Find the agent of your success

MARK STANTON, from Scotland’s largest literary agency, outlines the benefits of hiring an agent to market that book idea you have been mulling over for the last couple of years

Some flattery at the outset: it is generally a joy – as an agent – to work with journalists. Really. Of my 50-plus clients, a significant percentage have – or still do – work in newspapers. And the advantages are manifold.

First, most importantly and most obviously, journalists are professional writers; when you’re doing a book this can be a great advantage. Secondly – though we can be a little more laissez-faire about such things in the publishing world – journalists are used to working to deadlines.

It’s also been my experience that – after years of having their copy slashed to bits by editors and sub-editors – journalists are very responsive to positive criticism; they’re happy to enter into dialogue about their work and undertake re-writes when necessary. In addition, when it comes to works of non-fiction – where research or interviews are essential – these are skills the experienced newspaperman or woman has down to a fine art.

So, if journalists are so well-equipped to step into the world of publishing – to become authors – why, then, would they need an agent?

Well, it’s no different an answer than the one we would give to anyone approaching us, whether they’re experienced novelists, aspiring poets, academics, insurance salesman, policewomen or accountants.

Understand the Market
An important aspect of an agent’s work is to know what’s out there and what’s selling; and, more specifically, to know what a publishing house, or a particular editor, is looking for.

Perhaps there’s a shortfall of fiction for their spring list, maybe they’re starting a series on film or a new sports imprint; it might be that a publisher wants a kitsch humour title for the Christmas season or simply that an editor loves quirky travel books and is therefore likely to be sympathetic when presented with one.

Help to Shape Your Work
A journalist can write an article or feature to order. But writing a book or crafting a proposal is a different thing altogether. We have the publishing experience you don’t have; and a large part of our time is spent shaping manuscripts and proposals.

Contract Negotiation
An agent will do their utmost to get her or his client the best deal possible. This may not always mean the largest advance (though it often does), it might mean going with the publisher with the most ambitious marketing plans; or the best rights team … your agent will help you through this process – and will know from experience the worth of your idea.

To give some idea, the average advance is said to be around £15,000, a figure bumped up by the large advances that best-selling writers (the Rowlings, Binchys and Pattersons) pull in.

So, the most common advance is more like £10,000. That’s industry-wide; speaking from my own experience – and the journalists I’ve worked with – we’ve received an average advance of £20,000-plus.

At Jenny Brown Associates, we take 12.5 per cent of this in commission (most agencies charge 15 per cent).

We’ll also handle all the small – and large – print in your contract: the royalty rates, subsidiary rights splits, warranty and indemnity clauses, etc, which can be every bit as important as the advance. We’ll chase money when it’s due you and check royalty payments on your behalf. This leaves you free to have a relationship with your editor that is founded solely on your book.

Get Your Work Read by Publishers
Perhaps this should be at the top of the list. Publishers are inundated with unsolicited submissions (and the fact they refer to these as the “slush pile” says it all). Most publishers simply don’t consider un-agented approaches these days.

Mark Stanton is a director of Jenny Brown Associates, Scotland’s largest literary agency. Contact JBA on 0131 229 5334. Visit

This is an abbreviated version of an article originally published at AllMediaScotland. Click here to read it in full

SJA MEMBERS: Make sure your profile details are up to date in the 2009 SJA Yearbook by clicking here