STATUS: This week has been about meeting with editors and my authors who have come to town so no “this is what editors are looking for” stories to regale you with. Although I did have coffee with a children’s editor who is looking for anything multicultural. What a refreshing change as I love multicultural stories as well. And rumor has it that Grand Central is going to be starting a Latino/Latina line over there.
What’s playing on the iPod right now? SELF CONTROL by Laura Brannigan
I’m not sure why people think that agenting is a way to get rich quick.
Snort. I can barely type that with a straight face but there seems to be this misperception.
I opened my own agency in August of 2002. I had a small business loan and a five-year plan in place when I embarked on what is a risky proposition. (Actually, starting any small business is risky not just agenting).
When I launched, I truly believed it would take 5 years for the agency to be profitable (and if it weren’t by then, I was in trouble). I hit profitable (as in not operating in the red—salary plus all expenses) in year three by a slim margin. Still, I was quite proud. I was definitely ahead of schedule.
So in those early years, I tracked reimbursable expenses (such as photocopies, postage, the basic stuff) and was reimbursed by the client. But here’s the kicker. The reimbursement ALWAYS happened after the sale of the project to a publisher. If the project didn’t sell, I ate the cost. I repeat. The author was not responsible for anything if the project didn’t sell. Was not recuperating those costs hard to swing in those early years? You betcha but I was unwilling to do otherwise despite my red bottom line.
I have heard of perfectly legitimate agencies (with trackable sales) billing their clients for reimbursable costs at the end of each year regardless of whether a project has sold or not. It’s not against AAR regulations. It’s certainly not sketchy per se but for me personally, I don’t agree with that practice.
For me, the billing for “costs” before any sale has the potential of being abused by agents and agencies that are either ineffectual or operating pretty close to the margin of actually not being legitimate. For my agency, I wanted to make sure the boundaries where absolutely clear.
Now I’m in year five and enjoying solid success, so what did I decide to do (and I actually did this two Januaries ago when I was becoming profitable in year three). I did away with reimbursed expenses.
Yep, you heard that right. I don’t track expenses and expect the client to reimburse—before or after a sale now. The agency foots the bill as the cost of doing business.
There are two exceptions though. The agency does track costs associated with International postage or wire transfers (as those are unusual) and we also do track book purchases used in selling subsidiary rights (because that can get expensive very quickly). We always email the clients first to find out if they want to provide the copies and if not, to check if the cost incurred is okay with them before we proceed.
Perhaps we’re crazy but I find that ultimately it’s not worth the time and effort to track it.
Why do I bring this up? Well, I haven’t talked about fees or reimbursable costs in a long time and I think it’s wise to keep talking about this issue. As I mentioned, legitimate agencies might have this practice and as long as they have a long list of documented sales (where it’s obvious their reputation is impeccable), it’s probably not a worry.
However, I would ALWAYS approach it with caution as there are many marginal agents/agencies that are happy to be reimbursed for submission expenses but don’t have the corresponding sales. And if you are going to be billed for those expenses, it should ALWAYS be accompanied and documented by receipts.