Traditional Publishing

More About Agents

By G. Miki Hayden
Instructor at Writer's Digest University online and private writing coach – Friday May 3, 2019

Are you talented? Are you lucky? For you, then, agents count. Read below.

Agent Location

Does it help if your agent is in Manhattan, if she’s agoraphobic and never leaves the house? 

My opinion is an agent with a Manhattan address is probably more impressive (even if she doesn’t lunch), than an agent who lives in Butte, Montana. Of course most authors who live all over the place won’t understand the cachet of the city address or 212 area code (though many Jane-come-latelys or folks who’ve moved may find themselves stuck with a 646 telephone code).

Why is a New York City address (Manhattan preferred) more reassuring to the editor who lives in a hole in the wall in the East Village? New Yorkers are just “we versus them” types and feel more comfortable with those we might rub elbows with in the subway.

On the other hand, that really doesn’t matter when push comes to shove. Email, the phone, fax, and iPhone do the job for those agents in Atlanta and Phoenix just as well as for those on E. 77th Street.

The difference in terms of doing the deal is the agent’s reputation, his willingness to get on the plane and come to Manhattan to discuss contract items in dispute, and the book itself. Ah, yes, ladies and gentlemen, the book itself has been known to count when a sale is in view.

Geography is not the deciding factor in selecting the agent you approach or you sign with, but can be an element in making a decision. You might prefer to have an agent close to where you yourself live, so you can meet with her in person—or you might want to feel she is in the loop in the publishing capital of the world. 

A big agent located in Manhattan might not work as hard for you as the smaller agent in a regional literary agency, either. On the other hand, the regional agent might not have the clout to negotiate as large an advance as the NY agent with other major clients who publish with that editor or house. 
Just something else to think about. Ponder, ponder. 

Agent Commissions

Give him your firstborn and a big wet kiss.

The standard fee extracted from your check by the agent is 15 percent. That’s been the charge for a good long time, but a few agents remain out there who ask only for a 10 percent commission. Moreover, if you’ve basically gotten an offer and ask an agent to negotiate on your behalf, sometimes that agent will stipulate only a 10 percent fee on the book that has already been sold.

Agents will also sometimes take 10 percent on an overseas deal in which a second agent in the other country also takes a 10 percent bite of your earnings. On the other hand, a total of 25 percent on the foreign deal—the standard 15 percent for your agent and the 10 percent foreign subagent fee—will sometimes be extracted from your pocket.

Agents will also possibly bump their commission down to 10 percent of you’re a multimillion-dollar-selling client. In that case, heck, what’s the difference in a mere 5 percent. Let the client feel she’s getting a great deal.
Bear in mind, however that an agent’s rate is set by the agent, and if you sign the contract, you sign the contract. The agent might withdraw an offer of representation if you try to negotiate, just as a dentist might send you away if you try to get the work done for a discount. 

You should ask about the rates when you’re deciding on your agent, anyway, making no assumptions, but wanting to have a hard number to go by and, at the same time ask about fees for copying, phone calls, postage, and such, and how they’re charged and what are the limits and how is that billed—and when (such as is the amount deducted from the sale?).

Oh, and yes, never pay for representation per se. Just pay when the book has been sold— though some agents will charge the office-expense type of fees up front. 

Never forget that the writing counts. Contact Miki for coaching or a line edit at or take a Writer’s Digest class with Miki and she’ll pinpoint exactly what you can improve. (Plenty.)

About the Author

G. Miki Hayden is a short story Edgar winner. She teaches a mystery writing and a thriller writing and other writing classes at Writer's Digest online university. The third edition of her Writing the Mystery is available through Amazon and other good bookshops. She is also the author of The Naked Writer, a comprehensive, easy-to-read style and composition guide for all levels of writers.