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Agents and 'an industry blood-lust for new things'

14 April 2008

In the weekend before the London Book Fair it is agents, not publishers, who are in the news. With the launch of United AgentsClick for United Agents Agents References listing and a new agents' forum established in the UK, and an American agent heavily criticised for her author's fraud, agents are very much under the spotlight. No author who has struggled to find an agent to represent them should be indifferent to what is happening amongst the agents' ranks.

New York agent Faye Bender was taken in just as much as the rest of the world by imposter Margaret B Jones, aka Peggy Seltzer, whose Love and Consequences was a smash hit. Although Bender has been heavily criticised, the author/agent relationship relies heavily on trust and cannot withstand a determined and thorough fraudster. Agents rely on publishers' contracts with the author to enshrine warranties relating to accuracy. Gail Hochman, President of the US Association of Authors' Representatives

The website of the American agents’ association ( offers a list of members, suggested points to raise with an agent who offers to represent you, and some further guidance on the author/agent relationship.

, says: 'Every contract has a warranty clause and an agency clause. Those are my protections... It's the author's job to turn in honest copy.'

In the meantime, times are tough in the agenting world. Peter Cox of Redhammer has criticised the long-established UK Authors' Agents' Association and is in the process of setting up Agents Talking Shop, intended to be an informal discussion forum. He says: 'This year is going to be horrible for most authors... And obviously, if our clients' income drops, ours does too. As agents, we have to take an increasingly assertive approach towards revenue generation, and there has never been a better time to carefully examine our options in developing multiple income streams.'

The biggest news in the agency world is still emanating from PFDRepresents authors of fiction and non-fiction, children's writers, screenwriters, playwrights, documentary makers, technicians, presenters and public speakers throughout the world. Has 85 years of international experience in all media. PDF now have a POD section. Some good advice for those seeking a representative.. Last week the book department heads of breakaway agency United Agents gave their first interview in the Bookseller. The new agency is a really big affair, with 35 agents and 75 staff in all, working across books, actors, film, tv and theatre. The book department claims that 99% of their authors have transferred to the new agency. The break with parent group CSS Stellar has been a long time in the making, and the agents have been unhappy for some time.

Top literary agent Pat Kavanagh says it is 'inappropriate' for a literary agency to be owned by a third party or to be publicly listed 'because you can't be thinking about what's happening to the share price, or whether shareholders are going to be cross with you. All that matters is doing the right job for your writers, even if it means turning something down that's very lucrative.'

United Agents is based on an unusual model, as the start-up costs have been raised by staff taking a share in the company, although no single individual has contributed more than £100,000 ($197,000). Agenting is not as cash-intensive as publishing, but 75 heads represents a big salary bill in a difficult year, especially since the lucrative backlists of the PFD agency have had to be left behind. Contracts negotiated whilst the individual agents were at PFD will stay there and the agents' commission will not follow the agents (or authors) to United Agents.

Peter Cox's comments warn of a difficult time to come, and the rumour mill is full of stories of small agencies facing problems. How can such a big new agency survive without the cushion of a backlist? Simon Trewin says: 'Publishers are still as excited about new authors as they ever were. The challenge is to get them to take a duty of care over the third book if the first or second haven't taken off. The danger is an industry blood-lust for new things.'