In both cases, an important piece of information is deal announcements, which you can find by searching on the agent’s name in Publisher’s Weekly. You can also find deals using Publisher’s Marketplace too, but the service costs $25 per month. Still, one month is likely all you need for this kind of research.
Here are some tips for reading between the lines when it comes to deal announcements.
- How many deals?
- NONE: The agent could be new to agenting. OR the agent/agency just doesn’t report deals, which happens with some very established agents/agencies. Obviously, you need more information. If the agent is new, find deals for other agents at the agency, since the new agent will be trading on the agency’s connections.
- NOT MANY DEALS.
- Is the agent new? It may take a year or two to establish a solid track record. Again, look at deals by other agents at the agency as a proxy for how this new agent will do. If the agent has been agenting for a couple of years but doesn’t have any deals to report, this could be a red flag.
- Has the agent been around a really long time? Reporting deals is one way agents market themselves and their clients, so agents who are building their lists and relationships have more of an incentive to report deals. If a well-established agent hasn’t shown a lot of recent deals, don’t panic. They may have stopped reporting them. See if you can find new books by the agent’s authors. These could be mentioned on the agency’s web site. And of course, make sure to ask about this during a phone call.
- Has the agent been around a few years, but experienced a steep drop off in deals? This is a situation that definitely requires further research. Ask around.
- A LOT OF DEALS. What’s a lot? Look at how many deals the agent is doing compared to other comparable agents you are querying. An agent with a ton of deals could be amazingly good at their job. Or, perhaps they aren’t editorial so they can take on a bigger client load and sell more work. Here are some follow-up questions to ask: Is the agent editorial (if that’s important to you)? How many clients do they rep, and how do they balance that workload? Also, look at the quality of the publishers they are selling to (see below).
- Who are the publishers? Who does the agent do deals with? This is where their strongest contacts lie. Make sure the publishers would be a good fit for your book and career.
- Does their list include a lot of small or no-advance publishers, digital first, or digital only deals? This suggests they may not have strong enough contacts at Big Five and well-established mid-sized publishers. You would definitely want to do additional research since you can likely access many of these smaller presses without an agent.
- Does the agent only sell to large publishers? The agent could have exceptional clients and contacts. Or they could just sub to just a handful of publishers and abandon a manuscript if they can’t make a big deal. Again, you need to find out more. You may not get a good feel for the situation until you’ve had a phone call with the agent and asked about submission strategy. Ask how many rounds they will typically do for a book and how big those submission rounds are.
- Is there a mix of Big Five and reputable mid-sized publishers? The agent probably has good connections and is likely to stick with a manuscript even if it doesn’t sell at a big house.
Scouring deal announcements sometimes raises as many questions as it answers. More than anything, looking at deals can help you ask important questions during “the call.”
Do you have any tips to share on interpreting deal announcements? Or further questions we can answer? If so, share them in the comments below.