• Thais Derich
  • What if you could hire a literary agent by the hour?
What if you could hire a literary agent by the hour?
Written by
Thais Derich
January 2017
Written by
Thais Derich
January 2017

Starting another inspiring day writing in community at a woman’s co-working space in Mill Valley, CA, I double-click the She Writes’ book contract to open it. If I want a Spring 2017 publication date, I have 72 hours to sign it. I scan it briefly. It’s the Thursday before a three-day weekend. The words in the eight-page document blur into long black lines and I can’t understand half of what’s being said. I don’t have a relationship with a lawyer who knows book contracts. Is “within two years from the date of the Royalty Statement” a reasonable amount of time for the Royalty Statement to be “final and binding”? I don’t know!

I peek over my computer screen to look for sister writers in the room to share the news. Melissa Cistaro, whose book received the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association “Best Nonfiction book of 2016” award and Heather Young whose book is nominated for Edgar Award, are sitting nearby. I walk over and squat down next to their desks.

“I don’t know what I’m signing,” I say.

I show them the printed document.

Subject to the terms of this Agreement, this License includes, but is not limited to, the exclusive right to reproduce, print, distribute, market, promote, publish, sell, sub-license, broadcast, or transmit, in all channels of distribution, the Work and its derivative works…

They nod empathetically. Both have agents so deciphering the meaning of “Author agrees to obtain and pay for all these rights that must be granted to Publisher” wasn’t something they had to worry about; although I’m sure Heather could have handled it as she’s a lawyer.

“I see why writers need agents!” I say. “I wish I could hire an agent by the hour.”

Like a far-off dream in an imaginary world, I laugh with them. Then, we think for a minute. Heather rubs her chin and Melissa looks out the window at the tops of the trees.

“Maybe you could ask an agent if they’d be willing to look at it for you,” Melissa says.

“Can they do that?” I ask.

Heather smiles. I beam at the possibility with her.

“It doesn’t hurt to ask?” Melissa says.

I’m breaking a rule, an old paradigm, an ingrained tradition of how agents are supposed to conduct their business.

I queried over 100 agents before this contract with She Writes Press. Many literary agents asked for the full manuscript to read. I heard this puts me in the top 2% of writers who query agents. I remained hopeful for a time. I felt so close to having a partner, but each time they told me that the writing was good, the subject matter important, but they didn’t feel like they could sell my book.

One of the agents who rejected me is the one to whom I decide to send my unusual request. The email that I write now is nothing like a query, just an honest email about my situation. I am asking for his help, not representation, but for a consultation doing one of the tasks that he does for his authors whom he represents: reviewing and offering negotiating tips on a publisher’s contract.

Within an hour of my email, he emails back. He accepted and that night I have his comments back.

“This is normal. You will need to get permission, clearance for the use of any substantial amount of copyrighted material,” he says in one of his 22 comments.

“3 months is normal for this,” he says in another.

“This is very author friendly,” he says in another.

Maybe he’s curious to see the inner workings of She Writes Press? I don’t know how I got so lucky, but I’m so grateful for his speedy and thorough help. It took him less than two hours and I happily write him a check.

I want to post this interaction between a writer and an agent on Facebook because it’s like nothing I’ve heard before, but I don’t because I’m scared. I better not tell anyone about this or everyone will do it and I’ll lose the trust of this agent. I’m doing my part to hide possibilities from writers, to keep the old publishing processes intact and undisturbed.

His review of my contract gave me peace of mind and I asked for some changes to the contract, but mostly, I just understood what I was signing.

I share this story now to show that anything is possible, that if you don’t have an agent, maybe a publicist can help you, or you can hire an agent by the hour. How we think things work are changing right before our eyes. We’re writing the future. We’re all just people who are willing to do some things and not others at different moments on different days.

I signed my contract on time and I found the partner that I was looking for in She Writes Press. I have no doubt that I’ll need an agent’s help again for my second book, but if I don’t find one to represent me, maybe I can hire one by the hour! 

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  • Alonna Shaw Writing

    Maybe we need some virtual SheWrite's meetups! I'm also curious what agents think about consulting? I could see that quickly becoming too time-consuming within an agency setup, but for those who "freelance/not currently with an agency" why not consult like so many in other occupations do?

  • Thais Derich

    @Alonna Well said! And, yes I would love to hear from agents as well to see how this sits with them! Getting out of our houses and into the world to chat and collaborate makes a huge difference in my life for sure!

  • Alonna Shaw Writing

    Hi, Thais. Over on Twitter, you asked what your article brought up for me? I used to live in Marin, so the Mill Valley location seemed so tangible. I could see you chatting with your peers and coming up with a solution. It would be so nice to have other writers only a desk away to bounce out-of-the-box ideas around. I guess that's what SheWrites can provide for us too! Thinking out loud...I wonder if there are any agents here? ;) Also, the article itself reminded me how transparent and trustworthy SheWritesPress seems to be. These trustworthy relationships are what I noticed in your article and something I look for in my creative life.

  • Sapna Anu B George

    @Thais, not yet

  • Thais Derich

    @Sapna Thanks for your comment! What happened in your search?

  • Sapna Anu B George

    Thanks for this post! Good luck moving forward. I myself was in search of an agent

  • Thais Derich

    Thank you Rose, Joan, and Bella for chiming in and letting me know that my writing has been heard and that we are all in this together!

  • Rose Amanda

    Amazing post dear, greetings!

  • Joan Stanford

    Thanks for this post! Good luck moving forward.

  • Bella Mahaya Carter

    Great post, Thais. Thanks for sharing.

  • Thais Derich

    Oh! Thank you Kamy and Brooke for chiming in and for supporting writers with innovative ideas!

  • Kamy Wicoff Brainstorming

    I love this Thais--thanks for sharing your honest and helpful feedback for our community!!

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    This is a really helpful post, Thais. And cool that you put yourself out there and asked for what you were looking for. I think there's so many areas of publishing where authors can stand to do just that! :)

  • Thais Derich

    @iriswaichler Thank you for your supportive comment! It's so nice to hear from other writers!

  • Iris Waichler

    Thank you for this blog Thais. It is an interesting and creative idea. It is also very smart of you to pursue getting someone who can help you understand signing the contract. Nice to hear verification that the contract is writer friendly. Just know that you are not alone when faced with a contract that appears to be in a different language.