In the first part of our interview with Denise Bukowski and Kris Rothstein, we discussed how to get an agent’s attention and what to look for when deciding to work with an agent. Part two looks at what happens after a writer finds an agent and what next steps they can expect.
What next steps can writers expect once they sign a contract?
DB: I do quite a bit of editorial work for non-fiction. I’ll do editorial work for fiction before we submit the work if I think it needs it. But I don’t earn a higher commission for editorial work, so I prefer authors who don’t need a lot of it. Usually, with first-time authors, I get involved with the editing before we send it out.
KR: It is advisable to have a plan with the agent – when will they submit your work and to how many people? How long do they expect to wait for responses? What will happen next? Does the agent want you to change anything before submissions? Expect updates, possibly monthly but maybe not as often.
What happens if a project doesn’t sell?
DB: You can get away with two, maybe three books that don’t do well in Canada before a publisher drops you. Everybody can look up how many books your last book has sold, so if your history is poor, publishers know that booksellers won’t purchase your book. That is unless you’ve graduated from a small press to a big press. They know that the big press will do better. But suppose a publisher dropped the ball, and a book didn’t do well. In that case, it can be easier to sell them outside of Canada because mainstream publishers won’t want to take the writer on based on book sales. In that case, writers tend to move to smaller and smaller presses.
KR: Lots of books don’t sell! An agent should explain that to you. Talk over whether you are open to publishing with a very small press for little money if they have a good reputation. An agent will likely give you the opportunity to take a crack at it yourself – with self-publishing or another angle. Some might end the relationship there, but most will still want to see your next book and see if they think it has potential.
How do you work with writers after their book is sold?
DB: It depends on what the author wants. Once they have a well-established relationship with their editor, they need me less. After that, a lot of my time is spent selling internationally with my sub-agents around the world. I also stickhandle any problems that arise and keep monitoring what people do to make sure you look good.
KR: Advise them on the contract – what is being asked for and why. Make sure they have a good relationship with their publisher and editor and that they are introduced to them quickly if it is a large publisher where they might not yet know who will work on various aspects of the publishing process. Much of the process is then between the author and editor, but other parts, like payment, come through the agent. They make sure you are paid on time, that you have access to tax treaties. There are many things they will keep you updated on and tell you what to expect and when. There may be offers for additional sales. If the agent holds rights, they will network or travel to meet international buyers and performance representatives who might buy your work.
Do you have any other advice for aspiring writers?
DB: You have to be really savvy about understanding the importance of community and the importance of understanding the business aspect. If you want to be successful, publish stories independently and in various publications, then come back with your novel. And look at an agent’s website. Don’t phone them and ask dumb questions. Everything you need to know to make a submission is on the website. Look at that, make sure you’re sending it to the right person, and that you’re doing it according to their requirements.
KR: Read a lot. Research a lot. Write what you are passionate about, not what you think will sell, but still be knowledgeable about the market.