Agent Laura Bradford gave a talk entitled “Everything You Want to Know About Literary Agents” at the Valley Center Library in San Diego Saturday, May 14th. I posted Part One of my write-up last week. Here is Part Two: her advice on what to do once you get that all-important “call,” what questions to ask a prospective agent, and how she goes about pitching her author’s books to editors:
- When an agent calls, ask questions. According to Ms. Bradford, it’s important for an author to learn everything they can about an agent before they sign with them. Ask about communication style (and frequency), their process, their editing style (if they edit), how they submit work to editors, if they have an agency agreement, and which editors they plan to submit to. Ask them what their expectations are of their authors.
- While you are feeling the agent out, the agent is feeling you out. Ms. Bradford always talks to the author before making an offer—the offer is the last thing in the conversation. She wants to get a sense of who the person is first. She also wants to know that an author she’s thinking of signing is an active participant in their own career.
- Ask for time to decide. If an agent makes an offer, she recommends the author ask for a week to decide. Take that time to do research and determine if that agent is a good fit for you. Check with other agents you are currently working with. They will pay much more attention now that you have an offer on the table. E-mail them and let them know about your offer, and give them a chance to make an offer of their own.
- Once you get an agent, s/he gets to work pitching your book. Ms. Bradford creates a pitch list of the best editors to target. She usually can’t submit to multiple imprints at the same publishing house, which can limit the number of editors she submits to. Often she can do multiple pitch rounds, depending on the genre. She might use some of the material from the author’s query in her pitch, or she might rewrite the pitch entirely, considering another element of the book to be a better hook.
- The pitching process varies by agent. Ms. Bradford likes to call rather than email—she uses the phone call as an opportunity to build interest in the book and bring it to the top of an editor’s pile. After eight weeks she follows up with the editors. She has no set timeline for how long it takes to sell a book – her books have taken from 24 hours to 16 months. The average is 3 to 4 months.
- Closing the deal. When she gets an offer, she may ask for a week to make a decision. She talks to the editors who still have the manuscript and gives them a deadline. Depending on the process of each editorial house, some can respond within that deadline, and some cannot. The decision of which publisher to go with is made by the agent and the author together, and depends on many factors, or deal points—— format, publication dates, advance, royalties, and options on the next book. She advises an author to make an option as narrow as possible. Instead of giving a publisher an option to all future books, for example, narrow the option down to something like “your next romance featuring these specific characters.”
- The Pros and Cons of Auctions. If more than one house is interested, the agent can call an auction. According to Ms. Bradford, auctions sound more exciting than they are. They don’t necessarily mean big money. In a typical auction, the editor who wins is the person with the most money — not necessarily editor who “gets” the book and will support the author’s career. Ms. Bradford conducts a “best bid” auction — one sealed bid from each interested party. She consults with the author and they choose a winner.
I learned a lot from Ms. Bradford’s enlightening talk. I thought her point that choosing a publisher is more than a monetary decision was thought-provoking. What did you find surprising or interesting about her advice?
For more on Ms. Bradford’s current needs and submission guidelines, please visit the Bradford Literary Agency.