Surviving the Agent Battle- Pennwriters Conference

One of the best seminars I went to at the Pennwriters Conference was with Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary. It was called “Surviving the Agent Battle.” Here are a few of my notes!

1) You want an agent who does the book you write- not just the “best” agent out there. You want one who is looking for you, so don’t concern yourself with querying somebody who doesn’t handle your material!

2) Look for a full-service agency- either choose one that handles film rights and sub rights in house, or one that has connections to other agents who handle those things. You need an agent with connections!

3) You don’t need an agent in New York City, but you do need one who goes to NYC often. Again, it’s all about connections, and that’s where the editors are.

4) Query things:
*Have a complete, finished manuscript before you start querying.
*It should be about 250 words.
*Start with your main character and conflict.
*Your bio should explain the relevant things about you.

5) Make an agent list. Send ten queries out. If they’re rejected, there’s something wrong with your query letter! Fix it and send out another ten. Ideally, you want 75% of your queries to result in requested pages. (this blew my mind a little)

6) If you get multiple offers, tell the other agents they have a week to respond. Any less than this time and the agents think you really want to go with the first agent who has your material. Any more than this and they think that you really don’t want to to go with the first agent.

7) Ask agents a lot of questions before signing with them. Here are a few: Who handles your sub rights? Do you enjoy editing? Do you have editorial suggestions? What is your vision for my book? What is your plan to market it? Do you have editors in mind? Why? How long with you work with me? How many rounds will you make before quitting? What will you do if the book doesn’t sell?

8) About timelines: Give a partial six to eight weeks, then follow up with a polite e-mail.

9) The industry standard commission is 15%. Sub rights is 20%.. International is an extra 20%.

10) Suzie’s dream client is…
Productive (writes great books)
Never complains
Has great expectations about his/her books.
Willing to push books ahead.
Professional (you don’t treat your agent like a therapist)
-Take a step back before talking about the problem.
-Everybody (editors, agents, publishers) wants you to be happy.
-Let the agent be the bad guy for you- don’t talk to the publisher yourself.

11) Breaking up with an agent:
First, have a conversation with them to see what they’re doing for you.
– You don’t always know what they’re doing. Sometimes they’re working really hard behind the scenes.
It’s better NOT to have an agent than to have one that’s bad.
Send a break-up letter stating the reason you’re parting ways.

And there you have it! Insight from Suzie Townsend herself.

PS- I just wrote another article for Brocouncil. Check it out! 


7 thoughts on “Surviving the Agent Battle- Pennwriters Conference

  1. Michel Sauret says:

    I read an excellent book by Noah Lukeman about querying and landing a literary agent that was excellent. It helps break down the whole process. Any bites on your current works?

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