I used to wonder if I'd ever get an agent, but now I'm wondering what one of those would do for me that I don't already do for myself.

I just agreed to -- signed paperwork to follow -- sell the French, German, Italian, Dutch, Greek, Spanish and Portuguese versions of my debut novel, How the Strong Survive, to a European publisher. I am required to be involved and approve the translations, and my new publisher will pay my expenses for book release promotional tours. We are still negotiating the film rights to these "European Language" editions.

They also want my (sold but still in the production pipeline) Nick Schaevers PI series. Those discussions are in the initial stage.

I'll announce the publisher's name when the ink is dry on the contracts.

Not bad for a guy with no agent!

I asked, and the agents that responded told me that international discussions get the agent 20% for established authors, but 25% of unknown authors like me.

For 1/4th of my royalties, I want them to do a lot of the research for the novel and write some of the chapters.

Besides, authors I know have told me how agents often negotiate terms benefitting the publisher to the detriment of the author, in hopes for the agent being receptive in the future to other books the agent brings them.

I have "trust issues" with the whole "agent" thing. Maybe if one of them proved to me that they have human DNA, and are not a member of the loyal order of Selachi, I might let them represent me. Until then, I seem to be selling books to American and international publishers without an agent taking the "mordita" out of my royalties.

Just my $0.02

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This is not the way it has worked for me. My American agent works with co-agents in the different countries. Each country (language) is a separate contract. My agent gets 10% and the foreign agent also gets 10%. I believe that is standard. You can only approve the translation if you are fluent in the language!

In general, you have an agent to protect you against the publisher. The agent is on your side and works for you. This includes careful analysis of every contract and the retention of as many rights to you as can reasonably be negotiated. Of course, it also includes negotiation of advances and royalties. Agents know what the market will bear.

I for one would not want to deal with the legal language in an eight-page book contract.
Yes, I understand that the 20% is usually split between two agents, but that is still 20%, even if the US agent gives half of it to somebody who speaks the preferred language of the publisher.

I can approve the translations by utilizing professional translators or my friends who are fluent in those languages to evaluate them with me. One of my friends in Europe represented my interests while the agreement was being formulated. The contracts come in two languages, and I am required to have my own professional translator certify the translation of the contract into English was accurate. I sign both copies.

As for understanding the legal paragraphs, I have an intellectual property lawyer look at the contract. Besides that, I always read contracts that I sign. I had a year of business law in college, and have access to a legal dictionary. No matter how many pages, I always read them, since I am the one who has to sign.

Together, the translators and lawyers cost a whole lot less than an agent. They are a fixed cost recoverable after a few sales, while the agent will cost me for the life of the book.

I believe that agents are on their own side. If they think that cutting the author to help the publisher is in their long-term interests as an agent, they are likely to choose to help themselves. If there are good agents who really are on the side of the author -- even if it adversely impacts the agent's interests -- I would like to meet them. Such an agent would be worth their cut of the royalties.

As for the retention of rights, I use an IP lawyer. They cost less, and if there is trouble, they are ready to work the legal system for me. Agents are often uninvolved if there is a legal dispute.

As for "what the market will bear" you must mean advances, since nobody knows how big a book will be at the cash register. The advance against sales discussion is a can of worms that I once got into on CrimeSpace, and don't want to get into that again.

As long as I negotiate a contract that I am happy with, I will probably still have more in my pocket than I would if an agent gets a bigger offer but takes 20% to 25% of the deal.

It's still my $0.02
Congrats! Way to take back creative control.
I don’t have an agent either. I write for a niche market, i.e. there isn’t a lot of money to be made. In fact, I was told by two agents that it simply wasn’t worth their time to deal with me, because the 10 or 15% they make off me wouldn’t even cover phone calls or couriers.

Of course, I felt very much like I was going through law school when the time came to study my contract, but hey, there’s plenty of help available.

Now, how do I go about selling my foreign rights?
Method one -- might work for fiction
1. Pick a foreign country or region, e.g., the European Union.
2. Select a publisher that carries your kind of work
(Other countries often have the same markets that we do,
and are likely to have your niche market, too.)
3. Find somebody who you know that speaks the language well
and ask them to help you meet people "over there."
4. Meet those new people, and develop a friendship.
5. ask them to help you get introduced to the publisher
6. politely pitch through the intermediary.

Method two -- better for non-fiction
1. Approach leaders in your niche subject area
2. Ask them to introduce you to colleagues in the target country
3. meet and discuss (email) your topic with them
4. Convince them to suggest your book to a publisher "over there."

Or just do the tried and true direct sale:
1. pick the publisher over there.
2. write a query letter in their language; include a SASE with proper postage.
3. If you get a response, follow their directions for submittal

Your mileage may vary, batteries, tires, and lights not included, void where there are stupid lawyers, ...
Beyond all the business stuff you mention about agents, I received what was for me, bad advice from agents. I say bad advice for me, it might have been good advice for others. Agents want to sell books. They want to sell them to the biggest publishers for the most amount of money possible. That may be true for many authors as well, but not for all. The agents I met with all said the same things - I needed to create a hero who could be the main character in many novels, The hero would have flaws but would solve the 'cases.' For me, I just couldn't write that kind of book. But notice, this advice was from agents, not publishers.

I ended up writing the book I wanted to and sold it to a small Canadian publisher who turned around and sold it to a large Ameican publisher. I think if I had followed the agents' advice I would have spent years banging my head against a wall trying to write a book I just didn;t have in me and when it failed to sell it would be my fault, not the agent's.

So, at least in my case, I think the small publisher route is better than the agent route. Most small presses will read and seriously evaluate all the query letters they receive. Getting published by a small press isn't like winning the lottery, you won't be able to quit your day job (but often that's thecase, too, with big publishers) but you'll have a good chance of getting the book published the way you want.

And, I think, my book would not have sold to the US publisher in manuscript form, but all the editorial and design from the small press helped a lot.
Okay, that's a valid point. There is a lot to be said for small publishers. For one thing, they tend to be more personable and patient. And yes, agents go to the big guys. But never think for a moment that getting published by the big guy is like winning the lottery.
Newt,
I'm happy things are working out for you; you also strike me as a special case in a couple of ways.

One, you know people who speak the languages in question fluently enough to get a good read on the translations. Two, you are willing to spend a LOT more time than I am on the items agents traditionally take care of. Not that I wouldn't like to, but my schedule is such that I'd have to just about stop writing anything else to take care of the things I currently rely on an agent to do.

It boils down to trust. My agent knows what kinds of things are standard and customary. I read a lot of blog, so I have (what I hope are) intelligent questions to ask, but I'm depending on her to provide a distillation of what is going on. Plus, the agent serves as a buffer between the writer and the publisher. When a dispute arises (as, I suspect, it inevitably will), the agent is the go-between with an interest in keeping things moving. Of course, as John points out, you have to have an agent whose interests and ideas mesh with yours, but I would much rather spend my energy writing that querying, negotiating, inspecting, interpreting, and checking royalty statements.
I see your points, and believe you. You are right, it is all about trust. I have yet to meet an agent who inspires my trust.
I have helped with conferences where the agents who took our money to sit at tables and talk with aspiring authors would go into the break room and laugh behind closed doors at how big of fools the writers were, and mock their packets as they threw them into the trash unread.
From the personal contacts I have had, there is a tie for the rudest people on earth award: literary agents and the Transportation Security Agency folks at busy airports. Since I have yet to have a literary agent almost strip search me, the TSA folks are a winner by a brown nose.
I want to believe that there is an agent who does not sing a montra of moneymoneymoney throughout the day. Just as someone should be suspicious of people who never gave them the time of day before they won the lottery, but want to be intimate with them after they win the lottery, I have kept the names of the agents who treated me with disdain while I was unpublished, for the day -- like now -- when I have sold three novels in the US and just sold the European language rights. I predict that agents will soon start sniffing around looking to loot my pockets. If anyone on my "snubbed newt" list professes to be my best friend, I am not buying it.
Being an optimist -- often described as the son of Polyanna -- I hope for the day when an agent earns my trust, and I can turn that part of my writing life over to them. I have learned to not hold my breath while I hope.
I can only speak for myself but my agent has been great.
He has got me deals both at home and in europe. I'm pretty sure I couldn't have done that myself.
Also he has danced the fine wire between the various publishers sometimes conflicting interests.
If ever I'm unhappy with something he always deals with it so that I don't have to sour my relationship with my editor. Kind of Good Cop Bad Cop.
Also he's a world class nag - and will 'remind' the publishers of things with a shamelessness I just don't possess.
HB x
I believe that agents are on their own side. If they think that cutting the author to help the publisher is in their long-term interests as an agent, they are likely to choose to help themselves. If there are good agents who really are on the side of the author -- even if it adversely impacts the agent's interests -- I would like to meet them. Such an agent would be worth their cut of the royalties.

This is a ridiculous statement, Newt. It doesn't even make sense. Why would an agent, who only makes money if the author makes money, not negotiate for the best deal possible? Show me a bestselling (or even a stout midlist) author who doesn't have an agent. You seem to be in some state of paranoia, spouting off rhetoric with no basis in fact.

The fact is, only a handful of legitimate publishers will even accept unagented submissions. The literary agent has become, among other things, a first reader for publishers. Try sending your unagented manuscript to St. Martin's, or Penguin, or...any of the majors. You won't even get a form rejection. It'll hit the shredder unopened.

Best of luck on your deal and all, but stop trying to sound like you know anything about author/agent/publisher relations if you've never even had an agent.
I don't recall reading Newt ever say that any of the ideas he was putting forth were "facts". In fact, the first two words from the quote you used are "I believe". These words indicate that the following is an opinion, not a declaration of fact.

Secondly, you're being presumptuous in assuming that you know Newt's experiences with agents. Actually, he gives an example above of a conference he helped at when agents acted in a disagreeable manner. In answer to Newt's "ridiculous statement", once possible reason an agent might look after himself more is if he doesn't think the author will make any money. You said yourself if the author doesn't make money than the agent doesn't. Exactly. So if the author most likely isn't going to make any money, than why should the agent put in the same amount of effort as he would with a different author who probably would make more money? This is just one possibility. I don't know if this is anywhere close to what Newt was thinking or not.

There is a difference between a declaration of fact and an opinion. Just so you know.

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