Ask Rick Christian: The Role of Agents

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This is our regular column of frequently (and not-so-frequently) asked questions with Alive’s Founder and CEO, Rick Christian. Over the weeks, we’ll cover everything from negotiation strategy and all things literary, lying, his manliest possession and most terrifying moment, his own ultimate demise…and everything in between!


Why do authors need agents?

Because publishers have roomfuls of accountants, attorneys and editors who work to ensure the best interests of their company are met. They utilize sophisticated financial analyses and legal maneuvering to get what they want. They may seem like your best friend, but they’re working for their bottom line. We balance efforts, ensuring that every clause in the 20-page legal document outlining the publishing relationship is aggressively negotiated on behalf of the author. One client saw the before-and-after efforts and wrote a letter saying that the contract we’d negotiated for her was a “work of art.” I take pride in that. We are the author’s champion and best cheerleader. We can brag authors up and say things about them that are awkward if coming from their own mouths. Proverbs says it best: “Don’t call attention to yourself; let others do that for you.”

 

Rick-Photo-for-Blog-Column-webWhy aren’t all authors represented?

Maybe for the same reason some people build their own homes. They just want to somehow try and do it all. It generally doesn’t end well, and authors who handle their own negotiations leave much on the table. It’s even worse when they have a spouse handle the negotiation. Or their personal attorney, who generally has no experience in intellectual property law. On a recent trip to New York, I asked a top editor when she’d last signed an unagented author. She said it had been about 20 years ago. When the manuscript first arrived, the editor said she called the author, suggested she get an agent, and gave her the names of four or five she’d worked with. The author declined. The editor then sent her the names of several authors who were represented and asked her to call them to get their perspective. The editor said she went to those lengths because she didn’t want the author coming back five years later, complaining that she’d been taken unfair advantage of. She also said it helped preserve the
editor-author relationship to have a professional handling the business details.

 

Do authors agent-hop like some musicians, always hoping that will get them further faster? How does one change agencies without hurting feelings or burning bridges?

There’s some of that, sure. But most authors are loyal to the hilt and stick by their agent through thick and thin. Regarding the core issue on making a change, regardless of whether there is merit to such
a decision, breaking up is hard to do. But as Jerry McGuire said, “This ain’t about your friends, it’s about your business.” All to say, if an author is intent on the axe, he/she shouldn’t teeter around forever and a day agonizing about it. Sharpen the blade and do the deed. An agent isn’t making anything if the author isn’t, and so losing a non-earning client doesn’t generate significant emotion. Allude to this in the letter, mentioning that a relationship should be mutually beneficial, and that the time has come for all parties to derive more benefit. Courtesy remains an enduring quality. One shouldn’t waver by saying this is something you’re thinking about. It’s something you’ve decided. Though changing agents may not land an author a seven-figure contract, don’t hesitate. Writing is demanding, emotionally draining work. The last thing anybody needs is the encumbrance of an agent who’s not getting the job done, however that’s defined.

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