What’s it like to be a working author with an agent?

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I ‘m often asked this question.  I do know many other authors with agents, and all of us have a different experience due to several factors, but I can tell you MY experiences.

Let me just state for the record, that I don’t know everything there is to know about any of this by far! And this process/experience seems to change daily depending on the author and agent involved, the market, the house, the editors, the winds, or whatever… But this is what I know at this moment in time 🙂

Let’s start at the beginning. No, not the beginning of my writing career back when I signed on with my agent, just the beginning of MY experience with my agent. Paige Wheeler is my agent, and she’s fabulous. We’ve been together since 2005.

I did spend two years submitting without an agent. I started writing seriously for publication in 2003 and quickly published with a small press who is long gone…

Needless to say, I like the process WITH an agent a WHOLE lot better! I know some authors don’t like paying the 15% or whatever percentage they pay to their agent off the top of their advances/royalties etc, but I’ve never once regretted it. Paige earns every penny, and makes my life a whole lot easier and enables me to concentrate on getting more books out there faster, as long as my brain cooperates!

So anyway, before this process even starts I usually send myself any book ideas that pop up. What I mean by that is that I set up a rule in my Microsoft Outlook that if I send myself an email with the subject Book Idea, then it pops it in a folder I have set up with, yup – you guessed it – book ideas 🙂

As I go through daily life, any time a book idea or even something that might be a fun idea to go IN another book or series at some point pops into my brain – I break out the iphone or the laptop and send myself an email.

Then when Paige and I are ready to start a “round” of this process, she and I talk and we decide what direction or genre I’m going for. We used to just always aim for paranormal romance, or erotic paranormal romance, depending on which pen name I was aiming for a contract in. However, with the recent changes in the market, the genre and direction have been a discussion lately as well.

Once I have those in mind, I go through that folder of ideas and pick out the ones that I think might work – usually the ones that “speak to me” or resonate with me in some way at that time, then I add any new ones that might percolate up and mold all of them into a manageable list of ideas that I might like to write a book or series about.

I let those simmer in my mind a few days, or even gather together my critique group – The Butterscotch Martini Girls for some brainstorming, and I make sure those ideas have enough of a blurb to convey the major characters, the main conflicts (both for the overall story and for each major character), and some ideas on the story arc and HEA. (Since I write romance there’s always an HEA (that’s Happily Ever After for those not familiar with romance genre acronyms.)

Then I send those off to Paige and keep letting those cook inside my brain.

Usually by this point I have a few frontrunners that I would really like to write about, and I always make sure to let Paige know which are my favorites when I send them back.

If she and I agree that those are good, full ideas and she thinks there’s somewhere that we can sell/pitch them to, then I’ll take the chosen idea(s) and write a synopsis and first three chapters.

Now let me clarify this point. This has been pretty standard practice for me, especially when we’re pitching to an editor or house I’ve never written for before. I’m not sure how many other authors do it this way, but Paige and I do.

However, in the past when I’ve already been writing for a house/editor and was just pitching a new book/series – for say, a first look, then I could just flesh out an idea and/or synopsis and go with that unless that editor asked for more. For the last anthology I did for KensingtonThe Pleasure Project – I had already done three books for Audrey La Fehr (Ceremony, Vison & Trio of Seduction) so she just asked for a blurb, and offered a contract from that since she already knows I can write a book, meet a deadline and all the rest, and I was just going to be one of a few other authors in that anthology, not writing an entire novel length story that would sell or not on my pen name/reputation alone.

But before that, when I fulfilled my contract and wrote all three books in the Seduction Series, I owed Kensington a first look. What that means is that when I signed my contract there was a first look clause. It’s pretty standard for most contracts and says something to the effect of they get the first shot at the next thing I’m going to write in that genre and/or pen name after I fulfill my contract with them, (the specifics can change depending on how the clause/contract is written etc, but we’re just going for general idea here…)

So at that point, I wrote up just a synopsis for the next series/idea I wanted to write for them.

Then what happens is they can accept it, and the process goes from there, they can “pass”, which is a nice way of saying they rejected it (or at least to me it is…lol), and then you’re free to submit that somewhere else – which also means you’ve fulfilled your first look clause and are no longer obligated to submit new things to them per that clause in your contract.

However, if I’m taking that idea that my old house passed on and now I’m trying to submit to a new house/editor I’ve never written for before, I would need to write up the first three chapters along with the synopsis I’ve already written. Now I’m sure that wouldn’t be the case if I were Nora Roberts, Stephen King or J.K Rowling. But since I’m Tina Gerow/Cassie Ryan – that’s still the case for me 🙂 – at least for now…but I’m optimistic!

Anyway…

A quick point here. I’ve sold books to New York as Cassie Ryan before. Cassie Ryan is an established New York author with sales numbers in the system that any editor/agent/sales department can look up. However, Tina Gerow is purely a small press published author and has no numbers in the system that editors/agents/sales depts can look up, so from a New York perspective, Tina Gerow is a brand new author. That’s not to say that they wouldn’t look at the fan base I’ve built or the popularity of past books I’ve written etc. It just means that when an editor goes to their sales director and tries to pitch buying my book – if it’s got the Tina Gerow name on it and not the Cassie Ryan name, that sales director will be looking at me with the risk/benefit to them of a new author – give or take some of those mitigating circumstances I talked about above.

But I’m sure you can see that if an editor goes to the sales department with a new book written by an author who has established sales in the system they can look at – and GOOD established sales in the system, vs an author who is brand new and unknown that they will be more apt to green light the first author.

Yes, I know that I’m the exact same person, and regardless of the two names, I write both sets of books. But the thinking is that readers will “know” the New York published name and may or may not know the non-New York published name. Thus the sales won’t directly cross over between the two.

And that’s true. I’m not secretive about either of my pen names. I don’t have a job or family reason to be, so I’m totally open about both. I do have crossover readers – readers who love both my Cassie books and my Tina books. But then I also have readers who only like the Cassie books or only like the Tina books. The biggest difference is that the Tina books are sensual and the Cassie books are erotic with a good dose of kink – although not a large dose of kink…LOL.

So if I sell a new book as Tina and they see it at their local Barnes & Noble on the shelves, the name Tina Gerow may or may not get them to pick it up, even if they are aware of the fact that I wrote both the Cassie books they’ve loved and the other Tina books. Make sense?

So going back to where I’ve fulfilled the first look clause and am now ready to have my synopsis and first three chapters submitted to new editors.

Paige looks over the synopsis and first three chapter and we discuss any areas that need to be beefed up or possibly changed outright. And let me make it clear that these are Paige’s suggestions. An agent works for an author. In effect, I pay Paige 15% of my writing income to help me in several aspects of my career. So she and I discuss things and she gives me her best suggestions on how she thinks my work will be viewed in the best light, and suggestions on how to move my writing career in the direction that I want it to go. After all, she’s got lots more experience in the business and with the editors we’ll be pitching to than I do. And I’ve learned to trust her opinion.

There have been times in the past when she’s asked me if I wanted to accept or turn down a contract that’s been offered. It’s up to me. I don’t HAVE to accept it!! Or to sign it! But like I said, I know and trust Paige’s opinion and if she advises that there’s something in my synopsis/three chapters that didn’t make sense or needs to be strengthened, I believe her and I go back and take a look at it!

Once we are both satisfied that they are in good shape and ready to submit, she and I discuss which houses and editors to submit to. She’ll tell me where she thinks would be good and will ask me if there’s anywhere else I would like to have them submitted. And if I’ve heard of some new line/editor/house and want to know her insight into them I ask this too – although I can ask her that at any time, not just during this process!

Once we have a firm list of where to submit, Paige goes to work and starts submitting. She’ll give me periodic updates – X, Y & Z passed on the project (there’s that nice word for rejected again…), X would like to see something slightly different and would like to know if you’d be willing to work up THAT, to which my answer is usually, SURE!

And then my favorite one – X is offering a contract for X number of books in a series – or a stand alone book etc, the advance is $X and the deadline/word count etc is…”

At this point in the process most of the contract details are NOT nailed down. But since I’ve been through this several times, those basic pieces of information are enough for me to say if I’m interested in the offer as is, or if I want to see if they can make some changes to the basics.

Once that’s negotiated and we’ve agreed on the basics, then Paige and her team go to work on the nitty gritty legalese – another reason I’m glad she’s on my side! That stuff makes my eyes cross. Although I DO read every word of every contract I ever sign. AND I make sure I understand it BEFORE I sign it. If I don’t understand something or I need more clarification, I call Paige and she patiently explains it to me. I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to sign ANY contract without reading and understanding it first!

So once all the legal beagles have duked it out and smoothed everything to their satisfaction, and to mine, we sign the contract and we’re off.

And most likely once we’ve agreed on the basics I’m already off and running writing the rest of the book!

It would take another blog entirely to outline my experience from there (I’ll make a note to do that in an upcoming blog), but once the book is turned in, and usually before it’s even released, Paige and I get together and we start this process all over again! And the cycle continues…

Happy writing, everyone!

Tina

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