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Monday, May 24, 2010

Kathy Carlton Willis~The Difference between an Agent and a Literary Publicist

Today’s Novel Journey article is by Kathy Carlton Willis, wife to Russ, pastor’s wife to many, author, editor, publicist and a certified CLASSeminars speaker. Kathy Carlton Willis Communications encompasses her many passions. Learn more about how she reflects Christ as she shines the spotlight on others at: or

Often in my travels, I’m confused for an agent or I’m asked what’s the difference between what I do and what an agent does. Maybe you’re curious, too.

First, let’s look at the similarities.

Literary Agents and Literary Publicists:

  1. Are cheerleaders for you and your projects—they want to see you succeed.

  2. Tell others about your work in hopes of connecting you to the ones who will help you get to the next level.

  3. Sometimes provide career-counseling advice, to coach you as you strategize steps to attaining your goals.

  4. Often help you doctor your book proposals to make them sing before submitting them to acquisitions editors and others.

Literary Agents are unique in that:

  1. They are focused on presenting your book proposals to acquisitions editors and publishers with the hope of attaining a book contract for you.

  2. They are paid a commission-style fee, often 15-20%, for arranging these deals, and for mediating any future communication between the authors and publishing houses.

  3. They often carry a heavier client load than publicists, due to the nature of their role. Publishing houses can take a while to decide on proposals, so the agent moves on to pitching other clients while waiting for responses.

  4. They often know more legalese regarding contract law than what is required of publicists to know.

  5. Their databases are filled with contacts in the publishing world, including what each editor is looking for at any given time.

Literary Publicists are unique in that:

  1. They are focused on selling YOU rather than your projects. This involves pre-book contract branding and post-book contract media publicity.

  2. They are paid by the hour or by the campaign, by the author or by the publishing house, depending on the agreement.

  3. Independent publicists carry a limited client load so they can handle the hectic demands of networking with media during all those newsworthy moments.

  4. They know the ins and outs of book promotion and marketing.

  5. Their databases are filled with contacts in the media world, including how each media rep prefers to be pitched (e-mail, fax, phone call or mail).

I’m in the position of assisting clients with writing their book proposals and their books, so I have a little more invested than some publicists who focus more on the post-release publicity. Because of that, I can often act as a liaison to connect authors with publishing houses prior to them attaining an agent. We’ve found that agents are more likely to pick up an author once they know the proposal is being considered at the publishing board committee meeting, or perhaps even being extended a contract offer. My clients ask me why they even need to “throw away 15 percent” to an agent if I’ve already helped them get a deal—why not just get an attorney to consult on the contract? I recently e-mailed this reply to a client asking this very question:

Most say it’s worth the 15% you pay to an agent in exchange for what you get in return. Not just their legal knowledge of reading the contract, but having enough industry knowledge to know what SHOULD be in that contract, what CAN be negotiated (not just your pay, but different rights that need protected or discussed, like international rights, e-book rights, your percentage of discount on purchasing the book for your book table, etc.). Even great attorneys don’t know industry standards for the publishing world unless they deal with it every week.

It’s not that you can’t trust this publishing house to offer you a respectable deal—it’s just that this is a BUSINESS and they are in the business of trying to save as much money as they can by offering low—especially to a first time writer. An agent can negotiate a better deal for you. An attorney won’t do that. They will just tell you if it’s okay to sign the dotted line.

The truth is, many writers end up finding their own book deals, rather than their agents, but they still are willing to have the agent do the negotiating and all the follow up that happens AFTER the contract is signed. An agent’s work isn’t over when the contract is signed—there’s so much to do that slips through the crack if you don’t have an agent to have your back every time you have a dispute over things like edits, cover design, production deadlines, etc.

So, while it’s not essential—and you certainly CAN hire an attorney familiar with literary contracts, I would recommend acquiring an agent to represent your best interests.”


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