Do I need an agent?

Published March 25, 2012 by christinenorris

I was going to do this as a video blog, but frankly I just don’t have the energy today. I’m a writer, right? I can make this just as amusing and interesting as a video blog, right?

Right?

Okay, well, this is one of those questions writers often ask, especially if they’ve tried and failed to find an agent. Do you really NEED an agent? And, like so many questions in life (and in publishing), the answer is this:

It depends.

What it really depends on are your publishing goals. There are TONS of small and/or micro presses out there (every one of the writers on the YA Authors You’ve Never Heard Of blog is published by one or several) that don’t require you to have an agent to submit a manuscript. And based on the average royalty you can expect to receive by publishing with one of them, most agents won’t bother negotiating with them, because it’s just not economical or really worthwhile for them. Most of the time authors do just fine on their own with any one of those little guys.

If that’s your dream, your highest publishing aspiration, then the answer is no, you probably do NOT need an agent. I managed to secure five publishing contracts all on my own, and all with micro-to-small publishers. I’ve had fun publishing with them, and I’ve worked hard to promote each title. Nothing wrong with that at all.

BUT…if you, like me, are really seeking that next step in publishing (see: publishing with bigger houses), then the answer may be different. There are a lot of reasons to get an agent. First of all, MANY of the bigger houses don’t accept unsolicited submissions. Some are so strict they only take agented submissions.

There ARE ways to have your work looked at by these big publishers without an agent — such as going to conferences and networking with editors, doing a pitch or having a critique at a conference is a good way to do this.  I’ve managed to do this once or twice, and it is WORTH the price of conference admission to meet agents and editors in person in an environment where you are expected to talk shop.

To a certain point. Do we really need to have the conversation about NOT trying to pitch your work in the ladies’ room? Okay, just checking.

HOWEVER, even if you DO get your work in at a big house and they (miracle of miracles) make a contract offer, at that point you really probably do want an agent. Or at the very least an intellectual property lawyer. Because contracts are tricky things, and an agent will be able to earn her 15% by negotiating for things like a bigger advance, sub-rights, etc…

DO NOT attempt to do this on your own. Just…don’t.

Here’s the Catch-22. It’s harder to get an offer without an agent. But it’s easier to get an agent once you have an offer. Of course it is.

Even after all this, you still aren’t sure if you need an agent, here’s what I love best about my agent, Terrie Wolf at AKA Literary. First of all, she’s always pretty much right there when I need her. She’s on MY team. If I have a question, she is a mere Tweet away. And it is her JOB to take care of all that paperwork — like querying my work to publishers.

Which means I no longer have to:

– Keep track of where I’ve sent it
– Write query letters
– Receive rejections personally
– Keep track of rejections

All of which leaves me more time to… wait for it… WRITE. And promote my current titles, and actually do author-y things.  I never realized how much time I spent doing all of that until I didn’t have to do it anymore. It’s my agent’s job, and she can devote much more time to it than I can. And she’s BETTER at it than I am.

Now, all that’s great, but there are a few caveats. Things an agent CANNOT do:

– Sell the book instantly
– Pull a buyer out of thin air

Publishing, as I’ve said a millions times, is S-L-O-W. Run by actual people. So if it takes six months, it takes six months. Editors are busy people too; they’re not just sitting around waiting for manuscripts to read. Just like agents are busy people. I once waited eight months for a reply from an agent, and it was worth waiting for because of the great feedback I got. Terrie and I went through a couple of rounds of things, just because we were both busy, before she offered to represent me. An agent is NOT an instant ticket to stardom or a big publishing contract.

But it helps.

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2 comments on “Do I need an agent?

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