Learn More about Sandra Bond
IP: Why did you choose the path of a literary agent?
Bond: I knew in high school I wanted to work in trade publishing, but I grew up in Denver and after living in Manhattan for 15 months between high school and college, I knew living in NYC wasn’t a good fit for me. (I did have a blast, though—18 and in the City.) Trade publishing was, of course, primarily located in NYC, so I went to college with the belief that I couldn’t pursue a career in publishing if I didn’t want to live in New York. Fast-forward 20 years and the beginning of a mid-life crisis—I was unhappy doing what I was doing, had children about to enter middle school and could see the empty nest looming, and I still wanted to work in trade publishing. By that time we had computers and email and inexpensive long-distance calling (no Internet, yet, so now I've really dated myself), and I felt there must be some way I could work in publishing while living anywhere I wanted. After doing a lot of research, being an agent seemed to suit me in multiple ways, not the least of which was how thrilling I thought it would be to have some part in discovering incredible new writers.
A Few Bond Literary Agency Books
Deadly Currents, by Beth Groundwater
Write Tight: How to Keep Your Prose Sharp, Focused, and Concise, by William Brohaugh
Murder in the 11th House, Mitchell Scott Lewis
Her Story, by Charlotte Waisman and Jill Tietjen
The Role of the Literary Agent
What They Do and Why You (Might) Need One
For many writers, the process behind getting a literary agent can be baffling. Query letters and emails go out into the void to no avail, prospects vanish without a trace, and all the while you are getting more and more frustrated. Sound familiar? Well, we’ve got you covered. This month, I spoke with Sandra Bond of Bond Literary Agency to get the scoop on everything agents. Read on to learn about how to find the right agent and get your book into the hands of the right publishers.
IP: What is the process behind an agent/author pairing?
Bond: The author should research and target agents who are appropriate for her (represent similar books), and then query those agents however they have indicated they would like to be approached. Two good ways to find appropriate agents: 1) look at the acknowledgements pages of similar books to see who the agents are, and 2) research the “deals” database on publishersmarketplace.com where the agent is identified for each book deal reported. Once the author has queried with a well-written, 1-page query letter, the agent of course has to love the author’s work and believe that she can sell it to a publisher. But just as important, I think, the agent and author have to like and respect each other. It’s a real partnership and sometimes the process of getting published is smooth and sometimes it’s tense and full of problems. Just like any partnership, you have to be able to get along and ride out the rough spots. The author should feel that the agent is a good match for her.
IP: Is the pairing based on mutual selection or does the agent get the final say?
Bond: Really, it’s mutual. The author queries agents she’s interested in, and then an agent offers to represent a work if he/she is extremely enthusiastic about it. It’s not easy to find an agent so, usually, an author is thrilled when an agent offers representation and they jump at the chance to be represented. Sometimes, though, more than one agent is interested in representing someone, and in that case the author gets to choose which agent she wants to go with.
IP: What are some of the common misconceptions about literary agents?
Bond: a. That we’re tough and intimidating. The reality is, we’re regular people who are passionate about books. Most agents are quite nice.
b. That we don’t care about or have any compassion for writers who are trying to get published. When writers don’t hear back from agents they’ve queried, they take that to mean that agents are unfeeling and rude. The truth is, most agents receive thousands and thousands of queries each year, and many of us simply don’t have time to respond to each one. We respond if we’re interested in the project. Most of us have posted our individual policies about responding on our websites, but not everyone does their research.
c. That we don’t really earn our money, but are more or less taking advantage of writers. Believe me, we earn our money. Publishing is a tough business.
d. For the most part the word has gotten around that legitimate agents do not charge fees, but there are still some aspiring authors out there who don’t know this. Agents work on commission only; we don’t charge upfront fees. If we don’t sell the book, we don’t make any money.
IP: Why should authors go the agent route? Are there certain types of books or topics that always need an agent?
Bond: The larger publishing houses will only accept submissions through agents, so authors should try to get an agent if they know they want a big-to-midsize publisher. There are definitely books that don’t need to be represented by an agent, though. If the book is about a regional topic, an independent, regional publisher is more likely to be interested than a big publishing house. For example, a book about southwestern architecture is more likely to go to a regional publisher than a New York house. Most regional and small presses don’t require writers to submit their work through an agent, so if an author knows of a small press that publishes similar works, the author can go forward on her own. There are thousands of small and niche publishers.
IP: What are some of the important functions of agents that authors can't do on their own?
Bond: Submit work to the larger publishing houses; represent foreign, film/TV, audio and other subsidiary rights; have experience with and understand publishing contracts (an author can always hire a publishing lawyer, though); have contacts at publishing houses; be fully immersed in the publishing world and generally informed about industry news—who is doing what, who is going where, know how the industry is changing, how publishers are changing, how contracts are changing, etc. This is our world and we work at it full-time. Most authors have their own day-jobs, so sometimes it’s even a question of time.
IP: With the growing popularity of self-publishing in mind, where do you see the agent business in the future?
Bond: I don’t think the big publishing houses are going anywhere soon, so agents will still play a role in submitting what they think is the best work to them. While today it’s easier than ever before to self-publish a book, the big question is, how does it get noticed? How is a self-published book going to find readers? No one has exact numbers for how many self-published titles came out in 2011, but it was well into the hundreds of thousands (I’m lumping together print books and ebooks). Add to that the 347,000 new titles published in 2011 by traditional publishers (as reported by Bowker, which tracks just over 41,000 publishers). It’s mind numbing to contemplate.
So, again, how are self-published authors going to get noticed in all that noise? A few do, of course, and we all hear about them, but that’s a few out of hundreds of thousands. I hear from frustrated self-published authors every day. Back to the question, agents will continue to look for the best books to take to traditional publishers (who have wide book distribution), will continue to advocate for authors, will continue to sell subsidiary rights, and many are now facilitating publishing ebooks for clients who have out-of-print titles and/or have projects the agent was unable to sell to a publisher. Yes, that would be getting into what's essentially self-publishing, even after what I just said. Crazy.
Want to learn more about literary agents? Check out the links below:
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Jillian Bergsma is a writer and contributing editor for Independent Publisher. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in English. She welcomes any questions or comments on her articles at jbergsma (at) bookpublishing.com.