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Words for Writers: What are the advantages to having an agent?

Question: Was just wondering, is it better to have an agent? Or would submitting directly to publisher’s on your own be better? I’m not yet at the submission stage but I started to wonder, would it be recommended to get an agent, or go it alone?

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It really depends on what kind of career you’re looking to have. Some people are after the big J.K. Rowling kind of thing, and some people are looking for something small and local.

Agents are required for the first, and not so much for the second.

Having an agent means you have access to the Big 5 Publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, MacMillion, Random Penguin House, Simon & Schuster) through the best channels. You MAY be able to submit to those houses via the slush pile with no agent, but doing so through an agent is best. Agents know the editors, and talk to them frequently. The Big 5 are are big companies and things can get lost in the shuffle, so it’s always better to have an agent who will and CAN follow up for you.

But if you’re looking to submit to ChiZine, or REUTS Publications, or any of the good mid-list publishing houses, or any of the great quirky small presses, you don’t need an agent for that. I signed my first book to a small press without an agent. I signed my fantasy series to a mid-list publishing house with one. She’s working on getting my next book into the Big 5 now that I have a proven track record and an established readership.

Advantages to Having an Agent

  • Built-in beta reader
  • Access to the large publishing houses that you couldn’t otherwise submit to
  • It’s nice to have someone as excited about you finishing a manuscript as you are!
  • Advocates for you and is in your corner if there are contracting disputes, legal battles, or just plain issues like the publisher not delivering something on time
  • Already knows the industry and can guide you through the hurtles, roadbumps, or emotional breakdowns
  • Can help shape and craft your career, listen to your ideas and suggest which one to do next, etc.
  • Is there to help you navigate adaptation rights, such as audio books and TV
  • Probably has a big mailing list and social media following so there’s extra eyes on your work right away
  • Can handle any pitches or proposals that come your way and make sure that any partnerships are legal and protect you and your work
  • Marketing support – your agent/agency will have connections with review publications, bloggers, etc. and will know which avenues of promotion are worth pursuing before you spend the money on them. Sometimes, they know before you do which new website or app is going to be the next cool place.
  • Your publishing sibs (authors with the same agent/agency as you) are a supportive and connected network that are usually happy to push and blurb one another’s books, answer questions for each other, and generally celebrate when one of you finds success. (And their awards and bestseller hits reflect well on you because you share the same agent/agency)

Advantages to Going It Alone

  • Keep all your royalties for yourself
  • Can craft your career however you like, which means you don’t have to write something saleable if you just want to write something fun and nichey
  • Can do business directly with the publisher with no middle man (though I’ve found I still can contact the publisher/my editor/marketing team no probs with my agent; she’s happy to let me be as Type A as I need to be)
  • More control of your marketing, and your brand.
  • Less pressure for deadlines or to churn out the “next thing”
  • The publishing industry is a hot mess right now. Nobody is willing to take any risks at the top tier levels, the editors are looking for the Next Big Thing, but don’t trust what the readers are telling them they want, and basically most of New York is flooded with professional cowardice. They only want The Next Big Debut Author (aka Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give) or the next big hit from an author with a string of hits. Smaller presses have less pressure to sell hits, can take the weird, and the wonderful, and the small, and interesting. (That is not to say your small press book can’t hit big, it just will need a lot of flogging to review publications, award competitions, etc.)
  • It takes so much tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiime to go the traditional route. Books may take yeeeeeeeeeears to get signed because everyone is waiting on the next person down the chain to read it, or pitch it, or put together the contracts. UHG. A book I wrote in 2012 is coming out September 2019. With no agent and a direct line to the publisher, you can speed the process.
  • You can be more creative with your marketing.

However, you do have to look at the disadvantages too. Going back to my example of signing my first book sans agent – I got screwed and didn’t know it. It was the first contract I’d ever signed. Eventually my agent got me out of that legal tangle (and the book is being republished with a new house and a new cover), but she wasn’t obliged to because she hadn’t brokered that deal.

On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve had a best-selling author contact me for advice about how to deal with their agents because the agent has gotten lazy with her A-list clients, stopped advocating for them, stopped pushing, and generally relegated them to the back burner.

Again, it all depends on you, what you write, what kind of career you want, and how much work you want to do or how involved you want to be.

Remember, there’s also nothing saying you have to pick one or the other and that’s it. You can start with an agent and decide it’s not for you and let them go. (Remember, they work for you, not the other way around). You can publish small first, like I did, and then seek an agent for your second or third book.

Still have questions? Read more WORDS FOR WRITERS here or ASK ME HERE.

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