They say writers serve a 10 year apprenticeship to learn the craft. I know I’d written 10 books before I sold my first one. In Tansy’s interview she said the one thing she would tell herself if she could go back to her first book sale is – don’t sign anything until you have an agent.
(This post is a starting off point. You need to do your own research).
Maybe you’re lucky enough to get an offer after submitting to a competition or a manuscript development program. Should you approach an agent now? Well, yes, if you have a concrete offer from a publisher.
Editors like to ring up authors when they make the offer because they get a buzz when normally sane people start babbling and doing cartwheels. If an editor rings you with an offer of $X for your book/trilogy, you don’t need to agree to anything right away. In fact, you can say ‘That’s great. I’ll just call my agent.’
An agent will be happy to take you on, if you already have a concrete offer from a publisher. Once you have that offer you need to approach an agent, but which agent? Have you been doing your homework? Do you know the top agents for your genre in Australia? Would you prefer an agent based in the US or the UK? What are the pros and cons?
A good Australian agent will have intimate knowledge of the Australian publishing scene. They will have contacts in literary agencies in the US and the UK, who can try to on-sell your work over there. (Your Australian publisher will probably want limited world rights so that they have the option of on-selling for 12 months). Now it begins to get complicated and you see why it is worthwhile having an agent who knows their stuff.
If you do get an Australian agent who has contacts in agencies in the US and the UK and one of those over seas agents sells some of your work, they will take a percentage, then your Aussie agent will take a percentage and you will get what is left.
If you opt for a US or UK agent they will not have the same intimate knowledge of the Australian publishing scene, but they should have in-depth knowledge of the UK/US scene. There is lots of consider when ‘shopping’ for an agent.
Note – the money flows to the author. If an agent asks you for money to read your manuscript, or do photocopies (no one uses photocopies any more) or make international calls (what about email?), then they are feeding off aspiring writers. If an agent says your book is good but it needs work, and then recommends a manuscript appraiser, be very wary. The agent should take an agreed upon percentage of the advance that the publisher pays you, that is all.
Then there is the larger question of your writing career. So you’ve sold one book and maybe the publishers want a three book deal because they want to grow you as an author. So suddenly you have to produce two more books, while editing the first one and deliver them all to deadlines. Here is Zoe Archer’s post about what happened when her first book was accepted.
If you’re anything like me you have a backlog of books you’ve written, but they could be from different series and the publisher wants three books in series X. Maybe you are lucky and you’ve written three books in series X, but they’ll be at different levels of readiness because you’ve been growing as an author, while you’ve been working on them.
You need to work out how long it will take you to either tidy up the three books already written, or write two new books. Be realistic in your estimates. Publishers like you to deliver on time, but they do understand that life happens. If it looks like you are not going to meet your deadline, don’t panic and stew about it. Plan ahead, contact your agent to let them know and they will go to your publisher to negotiate a new deadline.
So, have you done your home work on agents? Do you have a career plan?