Do You Need An Agent?

Once upon a time, back before the turn of the century, it became necessary to have an agent to have your book considered by those publishing companies known as the Big 5. Due to the influx of authors and books that simply weren’t ready for publication, publishers realized they had to find a way to weed out those books that were either not right for their lines or needed revisions and/or editing before they were submitted.

Thus, authors turned to the submission process to find an agent, and it was born that all authors needed an agent in order to find a publisher. Once we arrived in the twenty-first century, the myth of needing an agent remained, even though there were soon online publishers who offered as much or more of a royalty for ebooks. Some even offered authors the opportunity to have their books in print, thanks to print on demand companies. Some authors continued the same trek to an agent’s website before submitting to a publisher. The world had become a smaller place. There were also new agents available to these authors, and they soon began to think they had the opportunity to be represented by someone who would ensure their book was promoted while they were slaving away on their next book.

The thing is many first time or mid-list authors really have no need for an agent. Agents, like publisher and authors, have changed in this new century. The world of publishing has gone through massive changes. With the ease of self-publishing, thanks to Amazon and other sales venues, an author might even decide they can do it all without someone else taking part of their royalties, only to soon discover a publisher might be more of an avenue they’re seeking after they discover the cost of editors, proofreaders, and cover artists. What is most important is that an author is now in control of who does or doesn’t represent their book if they want to be published.

By now, you’re wondering if you really need an agent. Some of you are saying that you’re going to get an agent despite all the bad things you may have heard about them. Good, but keep reading. Below are some things from Writer’s Digest you should know about agents before you submit.

What an agent should always do:

            Attempts to sell your book to a reputable publishing house.

            Keeps up-to-date with editors’ interests as well as their contact information.

            Negotiates the terms of your contracts with publishers.

            Works on commission.

What an agent can do:

            Offer guidance or suggestions for improving your book.

            Get it into the hands of editors.

            Secure an advance or sell your book at auction.

What an agent should do

            Return your calls and emails within a reasonable period of time once you’ve signed on together.

            Give you realistic expectations.

            Be as interested as you are in getting a good advance—the better you do, the better he/she will do.

All of this is excellent advice, but I would add a few things an author should do before contacting an agent, what is often called due diligence.

            Check out this agent online.

            Don’t rely on testimonials for a select few of the authors on their website.

            Read complaints but also check out the validity of those complaints. Is the author angry for some reason or were they in fact taken in by a bad agent?

I’m also sharing things you shouldn’t expect from an agent. As with publishers changing on how they handle books, agents have also changed and more often than not no longer hold every author’s hand throughout the publication process.

What an agent does not do

            Guarantee fame and riches.

            Sell every manuscript she/he agrees to represent.

            Write the publishers’ contracts for them.

What an agent cannot do

            Rewrite your book or make it perfect for you.

            Guarantee those editors will read every word.

            Guarantee anyone will come to an auction even when they’ve told the interested editors they’re holding one.

What an agent should not do

            Refuse to tell you anything he/she has done. (Even if she/he has taken no actions at all, he/she should tell you that.

            Promise you a fortune.

            Accept or turn down advances without consulting you.

To expand on this, agents should never put down the publishers they’ve sent your books to, nor should the publishers do the same to agents. An agent really can’t promise you that they can secure you an option to have your book made into a movie and also say the movie will be made eventually.

In my opinion, an agent should provide a full accounting from your publisher(s) monthly, or at least quarterly, with how many of your books have been sold and the amount of royalties paid to you. This proves to me the agent is honest and above board and is willing to give their authors vital information.

The biggest thing to remember before you sign a contract with an agent is to ask yourself this: Am I, as an untested author, going to make enough to pay the agent’s fee (no, they don’t work for free, their rate is usually 15% of your royalties). If your answer is no to that question, then you probably should read up on how to deal with a publisher and understand that many, many authors these days don’t have an agent when a publisher gives them a contract.

About the K.C. Sprayberry

Born and raised in Southern California’s Los Angeles basin, K.C. Sprayberry spent years traveling the United States and Europe while in the Air Force before settling in northwest Georgia. A new empty nester with her husband of more than twenty years, she spends her days figuring out new ways to torment her characters and coming up with innovative tales from the South and beyond.

She’s a multi-genre author who comes up with ideas from the strangest sources. Those who know her best will tell you that nothing is safe or sacred when she is observing real life. In fact, she considers any situation she witnesses as fair game when plotting a new story.

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