How to Publish Topic #1: So let’s start with agents.

Whether or not to get an agent is a VERY personal decision. It is one that I flip flop back and forth with. You need to ask yourself a few questions before you make this decision.

  1. Do I have the ability to negotiate my own contract? (Another option is to hire a lawyer to review and explain the contract, but you will still be on your own for negotiating)
  2.  Do I need an agent to get into the publisher that I want?
  3.  Are you willing to trust your publisher with income statements (Because you’d need a PHD to figure out your sales/royalties)

There may be more questions that would point you in one direction or another, but these are the biggies for me.

Number one and three, I think, are self explanatory. Sometimes it’s nice to have someone on your side. Just remember, you will pay them 15% of your royalties for them to “be on your side”

This, I think, is the major question regarding whether or not to partner with an agent:

Think GirlDo I need an agent to get into the publisher that I want?

In general, if you want to get into the Big Six (5) under one of the imprints that gives you larger advances and printed book circulation, you need to have an agent. A few of these houses have open submission once a year, or you can try pitching at conferences, but in general, you need an agent to get a foot in the door. Some of the “not big six but still really big” houses require agents, too. So do your research, and choose wisely.  However, make sure you are reaching for the Big 6 for the right reasons (which I will discuss in my next post)

The interesting thing is that many agents are starting to send manuscripts to Qualified Small Houses. You need to be careful of this, because if the only reason you want an agent is to get into a Big Six, and they get you a contract at a Qualified Small House, You have wasted your 15% (because most Qualified Small Houses take un-agented submissions.)

However: In those houses, agented manuscripts seem to get a looksee before unagented manuscripts. I learned that recently in my own querying. So again, you need to decide what it is you really want.

So what do you think? Agent or no agent, and why? Do you have a reason I did not cover above that makes you want that agent relationship?



24 responses to “How to Publish Topic #1: So let’s start with agents.

  1. In my opinion, at least in Canada, I don’t think agents are all that necessary. My friend & fellow writers group member has had six or seven books published. He has an agent that hooked him up with one of the top 10 publishers in Canada but he has yet to see a royalty cheque. His publisher expects him to do all the publicity and doesn’t push his books like one would expect. They didn’t even send a representative when his books launched. It seems to me, he could have done better with a smaller press without an agent. I’ve had two books published, I don’t have an agent and I have received several royalty cheques, albeit small ones. I wouldn’t want to have to share 15% of those small royalties. In Canada, agents are few and far between, but there are also a lot of smaller presses that don’t require work to be agented. I also know of an author with six published books under her belt who can’t even find an agent, as much as she’s tried.

  2. Great article, Jennifer. Thanks. I have tried in the past to find an agent but I probably wasn’t truly ready. Now I’m “on the fence” about whether or not I want one.

    • There is also the “problem” that there are different kinds of agents. Some want the work “perfect” while others are editorial, and enjoy making the MS the best they can be before submitting to publishers. It’s hard, either way to find someone who loves your story as much as you do.

  3. An agent spells validation to me but I’m not at the point of searching for one. However, I love reading advice and learning about what’s what. 🙂 Thanks for sharing, Jennifer.

  4. I want an agent for my first book as validation that my work is ready to be published. Is this a bad reason? I read too many self-pubbed and some indie pubbed stuff that isn’t ready to be read (IMHO). I don’t want my stuff out there before it is truly ready, if that makes sense. I see agents as gatekeepers and if they see my work as “saleable” then I am ready to be published.

  5. amiegibbons15

    A friend of mine is an author who went at it without an agent. He said (obviously this is hearsay so take it with a grain of salt) that the agents are more on the side of the big publishers and not the authors. The authors are pressed into contracts that take their full copyright and they are told to take it or walk since the publishers have so much more bargaining power. With e-publishing taking some of the big publishers’ power away, authors are able to negotiate contracts more, but for that alone (not for getting selected by a publisher, you still have to do that yourself) authors are better off using a copyright attorney than an agent.

    • But there are some people who are dead-set on a big-six house. Even if they end up forced to sign the contract, they need the agent just to get in the door. It’s a sticky situation that is changing, but that is where things are at the moment.

      • amiegibbons15

        Oh, I know. I’m one of them 🙂 I’m just hoping with the e-publishing revolution that they will negotiate more since they are not the sole gatekeepers to being published anymore.

        • My understanding is that they are still pretty tough. They still have a lot of power. But like I said, things are changing, but maybe slower than they should. A friend of mine recently published with a really small house, and they wouldn’t budge on the contract at all, so it really depends on the publisher. Good luck!

          • amiegibbons15

            Wow (low whistle), did she have an agent or a copyright attorney? If so and they still wouldn’t budge, that’s really depressing.

  6. I have tried to get an agent in the past, without success. Basically I decided to use my energy approaching editors directly, which is why I’m published through small presses.

  7. Wow. I’m just trying to get chapter 1 done. So much complexity ahead.