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How can I get paid as a nonprofit writer or editor? Do I need an agent?
January 11, 2005 9:16 AM   Subscribe

I'm a writer, in addition to being a librarian. I'd like to do more writing and get paid more for it than I have been getting paid, perhaps work on larger projects. Do I need an agent? Could I benefit from an agent? [+]

A lot of the writing I've been doing has been articles in professional magazines, newsletters, journals, and the like [in addition to what I do on my web sites and for other web sites]. I've edited two books, one academicky and one more mainstream but still sort of small-press type stuff. I do a lot of public speaking on the "library circuit" and bring in okay supplemental cash doing that. My library job ends in a few months and I'd like to spend some time editing and/or writing a larger [non-fiction] book with a more popular publisher. I don't expect to make a living off of it, but I wouldn't mind getting paid something. I'm okay with writing proposals and talking to industry types, but I wonder if this is the type of thing that normal people have agents do? My specific questions are:

- Do I need an agent? Do people still have agents? How specifically is an agent helpful?
- For anyone that has an agent, has that been worthwhile or worth the money?
- If I get an agent, do I need to cut them in on the other income-generating things that I do that are not directly linked to my writing, like public speaking, industry writing, etc.?
posted by jessamyn to Work & Money (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Having an agent is helpful, and depending on the medium you wish to write in an agent can be almost necessary. Keep in mind that getting an agent (or at least a good agent) isn't exactly easy.

An agent is worth the 10% they take, so long as they are getting work for you. Keep in mind that an agent shouldn't be charging you any additional fees. Be wary of an agent who agrees to rep you for x amount of dollars. They get their cut, and that's it. That's how they get paid, and that's ultimately how you are assured that they'll work for you.

An agent should not request a cut off of any income that you've been generating on your own, only a cut of the money from the job they helped you land.

Finally, mediabistro.com is a helpful resource for answering questions like this.

As another soul who makes money as a writer, I say to you good luck... and I'm sorry.
posted by herc at 9:25 AM on January 11, 2005 [1 favorite]


If you want to write books, you must have a lit agent. Publishers are so adament about this that if you manage to find an editor who wants to publish a book of yours (say you know the editor personally), they will actually find an agent for you. That's how crucial an agent is to the process.

Finding an agent can be hard work. Like most industries, a lot of it who you know. Once you find an agent, here's what they help you with:

1) Developing your pitch
An agents job is to make sure you have a book they can sell. They don't get paid unless your book sells, so they have a big investment in making sure your idea is marketable.

2) Shopping your finished pitch to editors & publishing houses.

3) Negotiating your pay

Agents act almost as preliminary editors -- my agent has spent hours with me via phone and email helping me develop my proposal. I consider her a good agent for this reason.
posted by arielmeadow at 10:06 AM on January 11, 2005


I consider an agent vital and well worth the 15%. (I write computer books.)

Someone should mention the obligatory warning: A good agency will require an application and maybe an interview before they'll accept you as a client. Don't trust an agent that accepts you without thinking about it, or requires any payment from you.
posted by mmoncur at 11:00 AM on January 11, 2005


- Do I need an agent? Do people still have agents? How specifically is an agent helpful?

Yes, yes, and -- an agent is your negotiator, your representative, your direct hotline to the people you need to pitch, and occasionally the "bad cop" to your "good cop" with editors and publicists (that is, she can come in and be the heavy in a touchy situation).


- For anyone that has an agent, has that been worthwhile or worth the money?

Absolutely yes.


- If I get an agent, do I need to cut them in on the other income-generating things that I do that are not directly linked to my writing, like public speaking, industry writing, etc.?

Nope.

And, yes, heed the warning above -- a reputable agent will never require you to pay them money before considering you as a client.
posted by mothershock at 11:33 AM on January 11, 2005


This post on Neil Gaimans weblog may be useful. Especially scroll down to the advice he prints from editor Teresa Nielsen Hayden (who's weblog Making Light is another useful source for information on the nuts and bolts of publishing at times).
posted by thatwhichfalls at 5:03 AM on January 12, 2005


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