Agent FAQ

FAQ About Working With The Roger Williams Agency

The traditional role of a literary agent is to find and negotiate a publishing agreement for an author’s literary property and then, to analyze and promptly process any financial transactions in connection with the agreement throughout the life of the work.  Given the changing landscape of publishing in today’s marketplace, my philosophy is to work with my clients well beyond the agreement phase.  Given my experience in sales and marketing and the evolution of publishing and social media, my goal is to help clients understand the fluid nature of the business, and to provide them with the tools they need to partner with their publisher.

Like most agents, we collect a basic 15% commission on any project we sell domestically. Commissions on foreign rights, rights, and dramatic rights are 25% since generally we have to pay subagents to complete these sales.  We do NOT charge reading fees of any kind. Unless otherwise agreed in writing, clients WILL be asked to reimburse the agency for incidental expenses related to the sale of a project.  Here is the fine print of what clients are charged:

  1.  Photocopying manuscripts and proposals when necessary at $.08 per page
  2. Overseas shipments to foreign publishers and co-agents
  3. Courier charges above and beyond standard USPS and UPS service
  4. Bank charges on foreign check clearance and the like
  5. Copies of your books purchased from the publisher when needed to market translation and other sub-rights
  6. Other exceptional third-party costs with prior approval of client

We aggressively try to place your book with a reputable and appropriate publisher. The biggest advantage agents have over writers in marketing a book is that agents are in contact with hundreds of editors and scores of publishing houses. We know who is buying what. We also know how much give there is in their contract terms and have a sense of how far to push them. Once we have an offer and you have accepted it, we will negotiate the best contract terms obtainable from that publisher for your book.  Here are some of the other services we provide:

  1. We may spend a reasonable amount of time giving you editorial advice to help you perfect your proposal or manuscript.
  2. We chase publishers to pay you what they owe you promptly.
  3. We have a professional bookkeeper examine all royalty statements for accuracy and challenge apparent inaccuracies.
  4. We will inform you about the process of publishing so you will understand how to best partner with your publisher.
  5. We work with you and your editor throughout the production, marketing and sales phases.
  6. Either directly, or via coAgents, we solicit subsidiary rights sales that are not contracted to the publisher.
  7. We mediate disputes between our clients and their publishers.
  8. We report to you on all submissions of your project.

First, we can’t make a publisher buy your book nor can we force it to market your book effectively, although we certainly will press them to do so. Here are a few other things we can’t do: (a) lend you money against future income, (b) rewrite your manuscript or edit it before you submit it to the publisher; (c) act as publicists for your book, and (d) we cannot give your legal or finanical advice.

It is important to understand that a publishing agreement is a legal document.  Agents understand publishing law, but most literary agents are not lawyers.  Agents negotiate deal points with publishers; we may recommend some language in agreements on your behalf. We can advise you about your agreement from a business, but not a legal, perspective. Publishing law is similar to contract law, but there are many nuances about publisher’s agreements that are unfamiliar to most lawyers that are unfamiliar to publishing. If you do not have a lawyer that is familiar with publishing law, we recommend that you join the Author’s Guild and take advantage of their legal services. We are always happy, and in fact, encourage you, to have your attorney call us with your questions.

Yes. We ask that you read and sign our Agency Agreement. We believe a written agreement, spelling out the terms of representation is in your interest, as well as ours. It avoids any misunderstandings down the road.

Not at all. We’re more than willing to make a preliminary decision whether or not we would like to represent you before signing the agreement. We may even offer some advice in advance. However, we cannot spend a great deal of time editing your proposal until we have a signed agreement.

Well, that always depends on our work load, but we make every effort to respond within 3-4 weeks if not sooner. If you haven’t heard from us within that time frame, please let us know.

Let’s put it this way: every year we receive thousands of queries and submissions from prospective new clients. And every year, we take on, maybe, a half dozen new clients. You can improve your chances by sending us a proposal that’s complete, well-thought out, answers all the obvious questions, and is free of typos and spelling errors.

We try to limit our client base to no more than 36 “active” clients, by which we mean those for whom we have sold a book within the past 5-6 years. We can’t provide good service for more than that number.

Since agents submit to more than one publisher at a time, it wouldn’t be fair to complain if you submit to more than one agent. In fact, you should never submit to just one agent, then sit around waiting for one agent to get back to you unless you make it VERY clear that you are submitting to that one agent “exclusively”. Bear in mind, unless you are already a client, we’re not prepared to give a lot of advice about your project, or tutelage about publishing. (For that, you may want to try our Reference Shelf page). If you do send it to us in an exclusive basis, you may get a faster response, but be prepared for the response to be “no thanks” because the chances of your hitting us on exactly the right day when we are looking for your project are pretty slim. That is just a reality of day to day operations.

ABSOLUTELY NOT! For as long as the agreement is in effect, I will be your exclusive literary agent. You are essentially hiring me to manage the task of finding a publishing partner. I need to manage this process according to an established protocol. Beyond the initial project, if I do my job right, I hope that we will continue to work together of future projects. Here are three good reasons why: (1) Many book contracts have option clauses giving the publisher the right for a first look at your next book proposal; (2) You might submit a proposal to the same publishers we’re submitting to or visa versa, which would embarrass the editor, you and us; (3) Agents represent clients, not single works. Occasionally I will make a very specific exception to this rule, but my goal is to handle all your literary properties.

That’s okay as long as you tell us up front where it was submitted and what the outcome was. Once you’ve signed the agreement, however, we have the right to negotiate the contract and take our commission even if you made the original submission.

The agreement is for a minimum term of six months. You can terminate our agreement with 60 days notice prior to the end of any six-month term. However, unless we are in the midst of selling a project for a client, there’s no reason for us to enforce the notice period and we don’t. NEPA, like most agencies, retains its right to a commission on all income produced by any book it has sold for the life of properties we have sold, even if the author is no longer a client. The terms of how we earn our commission are outlined by your publishing agreement that we negotiate on your behalf, and the standards within publishing law.

Yes. First step – to see what I am looking for, click here. At the end of that page, will be instructions on how to submit.

I will read your email query. If I like your email query, I may move forward and ask you to send your full manuscript. I will keep reading until I decide I don’t want to read more, or represent your work. Keep in mind, however, I do VERY little fiction. If you look at in the Submissions section, “Categories on which I focus“, or the “Recent Deals” section in the Properties section, you will see most of my work is with non-fiction. Also, fiction is very subjective.  So, you might have just written the next giant bestseller, but I simply may not like the style, or the narrative, or the dialogue, or the story, or (more likely), I may not think of an editor to whom we might send your work…or…I may just be cranky when we read. My loss. But I am in business, so if I for it…I will read your novel.

The most important questions to ask yourself about any agency are: Does it represent books similar to mine? What’s the agency’s sales track record? Do I feel comfortable with the feedback I get from the agency? Does the agency adhere to high ethical standards? Do its business practices and contacts seem professional? Do I get along with the people at the agency? Does the chemistry seem right? Does the agency give me prompt and courteous service?

There are several excellent sources of information about agents. First, try the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) web site. There you’ll find a listing of all member agents. Membership in the AAR requires that an agent or agency sell a certain minimum number of titles and acceptance of the AAR’s Canon of Ethics. Of course, there are many fine and ethical agents who are not members. Also, you can find more information about agents on the Reference Shelf page.