Janet Kobobel Grant
Sometimes at the end of a workday, I review my accomplishments and realize I did nothing to make money. Oh, I was plenty busy, but no funds will come my way as a result of the work.
Here are 4 ways an agent helps you–but makes no money.
1. When you ask me to facilitate a return of your rights from a publisher. This request occurs when a title has pretty much completed its life-cycle at that publishing house, and the author has decided to self-publish it. I’m happy to perform this service, but the ultimate outcome is that I’m removing it from the list of titles that earned royalties (assuming the advance was earned back).
Publishers are increasingly reluctant to return these rights because trickles of cash are coming into its coffers from digital sales. Those trickles apparently add up to sufficient money for publishers to put up a fuss over reversion of rights requests.
So my tasks to obtain those rights usually include:
–pulling out the contract and reading what criteria I was able to negotiate that results in the publisher having no choice but to return the rights when they’re requested.
–emailing the rights and permissions manager my request, with an inclusion of the pertinent paragraph from the contract.
–several back-and-forth emails to discuss why the publisher doesn’t think the rights should be returned but why I think they should.
–receiving the document, which often needs to be signed by both the publisher and the author, that reverts the rights.
–reviewing the document and sending it on to the author.
–helping the author to buy any remaining print stock of the book at the lowest price possible.
–negotiating the potential use of the cover art and how much my client pays for it.
2. When I talk you off the proverbial cliff.
Clients think cliff jumping makes perfect sense for a variety of reasons. In recent weeks toes have been draped over the edge because:
–a deadline was missed, and the title has to be moved to a later season (which is a financial loss for the publisher before the book even releases and a ding in the author’s relationship with the publishing house)
–a marketing-weary client emailed the publisher proclaiming that his writing career was over because he just couldn’t jump through all those social media hoops any more.
–a frustrated debut novelist saw that publishers weren’t leaping at the chance to publish her labor of love.
–an editor wanted to make an offer for a client’s manuscript, but the number of titles the publishing house is producing each year is so diminished that the editor can’t find a slot for the book in the foreseeable future. My client tried to take the news in stride, but that’s seriously discouraging stuff.
3. When I travel with you to your publishing house.
Sometimes ideas or issues need to be discussed in person–brainstorming a client’s next series after completion of a successful one; discussing and negotiating what a title’s marketing plan will be; introducing a significant client to his or her new publishing team. When compelling reasons to visit a publishing house arise, an agent hops on a plane and heads out. It’s our job.
4. When I review your royalty statements.
I’m especially aware of how onerous this task is because I’ve just spent the last couple of weeks in deep review mode. At the end of each quarter of the year, royalty statements come tumbling into the office in heaps. Our agency does so much work with certain publishers that we receive not big envelopes of statements but big boxes.
Royalty accounting is complex, with lots of room for error. Part of an agent’s job is to ruminate over the statements and then contact the accounting department to ask for clarifications and to point out probable errors. Sometimes more money is owed the client, which means the agent receives additional commission payment. But, trust me, the additional amount does not result in sufficient funds to pay for even a tiny bit of the time expended.
Often, during the completion of these tasks, the bond between my client and me is strengthened. And authors are grateful for agents who have a “stand by me” mentality. But unless you’re an agent, it’s unlikely you realize how much of our time and energy is spent on unprofitable tasks.
What do you think is the most important task an agent undertakes for clients?
4 tasks lit agents undertake for clients that result in no pay. Click to tweet.
Surprise! Sometimes lit agents work for free. Click to tweet.