Saturday, December 26, 2009
Should I query an agent with several books at once?
"Mr. Lukeman: My second book was just published in November. Is it too late for me a find an agent to represent my financial interests going forward on this work? If it is not, do agents typically expect a lower percentage of the revenue since the book is already placed and published? I have a third almost completed. Should I look for someone to represent both? What are your thoughts? Thanks."
You are asking several questions here, and we’ll start by addressing what is one of the more universal questions for aspiring authors: if you have written multiple books, or if you have multiple book concepts, should you query an agent about all of them at once?
As a rule of thumb, when researching and querying agents, it’s best to choose one concept and stick to it. This will enable you to be more targeted when researching and approaching agents, and to be more focused in your query letter. It will make you seem less scattered, and will help an agent quickly and easily get his mind around the concept at hand. (Some queries are so scattered that half the agent’s battle is trying to figure out exactly what the work is about.) Querying with one concept at a time will also make sure it gets the attention it deserves: when someone pitches ten concepts at once, it can cheapen all of them.
The downside of querying with just one concept is that there is always the remote chance that agents dislike the concept you queried about, but would have been interested in a concept you never mentioned. But then again, if you choose one concept and are rejected, there is nothing to prevent you from querying agents all over again with one of your other concepts.
While this is a basic rule of thumb, as with everything in publishing, the answer can become infinitely more complex, depending on the particular scenario. For example, do you have one fiction and one non-fiction concept? (In which case you should most likely query separate agents for each.) Have you written four novels, and are they all part of a series? (You should query with the first book alone, but mention that it is part of a series.) Are your six concepts all non-fiction, and all in different genres? (Many agents will focus on certain genres, and an agent who represents serious history may not be interested in representing a commercial fitness book.) Have you written one academic work and one for the trade? (Agents will rarely represent purely academic books, and you may need to submit directly to a university press.) Is one of your books heavily illustrated and the other straight text? (The agent who represents a book of straight text may not want to represent a coffee table book.) Etc. etc.
As you can see from these few scenarios, agents’ needs differ radically, and it would be fairly unusual to find an agent who is eager to represent one author for a broad array of genres. Additionally, an important part of landing an author a deal, particularly when it comes to non-fiction, is her expertise and credibility in a particular genre—thus it may be easy to land a deal for a work of history from a history professor at Harvard, but impossible to land this same author a cookbook deal. Likewise, the agent who represents literary fiction may not want to represent commercial fiction—and vice versa.
In your particular case, you also asked, “Is it too late for me a find an agent to represent my financial interests going forward on [an already published] work? If it is not, do agents typically expect a lower percentage of the revenue since the book is already placed and published?” The bulk of the agent’s effort takes place before a book is published: the primarily role of the agent is to help find a publisher, negotiate a deal and negotiate a contract; they may also help brainstorm a concept, edit a proposal, and work on subsidiary rights. What an agent does not do is get involved in publicity and promotion—that is the job of the publicist. Thus in most cases, there is very little, if anything, for an agent to do once a book is published, and thus it would be unusual for an agent to want to represent an already published book (unless there is sub-rights work to do), and you may not even want this, as you may end up paying him for nothing. The standard industry commission is 15%, and it is unusual for an agent to vary from this, regardless of what stage a book is in.