Agents: Do we need them?

Nowadays many writers are rethinking the need for an agent. With the rise in e-book sales, the ease of self-publishing (without paying big bucks), and the lack of marketing on the part of traditional publishers, many writers wonder what an agent can do for them. Why bother trying to sell to the BIG NAME publishers when all they seem to want to publish are BLOCK BUSTERS? Why use an agent if the mid-size and smaller publishing houses don’t require an agent for submissions and don’t pay large enough advances to make paying an agent 15% worthwhile?

Whether a writer needs an agent or not depends, I think, on the writer’s personality and goals. Only want to self-publish? Well, that writer probably won’t need/want an agent until the BIG PUBLISHING houses come knocking. (Then they might want one to go over the contract and negotiate extras.) Selling to mid-sized and small-publishing houses? An agent might be of assistance in that case. Although giving up 15% of a small advance might not sound good, if the agent can negotiate changes in the contract so you get (a larger advance, higher royalty rate, additional PR, etc.) then maybe paying that 15% would be worthwhile.

Personally, I like working with an agent. I had one for 18 years (Denise Marcil), and she was great. I have a new one now (Evie Saphire-Bernstein of the Loiacono Literary Agency) and though we’ve just started working together, I love her enthusiasm. I like that I can talk over contract pros and cons with her, and that I can ask her advice. With a proposed contract agreement, she’s the one who will be going to the publisher and asking for changes. She’s the one he’s going to call irrational, stubborn, and (you get the idea). I don’t do confrontation well, so I’m glad to give her that job.

She knows about publishing houses I’ve never even heard about. She’s familiar with the contract language to avoid and what we might want to add. Sure, I know there are writers who are more than willing to do the research necessary to not only get a ms to a multitude of publishing houses, but feel confident enough to negotiate their own contracts. That’s great. That’s not me. So I’m willing to pay someone (the 15% of my earnings) to do that work. And if my agent wants to make more money, my hope is she’ll get me better deals than I’d be able to do on my own.

Therefore, the answer to my question is: It depends on you. What do you want? What can you do yourself? And how much are you willing to do yourself?

I’d rather write, and now that I’m down south where it’s warm and sunny, I am writing.

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6 Responses to Agents: Do we need them?

  1. An author friend and I were discussing this the other day. An editor was ignoring her emails and it had been several months since she’d been promised the first round edits of her contracted manuscript – in her opinion, if she’d had an agent this wouldn’t be an issue. The reason being agents are taken a more seriously than unrepresented author no. 312. An agent would have been able to rock the boat and the author wouldn’t have felt she was making a name for herself as a problem child.

    I agreed with her on this point, but it is still hard to consider giving up 15% when you don’t have to.

    Thanks for sharing!

    ~Melinda

    • Maris SouleMaris Soule says:

      Melinda, the key words are “if you don’t have to.” If you can do it on your own, then that’s what you should do. Your friend is right, the agent would (at least we hope s/he would) have more clout. This is especially true if the agent represents some big name/big money making authors.

  2. Melissa Keir says:

    I’d love to know more about this. I don’t have an agent but think that it might be good to have one if they also work with the MS for edits and such, or advice on publicity. How did you get an agent?

    • Maris SouleMaris Soule says:

      Melissa, I lucked out with my first agent, but that was back in the dark ages. This time around I found an agent by writing and sending out (as emails) lots of query letters, by entering the ms in a contest and making the finals, and by attending conferences and pitching to agents. Was the effort worth it? I don’t know yet, but I do know she’s already gotten the story in front of more editors/publishers than I ever would have on my own. I’d say, in your case, check out agents that you hear about and if you have something ready, contact them and see what happens. The nice thing about email and the internet is we can now go to the web sites, see what the agent is interested in representing and how they want the material submitted. Since most want electronic submissions, you have no printing or mailing costs.

  3. Connie Bretes says:

    I’ve thought about getting an agent but for me it is not economical to do this right now. I am already paying for copy/editor’s review, and I think anything else would just eat up any profits I make. However, I hope at some point, I can seriously consider this.

  4. Phyllis Humphrey says:

    I started writing – and submitting – 35 years ago, when agents only wanted 10 percent. But in those days, an agent was necessary. So I tried, and got four – yes, four, bad agents (details on request) Then, after I’d sold five romance novels on my own, I queried a bunch of agents and everyone rejected me! I’m doing fine now and beginning to make the IRS want some of my earnings. Pay an agent 15% for the rest of my life? No way!