Monday, September 3, 2012

Finding a New Agent, by Guest Author Jill Meyer

This is the first post being published on this blog that has been written by a Guest Author. We thought that her article could be helpful to other artists. Please feel free to let us know your thoughts about this topic.

Artist Jill Meyer
FINDING A NEW AGENT, by Jill Meyer. You think it might be time to find a new agent to license your art? I knew it was time for me to find a new agent when the agent with whom I had been working and signing licenses with for more than a year, misspelled my name on my Surtex banner! That, along with a number of other unimaginable and unexplained gaffes made it undeniable that it was time to seek new representation.

Artists usually pay 50% of their royalties to their agents, and the agents usually demand that the artist designates them as their exclusive representative. However, in this deal, the artist is not the exclusive client of the agent. So when you are paying 50% of your royalties to an agent, you do have a right to expect that agent to represent your interests and protect your brand at their highest level of excellence and competence, 100% of the time. Not just when it is convenient, or when they feel like it, or when they are having a rare good day. I think that some agents become so self-absorbed that they forget that they actually work for, and are paid by the artist. The artist does not work for them!

So, my path was a clear one. Find a new agent. Hopefully this time, one who could spell, who could communicate with kindness, and who would pay closer attention to the work for which they were getting paid!

© Jill Meyer
My first step on this journey was to tidy up my web site. I blew away all of the cobwebs, polished up all the buttons, and spruced up my web site until it was a true representation of the current work that I was producing. I made sure that my site was very easy to navigate and I presented my artwork samples on one page, in a very simple, and straightforward manner. I was aware that everyone was busy, and I thought that if I could show my work to prospective agents in a very efficient few seconds, I would have a better chance of having them actually look at the work. Sweep, tidy, dust, polish, and I finally had my web site ready to work for me.

I had in my possession the famous list of 50 Licensing Agents (thanks Joan Beiriger). I looked at the web site of each and every agent on that list. I had to make some basic decisions immediately. I knew the kinds of situations which would work best for my temperament and personality, and I wanted to follow the guidelines that I felt would give me the greatest shot at success with a new agent. Everyone has different parameters and requirements for an agent, and it is a good idea to make a list of your "must haves." I decided that I wanted a small agency which represented no more than around 15 artists. I wanted an agency where my work would fit but not be too similar to any other artist in the agency. I hoped as well to find an agent who was based in my time zone. Perhaps most importantly, I was looking for good "chemistry" with the new agent. I like to work in an atmosphere of kindness and respect. If I can share a few jokes and have a little lighthearted fun with my work mates, then that's even better! But working with a kind and respectful person is a necessity for me and was at the very top of my priorities.

No agent ever advertises kindness and respect on their web site, but all agents do have reputations that they have earned throughout their careers. Some agent reputations are impeccable, glowing, and sublime, and some are, perhaps unknowingly, being dragged around like a sack of three-day-old fish! If you listen carefully when you are doing your interviews on the phone with agents and their artist references, you will quickly pick up on many things, including how this agent handles their interactions with others. People will always tell you exactly who they are if you listen closely to what they say to you.

I eliminated those agents whom I thought were not suitable for me. I did focus on the agent sites where the artwork and the artists looked as though my work might fit in well. That is, if an agent handled only artists who did cartoons, I eliminated that agent, because my work would not fit in with that look. I culled the list of 50 agents down to 25 possible candidates. I composed a short e-mail note which said that I was looking for new representation, and I included a link to my web site.

I sent this note to the 25 agents on my list. I did not really expect any answers, especially because I sent my query immediately after Surtex and everyone was busy with follow-up, but I thought that it wouldn’t hurt to try this approach first. I figured that I would definitely need to come up with a Plan B, but trying Plan A was my first option.

I actually had to pick my self up off the floor, pinch myself, and do the Happy Dance, because over the next few days I received 18 replies from agents. All of them had visited my web site and were positive and complimentary about my work, and most of them were seeking to represent me. I was really delighted, because to tell the truth, I was having a really hard time coming up with a Plan B!

The long list of agent replies now presented me with a new problem. Who were all of these people and which one could best represent me? I decided to ask everyone I could think of if they knew and could tell me about these agents.  ...No,that didn’t work. I could not find anyone who could or would share information about any of these agents.

I re-visited all of the web sites of the agents who had replied and I studied the sites carefully, and was able to exclude a few agents that way. If a site looked sloppy or did not showcase the artist's work well, or the mechanics of the site simply did not work properly, I eliminated the agent. Details, neatness and careful presentation count for a lot in this business…, really in any business. If I was put off by an agent's site, I imagined that art directors and clients would also be put off and this would not be the way I wished to be represented.

I had a few agents write me copious e-mails, complimenting my work, and offering me immediate art opportunities for licenses that they were sure I would get if I signed with them. I replied that I had a number of responses and I was just going to carefully speak with each agent before I made a decision, and that would take me several weeks, if not longer. A few more e-mails from these agents, complimenting me, and saying how much they wanted to rep me, and then…nothing more. I guess there are people who rush in, and try to make a quick deal, and when they are asked to wait a while, they re-think or do not wish to compete, or who knows what motivates people's behavior? I had one agent tell me that although she was very interested in representing me, that she felt that I had too many licenses and she was more comfortable signing only artists who had no licensing experience at all. Maybe, that's good news for artists who are just starting out, or maybe not. I was actually happy to be able to eliminate a few more from the list of replies.

I had a pretty solid list of 12 now. I e-mailed each and asked to make appointments to speak with them personally on the phone.

This was a defining step. Some of them never answered my e-mail and I eliminated them (or did they eliminate me? I'm confused!). I did speak with a number of agents on the phone. One of them would only work with artists who gave up their copyrights on all of their work. NO! Never (not something I do)! A woman agent was actually quite belligerent, snarky, and a little mean (been there, no thanks). I told her immediately that I didn't think we would make a good team. I checked the meanie and the copyright buyer off the list. The elimination process was getting easier and easier!

I asked every agent with whom I spoke to send me their contract and to send me the contact information for several of their artists who could be their references. All of them sent the contracts; a few did not send references. I eliminated those who did not send references. This is a pretty basic tell, but an important one to note. You need to speak with the people who are given as references and not just assume that you will not get helpful information from them. This is actually where I was able to gather some of my best information.

I perused the contracts of each agent. All of them were different, and all of them, to a large degree, defined how the agent viewed their relationship with the artist. There is no "standard contract." I always view that phrase with suspicion and mistrust. Anything in a contract can and should be up for negotiation. Some of the contracts were very fair and balanced, and some of them sought to advantage only the agent and to disadvantage the artist in unfair and onerous ways. The contract clauses which describe "the parting of the ways" when the contract terminates or is canceled are very telling. That is usually when the problems surface.

Then lawyers for each side lick their chops, put on the gloves, and turn on their meters. If an agent sought in their contract to continue collecting royalties, and hog-tie the artist well beyond the end of the agency contract, or the end of the existing licenses, then for me this became an agent to avoid. If an agent included the words "mutually agreed upon" in these clauses, I became instantly chirpy. With apologies to Neil Sedaka, "Breakin' Up" with an agent should not be hard to do.

Now I am down to a manageable list of a few agents. Whew! I seemed to have blown through that long list fairly rapidly, but a girl has to have her standards and I had some exacting ones. I wanted to get the agent thing right this time. I have had other agents in the past and they have all been, for one reason or another, a disaster for me. In fairness to me, I never actually had the opportunity to carefully select any of my other agents; I just sort of backed into them fortuitously. This time I was able to choose and I was determined to decide as wisely as possible.

I had precise requirements because I view the agent/artist relationship as a partnership, and I wanted to be able to work with the best partner for me well into the future.

I interviewed the remaining agents on my list, and I had a wonderful time speaking with them, and was thoroughly delighted to meet them! I called the references for each agent, and again, I had a lovely time meeting and speaking with the artists who were candid, and generous, and thoughtful, and delightful. Some of us have become friends, and I hope we will remain friends for a long time.

For my top choices, I settled on two of the agents who were both very pleasant, had most of the important requirements, and with whom I felt very comfortable. I had spoken with each of them on the phone and we had exchanged a number of e-mails. I had also spoken with the artist references that they provided. The agents were fairly equal in their appeal and it was difficult to decide which would be the final choice. I needed a tiebreaker. I read very carefully through each of their contracts again. I knew at that point that I needed advice.

I cannot emphasize enough how important the next step is. It is worth every dime and any time it costs you upfront, and it is nothing compared to the time, money and grief it will save you in the long term. Even after you have read through the contract of each agent, have an attorney review the contract of any agent with whom you plan to sign.

I am lucky that my husband is an attorney (as well as a darling husband), but I also have an Intellectual Property attorney ( who handles contracts and copyright issues for me. She specializes in handling contracts for artists. She knows all of the ins and outs and is a master at resolving any of the issues that crop up when negotiating contracts. She always seems to have just the right brilliant and/or creative idea to suggest. It is ideal when both she and my husband collaborate and review my contracts.

One of the agency contracts (of my top two agent picks) was very fair and well balanced. It did not disadvantage the artist in any way, it had a very favorable split and it was written clearly and concisely, in language that was easily discernable. It was abundantly clear that this agent wanted to work with the artist as a partner and every paragraph in the contract testified to this.

The other contract was long and verbose, and so unclear in many of its clauses that I could not understand it, nor could either of my lawyers. When the agent explained the meaning of those clauses and the inequitable intentions that were attached to the ambiguous language, which she represented as "the standard of the industry," I was advised by both lawyers not to sign that contract under any circumstance.

I chose the very pleasant agent with the fair and favorable contract. One cannot predict the future of course, but it seems that life is made up of a series of choices. Lessons learned in the past lead me to believe that if one makes a careful choice, based on a prudent, well–advised plan, that there is a better likelihood of a good outcome going forward.

I am hopeful that I will have just that. Here we go!
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