Typically, literary agents don’t need to hunt for brand-new authors, because writers tend to gravitate to them. Yet Self-Publishing Relief knows that in this brave new world of publishing, many agents have offered unsolicited representation to indie authors, when circumstances draw their attention. For instance, if a self-published book achieves phenomenal sales, such as 50,000+ copies at a non-discounted price—literary agents will sit up and take notice. Critical acclaim can also draw attention, as would a memorable meeting or a sizzling pitch made at a conference or workshop.
But before any self-published author decides to sign with a literary agent, the writer should make sure he or she knows exactly what the agent is offering.
Scams abound in the publishing world, so any smart author must perform due diligence. Conduct an online search on the agent and agency and ask yourself these questions:
- How long has the agency been in business?
- How long has this particular agent been actively selling?
- Does the agent handle other books in your genre or is the genre new to him or her?
- Do you recognize the names of any of his or her clients? Their publishers?
- How well are his clients’ books doing in the marketplace (check vendor rankings, reviews)?
- Is the agent planning to charge for reading your work or have you pay for their help in publishing?
Standard Contract Terms
If the literary agent and agency seem to be on the up and up, the next items to consider are the terms of the contract.
- Is the agent asking for more than the standard 15% cut of any traditional contract he or she negotiates?
- Is the agent asking more than the usual 20% (occasionally 25%) for foreign sales made through his or her office?
- Will your agent represent all your books, including the ones that are currently self-published? Or will the agent only represent future works from you? Is this negotiable?
- Does the termination clause make getting out of the contract a difficult or protracted process?
Special Considerations For Indie Authors
Most successful self-published authors are accustomed to full control over content, cover design, back blurb, sales price, and publication date. If you’re considering a literary agent, then you’re also considering giving up this control to a traditional publisher sometime in the future.
But perhaps you don’t want to sign over all your books for representation. Perhaps you only want to offer up future books for consideration. Perhaps you want to retain eBook rights, but need help selling subsidiary rights. So how flexible is the agent about negotiating the agency contract terms as well as future traditional publishing terms?
Depending on your goals, you may want to ask the literary agent some of these tough questions:
- If an agent expects to represent all of your indie books, including the ones currently on the market, will he or she also expect 15% of your self-published income—or only a 15% cut of any traditional contract he or she lands for those books?
- Would you retain the right to self-publish future works outside the purview of the agent (for instance, by keeping one series separate and not marketed to traditional publishers)? If so, under what terms will those decisions be made?
- Would the agent be interested in representing and profiting from your subsidiary rights only, such as audio sales, first serial, and foreign translation sales, while you continue to publish in worldwide English print and eBook formats?
- Would the agent be comfortable negotiating print-only sales with traditional publishers?
If a trustworthy literary agent has approached you about representation, then you’re in the catbird seat. Indie authors have more choices, and more control over their work, than ever before. Make sure to negotiate terms that work for both of you. Who knows—you may be the one who blazes a whole new path to publishing success!
Question: How much does the origin of a new book by an unknown author, whether from a small press, academic press, Big Five publisher, or indie publisher, affect your choice to purchase?