Thursday, June 6, 2013

Publishers Who are Gun-Shy of Agents

I just had an experience with a publisher that was a little unsettling. And disappointing. When you consider I lost a sale because of it, it might be termed a worse case scenario in the submission process. Without further ado, I'll post this publisher's email letter to me after I received their contract offer. I just mentioned in the thank you letter that my agent would be delighted to look over the terms and report back to the both of us. Yah-deh-da-deh-dah. You know how it goes. I changed the wording in the publishers reply so that it wouldn't be quite so traceable, but there was still no disclaimer in their email about revealing privy information. And it doesn't really make this publisher out to be a monster.

Hi, Chris;

I'm sorry but this is a little unorthodox for us. We like to deal directly with the writers who query us. Since there is now at this time an agent involved, this changes the dynamics a little.
 

I'm sorry but we have so many submissions at any given time that we like to stick with one contact person, the person who submitted to us. Presently we don't wish to bring an agent into the deal. If an agent queries us in the beginning, we are more than happy to work with them. However, since this was not the case with your submission, it looks more like it will confuse matters on our end.
Because of this we feel that (Publishing House) is probably not a good fit for you at this time.

We wish you and your agent tremendous luck in your future endeavors!

Have a wonderful day.


My Response:

 Well, I'm indeed sad that you feel that way. Truly. Just to clear the air a little, (Agent name) has been my agent for a couple years and aids me in migrating the legal-speak of contract issues. I didn't bring him/her in on the tail end of the deal just to leverage anything. He/She's not the type to go after a publisher with a knife in one hand and a money bag in the other. My relationship with he/she is almost symbiotic in that I'm allowed to solicit and sub to the best of the best small press houses, while he/she takes care of the larger NYC imprints and such. I'm only required to coordinate with he/she and give he/she a heads up if there's interest, and not make any subs that would cross his/her's list--I provide he/she with my own list. I'm also sorry that you missed my listing of him/her in my bio/credit section that I sent along with the first query and/or following submissions.
 

(My Book) sold four times before you expressed interest. My agent and I declined all of them, but we kept (This Publisher Name) on the top shelf. I understand your point about agent first contact, but I'm sure you know as a result of your own publishing experience that many agents are reluctant to submit to small press houses because they're not known to be especially lucrative. It's just a pure business thing. However, some agents don't mind signing such contracts when all avenues have been exhausted and the author could really use/benefit by the association.

I'm not sure that you have an agent since I don't see one in any acknowledgments in your books listed on Amazon. I can't describe to you what it's like having one in only a few sentences--I've had three in the past 26 years. But it might be a good idea if you include your preferences for-or-against agent involvement on your website--in the FAQs or Submission areas. If I glossed over it, that's my fault.

I sincerely hope you believe/understand that agents aren't the enemy and a faction to be avoided. They're much better at diplomacy than us, ofttimes, irrational, impatient and demanding authors.


Respectfully yours,


Chris

What else could I say? How would you have worded it? When this person used passive words in the vein of, "like, looks more like, feel, probably, wish to" and other such phrases, I tend to think that he/she's either very sorry and trying to let me down easy or that he/she's very aware that what's happening here is not quite the right thing to do. Maybe. I tend to think this publisher has never dealt with an agent before and I suspect that this person has never been represented by one. I can think of Jim Baen of Baen Books, who did not suffer agents well and he expressed this displeasure to all in sundry. In fact, his staff alerted me to this when I was very close to a full-read determination. But Jim Baen was a dinosaur, God rest his soul, and I think everyone rode his wave even if he told you how to surf it. Heavy hitters in the pub bizz get that respect.

It could have been that this publisher had no intention of budging from their token advance amount or their royalty allotment. Quite possibly, they'd never had agent contact before. And from all that we writers have been told about the positives of having an agent handle everything, you have to admit that this is bizarre and, I'll use his/her's term, "unorthodox."

I didn't want to burn any bridges. I wanted to inform with a plea of understanding and not come off like some pompous brute who knows-it-all. I hope I managed to do that without offense. But I will say this, if you come across a similar situation, turn mother's picture to the wall and get out. I think this publisher is living in the stone age and really doesn't understand the dynamics of publishing. They are new to the scene, about a year or more into their business, but I don't think that qualifies as a legitimate excuse. At the very worst, they're hiding something. Something stinks on the shoreline and it's best that you walk right on by without investigating or picking it up.

This is one case where having an agent nixed a sale instead of pulling one off. Crikey, wot?

 
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