Recently, I wrote a novel. That’s not strange at all, at least not for me. However, my agent Lucienne read the synopsis and the first few chapters, and said that, while the writing stunning! brilliant! effervescent!, it was outside her usual formidable ability to market. Disaster! Lucienne did say there was probably a market for the book–a statement I agreed with–she just didn’t feel qualified to find it.
We discussed this problem at length. I liked the book a great deal and didn’t want to set it aside, nor did I want to market it myself. Finally, Lucienne offered to pass it on to another agent at the same agency, a delightful man named Travis who likely did have sales contacts for this kind of book. I thought this was a splendid idea.
By now, I had finished the novel. Travis read it and said the writing was stunning! brilliant! effervescent!, and he definitely wanted to represent me. Wow! Suddenly I had two agents. Hence my strange position.
I’ve heard of authors who have two agents, but usually they’re best-selling writers who have, say, a book agent and a Hollywood agent to handle TV and movie deals, not modest mid-list me. I’ve never even heard of someone who had multiple agents just for their fiction (which means half a dozen commenters will name several examples in the comments, of course). How the heck does this work?
I’m not leaving Lucienne for Travis. (Sounds like the middle of a torrid novel, doesn’t it?) She does a fantastic job repping my work, thank you, and she has an uncanny knack for finding me media work when the contracts run low. But I also want to publish this new book and write more books like it, ones Travis can sell. I also don’t want some day to send a book proposal to, say, Lucienne, only to discover that it should more rightly have gone to Travis, or vice-versa. This can too easily lead to embarrassment, hurt feelings, or general ticked off-edness (if the “wrong” person wastes valuable time reading something that should have gone elsewhere).
So we come to today’s writing advice:
Always get it in writing.
Our next step will be to work out exactly who represents what and under what circumstances. We’ll no doubt set this by genre, but other factors may come up as well during the discussion. And we’ll write it all down. That way there are no misunderstandings, no I thought you saids, no contradictions. And if a mistake comes up, we’ll know who should grovel an apology. 🙂
This is the way it should be. Verbal agreements are, in my experience, a bad idea, and I don’t ever recall working under one. One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever got was, “Write every contract assuming both you and the other guy will get hit by a bus tomorrow and your heirs will hate each other.” In other words, spell everything out in clear, unambiguous language that everyone can understand, and include who has what duties, how everyone will be paid, and what happens if someone is unable to perform said duties. That way, everyone knows everything and ticked-offedness monster can be crushed before it hatches.
No matter how strange the situation, write it down!
–Steven Harper Piziks