Monday, August 2, 2010

Why You (Still) Want an Agent

The times, they are a-changin', mes auteurs. The digital age means more books are available in more ways than ever before, which in turn means two things: first, you have that much more competition for eyeballs, and second, you need some way to differentiate yourself from the crowd such that all those eyeballs are reading your book.

In short: regardless of whether you're going (exclusively) digital, you want an agent.

Even if you fancy yourself a complete one-(wo)man show, an agent's multiple talents, myriad connections, and considerable experience will all be great assets to you in your quest for publication. This is true for more than a few reasons. In tried-and-true Bullet-o-Vision™ (I really should make a blog label for this):

· If you're dealing with an editor, an agent is worth his or her weight in gold in terms of contract negotiation (not to mention that going with an agent in the first place generally makes it much easier to get an editor's attention). This is doubly true as the details of e-rights are being hammered out.

· An agent will secure you a publishing house by way of said editor, meaning he or she is basically getting you editorial input, a marketing team, a publicist, a sales team, and an art department capable of making you a Truly Fancy Cover. Unless you're the aforementioned Jack/Jane of all trades, this is a huge bonus for you. (You also won't have to worry about getting your e-book fed out to Amazon, Apple, and the like.)

· You've got a buffer between you and your editor/publisher. This means that you can spend your valuable time writing while your agent spends his or her time talking to the editor/publisher (pitching your next project, hounding them for royalty statements, finding out why the awesome cover they helped you negotiate isn't showing up on Barnes & Noble's website, &c).

· You have a Fancy Website with lots of loyal visitors. Your agent has a Fancy Website with lots of loyal visitors. If you both add links to your book to your websites/blogs, you get that many more eyeballs reading about (and hopefully soon reading) your book. Agents go to bat for their clients in more ways than one.

· Finally, you get a measure of that e'er elusive brand recognition that separates your book from Joe "DIY" Lunchbucket. If you self-publish on-line, the only one vouching for your work is you. If you have an agent and an editor, you've got at least two organizations behind you vouching for your talent and credibility as a writer.

24 comments:

  1. Mmm, I like all of that except the 'securing me a cover' part. I know what kind of cover my book needs a lot better than any art team (I know that's not the case for many writers, but for me it is). I'm really not sure what to do should I be given a cover I can't stand, because I would rather my book go unpublished than have the wrong cover on it.

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  2. Ted, I'd say that's where the agent can still help you. Also, I understand that publishers and their art departments will often accept "concept art" that they can polish and turn into real cover art.

    I like this post. It makes a lot of sense, but I'd really like to see it weighed from the other side, too. Why wouldn't we want to have agent?

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  3. Actually, you don't need an agent to get published. Anyone who can put a downloadable PDF of their book on the Internet is 'published'. Where an agent comes in handy is for getting paid to be published.

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  4. An agent isn't going to help you set the price for selling your e-book, so, no, you don't need an agent "for getting paid".

    An agent will, theoretically, pimp your novel for you in the marketplace. Then again, websites like this can do that. Hm.

    An agent will help you deal publishers, editors, artists, etc. Oh wait, you can do all that yourself online...hmm.

    Far as I can tell, you need an agent for two reasons:
    1. To continue the "big publishing" paradigm, which is fast disappearing off this earth.
    2. To give agents work, because they're...nice? or something.

    Hmmm.

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  5. excellent information. Next step: getting an agent.

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  6. I'll add to the list. Agents know the publishing industry in a way most writers don't. They know the strengths/weaknesses of various houses and what specific editors like. They are reading CONSTANTLY not only what is out, but what is coming out, AND what is being pitched. They can weigh in on how your book fits into what is happening in the market place. A good agent can offer career advice and be that person in your corner you trust to tell you if you are being a whack job or if you have a legit gripe. They can negotiate your foreign rights and get your book in the hands of film agents.

    There's no doubt in my mind that publishing is changing, but I'm not sure going it alone is the best route. To each his own- but I plan to hang onto my agent.

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  7. Right on the money. I need an agent to help negotiate living my life. Otherwise, acquiring an agent legitimizes a writer as an author, even if one doesn't make any ca-ching from the book.

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  8. Well said - no arguments from me whatsoever. Problem? Securing the agent ...

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  9. I agree. I have a book published through a primarily digital publisher...who did not require an agent. I'm still trying to snag one though....they can only help move my career in the right direction.

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  10. Some agents might do what you describe. Many others won't. There's a huge range in the capabilities of agents. A bad one can be worse than none.

    To say a writer needs an agent is like saying a woman needs a husband. Agents aren't generic.

    I did very well publishing mainstream nonfiction without an agent and doubt my books could have done any better with one. I got an agent to sell my novels and she did a great job of getting me a three book contract with a mainstream press.

    But I still had to take care of a lot of the petty details, like getting author blurbs, on my own and she didn't have any more power over blurbs and covers than I did.

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  11. I agree 100% with Eric's reasons above. It amazes me how quickly people translate "changing world" into "absolute lawless free-for-all."

    If you want to get the best $$ deal, the most leverage, and the fastest path with a Big 6 publisher (which is still the best way to make the most money and have the widest distribution), you need an agent.

    If you choose another path, that's fine. A lot of people do, and are happy with the results.

    And sure, things are changing. Maybe in the future there'll be plenty of money to be made in self-publishing e-books. But at this point, it's like saying "no one needs a college degree! college degrees are bunk!" just because Bill Gates managed to do pretty well for himself without one.

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  12. Finally, you get a measure of that e'er elusive brand recognition that separates your book from Joe "DIY" Lunchbucket.

    Hey now, Joe is one of my favorite authors!

    His book is what it is- it's not a cheetah in a zebra suit as designed by a committee.

    Indie authors are the only ones vouching for their work for a very short time if they're good.

    After hearing stories of writers who haven't had marketing support from their publishers even with an agent- brand recognition isn't a big worry for me. I do see reasons why it's good to have an agent (honestly the legal and contract issues alone would make it worthwhile for me if I was dealing with a big publisher or wanted to) but the last one...didn't impress me so much given how many books I looked at and left on the shelf in Borders last weekend.

    Someday when I make up my mind what I want to do about all this stuff I'll worry whether or not my work is reduced to 'Lunchbucket' status.

    I'd rather be a Joe who is true to their art (especially if as you point out frequently we can't really get paid enough from writing to survive on it) than a Big Brand who doesn't recognize their book when it's done.

    ~bru

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  13. Thank you Eric for another illuminating post. This whole new world of e-publishing is just too frightening for those of us who still don't know what CD-ROM stands for. All I know is how to type the words onto the screen and print them out if absolutely necessary.

    I NEED an agent, like I NEED water and air. Otherwise, I'll never get published. I'm not stupid, I have a college degree, I'm just really old fashioned. The way the publishing industry is moving, I'll still be typing when all books are being written telepathically.

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  14. I had an agent for a while. I'm still looking for a new one. One of the things I "liked" was that the rejections came faster and were friendlier, as they were going to her, not me.

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  15. Oh alright, you sold me on the idea. I'll take an agent - send me one over and I'll sign him/her up ;)

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  16. Interesting. The only thing is that I've only ever seen one agent interested in authors who write for primarily digital. It seems like most agents want authors who want to write for the big pubs. Nothing wrong with that, but it leaves people out.

    I'd love an agent. I've sold the first 2 books of a series to a small publisher for e-book and print on demand. Finishing up book three in series now. But I have never seen an agent interested in writers at my point in their careers. They want me in 2-3 years, when I have back-stock and have already sold at least one book to a print publisher. They only want stories over 80,000 words (when e-pubs often prefer 50-60,000.)

    I just feel like there's a disconnect. Why should I spend time hunting down an agent who won't even want me when I could be spending said time writing another book?

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  17. Wow! This is just what I was looking for. May I ask you a question? I was asked for more of my memoir after sending the first 5 pages. I received the response rather quickly, and I'm not entirely sure it's above the board, so to speak. Here is what they said when I asked for some information:
    "We are a publishing and marketing company,
    If we like your work and your pitch there is no cost to publish your book"

    I have not seen any mention of agents or anything. That makes me nervous. I have a few other queries out (read: probably a million), so I don't want to jump into something wrong. Thank you so much!
    Helen

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  18. Light hand, heavy message. Well explained, Eric, though you stay clear of discussing the changing role of a literary agent in this brave new digital age. Perhaps only hindsight will clearly define the transition, but it's clear that agents will be assuming some of the responsibility for guiding and shepherding once handled by publishers. Agent/publisher roles will blur with the former actually gaining in influence and value while the latter declines. Of course, as in all things the range of agents will be huge, from nitwits shilling for a slice of the pie in exchange for zilch to publishing industry sages with vast networks, market wisdom, and the nose for winners. In short: disposable pay-for-companionship copilots on your publishing adventure OR superagents who will eventually displace the mentorship and power brokering of yesterday's publishers. Or so it seems from my misty knoll... today.

    Though, I admit enjoying a chuckle when I read Jenny's comment: "To say a writer needs an agent is like saying a woman needs a husband." Heheh! Who needs one of us?!?! (But please don't tell me wife.)

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  20. Movie stars have agents, sports stars have agents, singers have agents, public speakers have agents....why are authors so unhappy to have someone looking after their interests?

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  21. Getting an agent to actually read one of your queries...now that is the issue...
    Wouldn't we all love an agent and don't we all wish it was an easy thing to do...

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  22. My agent is awesome and I adore her. She is most definitely worth her weight in gold. Now if we could only find the editor I can say the same about. :D

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  23. Eric, show me a list of agents salivating to take on those who are considering self publishing.

    It would be great if there where some, but I suspect such is a very rare species.

    Haste yee back ;-)

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  24. I agree overall with the post--but the last statement made be nod my head a lot in agreement, more than any other points could. It is definitely a plus to have two or so organisations backing you up--and not just any other organisation, but established, well-respected ones.

    Great post!

    -BrownEyed
    www.browneyedmystic.wordpress.com

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