The Benefits of Having a Great Agent
sure you've all heard the warning that a bad agent is worse than no
agent at all. I've read horror stories (and even heard in person from a
best-selling author) about what happens when an agent goes bad and they
have to start over and find a new agent. I've also read a lot online
saying you don't even need an agent these days, especially if you plan
to self-publish. I respectfully disagree. In fact, I went to a talk by a
best-selling self-published author, and guess what she had? A top agent
from a great literary agency. Another top-earning self-publisher just
blogged about recently obtaining an agent for her books. Why? I'll
discuss that in a minute. Overall, I agree that having no agent is
better than having a bad agent...but having a rock star agent is golden.
I know a little bit about this because I have a rock star agent *waves
at Jessica* from a great literary agency. So here is how a fabulous agent can benefit both traditional and self-published authors:
1) Editorial relationships.
A great agent has a wealth of publishing knowledge and solid
relationships with editors, so they know who is be looking for a
specific project. For instance, they know if an editor has been dying
for a book about killer space monkeys, or conversely, if an editor will
stab themselves if they see one more monkey story. Though I try to stay
abreast of publishing industry news, I don't have the years of
relationships with publishers that my agent does, and I'm so glad she
knew exactly where to send my book (which sadly, does not involve killer
space monkeys). Some self-publishers are pursuing the hybrid model,
which involves having some books published traditionally while they
self-publish others, and for any author who wants a traditional
publishing deal, a reputable agent has access to publishing houses that
don't allow non-agented submissions.
2) They know books. This might sound obvious, but it's true. Agents read a ton of queries (after doing my "query critiques for all" giveaway earlier this year, I have even more respect for the
massive amount of work they do). They also read a lot of manuscripts and
you know, actual books. The bottom line is that agents know books. They
know what makes for a great story and can easily spot what works and
what doesn't. Every suggestion my agent made for revising my book was
spot-on. Her knowledge made my book better, and I'm not saying that just
because the book sold to a great publisher...I'm truly satisfied that I
created the best book I could.
3) Contract negotiations.
Can you say "reversion of rights?" Yes, technically you don't "need" an
agent to sign a publishing contract, but have you read one lately? I
got a headache after seeing one paragraph. An agent knows their way
around the technical language of the contract, and knows where to push
for change (e.g. more money, reversion clauses, etc.) They will also
likely be more successful in having those changes accepted than if the
author negotiated themselves, because part of being a good agent
involves killer negotiating skills. Could someone do this themselves if they spent enough time on it? Yes, but personally, I'd rather focus on writing. I
have enough trouble negotiating bed time with my kiddos, and am happy
to leave legal negotiations in my agent's capable hands.
also including foreign rights in this category, and it's a big reason
why some self-published authors either already have or desire an agent,
even if they don't want a traditional publishing deal. I can't imagine
the time and energy involved in navigating foreign rights contracts, nor
do I want to. The agented self-published author I heard speak said that
the foreign rights sales alone was the impetus for her to get an agent.
4) Trust. This one is more intangible but
just as important (to me, anyway). The author-agent relationship is a
business partnership, and if you don't have trust in your business
partner, then you're screwed (and yes, that trust goes both ways). For
the writer, it's important to feel like you have someone watching out
for your best interests. Yes, an agent only makes money if your book
sells, but I believe that most agents go into the business for the same
reason that writers do--we are all passionate about books. Most agents
only take on a book because they love it. They wouldn't devote hours of
their time to something they didn't believe in. When you trust that your
agent is competent and skilled, it frees you to focus on other
things--you know, like writing (well, and marketing, but that's a whole
What have I missed? Any other opinions out there from the agented or unagented?