100 more words on a spoken word agent for the contemporary poet

There are agents or production companies  for actors, musicians and  speakers but only one that exclusively represents poets on stage in England – Paul Beasley at 57 productions.  So you’re in demand and you have no agent.  With newfound “success”  comes isolation from your peers. With less time to write and more time alone,  answering the phone and emailing and “performing”,  the need for an agent feels more important than ever.   Here’s an idea that could solve both problems.

Five or six poets who earn between £15,000 and £20,000 per year  could employ someone to deal with booking enquiries. The employee  doesn’t  have to be in the same city or even the same country.  It’s all about phone and email efficiency.  Pay them  twenty percent forward all enquiries to them. They raise your fee to account for it.  There you have it. Job done. I could build the model for you if you like, with projections.  It’s not an agent you need at all.  It’s an administrator.  There is a gap  for a company that does this. Call it  The Company of Poets.  Alternatively Apples and Snakes could develop an independent arm that hires out an administrator to poets for their bookings.


15 thoughts on “100 more words on a spoken word agent for the contemporary poet

  1. There’s also ONiT! PR who manage spoken word artists too covering some of the stresses that you identify. What I like about them is the founder is a reputable performance poet in her own right which means she has similar experiences to the artists she assists. I think this is a growing market as spoken word starts to become more accessible.

    • I know you are probably all brilliant at ONiT PR but you do a variety of things. I am speaking of an agency that is soley concerned with spoken word. I say that for a particular reason.

  2. I agree to a large extent that most poets probably don’t need agents (I am talking about the literary/more traditional type here). But how about when you are being published by the larger publishing houses, and it comes to negotiating contracts, royalties and terms? That’s also what we are here for. And we only take 15% commission! Ideally, I think a specialist agent for poets could cover literary, ‘performance’ and admin concerns. I am not that agent, but someone else might be, and The Company of Poets is an excellent idea.

    • Thanks Juliet. This post is singularly about poets performing on stage in schools universities festivals, who are looking for representation for that work in particular. It’s why I stated that there’s “only one that exclusively represents poets on stage in England” and it’s why I used the term “Spoken Word Agent” in the title. But I didn’t say explicitly that a spoken word agent is not a literary agent and I should’ve made that clear from the outset.

      I know most literary agents are at 15%. It’s for a different crucial service. I’ll write another blog on what I know of literary agents having had a few over the years. AP Watt is the oldest and one of the finest and has such jewels in its crown as agent Natasha Fairweather whom I met at your offices a few years ago.

      What I find fascinating about The Company of Poets idea – and thanks for your compliment – is that everything I’ve said outlines only the beginning. It could lead to all kinds of possibilities for growth. It’s a good time for it. It’s the perfect time for it. I am being very particular, brutal even, about the income stream of its first clients. I know various unrepresented relatively new poets who are busy making whirlwinds and in search of representation for live gigs. I’m not the person to set it up either but here is a place to encourage the conversation.

      • I realise you were talking about spoken word agents, I was just thinking of a ‘full service’ agent/agency (and didn’t explain myself very well!), so that all your needs as a poet could be covered in the one place, and by the one person or agency that you could establish a strong relationship with. Very exciting to think about. I hope something is begun, and perhaps by this discussion.

        • Thanks Juliet, now I get it. There is someone looking at this thread and commenting openly, someone who is starting to research the idea. Yes the full service! Imagine if such a full service agency came across a poet who then made journey (that you know so well) into writing novels. You see the growth potential innit. Cheers.

    • If you look at my previous 100 words (there are a few) you’ll find the booking form. This will only work if you have the poets on between fifteen and twenty. It will only work if you can turn around the booking form from the enquiry. If you respect the writers and if they respect you. You need to set out a simple defined stall that offers the clear service to the writer. You must not tout yourself as someone who will get new work for the writers (though that will definitely happen as the industry starts to recognise you as someone with a strong stable) For your (and your clients sanity) you need to do a cash flow projection for the first five years. You need to have some understanding of how much each writer charges for workshops and performances. You must treat the enquirers with respect but firmly and most of all, honestly. All this you probably know. To set up a Company of Poets you must prepare. Your preparation will be what benefits you and the writers.

  3. The Company Of Poets awaits. You need to do a business plan. You need to work out which poets are the ones – just take a proper look across the coutnry – and then you need to offer them the service. it sounds so simple doesn’t it? I know who they are. But if you are to do this seriously then I would say you need to do your research. It’ll stand you in good stead.

  4. Thanks for this Lemn, excellent advice. I’m all ears for more.
    Abraham Lincoln said: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe” and “I will prepare and some day my chance will come.”
    Well, I’m off to do some research.

    • Transparency is really important to me in a booking agent. it indicates integrity and it indicates that they know what they are doing and are not fearful of getting it wrong. Remember the writers are giving you their revenue streams. In the same breath they are not your boss and shouldn’t treat you as such. But there is a great middle ground that satisfies both. it means the writer can ask questions and receive honest answers. I’ve always believed that you can define how well a writer is doing by the amount of work they can afford to turn down than the work they take. it sounds counter intuitive but what it means is the writers fee limit is right and all is well. I do twenty percent of all my readings for free so I don’t ever feel my fee is too high or too low. Though it can be both. Ha.

  5. Brilliant stuff. I LOVE the Abraham Lincoln quote. Thanks. Please forgive me for removing my playful response. I think it’s best to keep this thread on point.

  6. I find this blog and initiative very forward thinking, there is no question of the demand especially in the times where we performance poets are pinching desperately the notion of being a full time poets. We want to earn an honorable living with our gifts. In the US there are various agencies that book poets for corporate events, University workshops etc. but it is a popularity contest that mainly excludes talent that has not been validated by HBO DEF POETRY. Reading your sentiments i believe you have the intrinsic compass that would lend well to this materializing. I believe if you build the appropriate business relationships with prospective clients and the talent you will have great success on your hands. I created a tour for myself but candidly it took so much out of me and the entire time i wished for this! Cheers!

  7. As someone whose poetry is both literary and performative and who would like to make, as someone says, ‘an honourable living’ from my art, I heartily agree with you, Lemn. It’s even more difficult in Australia! I came across your rather excellent site because I was looking to see if there might be an agent who could arrange a UK tour for me. I shall continue my research… but I would rather be writing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *