How Swedish Agents Work with Authors at Different Stages
by Elin Klemetz
photography by Samuel Petersson
translated by Ian Giles
Are you heading for your debut – or have you written half a dozen bestsellers? Agents adjust their approach and terms according to the author’s particular situation.
Agencies are usually contactable via their submissions email address which will be available on their website. Make sure to read up on the agency so you know who their target authors are. Attach your manuscript and a brief bio and summary of the book. Many agents prefer you not to have submitted your manuscript to publishers since they want to influence the text and its presentation.
Once the agency has read your manuscript, you will receive a response outlining whether or not they are interested. They will usually schedule a meeting before contracts are signed. Make sure it is crystal clear which rights the agent will manage on your behalf. If you sign a contract, that means you grant the agency the exclusive right to represent you, and that a commission based on your future book income will be paid to the agency.
Many agencies offer suggestions on how to improve the manuscript. After you have reworked the text, the agent will contact Swedish publishers and ask them to read it. They often set a deadline for publishers, and if multiple publishers are reading the manuscript simultaneously the agent will make this clear to all parties. If, in the end, several publishers are interested, the agency will arrange an auction.
You should never have to spend any money or pay any type of advance until income begins to trickle in from your books. The agent’s commission as agreed in your contract is usually 10-15 per cent in Sweden, and 25 per cent on film rights and sales abroad. Consider in advance whether it is worth your while having an agent. After all, you – not the publisher – are the person hiring and paying for the agent.
Avoid sending your manuscript both to agents and publishers at the same time – publishers won’t appreciate reading and reflecting on your book via their submissions process only to be asked to look at a new version sent to them by an agent. If you have submitted to publishers when you contact an agency, be sure to tell them. Honest communication is appreciated at every stage of the process.
The agency will want to get an overview of you and your past work. It is important for them to find out what exposure your books have previously had abroad – whether through an in-house agency at your publisher or via an independent agency. You should ensure you contact the agency at the right time – for example, if you have a fresh manuscript to hand, or even better if you have the beginning of a new series that is not yet under contract.
Many agents request the exclusive right to represent their authors both abroad and in the domestic Swedish market. If you only want help selling foreign rights, you must try and find an agent who is happy to work in this way. Ensure you are able to terminate the relationship on reasonable grounds should it not work out. A mutual notice period of 3-6 months prior to termination is common.
Some authors are keen to receive feedback on their books from their agent, while others have a close relationship with their publisher and prefer to finalise their text without the involvement of their agent. Agencies sometimes negotiate terms with Swedish publishers, and then work to sell foreign rights globally, as well as other formats. They can also help if the author wants to change publishers.
It will vary, but firms like Grand Agency have a model that sees all authors pay the same rate of commission, whether they are making their debut or well-established. Ensure you establish early on what system your agent uses. Ensure you communicate as directly as possible in order to gain an understanding of what income you can expect to receive in different scenarios.
Securing an agent does not automatically mean that your books will sell abroad. Have reasonable expectations. Sales may falter if a similar book has just come to market, or if the book’s theme is less hot in another country. Since agents work on a commission basis, they naturally work harder on behalf of authors and books that spark the greatest interest.
As a bestselling author, you probably already have an agent, but perhaps you’re not satisfied for one reason or another. Many agents will be eager to meet with you and discuss what a transition to them would entail, and at which point in time such a shift would be best realised. Study the agency’s track record in light of your own expectations: some will have done well selling to TV, while others succeed with literary or non-fiction authors. Different agencies possess different skills and contacts.
There is room to negotiate, especially depending on how much work you put into marketing yourself. Authors who travel extensively and market their own books will be in a stronger position to lower the commission due to their agent. That said, if you negotiate down the commission rate, it may be that your agent is less keen to work hard to drive your career forward.
Agents will commonly take on your back list – all books you have previously published. Just because a series is getting a little long in the tooth doesn’t have to mean it can’t be sold abroad. If a new series by an author is sold to multiple countries for high advances, past series may also sell to countries where they have not previously been published.
Most bestselling authors have an agent, and you can generally be confident that engaging an agent will pay off. The potential of selling different formats and foreign rights is significant – and this is something you will struggle to do independently as an author. You will also be in a better starting position for negotiations with Swedish publishers. Ensure you receive financial updates from your agent on an ongoing basis.
If you have sold a lot of books in Sweden, this will always be to your advantage, but many books – especially ‘Sweden-specific’ non-fiction titles – are still difficult sells abroad. Many agencies stress how they won’t take on authors simply because they are successful. Personal chemistry is an important factor – author and agent need to share values in common and connect on a personal level. Your agent will be representing you – potentially for a long time to come.
We are grateful to Skriva for granting permission to publish this translated article.
Skriva is Sweden's only magazine about writing, with a circulation of around 40,000 readers (as per ORVESTO, 2022), including professionals, students and amateur writers. Skriva also organises courses and writing contests, and curates the stage Café Skriva at the Gothenburg Book Fair each year.
Elin Klemetz is a freelance journalist and editor based in Gothenburg. She works mainly in the areas of literature, culture and spirituality. Follow her work on Instagram: @elinklemetz.
Samuel Petersson is a photographer and filmmaker based i Gothenburg. Follow his work on Instagram: @samuel.petersson.
Ian Giles has a PhD in Scandinavian literature from the University of Edinburgh. Past translations include novels by Arne Dahl, Carin Gerhardsen, and Camilla Läckberg. He is Chair of the Swedish-English Literary Translators’ Association and lives in Edinburgh.