Introducing Kenneth Wright, Literary Agent & Columnist

03:45

Th_asktheagent_art Starting today, Kenneth Wright, a literary agent at Writers House and a former editorial director at Scholastic, will be penning a (semi) weekly column on WEbook. Ken’s primary focus will be to shed some light on the agenting business, how it works, and why it’s important. The column will sometimes take the form of a Q&A, a list, or a short essay. Ken will try to answer questions as part of this column, so don’t hesitate to leave one in the “comments” area below.


Greetings WEbook. Starting today, in this space, I will be talking a lot about how good agents can – and do – help their clients through the entire publishing process. I’ll cover everything from finding an agent, what we look for in queries, where we look for new writers, what you should know about editors, the submission process, receiving and surviving rejections, getting offers (!) for your book, and helping you decide which offer is best. I am absolutely sure there is more I’ll cover, as I start getting questions from all of you, which I encourage---in fact, I need you to write in, ask questions, and share your experiences so this remains interesting for you AND me.


To kick things off, I asked three writers in different stages of their careers what was the first question they asked themselves when they were thinking about finding an agent. All three said essentially same thing: Do I really need an agent? Not “How do I find an agent.” Not even “How do I find a GOOD agent.” Nope, the most common question we get is “Do I really need an agent.” And the answer is an unequivocal (and an un-self-serving) YES. Why? Because most importantly it frees you up to have the creative relationship with your editor and publisher that you need in order to do your best work. Of course there are lots of other good reasons…


My top ten list of what good agents do for their authors:


1) We’re your eyes and ears to the marketplace. We really do have breakfasts and lunches and drinks with editors nearly every day of the week. We listen when editors tell us what they’re looking for, what’s selling, what’s hot, what’s not. And we read all the trade magazines (PW, LJ, Kirkus, etc), all the consumer magazines, the appropriate sites, blogs, newspapers, etc. We follow the bestseller lists. We go to the trade shows (BEA, ALA, etc). We are plugged into what books sell where and how.


2) Spouses and best friends excluded, we’re likely to be your first sounding board for your ideas. And since we’re so plugged in, we can really help you as you think about your writing, your next project, or your career.


3) We’re one of your first and harshest editors and critics. Because we’re usually your first readers, after the above-mentioned spouses and best friends (and, increasingly, writing group members), and because we have a vested interest in your work being the best it can be, we will be honest with you.


4) We’re the bad cop to your good cop. For example, if a big marketing problem comes up about your book, we’ll make that difficult call to the publisher on your behalf.


5) We’re likely to be the one constant in your professional writing life. Editors come and go and switch houses all the time. We tend to stay put. And we know where those editors have gone, why, and who has replaced them, all the better to help guide you through the tumultuous world of publishing…

Okay, I am going to keep you waiting for the other five points. I’ve gone on long enough for the inaugural column. Come visit next week for the rest of the list. It gets better. And leave questions or comments below if you have them. In the meantime, if you’re still asking yourself why you need an agent, maybe this will help: When you buy or sell a house, you get a realtor, no?  When you need legal help, you go to a lawyer, right?  When you write a book and want help navigating the book publishing business, you need an agent. YES.


--Ken


Read more insight from Ken Wright's "Ask the Agent" column.


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24 comments

  1. I enjoyed this article, nice work.
    Just thought a bit of encouragment would not go amiss on an inaugural column.

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  2. How can you tell a good agent from a bad one?

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  3. This is actually a very interesting first insight to the writer-editor-agent-publisher dynamic. Typically one (one being a fledgling writer) views an agent in much the same way you would a sports or movie agent, that being the guy who pimps you out while taking the biggest cut they can get away with because, you know, they have the contacts.
    Thank you for taking the time to put this information out there for us all Kenneth. Hot on the heels of the e-publishing phenomenon is a virtual nation of new writers with often little more in their arsenal than "I have a great idea for a book". Hopefully over the course of your blogs they will develop a greater understanding and respect for the daunting tasks of actually finishing the book and finding a launching pad for it.
    Now, platitudes aside, to my two-pronged question: As in music and film, publishing loves to ride the hot ticket, be it vampires, wizards or tragic love stories. When considering a new manuscript containing very similar themes to a popular title (for example, Twilight's teen vampire love shtick) what are the triggers that publishers look for to say "we can do something with this" or "plagiarized. Next!"? Similarly, when a manuscript is on the desk with a new concept (or new twist upon and old one) what buttons do you, as an agent, look to push to pique their interest in taking a chance with it?

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  4. Clancy, the bad ones wear black hats. ;-)

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  5. Interesting new column! Glad to have you with the WEbook crew/group, Ken!
    So, as an agent, you say that you guys know the "ins and outs" of the marketplace, correct? Are you saying that you, as agents, would prefer books that go with local crazes or new, inventive ones that you wouldn't have expected? I'm writing a vampire story myself (much different than Twilight. I don't particularily like the plot of Twilight for it is unoriginal in the author world without the "twist" I look for in book series when I read them), but I'm also writing some other, very controversial novels that may be put down by religious groups. Or not. That's where you guys come in. Do such religious groups truly care what's written? I have heard of some true controversy that kept a few good books delayed for years in publishing because of it. Would you suggest that I stay away from publishing a story of that sort, say to go for it and see what happens, or would it truly depend on the full context of the written piece?
    Also, as agents, do you know how badly YA's are put down by publishers?
    Thank you for reading this drawn-out sort of comment and I look forward to any response you give.
    Have a good day,
    Misty Karen

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  6. Kail Benson (Aniytlia)7 August 2009 at 05:13

    Hi, I'm a fifteen year old author who's been working on one novel for three years now. I'm wondering what are the kind of things I should look out for? Will publishers ever try to 'screw' me because of my age? And how exactly do I get an agent? Or even an editor, I'm completely blank here, I've written and rewritten my manuscript and now have absolutely no clue where to go.
    Here's a link to my project, maybe that'll help you give me advice, maybe I'm just rambling, but here
    http://www.webook.com/project/Aniytlia
    I hope I get some kind of clue from you :D
    - Kail,

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  7. What is the most wanted type of book?

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  8. Ooh, Ooh, I have another one: Outside of your agent's and editor's reviews... and assuming that your mom's glowing praise won't cut it and Stephen King won't return your calls... is there any kind of 'review board' or forum resource available to writers that a publisher would consider to be a credible source of reference when considering taking on a new work?

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  9. Kenneth, thanks for the great insights. I'm one of those who has seen the need for a good agent from the beginning but cannot get a read from anyone. I'm hanging in there though. I know it all boils down to timing and personal preference. You know the routine ... this is such a subjective business. It is encouraging to see you hanging out & encouraging us wannabes. Thanks again.

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  10. I was wondering, is it easier to get an agent or a publisher when you start out? I've heard writers say either one.

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  11. Veronica Garcia7 August 2009 at 12:03

    When looking for a good agent what should a writer look for first? What questions should a writer ask an agent? How should a writer approach an agent for the first time?

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  12. Ken,
    Thank you for joining the Webook community.
    I think one of the hardest things (besides finishing a book of course) is getting it published. I've been doing some research on publishers and agents, but like any good writer I don't want to be screwed over in the process. So I'll ask a couple questions. How do you find a GOOD agent? How does the compensation package work for agents? What is the range that an author should look to get paid for a book? Does that depend on the sales, or is there a flat rate...? What if you don't agree with what a publisher offers for your book? Does the writer still keep rights of their manuscripts or does the publisher get those when they decide to publish your work? Would/could you provide a list of GOOD literary agents that we could contact? Are agents free lance, or do they usually work in literary agency companies?
    Okay that was a series list of questions, but hey I just finished a book that I would like to see published so... all the help would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks again for sharing your knowledge and expertise,
    ~t.

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  13. I'm currently writing a book. my first book. I would love to someday be a published author. I have a ton of questions.
    1. how would someone go about getting an outline for said book? I have heard from other writers that sometimes editors will give you an outline to follow if you don't have one to help you along.
    2. I really need feedback on my story. I would love to find out if my writing really is good enough to be published or if I am just wasting my time. I also have no idea if people are interested in what I'm writing about. its kind of controversial. I would especially love to have feedback from someone professional in the buisness.
    I also don't know if my story is interesting enough either, but I guess that falls under question number two.
    the story I'm writing is loosely based on real life. I'm unsure of myself on what non real life events work in the story and if I should stick to the absolute truth, but honestly I'd rather deviate.
    http://www.webook.com/project/untitled1111
    here's a link to the story. Its really in the beginning stages, I've only written about 12 pages.

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  14. Hi, glad to find a professional to, hopefully, answer this question for me: I have sent a completed Ms to a publishing agent and they have reviewed it and have said the ylike the work and want to represent me in the market place, which is obviouly fine. They have additionally asked for a professional critique to be carried out and although this makes every sense in the terms they have described and are not asking for any money from me personally, i wonder if you could clarify the process at work here as I'm in uncharted territory. Many thanks in anticipation of your answer,
    JayEless

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  15. I have zero interest in any other aspect of writing other than actually writing. I hate the prospect of the business side of it, but that's not to say I am not capable, or wouldn't get involved.
    An agent, for me, would be ideal. All I want to know is how can many 'starving writers' afford one - as I think the message above alludes to.
    Is there a format for this?
    Do agents only get paid when they sell your work?
    If not, and there are ongoing fees involved for represetation of one's work, what's to stop an agent taking money from untalented writers whose work they know may never be published - or may not even try to represent?

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  16. Hey! Thanks for making this blog you are really helping a lot of us who want to be published someday. I was wondering what it is that you look for in a Query, or what in a Query would make you automatically skip the project. And about how many query’s do you get a day, how many of them do you request to see more of. And what is the best bridge between finishing your novel and getting an agent, like is there a step in between. I feel as if I have edited it as much as I can and of course an Agent would tell you what they think needs to change as well. So what should a writer do on the road to getting an agent?
    Also, I hate to do this on here but it seems people who look at this are probably the people who know more about agents, so if anyone on here knows any more info about what agents are looking for can you take a look at my Webook project for Saving Eden and tell me what you think based on the first chapter. My edits for the later chapters aren’t posted on Webook yet, but judging from the first chapter do you think that it is ready?
    http://www.webook.com/project/Saving-Eden
    Thanks
    kklove08

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  17. My book is half complete. Its my very first book and i am loving the writing process. But of course, the idea is to get it published, and its become my 'baby' so i'd need someone i trusted to 'pimp' it out.
    So, where do i get an agent and how are they paid?
    Also, could you outline in simple terms, the items to look for in the contracts drawn between author and agent, and author and publisher.
    Furthermore, what kind of monetry sums are we talking about for the first book, compared with books thereafter? Would you have to sign a multi-book deal to make it worth the publishers time and money, or would that only be an option if the first book was successful?
    And finally, as the lady above pointed out, who owns the rights to it once its published?
    Sorry lots to answer here, this really is a God-send blog for us writers. Many thanks.
    Shah. X

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  18. I really have wondered about getting an agent for years now, so I am grateful for the unequivical answer I've gotten here. For me the question about getting an agent is always the same: where do I do begin and how do I tell the good ones from the bad ones? I look forward to your answers on the subject, Mr. Wright. Until next time...

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  19. I have an agent but does not seem to be doing much, other than costing me money. I think I need a new one, a better one. What should I do? How do I find a good agent?

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  20. Hi, I just wanted to know why some writers whether they be in contests or simply submitting a story, seem to get more offers than others, possibly having the same writing skills or are just new? I've seen new writers have three or four stories published to my 0. Is it their wording, college exp., or just the luck of the draw that day? I've been writing for ten years and have yet to get anything published, stories I thought were good.

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  21. Kenneth Wright, please advise as to how to go about removing an ISBN from an ebook when the author is dissatisfied with the publisher? Please include the ups and downs on this, the cost, etc.
    Thanks for your help.

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  22. Hi! I have been writing since the age of 8,but having had no former training in writing, I wanted to ask the following question. How important is it to write by the book, so to speak ?, or is there any room for bending the rules some ? Thanks & Blessings, aware3

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  23. Hi. How much money does a good agent usually demand or ask for?

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  24. melanie bertenshaw4 September 2009 at 11:46

    hi there,
    I have sold a book to a mental health clinic for bipolar survivors which they use in treatment.
    I don't have an agent and I wondered if this was damaging for my hopes of getting published.
    and, how do I go about finding an agent.
    sincerely,
    melanie rae

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