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  1. Mustang
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    Mustang New Member

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    Agents The hipocrisy of literary agents...

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Mustang, Oct 24, 2012.

    The hipocrisy of some literary agents...

    Per Writer's Market (and not to mention good ol' common sense), we must address the agent we're querying by name in our query letter. Several agents even state that if we do not do so, our queries will immediately go into the trash, unread.

    This is reasonable and a sign of professionalism.

    However, I've received (unfortunately) several rejection letters from agents where they did not do likewise; just a chintzy form letter addressed to "Dear Writer" or some such vague, impersonal greeting.

    I get that they're busy, but I find their hipocrisy to be very offputting. Why must they act like "royalty" when they'd be nothing if not for writers? They wouldn't have jobs if not for those who've queried them.

    What's happened to common -- and reciprocated -- courtesy?
     
  2. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    It does seem harsh, but they are all very busy -- they get paid when they sell a m/s for their established clients. That's what they spend the majority of their time doing -- working on behalf of the clients they do have. They get hundreds of queries a week - sometimes more. They have to read through all the letters and first pages and make a decision. They don't get paid for doing this -- they only get paid when they sell a book. So in wading through the hundreds that they receive that they are not interested in representing, they need to get responses out as quickly as possible. They don't get any money for sending you a rejection or personalizing the rejection to you in any way.

    You, however, should take care to address them by name and to make sure you've complied with their query guidelines, because that is the way you are presenting yourself as a client to them. If you fail to do so, it's a sign you'd be a difficult client, which is not something they're eager to take on. Once you do sign with them, you'll get more personalized attention.
     
  3. JamesOliv
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    JamesOliv Senior Member

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    I do a lot of hiring at my job.

    Truthfully, I chuck every resume that is addressed to "HR Representative" or "To whom it may concern."

    Why?

    I have found that job inquiries addressed to me (when I am listed on the posting) actually contains a resume that tends to match what I am looking for. If I put out a job posting for, say, a security guard, I will invariably receive countless cover letters with a generic salutation. These inquiries will range from people who lack the minimum education or licensing requirements to Ivy League educated professionals who demand I provide them with a company vehicle in addition to the six figure salary they expect.

    My primary job is as a risk analyst (who somehow ended up supervising the building security guards). My primary job s not sifting through applications that have nothing to do with the posting. These resumes are not respectful of my time. So I throw them out.

    Agents have a primary job. They sell manuscripts for their existing clients. They read queries as they are able when they have a spot open on their client list. If people don't address it to them, I'm sure they have every reason to believe the submitter didnt really evaluate them as an agent. They are likely blanketing the agent world with their query letter without regard for genre preferences or other submission guidelines. So, into the trash it goes.

    Regarding personal responses, I think it unfair to insist on a personalized response. Agents, like companies doing hiring, are under no obligation to send you ANY response. A form letter is more courteous, I feel, than leaving a person hanging forever.

    It has nothing to do with agents feeling like royalty. It has everything to do with being an agent is their full time job and reading your submission is something they do precisely because they believe in discovering new talent. That they choose not to offer you representation is not a personal offense, it is a business decision.

    I know these sort of things can be upsetting. However, try to keep things in perspective.
     
  4. Mustang
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    Mustang New Member

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    I do understand what you're saying, but I also received (although very few) personal, typed replies on company letterhead paper -- and these were from very large, presitgious (and no doubt very busy) agencies.

    In other words, it appears that the volume of submissions an agent receives does not necessarily equate with a cold, impersonal "form letter" response.

    Perhaps I'm just frustrated at the moment, but the mentality I get from some agents is, "Give us another Harry Potter or Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey on a silver platter, or get lost!"
     
  5. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    From their perspective, you send one letter, they send 17.6 billion. I'm pretty sure an acceptance letter will have your name. Any letter where you want the person on your good side will have their name. If you get rejected, they don't want you so they don't care.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If you plan to be a writer, you need to grow a Kevlar hide. Don't take it as a personal snub. They are very busy people.

    Quite honestly, do you want them to spend the time to write out personalized responses when it means they spend that much less time actually representing their accepted clients to publishers?
     
  7. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Keep in mind, though that the larger agencies also have more support staff who can spend time doing those sorts of things. The agents would love nothing more than to find the next Harry Potter, but in reality, most books are not going to be Harry Potter. They need to find books that they think they can sell. And to do that, they themselves need to really believe in the book. It has to be something they love. So even if they think there is a chance that the book could sell, if it's not a genre they personally love or something they can get really excited about, it's not worth it to them to take it on, when it will take a lot of time and work to get it published -- remember they don't get paid unless they sell it. So if it's not a genre they like, or they've recently read tons of books with a MC similar to your's, or for any reason they just don't have that spark, it's better for them not to take it on. And frankly, it's better for you too, because you want an agent who loves your book as much as you do.

    And the Fifty Shades woman had originally either self-published or was with a very very small publisher. The big publishing houses approached her, after there was demand for her book that couldn't be filled. I assume she has an agent, but that was really a whole different ball game. She had a guaranteed sell, which is probably more rare than winning the lottery. So I don't think you can compare anything about how that happened to most situations, except maybe for the idea that self-pubbing fan fic can become successful.
     
  8. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Consider this from an agent's perspective. Now, I don't know what literary agent's make, but I'll use what I'm highly knowledgeable about, which is sports agents. So, here we go:

    Ok, you're Scot Boras, and you're getting John Smith a 150 mil dollar baseball contract. Well, 10% is the going rate, so you're netted 15 mil for yourself. Ok, let's say a literary agent get's paid the same. Ok, say your book is something a company wants, or ends up in a bidding war for, with the winning offer being 150k, then the agent's made himself or herself 15k on the deal.

    Now, with that said, would you spend most of your time sending personalized rejection notices...or be out on the street trying to get that client's book sold for the highest amount possible-and getting yourself the highest amount of paycheck also?

    I hate to sound jaded, because I'm not, but ultimately, everything boils down to money. Take any fancy job title you want, boil it down and it'll have one of three things (is the purest essance) make us money, save us money, keep us from losing money.

    It's a business, so be prepared for business-type decisions to be made daily just like any other profession-professional or otherwise.
     
  9. Thumpalumpacus
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    Thumpalumpacus Contributing Member

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    You may write for pleasure, but once you submit, it's about business. Business can be impersonal, especially when the business at hand is breaking bad news to you. It's a fact of life, and not hypocritical at all, because there's no pretense involved. At the worst, it's a double standard, and an understandable double-standard when you see the differences in circumstances.

    Time spent personalizing rejections is time not spent finding the ms that they'll be accepting. That represents wasted money.

    I've never submitted my writing for publication, but I have submitted music demos trying to sell songs or get a contract offer. Of the forty or so rejections I got, not one was personalized. Many other tapes (this was the early-mid 90s, tape was the medium for demos) never elicited a response at all. These things happen.

    Rewrite, and resubmit. It's a business.
     
  10. robertpri007
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    robertpri007 Member

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    With all due respect, I don't think you understand just how busy. I suspect agents receive thousands of queries. Do you really think they read them all? The fact that you even got a boilerplate reply is somewhat positive. Over the years I have sent hundreds of letters and a large number don't even send back my SASE. You will need thick skin in this business.

    On a similar situation, before retiring I was a production manager for a large mfg company. On any given day, we received dozens of applicants, and after placing an ad, hundreds every day. We could not afford a full time person to read them all and reply. Sad, but reality.
     
  11. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    My thoughts exactly. Count your blessings and start submitting to other places.
     
  12. littleshoe
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    littleshoe Member

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    I think that the only positive answer from an agent is a contract proposal. I would not find any difference if they reply with a letter, they don’t reply or if they send flowers. It is a business. You have to care about contract’s conditions and money. Otherwise, I have met very nice people that are not serious or useful, and unpleasant people that are very serious doing business, and vice versa.

    Concerning the personalized answers, long time ago a friend of mine had a problem of the kind. He bought a handheld scanner and the problem was solved. The same letter to everyone, just the name changed. I know many politicians do it: the same letter to everyone but with a specific name in each letter. No having time for the name is a poor excuse (Today everybody has a computer and can buy an auto-filling form). Yet, they do not have any obligation to reply.

    In my experience, do not waste time with an agent when you are an unknown writer. Instead, you should send your proposal to small publishers, local publishers. They will not offer you a wonderful contract but they will pay more attention to you (Even when your writing is bad, you have more chances of an answer that tells your writing is not good enough).

    However, you are still an unknown writer and reading takes a lot of time an effort. Your chances are small even with a local publisher. Then, how does it work?

    I do not know the US market but in the French and Spanish market you have to know people. In fact, it is the opposite: people must know you. You can achieve it in different ways:

    You can be a super star blogger and some eccentric publisher will contact you.

    You can start in the academic world. You can be a student or a teacher. It does not matter. What matters is that somebody there (too often a literature teacher) reads your writings and sends a comment (or sample) to a contact in the publishing industry. (The “newspapers world” is another option)

    You promote yourself in “cultural environments” where snob people have contacts with the publishing industry.

    You publish short stories in magazines and get some recognition.

    You participate in well-reputed writing contest.

    These approaches work because they serve as filters to agents and publishers. They take fewer risks (there is some certification behind) and they can use their time more efficiently.
    However, you must always have in mind that it is a business. It does not matter how good you are, your chances of getting poetry published are minimal. In the other hand (in the Spanish market), if you have a science fiction novel, publishers will read a couple of pages of your work. (The English market is different)
     
  13. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    On that note, here's a question - so your agent gets 10% of whatever profit you get from the publisher. So, the advance the writer gets is 10% (if you're lucky - I heard newbies get as little as 2-6%) and you must pay 10-25% of that 10% to your agent. So, what if your book sinks and you need to give your advance back to your publisher? What happens? Does the agent still get paid from you, do you have to cover the amount lost to the agent, or do you just pay back your advance and agent stops getting paid and end of story?
     
  14. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    Whether or not a book sinks or swims - I don't think you have to pay back an advance fee; that fee is a publishers gamble, he/she uses their knowledge as to how well they think you book will do and base their advance fee on that judgement.
     
  15. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Well that's what I don't know - I hear publishers do actually ask you for that advance back sometimes (other times they don't cus they can't be bothered) but there're some contracts that bend your arm backwards and force you to pay it back, because your book didn't outsell the advance. Alternatively my friend who runs a small publishing house tells me, publishers will contract you into writing multiple books and not pay you a penny for any of it until and unless you outsell your first advance from your first book. In other words, you've become their slave until you can repay your advance in full (or well, make enough profit that they get what they've paid you back in full before you get a drop of profit)
     
  16. JamesOliv
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    JamesOliv Senior Member

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    You are confusing two very different things:

    1. You will not receive royalties until your book outsells the advance. This is common sense. If you receive a $2,000 advance, you don't receive a royalty check until your share of the book makes that $2,000 back. You don't count the gross sales in this. If, say, every book sold nets you a $1 royalty, you will not start getting paid royalties until after you sell 2,000 books. This isn't really unfair, because you received an advance, you were already paid for those first 2k.

    2. If your book flops, you do not, assuming you've signed a standard contract, have to pay back an advance. That doesn't mean some small press somewhere doesn't have some contract that they made up that requires you to pay them back if/when your book doesn't sell. But the industry standard is that you do NOT pay it back.

    If you sign a three book contract with a publisher and you don't submit completed manuscripts by their deadlines, then you will likely have to pay them back. If your manuscript is unacceptable, you would likely have to pay them back.

    But, if you sell a single book and get an advance, you don't pay it back because the book didn't sell. The publisher is taking a risk by putting the book out there and paying you an advance and publishers have been burned many times before.

    It is your agent's job, not only to sell the book, but to negotiate contract provisions and ensure there is no weird contract provision that requires something unfair or non-standard.

    And FYI, I have not encountered an agent who takes a 25% cut. 15% seems to be the standard. And considering you are unlikely to get a contract that includes an advance without an agent, it amounts to a loss on paper and nothing more.
     
  17. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Even a mail merge takes time and someone has to type the name into a computer. Given the thousands of queries an agent receives, that would add up to a pretty big chunk of time. If you need strokes and kisses, see your mother. Agents are trying to earn a living, and although in a perfect world, they would be able to respond with a personalized response to every query (even they would like to do this if there were time to do so), given the realities of life they have to spend their time on things that will earn them money. They also deserve to spend time with their families or on other leisurely pursuits.

    As far as advances, James points out that in most standard contracts, an advance for a m/s that is already sold would not require repayment if the book doesn't sell. But that is certainly a provision you'd want to look for and pay attention to. That point is something that is subject to negotiation, especially with a smaller publishing company. Likewise, as far as whatever portion of the advance is paid to the agent, that would be covered in the contract between you and the agent.
     
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  18. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    An advance is only paid back to the publisher if you fail to deliver the book as contracted. And most publishers will not contract for a series until they see how the first book does. Sounds like this 'friend' of yours is more interested in getting you to sign with him/her than giving you the facts...
     
  19. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, an "advance" usually means an advance against future royalties. So you are paying it back through the income stream you would receive from the book sales. For purposes of this discussion, I think that what we are talking about is a potential obligation of an author to repay that money paid to him when it becomes evident that the book will not sell enough copies to reach the level where the advance would have been repaid via those royalties.

    My understanding is that for an unknown author, it would be very unusual for a publisher to contract with the author for a series. But if, somehow, this happened, it only makes sense that the author would not receive additional money until the royalties reached the point that they surpassed the amount of the advance the publisher paid. And I am certain that there would be some provision in the contract with respect to books 2 and 3 in the series dealing with what happens if book 1 fails to meet sales expectations. I see no reason why a publisher would spend good money after bad if the first book did not sell, it would be even less likely that subsequent books in the series would sell. So the author would not receive any additional monies beyond the advance if the first book (indeed, if any book) did not sell enough to satisfy the amount already paid to the author via the advance. Likewise, there should be some provision in the contract for the rights to return to the author if the publisher declines to publish the subsequent books.
     
  20. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    a lot of slightly-to-totally-wrong info is always being handed out to and/or found somewhere and assumed by new writers to be true...

    do NOT believe all you're told or see on the internet, in writer's magazines, etc.!

    the true facts are there to see, on every agent's or publisher's website and in any contract you are offered... do your own homework and behave like any smart businessperson... check it all out for yourself and if offered a contract, have your own literary attorney look it over before signing, if you have no agent, or aren't satisfied that your agent has the know-how to protect your interests [in which case, you should find a better agent!]...

    no one puts a gun to your head and forces you to sign... if you don't like something in the contract, insist on a change...
     
  21. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    There is no "potential obligation". Period. An advance is a partial payment to the author based on the publisher's estimate of sales. If the publisher misjudges that sales figure, they eat it. Period. If the book sells enough to equal the advance, then the author starts getting paid royalties. They don't have to pay any of that back either.

    As mammamaia stated, people need to learn about publishing contracts and terminology before signing anything. This "have to pay back the advance" seems to be one of the more persistent misconceptions.
     
  22. JamesOliv
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    JamesOliv Senior Member

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    It is also worth noting that you should probably get offered an advance before stressing about the contract terms regarding said advance.
     
  23. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is something that would be addressed in the contract. In this discussion, people seem to be concerned about either repaying an advance, or about the fact that they likely will not be paid anything -- that is, any additional money, until the advance has been repaid. So, they are, in fact, concerned about a "potential obligation." The potential obligation may or may not come to pass, depending on the specific terms of the contract that one has signed with the publisher. The fact that something has become a common practice in an industry does not mean that the common practice cannot be changed or that certain publishers can decide that they will not follow it. Especially with the fast changes in publishing that are occurring today, I would not take anything for granted, even if something has typically happened in a particular manner.

    You don't see it as much with fiction manuscripts, because they are usually sold and represented after they are completed. But as far as non-fiction manuscripts, those are often sold as a proposal, and an advance is given based on the proposal. There was just a big news story about how one of the big publishers - Penguin, I think, sued a bunch of authors for a return of the advance money for works not completed.

    You have to keep in mind what the word "advance" means, how it came into practice, and what its purposes are. Although it may be common that a publisher will "eat" the advance if their estimation of sales proves inaccurately high, that does not mean that that must always remain the case in every situation, or that the common practice could not change.

    It is absolutely worthwhile to seek information in forums such as this, about what to expect as far as what is customary. But it is also important to keep in mind that the customary practice is not always followed, and that one needs to look at and deal with any contract that one is offered.
     
  24. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Obviously if the author doesn't fulfill his/her part of the contract, money paid to said author would have to be returned to the publisher. That's very different from having to repay an advance because the publisher got their sales prediction wrong.

    Just as obviously, if the contract says anything about paying back an advance for any reason other than the author's failure to complete the contract, the author shouldn't sign.
     
  25. JamesOliv
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    JamesOliv Senior Member

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    People sign all sorts of things that they shouldn't sign.

    If I may step in here, I think we have established that the general notion that advances have to be repaid is a misconception. We say this with the stipulation that some publisher somewhere might have a nonstandard contract that includes any number of things that should never be.

    Why don't we try to veer back to the OP's original issues regarding lit agents?

    I will just summarize my feelings on the matter.

    1. Literary agents, potential employers and any number of other busy people do not owe you a personalized reply.
    2. Writing may be your hobby. Selling manuscripts is a lit agent's job. It is pretty obnoxious for someone to complain that someone, during the course of their full time job, isn't working hard enough to make you feel better about your hobby.
    3. No one ever said publishing is easy.
    4. Get working on some emotional callouses. We all get rejections. You just have to deal with it.
     
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