Why Do You Need an Agent?

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Ahhh literary agents. If you’re a writer even remotely familiar with the publishing process, you’ve most definitely heard of them, particularly if you’ve spoken to other writers online for more than five minutes (and if you haven’t or you’re not, that’s okay—I will explain you a thing).

For writers who want to be published traditionally, agents are key. In fact, oftentimes getting an agent is the first hurdle on the path to eventual publication (well, after writing a book, and editing, and everything involved in writing a polished manuscript, that is).

But why are they so important? And what do they really do for writers? Here are just a couple things agents do that make them so invaluable:

  • Get your work in front of editors. The fact of the matter is, most big publishing houses won’t accept unagented submissions. In order to even reach the step of getting big publishing houses to even look at your work (and, more importantly, get your work in front of the right editors for your particular manuscript), you need an agent to represent you and your work. 

  • Contract negotiation. So your agent submits your work to editors, things go well and there’s an offer on the table. Congratulations! But your agent’s work is far from over.

    Most writers know very little about the ins and outs of a publishing contract (and even most who do have a good idea as to what all those terms mean don’t often feel confident enough to argue the finer details). Agents, unsurprisingly, are extremely well-versed in publishing contracts. They know what rights to hold on to and what rights to sell, they know what goes into a contract, and most importantly, they know how to negotiate for the best possible deal for you. 

  • (Possible) editing/polishing. Some agents do this and some don’t, so if this is important to you, you need to make sure to choose an agent who is editorial. Agents don’t have to help you edit your work, but some do before sending your work out to editors to make sure it’s super shiny first. 

  • Professional supporter of awesome/ career guidance. Your agent is always in your corner. They get excited over you and your work, they’re there to help you figure out what direction to go with your career, and all in all, they want the best for you and your career. It’s a business relationship (which is important to remember), and it should be a positive one. 

For extra information on what an agent is (and isn’t), literary agent Carly Watters (PS Literary) wrote two great posts on 6 Things to Expect from Your Literary Agent and 6 Things You Shouldn’t Expect From Your Agent. Definitely worth a read, whether you have an agent or not.

Do you think agents are important for writers? Why or why not? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Why are agents so important? What do they really do for writers? @Ava_Jae breaks it down. #pubtip (Click to tweet)  
How important do you think agents are for writers? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)


RoweMatthew said...

I can see there is benefit, but when landing an agent is as near impossible as landing a contract with a traditional publishing company, why out yourself through that? If a thousand people try, maybe only one or two will succeed? Personally I know that no one would take such a big risk on my stories, because I write specifically to avoid genre trappings, so I'd rather carve out a few meager sale a for myself in self publishing. To me, agents are mythical creatures, like a muse or unicorn. I'm glad you found yours though. You are a lucky one!

Ava Jae said...

Hmm. Well, I don't think getting an agent is as rare or impossible as you think it is—I see agents picking up clients every day, as well as new agents joining the field, ready to find new talent. Out of my 5 original CPs, for example, 3 of them are now agented (and 2 of them have book deals), whereas when we first started trading our writing, none of us had agents or deals. So I don't think it's quite as uncommon as you think it is.

That being said, it is absolutely difficult. As you are probably well aware, it took me many many years and many many manuscripts, and there were times when it definitely felt impossible. But because self-publishing wasn't what I really wanted to do, the struggle was worth it for me.

If you're doing well with self-publishing and want to continue with it, more power to you. I think that's great. :) But I think just because you try to avoid genre trappings isn't a reason to completely discount traditional or hybrid publishing—I love writing crossover fiction, for example, which tends to straddle the lines between different genres or categories, and it's definitely not impossible to work with in a traditional or hybrid sense. :)

RoweMatthew said...

I think its difficult until you prove yourself. Traditional places are always looking for something easy to sell. Agents may seem to pick up people all the time but from their perspective there is a plentiful crop to pick from. However, for writers, there are very few agents. Anyway, it doesn't matter too much. I have my preference but there is nothing wrong with either way.

Ava Jae said...

Hmm I sort of agree. You're right in a sense that you need to prove yourself, but the way you do that is through your submitted manuscript. I also agree that agents are on the lookout for something they believe they can sell, but I wouldn't say they're always looking for something easy to sell. Not every sell is an easy sell, and agents are well aware of that, but most of them will pick up projects they love as long as they believe they can sell it.

You're also right that there are less agents than there are writers, but agents pick up way more than one writer. Most agents that I know of have a client list of around 20-35 or so writers (not counting new agents, who are still building their list, that is). So it's not necessarily a problem that there are more agents than there are writers. :)

All that being said, I totally agree that there's nothing wrong either way. Agents are really only necessary if you want to go traditional or hybrid (though I do know of some self-publishers with agents. Totally depends on preference).

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