More from Cec Murphey
August 21, 2009 | Written by admin
Part 2 – Continuing our discussion with bestselling writer Cec Murphey…
8. The most frequent complaint I hear from writers is, "My agent has forgotten me." How do I avoid that happening to me?
Ask a few questions before you sign the contract. "How do you prefer that I contact you?" These days most agents want email, but it's still a good question and it shows your professionalism in wanting to be clear. Follow up with, "After I've emailed (written or phoned), how long should I expect to wait to hear from you?" All agents are different. My agent once told me that if I haven't heard within 24 hours, to email again. Another agent said he tried to get back within 72 hours. Ask.
You don't want to be known as a HMA (high-maintenance author) so don't make unnecessary contacts. Occasionally, agents drop an otherwise good client because the person demands too much attention. This is business; it's not friendship. You have a product and you hire the agent to sell it for you.
One way to avoid the agent-has-forgotten-me problem is to be clear at the start. Ask, "When you send out my manuscript, will you tell me where you send it and each response you receive?" Sometimes agents will send a manuscript to only one editor—which was the old system. Most of them will contact several editors (My agent calls it her hit list) and sends out the manuscript to five or even twelve editors.
Then comes the waiting. My observation is that generally the rejections come first, although a few serious editors procrastinate. Some agents will notify you or forward you a copy of each response as it comes in. Others prefer to wait until they hear from every editor. Ask your agent's policy.
Sometimes the editors ask the agent if the manuscript is still available, because they don't want to go forward unless they can make an offer. They also might say, "I'll take this to the publications committee Tuesday." Assume that if you haven't heard by 5:30 on Tuesday, the agent doesn't know either. The same with Wednesday and Thursday. Don't panic; don't ask.
9. If we get more than one offer, does my agent decide which one?
You decide. Good agents explain the offers. For example, one publisher might have a larger advance but a small percentage of royalty. Ask your agent, who is your sales representative. If you can't rely on the agent's advice, change agents.
10. How do I get my royalties paid to me?
Until 20 years ago, publishers sent all royalties to the agent who took the commission off the top. (Fifteen percent is standard.) The agent sent you a check for the rest. These days, some agents contract so that the publishers mail them their commission and send the rest of the royalties directly to you. Publishers pay royalties differently and the contract will tell whether they pay quarterly, semi-annually, or annually.
11. If I can't complete the manuscript before the deadline, do I notify my agent or the editor? What if I have problems with the editor?
By the time you have a contract you'll deal directly with the editor. But if an emergency arises (illness, death in the family), notify your agent as well as the editor.
If you have problems with your editor that you can't resolve, definitely contact your agent. Whether you're right or wrong, get your agent involved. I once had an editor that promised to have the edited version back to me by a certain date, which she never met. I did four books with that publishing house and she was never on time. That editor and my agent had several messages between them, but I didn't have to get involved and the exchange didn't affect my relationship with the editor.
12. Why do agents and clients part?
They sever the relationship when one of them is unhappy. Sometimes both.
A few writers get impatient and complain, "My agent isn't selling anything." I respond: "Maybe you need to send a better product." The agent can't make a best seller for you. There's no guarantee that everything you write will sell. I read a few years ago that the top New York agents sell about 70 percent of the books they represent.
13. What are other reasons for dissolving the relationship?
Here are a few things I've learned from writers.
(a) They don't get information from their agents. The agent works for you and you are entitled to know the status.
(b) "I can never reach my agent." Does s/he respond to your emails or phone calls as verbally agreed?
(c) Misunderstandings occur. If you feel slighted or misunderstood, clarify it. I've been with my current agent twelve years and twice we've had serious misunderstandings. We were able to clear them up with phone calls.
14. How do I know when it's time to fire my agent?
(I don't like the word fire, but that's the term I hear most often.) I know several writers who fired their agents and regretted it. One woman has had four agents and currently seeks another. Her books haven't sold well, but she's convinced a "really good agent" will do better. Be cautious. Don't jump out of a contract because you think another agent will get you better deals.
There are times to make changes. If, despite your efforts to make the relationship work, you don’t like or respect your agent, end it. But be sure you've made your dissatisfaction known to the agent before you ask for a divorce.
15. How do I break the relationship?
That's usually spelled out in the contract: Most of them state you must send them a written notice 30 or 60 days in advance. (Anything the current agent has received from you is still that agent's manuscript to sell. Sometimes agents will say something like this: "I'm returning Dead in Debt and it has been rejected by… and I will no longer represent it.")
If you break the contract, be professional. I've heard stories of rude, mean-spirited writers and the word gets around about them. If you're determined to break the contract, I suggest that the less you say the better. If the agent has sold any of your manuscripts, that agent will continue to receive the 15 percent as long as the book is in print.
16. Any advice on signing with a new agent?
Explain why you left your previous agent. Don't go into details and don't bad mouth the person, but offer enough so the new agent won't see you as a HMA. If you messed up, say so and add, "And I've learned from that experience."
If you have unsold manuscripts and the previous agent has sent them out, please tell your new agent. It can be embarrassing for Chip to offer Love Me Forever to Zondervan and learn they rejected it six months earlier. Or even worse for him to receive an email that says, "We have this same manuscript submitted by a different agent. Who actually represents Jerry MacCracker?"
Cecil "Cec" Murphey has written or co-written 113 books including 90 Minutes in Heaven for Don Piper. His two most recent books are When Someone You Love Has Cancer and When God Turned off the Lights.