It may seem like an odd statement. Why would you, after no doubt years of hard work and a significant amount of time spent seeking an agent to represent you, even contemplate turning down a literary agent offer?
This is exactly what happened to me. I’d been working on my novel for just over a year and had sent the finished manuscript out to various literary agencies without much success. Some had responded with personalised emails saying they’d enjoyed it, but it just wasn’t for them; others sent form rejections and some ignored my query letter altogether.
Then I went to a writing conference and met a literary agent. She asked me to send her a copy of my manuscript, and so I did.
I was surprised and unbelievably excited when she called me less than a week later to tell me she loved my manuscript and wanted to represent me. It was a dream come true. I’ve wanted to be an author my entire life and felt like this was finally it. I immediately said yes, and the agent said she’d send me across a contract to sign.
Looking back, what I should have done was thank her for the offer and said I would like some time to think about it. I knew very little about this agent after all. It may be different if it’s an agency you’ve spent time researching and approached yourself.
However, due to some useful advice I’d received at Swanwick Summer Writers’ school, I knew about the Society of Authors (UK). I’d been pre-warned to not sign any contracts with any agents or publishers until I’d read through all the terms thoroughly and had a professional read through them. Therefore, when the contract arrived on my doorstep a week later, I sent a copy to the Society of Authors (SoA).
SoA offer fantastic advice to new and established authors free of charge, on a whole array of issues including contracts. I highly recommend you run any contracts past them before signing. They will be able to explain any terms you are unsure of and will let you know if there’s anything you should be wary of or ask to have changed before signing. The SoA picked up on several terms to change in my contract.
These are some of the other things you should consider before agreeing to work with a literary agent:
- Do they represent any other authors? Are they experienced or new? How successful have their other clients been?
- Do they have experience representing authors in your genre?
- What is their vision for your work?
- Are you liable for any costs? How long is the contact for?
- Are they accessible and approachable? Do you think you will get on and have a good working relationship?
- Is the contract in your best interests? If there are things you would like to change, is the agent flexible to changes?
- Do you want the same things? E.g. does your agent sees your book more as a small publication for boutique bookshops, whereas you want to be more widespread.
It turns out my would-be literary agent didn’t have experience of working with authors who wrote YA fiction. Now this doesn’t necessarily mean they wouldn’t have been good at representing me, just maybe they’d have fewer contacts at YA publishers than some other agents.
I’m not trying to say don’t get excited when agents say they want to work with you. Absolutely do! It’s fantastic news. But think it over before you sign on the dotted line. Ask others for advice, and ask yourself, is it a good match?
Back to my own story. As I began the process of negotiating the contract based on the advice from SoA, it became increasingly clear to me that me and the agent were not a good match. There were certain terms we could not agree on, and we wanted different things. It was with regret I eventually decided not to sign the contract.
A year later, I still sometimes wonder whether I made the right decision. If I’d just put my niggles to one side, and signed the contract, would I have a book on its way to the shelves now? It’s possible, but would it be the book I wanted?
I’m a firm believer you should go with your gut, so that’s what I did. Rightly or wrongly, I’ll guess I will never be sure. I haven’t approached any other agents since then, and after some useful feedback, I’ve decided to re-write that first novel.
Already, even though I’m only halfway through, I feel like this version of the book is much stronger, and that when I do approach agents again, I’ll be doing so with increased confidence.
Do you have an agent? If so, how did you find yours? Or do you prefer to self-publish or approach publishers directly?