate" contracts that cannot be altered by anyone—not even a shrewd agent. When this is the case, having an agent won't get you more money or a higher percentage of royalties, yet the agent still earns her commission for reading the contract and trying to get changes made. If you're writing for magazines, you don't need an agent. Agents rarely handle magazine submissions because the payment for stories and articles isn't enough to compensate the agent for the time spent on the submission.

thornbird: What is a boilerplate contract?

Linda: A boilerplate contract is a basic contract--for a first book.

Moderator: When is having an agent worse than not having one? How do agents differ in their approach to marketing (both good and bad)?

Linda: I work best when I can talk to editors at conferences, pitch books or series of books, and, essentially, sell the books myself. The first six agents I had weren't comfortable with me talking directly to editors and selling on my own. They wanted me to do the writing while they did the submissions and selling. As a result, not one of those agents sold a single book for me. Actually, my seventh agent never sold a book for me, either. She negotiated contracts for more than 30 books I sold myself. You must find an agent who is comfortable and supportive of the way you want to market your work. Otherwise, you're leaving your success in the hands of someone who will never be as diligent and enthusiastic about marketing your work as you will.

AnneKelly: Do all agents work like that? I mean...they don't want you to sell a book on your own or won't allow it?

Linda: Each agent has his/her own preferences. Some like to do all the selling while others are okay with the author selling. You have to ask each agent what he/she prefers.

JaciRae: So if you're shy or can't go to conferences, an agent would be the most help?

Linda: Yes. conferences are always your best bet when you're looking for an agent or editor. You don't have to be outgoing to attend a conference. You just have to be there! Then, you can write to the editor and say, "I enjoyed hearing you speak at the conference. Please find enclosed..." and the editor will know you were there and give your submission extra consideration.

james55clinton: Can you have one book represented by one agent and another book by the other at the same time?

Linda: Yes, if you don't mind juggling two or more agents. Personally, I found one agent at a time to be enough to juggle!

MBVoelker: Is an agent likely to help with foreign rights and lesser known markets? To make sales for these things after the books are sold the first time?

Linda: Yes, the agent handles foreign rights, but you also pay the agent more for foreign sales, generally 20-25%, depending on the agent.

YU: So being unable to attend conferences and not having an agent makes chances pretty slim to be published?

Linda: Not at all! You just have to do more homework than you would if you attended conference. You have to research who's out there and what they handle.

Moderator: Can you expect your agent to act as your editor?

Linda: You should never expect your agent to edit your work. That isn't her job. Her job is to sell your work, negotiate the contract, and get the most money possible. If an agent wants to edit your work before sending it out, look for another agent.

Moderator: Can you expect your agent to act as your mentor or career advisor?

Linda: Agents are interested in their client's careers because the more books the client sells, the more money the agent will make. Unfortunately, agents have a lot of clients—not just you! They're busy, busy, busy, and many times they don't have time to listen to an author's problems with "writer's block" or being unable to meet a deadline. Agents are hired by authors to negotiate contracts and make money for the author. As a result, agents tend to focus on what you've written that can be sold immediately or in the near future to generate money for the agent—and the author, too, of course.

Moderator: How do you decide which agent you could contact when you have a contract in your hand?

Linda: When you have a contract in hand, you'd think any agent would say, "Sure!" to a done deal and easy money. But it doesn't always happen that way. Agents have different specialties. A reputable agent, asked to represent a contract for a book unlike those he usually handles, will refer you to another agent whose specialty matches what you've written. The agent you want to call when you have a contract offer is, preferably, someone you've met at a conference. You've heard her speak, liked what she said, and what you're writing is exactly what she likes to represent. She's been in the business for a good while, belongs to the Association of Authors' Representatives, and isn't afraid to tell you the names of some of her clients or offer referrals from some of those clients. When you talked to her at the conference, you got along well with her, didn't find her arrogant or pushy, and didn't have the urge to punch her in the mouth all the time. I'm not being flippant. A personality clash can mean disaster for your career if the person you don't like is the agent representing your work! If you've never met an agent, you'll have to depend on listings to decide which one might be the agent to call. Generally, on a first book deal, your agent isn't going to get a lot changed on the contract anyway. You won't self-destruct your career if you sign the contract as is. If you feel you must have an agent, call a local writers' group and ask for recommendations. Above all, don't make the decision in a hurry. Some writers think an agent must live in New York to be effective. An editor once told me, "The only difference between an agent in New York and one who lives elsewhere is lunch." Even if they agree on a book over lunch, they go back to their offices and negotiate over the phone. Negotiation is rarely done face to face.

thornbird: How can you find out where conferences are held? If you don't live in a major city?

Linda: Conferences are listed in writers' magazines and on the Internet. Authors Venue offers excellent conferences around the country with specific themes and there are organizations that have conferences once a year, like SouthWest Writers in Albuquerque, and Southeast Writers, whose annual conference is held on St. Simons Island. They're there if you want to find them.

YU: Besides our moderator and our speaker, are there any big name writers who don't have agents?

Linda: Yes! Sandra Brown didn't have an agent for the first 12 years of her career! She only decided to get an agent when she couldn't handle all her contracts and have time to write! Virginia Kroll has written dozens of children's books and thousands of articles and stories and she's never had an agent. You don't have to have an agent to be successful!

Moderator: Who is the employer--the agent or the author? How does that influence how we should act?

Linda: You are the employer. The agent is your employee. You should never beg an agent to represent you. Her enthusiasm about your work makes her valuable to you. If she isn't enthusiastic, you're better off on your own or with another agent.

Moderator: When (if ever) should you call your agent?

Linda: Only when it's an emergency. An emergency is anything that cannot be thought about overnight and a decision made in a day or two. E-mail your agent or leave a message on her answering machine so she can call you back at her convenience. When you have to call, avoid chit-chat. Get immediately to the point, ask your question, then listen carefully to her answer. Your goal is to keep the call as short as possible—two minutes or less if you can manage it. If the call is longer than two minutes, it should be her talking to you for that long, and not the other way around. Never call your agent to "bounce ideas" or brainstorm ideas for books or projects or just to visit.

james55clinton: How often should a selling agent report back on submissions, rejections and prospects?

Linda: Each agent has his/her own preferences about reports. I've had agents who didn't want to be bothered with having to send their clients their rejection letters or tell them when a submission was rejected. I've had others who sent rejection letters and reports once a month. My last agent didn't like sending rejection letters at all because she said she didn't have time for it. I insisted a couple of times, then gave up. I wish I had a copy of those letters so I could see the editor's reaction to the submission.

AnneKelly: Sounds like dealing with a lawyer. The agent is supposed to call you only (unless it's an emergency)?

Linda: Not supposed to....does. Each agent is different, though, and you should ask the agent before you agree to representation how often you can expect reports.

JaciRae: What about just getting a lawyer to look at contracts?

Linda: Lawyers aren't a good choice for book contracts unless they specialize in publishing contracts! Lawyers have specialties, just as agents do. Just any lawyer won't know what to look for or what changes to ask for.

MBVoelker: Don't you need those rejection letters as proof to the IRS that you are running a business and not a hobby? So that you can justify your expenses and your home office deduction?

Linda: Yes. The IRS recognizes you as a professional writer who's trying to sell your work if you have rejection letters to prove that you're actively submitting your work and trying to get it published. Be proud of those rejection letters!

Moderator: Just curious... if you don't get your rejection letters sent to you, do you need other proof of being a professional...or not...for the IRS?

Linda: You only need proof in an audit, which, of course, you want to avoid at all costs. Another proof to the IRS that you're a professional writer is your habit of keeping tickets for everything. Postage, office supplies, computers, etc. are all deductible once your income reaches a certain level. I'd like to tell you what that level is, but I don't know. My accountant does, though, and I trust him to deduct everything I spend on writing as a business expense. The cost of conferences and travel/lodging/meals for those conferences is also deductible. Whenever we go somewhere to do research for a writing projects, our expenses for that trip are deductible. Your accountant should research this issue carefully in order to give you guidelines about what you can deduct and what you can't. The laws change frequently, so it's important to have an accountant who keeps up with the changes.

Moderator: Should you ever pay an agent to represent you before he/she sells your work?

Linda: No. Never agree to pay an agent to represent you, or to critique your work. No exceptions. Some agents charge reading fees. There are differing opinions about this practice. Some reputable agents charge fees to read your manuscript because they're swamped with submissions. But, all agents are swamped with submissions. IN MY OPINION, you'll do better with an agent who isn't so busy she doesn't have time to read your work unless you pay her. If she's that busy, she may not have the time to adequately represent your work. There are exceptions, of course.

Moderator: What fees do agents charge? What's reasonable and what isn't?

Linda: Some agents charge for copying your manuscript before submitting. Or, they may ask you to send them 10 copies. Some may ask you to send postage for submissions—before you're published. Personally, I consider this reasonable, as long as the amount per manuscript submitted doesn't exceed what you'd pay in postage to send it out yourself. My last agent charged me $3 per manuscript for submissions—until the first book was sold. From that point onward, she paid for the submissions from her commission on sales. Some agents never charge anything to submit your work, even before they've earned a commission from the sale of your work to a publisher. Ask before you agree to representation. One agent I ran across charged his clients for phone calls to editors and for trips to New York City to talk to editors on their behalf. He said he didn't charge fees, but phone calls, postage, and travel expenses generally amounted to $1500 a year for each client, which was deducted from royalties or paid by the author if no sales were made. ASK about fees before you agree to representation.

JaciRae: Do you sign contracts with agents so you know about these possible hidden charges?

Linda: Some agents have contracts. Others don't. If your agent doesn't ask you to sign a contract, get in writing (in a letter) what he/she usually charges, so you can have it in writing later, if necessary.

Moderator: What percentage is standard?

Linda: Some big houses still charge only 10%, but the standard fee is generally 15%. Foreign sales may be higher, because a foreign agent may be involved. In those cases, 20% or 25% may be charged, because two agents are splitting the fee. ASK.

Moderator: Do agents always sell your work?

Linda: No. Even though I've had 7 agents, I've sold all 38 of the books we've had published. My agents have never sold a book for me. Also, an agent cannot work miracles with a manuscript that's not up to industry standards. They can only sell a manuscript that would have sold without an agent.

thornbird: Then why would anyone ever use an agent?

Linda: Because reading contracts and understanding them is tough! If you can't understand what you're signing, you could sign away electronic rights, reprint rights...all kinds of rights! If you aren't familiar with what these contracts contain, you need to learn, or have an agent who is good at reading and deciphers them.

JaciRae: How did that happen (you selling all the books before your agent could)? Did the agents know you were doing their marketing for them?

Linda: Yes. I had an agreement with my agent that I would approach editors at conferences or on the phone and pitch books to them. My first 6 agents didn't want me to do this and I lost a lot of years waiting for them to send out my books. Once I found an agent who was okay with my method of marketing, I started to sell books faster than I could write them.

Oma: How do you let your agent know when you have something newly finished to sell?

Linda: Call the agent or e-mail. As easy at that. She'll usually want to read the book before she submits it. My last agent rarely read anything I'd written before I sent it out. She told me she knew my writing was good and didn't have to read it. From what I've heard, she was an exception.

AnneKelly: With each of the seven agents, did you work with each for a specific time frame?

Linda: Hmmm. I'd have to say no. Generally, I stayed with an agent until I got tired of him/her not sending out my books as fast as I would've liked. Remember, agents have a lot of clients, and your book may have to sit on her desk for a week or two before she has time to choose another editor, call that editor to tell her the book is coming, and send it out. You can see quickly how many more submissions you can make of your own work if you aren't waiting on an agent to submit for you. That's why I worked out a way with my last agent to do submissions on my own and talk to editors directly. Once I did this, I sold 36 books in just over 3 years.

Granny Jannie: Can you request your agent notify you of rejections as well as acceptances?

Linda: Certainly. Your agent works for you. She should honor your requests. You need to make sure you have an understanding with the agent BEFORE you agree to representation, how often she's going to notify you about the status of your books--where they are, who's seen them...and the result of the submission...whether or not the editor asked to see something else if she passed on the book she saw.

Moderator: How can you be your own agent?

Linda: Go to conferences. Meet editors. Tell them what you've written that's FINISHED and ready to be sent to them. The editor will give you permission to submit the book—or a partial (a synopsis and 3 chapters). Send the editor exactly what he/she asked to see—no more. On the outside of the envelope, write "Solicited Manuscript" so your submission will go straight to the editor's desk. Do this ONLY if the editor has asked you to send the manuscript. Cheating will get an angry response from the editor and an instant rejection.

Moderator: Why should you go to conferences to meet editors and agents?

Linda: Conferences are where you meet the editors you want to submit your work to. Once you've met the editor, your submission goes straight to his/her desk instead of into the slush pile. Conferences are your most valuable marketing tool. If you attend conferences, you can submit your work without an agent. Once it's on the editor's desk, the work has to stand on its own. No agent can turn an inappropriate or unpublishable manuscript into something an editor will buy.

Moderator: Should you bring your manuscript to the conference to give to an agent? If not, what should you prepare ahead of time?

Linda: You can certainly bring your ms. to the conference, but don't expect any editor to read it at the conference. Occasionally you'll find a REALLY NICE editor who'll say, "Do you have anything with you I could look at?" That's the ONLY time you offer a manuscript to an editor—when he asks to see it. Have the first chapter with you (no need to bring the whole book) when you talk to the editor. If the editor is impressed with the first couple of pages, he'll ask you to send him a partial (3 chapters and a synopsis) or the entire book. Send only what he asks to see and put "Solicited Manuscript" on the envelope.

Moderator: You suggest interviewing agents. What questions should an author ask?

Linda: When interviewing an agent, remember who's hiring who. Ask the agent how long he's been an agent and how many clients he has. Ask for specific names of clients and for referrals. Ask what the agent handles. If it isn't what you want to write, he isn't the right agent for you. My fourth agent had an excellent reputation and had been an agent for more than 10 years. She agreed to handle my YA novels. She didn't want me to talk to editors myself. After two years and no luck, she told me, "Linda, I thought I wanted to start handling children's/YA novels, but I'm not having any luck with yours, so I guess that isn't for me." I was stunned! She'd never handled children's/YA before and didn't know the market well. And, when she sent me the rejections she'd gotten on my novel, I saw three editors who'd asked to see something else by Linda George—but she hadn't sent them my other book! She'd forgotten she had it. This was MY fault. I didn't ask enough questions before we agreed to representation. You want your agent to be so enthusiastic about your writing that she can't wait to submit your work! If you ever hear, "I'm not sufficiently enthusiastic to take this on as a project," say, "Thank you!" Her lack of enthusiasm can spell disaster for getting your work read by editors—and that's the goal!

Moderator: What are some warning signs that you're talking to the wrong agent?

Linda: Lack of enthusiasm for your work is the biggest warning sign of all. After that, charging reading fees or wanting to critique your work for a fee (generally $500-$3500—and no, I'm not kidding) are the biggies. Don't EVER pay an agent to critique your work. She'll usually tell you that paying for her critique means she'll represent you for a year. Why should she work hard to sell your book if she's already earned more than her 15% critiquing it? Another warning sign is someone who doesn't return your calls or e-mails in a timely manner. One to two days is timely, unless she's out of town.

Moderator: What is it that you WANT to hear from an agent?

Linda: You want to hear enthusiasm, expertise about specific editors and the market, and a clear explanation of the fees she charges (postage and copying). You want a clear feeling that you can get along with this person for months or years. Another friend of mine, who's written three New York Times bestsellers, is terrified of her agent. She never calls her because she's afraid she's interrupting her. Her agent has gotten her great deals on her books, but I've never understood why she didn't find an agent she could be comfortable talking to.

Moderator: Where can you find lists of agents that are reputable?

Linda: Agents who are members of the Association of Authors' Representatives is a good place to start. And Jeff Hermann publishes a guide to editors and agents that's also good. The Literary Market Place also lists agents. Study the listings carefully. I once had to threaten to sue an agent to get my manuscripts back after finding out the agent wasn't sending out my books. She was waiting a couple of months, then telling me they were rejected. Again, this was my fault. I didn't ask enough questions. A friend of mine who'd published more than 100 novels when he signed with this agent was also taken in and lost a lot of money. Ask lots of questions. Ask for referrals. Go to conferences and listen to what you hear from other authors about the agents they know.

Moderator: If you want to find an agent, how do you contact him/her? What goes into the query or proposal (or whatever kind of contact you make)?

Linda: Query the agent first. Send a letter telling him who you are, what you've written (it should be COMPLETE!) and that you're seeking representation. If you have publishing credits in magazines or books, include that in the cover letter. Keep the letter to one page. If you want to send a short (3-page) synopsis and the first 5 pages of the manuscript, it's fine to send it with the query letter, but don't send more until the agent asks to see more. Send only what he asks to see. Be sure to send a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) with the submission, just as you would when submitting to an editor.

Moderator: Once you had an agent, what were some signs that things weren't going to work out?

Linda: If your agent forgets what you've submitted and to whom, then he isn't paying enough attention to you as his client. If your agent isn't sending out your manuscripts and simply says, "Include my name in your cover letter and tell the editor to call me if she's interested," then you're doing the submitting yourself, without the advantage of an agency address on the envelope, which gets the submission to the editor's desk, bypassing the slush pile. You can do the same thing without an agent. Meet the editor at a conference, and your submission will go straight to the editor's desk. Agented submissions are generally looked at first by an editor. Solicited manuscripts are next.

Moderator: How long should you give an author/agent relationship before calling it quits?

Linda: It depends on whether or not you're ready to submit your work on your own. If you want another agent, it's unethical to talk to a new agent before terminating your agreement with the current agent. If you must have another agent, be prepared to be unagented for a while before hiring the next agent.

Moderator: If you have an unsatisfactory agent, how do you "fire" him/her?

Linda: Generally, in the agent's contract, there will be a clause that specifies termination procedures. Any books your agent has submitted for you will earn the agent a commission if they sell, even if they sell after termination. Any contracts negotiated by the agent during representation will continue to be handled by the agent, even after termination, which includes royalties and the agent's commission on those royalties. You want your separation from an agent to be as amicable as possible—especially if you're going to be dealing with that agent and receiving royalty checks through his office for years to come. Remember, it's a business relationship, not a friendship. Friendly dealings are great, but you never want to be so close to your agent that you can't fire him. If you've been paying attention, you'll have noticed a common theme in this discussion about agents. Conferences. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to go to writers' conferences where you can meet and talk to editors and agents and authors face to face. You'll learn more at a conference about the business of writing and how to be a professional writer than you'd ever learn anywhere else. I hope I haven't scared you about having an agent. My goal was primarily to convince you that you don't have to have an agent to be a successful professional writer.

james55clinton: What's to prevent someone from declaring a spouse as an agent with letterhead and all?

Linda: Nothing. In fact, I had a friend who did exactly that to get her screenplays noticed. She created an agency, registered as an agent, and even took submissions from writers! She managed to get her screenplay optioned three times for $20,000 each time! She also had an agent friend on the west coast who promised he'd take care of negotiations if she ever got a contract she couldn't handle. Personally, I thought this was a dangerous practice and I declined to have her "represent" me.

JaciRae: I have to ask: exactly what do you say to editors at conferences in order to sell so well? Is it what you say, or your enthusiasm, or both?

Linda: You really don't have to say anything, and that's the beauty of it. You just have to attend the editor's session and sit on the front row and nod and smile so the editor notices you. Then, after the session, you can tell the editor, "I really enjoyed hearing you speak. May I send you something?" Editors at conferences ALWAYS say, "Sure! Remind me in your cover letter that we met at this conference..." Then, when you send the ms., put "Solicited Manuscript" on the outside of the envelope and don't forget to mention the conference in your letter. If you're too shy to say even that much to the editor, just send your manuscript with a cover letter that says you heard him speak, but don't put "Solicited Manuscript" on the envelope unless you actually spoke to him. Editors are NICE PEOPLE!!! They don't bite or frown or growl when you meet them. They're actually the nicest people in publishing, and once you realize they're only people like everyone else, submitting is less intimidating and scary.

thornbird: Are there no rules, laws, etc. that govern who can be an agent?

Linda: No. I'm afraid not. ANYONE can hang up a shingle and be an agent. That's why you have to be careful and ask lots of questions before agreeing to representation. Membership in the AAR is a good sign that the agent is legitimate, but the agent I almost sued was a member of AAR, and I met that agent at a conference. Recommendations from other authors are always a good idea when you're looking for an agent.

ArtisticWriter_1: How is the pay calculated for an agent? and for the writer?

Linda: The agent gets a set percentage of everything the author earns on contracts negotiated by the agent. That's generally 15%, unless there are foreign sales included.

AnneKelly: If an agent sells a ms for you, do they get paid and then they pay you?

Linda: Yes. Publishers send all payments to the agent, who deducts her 15%, then sends the author her 85%. Some publishers will agree to write two checks, one to the agent and one to the author, but they don't like to do it, and it's hard to get them to agree. Sometimes the publisher will goof and send the check to the author. You have a choice--to keep the check and pay the agent, or return the check and have the publisher issue another check to the agent. This always takes a month or longer. How much you declare in income on your income tax will be different if you keep the check..

JaciRae: Are some agents recognized by editors as more important than others and thus get the author a faster reading or better deal?

Linda: Editors are people. And, as people, they have other people they like to work with and people they don't like at all. An editor friend of mine once told me that all agents were a pain in the neck. This is generally true, from an editor's POV because all agents have the same middle name: We Want More Money. Sometimes, the editor can give more money, and sometimes he can't. The agent is always going to want more than the editor can give. This means heated discussions at times.

ArtisticWriter_1: How soon after being published can you expect to get paid?

Linda: It depends on the publisher. They're all different. When I sold my book to Harlequin Historicals, it was 2 months before I got the contract, signed it...returned it....and got the first half of my advance. With children's nonfiction publishers, we've generally gotten the first payment, after signing the contract in about a month. Publishers are never in a hurry to pay authors. It's a rule you must live with if you're going to be a professional writer. In past years, one of our publishers has always mailed royalty checks the middle of September so our agent gets the check the last week of September and we get our 85% of that check the first week in October. This year, though, that publisher STILL hasn't mailed the checks which means we're still waiting for our former agent to get the check, keep it for a few days to make sure it clears the bank. THEN send us our part....which means it'll probably be the end of October before we get the check. Authors never know when the money is going to arrive.

MBVoelker: If you choose not to have an agent how do you deal with publishers whose guidelines say "no unagented submissions"?

Linda: I'm trying to decide how blunt to be here. Personally, I wouldn't submit to them. There are plenty of houses out there who take submissions from unagented writers. AND, if you meet an editor from a house that says, "No unagented submissions..." you can still get permission to send your ms. to that editor. If he wants to buy it you can call an agent you met at the same conference....and you're all set!

YU: You don't have to take your writing with you to conferences?

Linda: You can if you want to. It's best to take only a few pages, but you never offer those pages to an editor unless he ASKS to see something you've written. Only then. And only 5 pages or so.

JaciRae: Do you expect that you'll ever want another agent, since you're so effective at selling your own books?

Linda: Honestly, I'd rather handle them myself. But, if I get a contract I can't interpret, I may have to add #8 to my list. My husband is extremely left-brained, while I'm right-brained. He was a math teacher so he's going to use the 38 contracts we have in our files and read the books we have on how to negotiate contracts and try to handle contracts for us himself. If he runs into something he doesn't understand, we have an editor friend who has graciously agreed to offer suggestions or explanations as needed. And yes, we met this editor at a conference. :-)

Moderator: I hate to have to stop, but we're out of time tonight. Before I let Linda say good-bye, I wanted to let you know that she publishes a free newsletter with articles, conference information, and marketing tips called "Linda's Heart." If you'd like to subscribe, send her an e-mail at with Subscribe in the subject line. Linda, thanks so much for coming and sharing tonight!

Linda: It's been my pleasure! If anyone has questions I didn't answer, they're welcome to send those questions to me at the e-mail address for the newsletter. Good luck to all of you!!!

Moderator: Do come back in two weeks when author Victoria Sherrow will be our guest. Look for more details in next week's newsletter. And now, good night, everyone!

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