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Experience with literary agents - M.Ali - 01 Nov 2015 07:59 PM

What are your experiences with literary agents? Do you get replies? Do you get feedback? A generic message perhaps? Or perhaps no reply at all? 
I've been trying my luck with a few, at the moment they seem to be generic replies. Sad


RE: Experience with literary agents - JMac - 01 Nov 2015 08:38 PM

I gave up with agents the same time I gave up bothering with any form of traditional publishing. Waiting six months for a small, type-written rejection postcard just didn't seem to be worth the effort when you can publish what you want, when you want and maintain complete control.


RE: Experience with literary agents - Katherine Roberts - 01 Nov 2015 11:16 PM

I had a brilliant agent (Maggie Noach) from just after my first book was published in 1999 until 2006, when she tragically died from an undiagnosed rare form of cancer. She was the ideal choice for my genre so I simply sent her my book and asked if she would like to represent me, and she did... I had to get a publisher for the book myself first, though, which I did by sending it to slush piles until someone said 'yes'.

Although agents obviously take a commission from sales, I think the good ones can more than make up for this by selling books to foreign language publishers, film/tv etc, and collecting money that (after their commission) comes straight to you, rather than via. your publisher set against your UK advances - which in some cases can mean you never get to see it at all. So yes, the right agent is well worth having, but they vary so you might want to do some asking around - and consider if you would actually enjoy working with that person, as it is a much longer term relationship than with an editor for a single book. I'm not sure how agents view indie publishing, since that wasn't on the scene when I worked with Maggie, but I've heard of various approaches so it might be worth checking that out too. Good luck in your search! 

And Julie, keep trying if that's what you want... you sell a lot better than I do on Kindle, and I made a fair living from my books in my agented days. Things have got tougher though (which is why I am here rather than sitting around waiting for someone else to say 'yes'...)


RE: Experience with literary agents - Ray Kingfisher - 02 Nov 2015 08:10 AM

Two very good replies from Julie and Katherine, both of which I would agree with.

All signs were that trad agents have been in a bit of turmoil - they just don't know how to react to the 'self-epublishing revolution'. However, I see signs this 'revolution' is slightly running out of steam. Something like 75% of books sold are still physical, the vast majority through trad publishing, and the figures aren't moving much.

It's harder than ever to be taken on by an agent and the returns are low unless you are cast-iron profitable (or a celebrity). To an extent epublishing has replaced the slush pile - agents (and, more recently, publishers) look at Indie sales and will approach anyone making money. There's a tendency for Indies to say 'why do I need an agent' which I think is unfair and short-sighted.

As a result of all of this, agents are under so much pressure and can hardly cope, hence the lack of personal responses. However, I honestly believe a good agent is worth their weight in gold. They know the market and the industry, can advise on tweaking your book to turn it from a moderate success to a big one, they have contacts, can advise on TV/film/translation rights.

In short, there's a huge difference between being able to write a good book and being able to make money out of it - they are two different skills. My advice would be to continue to approach agents if that's what you want and what you have the time and inclination to do, but keep focused on developing your own skill - writing.


RE: Experience with literary agents - davidwailing - 02 Nov 2015 11:28 AM

I also tried submitting to agents and publishers in the Nineties (which involved printing off sample chapters and sending thick packages of paper through the post), and have a big folder full of rejection letters for my troubles!

The bottom line, as Ray says, is money. Agents earn a living through percentages, so for them to be interested in anything, they have to be convinced your books are going to make about ten times as much money as they'd like to earn. Since it's impossible to know for sure what will be successful and what won't, that means they play it very safe and take few risks on new authors.

From my observations, I don't think the self-publishing revolution is running out of steam, but it is no longer a revolution - just part of the publishing landscape. I think if an indie was approached by a trad (and the offer seemed worthwhile - often they are not), that would be a great time to look for an agent. They would naturally be more interested in an indie with an offer from a publisher. Otherwise, crack on - publish your own books, hone your craft, build a readership and have fun!


RE: Experience with literary agents - davidjb - 02 Nov 2015 04:16 PM

I had a strange experience when phoning one.

Me: "Would you consider reading my manuscript please?"
LA: "Are you an established author?"
Me: "No"
LA: "Then it will be rubbish, dear."
Me: "My friends liked it."
LA: "They would tell you that, dear. They are your friends. They wouldn't want to hurt your feelings, dear"

She had a point and I made sure I got reviews from non-friends (enemies??) after that.


RE: Experience with literary agents - Steve Robinson - 03 Nov 2015 09:37 AM

How rude, David! And very short-sighted on the part of the agent to think that any work from non-established authors will be rubbish.

The agent question is always an interesting one. I think we are or were all pre-programmed to follow the rules of getting published, which was to first try to get an agent, but indie publishing certainly changed all that. I went through the same process and have a very nice collection of rejections, both form and handwritten, some of which were very helpful. Eventually one said yes, but nothing came of it, although she was only interested in the big publishers. If you want an agent, keep trying. Never stop until every single one of them has turned you down. But ask yourself if you really want one. Yes, they can be good, but they will cost you and you need to be sure that your agent when you get one will do more for you than you can do for yourself. I went the indie route and when my books started selling well I had a very reputable literary agent contact me, wanting to sign me up. That was quite something. I signed up and am still signed with them, but I got my own publishing contract soon after, so they're not acting as my agents for my current published books. I'm effectively un-agented, which comes back to the question of whether or not you really need one. A lot will depend on your specific circumstances, and your chances of success in getting one will be greatly improved if you first become an established author, which brings things back to David's telephone conversation. Best of luck.


RE: Experience with literary agents - George Hamilton - 04 Nov 2015 08:57 AM

Some good answers here. I have also approached agents and publishers in the past. Many of the responses were generic, but I did get some more detailed ones which were very helpful to me in improving my writing. The most disappointing were the ones which said "We like your book, but are not sure how we would market it." OR "We already have an author who writes in your genre." So you can get rejected for many reasons. Like others, I don't plan on waiting around for 6 months for an answer again.


RE: Experience with literary agents - LindaGruchy - 04 Nov 2015 09:38 AM

I have had two agents, neither of whom managed to place my novels. One had a laid back approach of sending out the paper manuscript and not fretting over a 3 month turnaround. After 2 years and 12 rejections, she dumped me.

The second told me I was very talented, raved about both Blood Will Out and Gladiatrix, but was strangely silent when I told her of Death in Spigg's Wood's success. She was very "go get" and blasted BWO everywhere but it failed to sell, she ended up with someone else's work load so she left Gladiatrix on the back burner until I asked her about it. She suggested that we - regretfully - part. I wasn't displeased because I wanted to put everything onto Kindle after DISW's success.

Shortly after I published Gladiatrix, sales of all my books took a dive after Amazon ran a pre-Christmas traditionally published books promotion. Sales have never recovered, to the extent that I have largely given up on novels and concentrate on short stories.

What I am grateful to the agents for is the highly critical input into any novel they cast their eyes on. My work is far stronger as a result.

If a major publisher offered for any of my books, I'd accept.


RE: Experience with literary agents - M.Ali - 28 Mar 2017 05:56 AM

It's been around a year and a half since I started this thread so I thought about kick-starting it again (why not?).

The situation is still the same although I'm getting more replies whereas before I wouldn't have. Even got a reply from the Blair Partnership (J.K. Rowling is a client) and I hear they don't send those out. It was possibly the best rejection email I receivedShocked.