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The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell

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Know when to get an agent
and when not to.
Now consider the agent, usually the fi rst priority of the
aspiring writer with a manuscript in hand.
The search for an agent needs to be approached like
any other battle in the long fi ght toward publication. It
requires information, patience, and careful action.
Because a bad agent is worse than no agent.
That’s right. Anyone can print up business cards and
announce he is anagent. Some of them will ask for
various fees up front, or tell you to put your manuscript
through an editing service that will take your money
with no real guarantees.
Others will sign as many new writers as they can,
then just send out their manuscripts to see if any stick.
They do no nurturing of your career, and you can waste
one, two, or maybe even more years with no real possibil-
ity of getting a contract.
With all this in mind, I asked literary agent Chip Mac-
Gregor of MacGregor Literary Agency for his pointers on
when to get—and when not to get—an agent.
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When Not to Get an Agent:
When you’re not a proven writer. Generally, pub-
lishers are looking for great ideas, expressed
through great writing, and offered by a person
with a great platform. Sometimes they get all
three, but usually they settle for two of three.
(I’ve taken on some unproven writers because
I liked an idea or the writing, but understand
that I work much harder for an unknown au-
thor, and get less return, than I do for a proven
author … and thats why agents prefer to work
with proven authors.)
When you don’t have a full manuscript.
When you won’t let others critique your work.
When you’re not ready for rejection. This is a
tough business. Do you have any idea how many
times I hear the word “no” in a week? If you can’t
take “no,” or if you can’t take criticism, or if you
can’t take direction, go back to the dry-cleaning
business. You obviously aren’t tough enough for
the writing biz.
When you feel like you’re “giving away” 15 per-
cent of your income. I don’t think any of the
authors I work with resent my percentage … they
know I help them earn more than theyd get on
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their own. But if you don’t feel that way, you’re
probably not ready to work with an agent.
When you enjoy selling books and negotiating
contracts, you have the relationships with edi-
tors to set up your own book deal, and you don’t
mind singing your own praises.
When to Get an Agent:
When you have a dynamite proposal that a pub-
lisher will fall in love with. The agent should
help you maximize the deal.
When you don’t know who to go to. An agent
should have strong relationships in publishing
Always ask a prospective agent who she repre-
sents, ask to talk with some of her authors, and
ask what deals she has done lately. If an agent
doesn’t really represent anybody, or hasn’t re-
ally done any deals, you have to wonder if shes
really an agent or just playing one on TV. One
more thought: An agent lives or dies on her re-
lationships. Make sure you pick somebody who
is good at relationships.
When you don’t know about contracts. They
are legal documents that govern every aspect of
your book for as long as it’s in print a contract
can impact your life for years.
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When you don’t know what a good deal or a bad
deal is.
When you don’t know how to read and under-
stand a royalty statement.
When you don’t know how to market your book.
When you don’t have time on your hands and don’t
want to negotiate with the publisher yourself.
When you don’t want to be the person promot-
ing or selling yourself and your work.
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