Should your literery agent be based in the same nation as yourself?

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Lex Black

Full Member
Aug 6, 2014
Hey, Litopia.

So, I've found the next agent I want to prepare an application for a generic rejection letter to, but something has kind of stuck in my mind this time around. I'm not the sort of person who places a lot of value in the arbitrary lines in the sand humans scrawl in a desperate attempt to give various instinctually-driven tribal actions meaning (i.e., "nations"). However, I certainly can't deny the importance such distinctions play in virtually every aspect of human life.

So, when I noted that the agent I intend to query is based in another country ("Britainland") as opposed to the one where I currently reside ("Junkfoodlandia"), it got me thinking: should your agent (or at least your theoretical first one) be based in the same country as yourself?

I know enough to understand that a large part of the function of a literary agent is to negotiate rights for a given work in "foreign" markets, but how does that work when you are technically in foreign markets as relates to each other? In decades of seeking representation and researching the industry I cannot recall ever once seeing anything talking about this; not a blog, not an advice article about breaking into the industry, not an agent's bio, zilch.

Have I somehow managed to remain flagrantly ignorant of something everyone else has a handle on? Are there hard and fast rules for this? Or is an agent an agent and geopolitical boundaries simply one aspect of deals to be negotiated and rules of trade to be accounted for?

In short, what the heck?
A worthy question.

Please don't take what I say as legal advice, I've walked away from the law, so I only speak from 20 years of legal experience. Even so, this is just my opinion.

Let me run a scenario for you to help you decide because, while I believe there's nothing to prevent someone entering into a contract outside their home country, you need to keep in mind how to enforce the contract, should the need arise. Any contract worthy these days will have what lawyers call a 'boilerplate' clause. That says the law applicable to the contract is, say, Britain (the agent's homeland) .

Say you're in Australia (the author's homeland). What if the agent is dodgy and absconds with your royalties (I presume an agent is paid first so they can take their cut first)? You need to hire a UK lawyer and deal with a legal system you're not familiar with. This can be expensive and frustrating (and law is frustrating at the best of times). You can always try negotiate this clause, make it your homeland. Whether you're successful or not depends how much the agent wants you.

Of course, this is a worst case scenario. Drs were obliged to tell my hubby I had a 90 per cent chance of dying in the first 4 months after my stroke. It's a legal obligation in Australia, and lawyers have the same duty of care. So, consider it, but you choose what you do with it knowing that's a worst case scenario.
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I understand the legal risks but what about the risk to the likelihood of getting published? Are foreign agents less likely to take on writers from abroad and if they do are they less likely to find a publisher?
@RK Capps . Your 'legal' angle in this is very useful. Thank you for posting it.

Personally, I'd be looking for an agent who lives in the same country. Two reasons, and, yes, they might be a bit simplistic:

I live in the UK and the UK market would be the first I'd hit. Should I ever get a publishing deal, I'd want to do some sort of promotion myself; whether that be giving a talk somewhere, or simply forcing anyone I walk by in the streets to buy my book. I wouldn't want to fly to a WI 'meet the author' talk in Delaware. Also, I'd want to be able to phone the agent at sensible hours.

Secondly, I'd want to meet the agent in person before signing anything because to me, a face to face chat with the person who will be rooting for me is essential. It's a business relationship and I want to get a better picture of who I'm dealing with. Also, I'd expect the agent to want to meet me too. Their willingess to do so will be one of the boxes I'll be ticking off in the decision to say yay or nay. After all, I'm auditioning the agent too. After signing, I'd be tempted to meet every once in a while. I'm not talking stalking here, of course, but at least have a cocktail in the midsummer evening sunshine and a drink at Christmas. I'd want to build a firm working relationship with that person and that is a lot harder over email, phone or skype.
@Barbara has hit the nail on the head, you want a lasting relationship with your agent and face-to-face is the best way to grow any relationship (having said that, the southern hemisphere isn't spoiled for choice, but I'll try here first before trying afield).
having said that, the southern hemisphere isn't spoiled for choice, but I'll try here first before trying afield
That's a really good point. Yes, it must be difficult if you're in Aus. Needs must.

And yes, homeground first, then look internationally. I too am not at all averese to looking across the pond. :) Having said that, in the UK we're spoilt for choice, so if no one bites here, I shall first re-look at my novel before I venture out farther. If I did venture out, it would have to be a particuarly suitable agent.

During my last round of quering, I submitted to an agent in Spain because their client list fitted with what I was doing. Alas what I was doing wasn't good enough. Oh well.
Agents in the country you live in ... US I suppose ... would have relationships with publishers etc. in that country. While agents in other countries would also have relationships with NY publishers, they would be of a different nature.
I put almost this exact question to an American agent re my book which is based in the UK and she said I should have no qualms about sending it out to US agencies claiming it would make little difference where the agent is based in these electronic times. Most agents have strong transatlantic connections. I still hold a natural affinity with the idea of using a London based agent rather than a Scottish based one so New York comes a little further down the list but I have no logical reason to support my preference.
I've queried about a dozen American literary agents out of 600 queries in the last four years. I only approached those who already handled British crime writers—and their books were all set stateside. They were prompt to reply with polite rejections that contained more feedback than British agents.

Generally speaking, I've found that American literary agencies are much less concerned with a submitted work having been previously published as an e-book. This is a big no-no with most British agents and some give the impression that they despise anyone who's uploaded their books onto Amazon. It would make sense if your book was set in the country you're submitting to, which would help marketing it. I may do this with a series of novellas about an American Civil War veteran, which would be of limited interest to British readers, but might well appeal to American fans of that era.

Also, and sounding slightly paranoid, but it could be a reasonable anxiety, earning money abroad will excite the interest of your own tax authorities as well as where your book is published. As a British author simply selling my e-book via Amazon, Smashwords or D2D, all of whom pay from America, requires me completing a Tax Exemption form, if I'm not to lose 30% of my royalties to the IRS. As a foreign author, I'm sure that the British tax authorities will be sniffing around your income.
Australia is limited for agents and it's exceptionally hard to find out who they are—so many sources are out of date. Some agents don't take unsolicited submissions either, you have to travel to a writing conference or festival (sometimes sessions run by the bigger writing centres) and pitch to them in person. Many authors here usually go straight through the publisher without having an agent at all.

I haven't been in NZ long, but I haven't come across any NZ agent who represents my genre (not so say they don't exist, but that they are, again, hard to uncover!).

However, I know of several NZ writers who publish overseas, very successfully I might add.
I agree @Nmlee- e.g. Colleen McCullogh wrote Thorn Birds based in Australia, her home town, but she was at Yale when it was published. However, authors from English speaking countries are probably more likely to be picked up in the US more than their European counterparts. I think agents and publishers feel it is safer to invest on authors from English speaking countries.

Coming from Italy, publishing professionals may think I am not an English-speaking author and my mother tongue is Italian, which is not at all true. I would never attempt to write a book in Italian! Therefore, tough as it is to get published anywhere, anyhow, I have an even tougher job - to persuade such professionals that I don't actually write my books in pigeon-English! :D
I suppose it depends on the agency and how they prefer to do business. With digital books, it shouldn't really matter where the agent is physically based, unless there are local laws with respect to taxes or doing business with people in other countries. With print it might make a difference where the parties are living.

Then again, I know one US romance writer who is quite successful, and her agent is in Italy. Her books are in both print and digital editions.

If the agency's website doesn't specify, you could always send an email and ask.
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Does anyone know about licensing artwork?

Short story looking for readers