|Can't you see I'm busy!?|
Agent or go solo? The pros and cons are many!
The tools for self publication grow more effective and more accepted every day. Platforms like Kindle and social media such as Twitter give you the means to publish with low hassle, and to make your audience aware of it if you are savvy and assiduous enough. Should you jump in?
Our list below can help you set your head straight about the benefits of having an agent and of being a loner.
First, the AGENT side:
1. The agent can help you overcome your own laziness.
New writers’ no. 1 mistake? Sending their work in before it is ready. A good agent will hector you ’til your book is all set. If necessary, the agent may have you spend months in revision. Sound tough? Many published writers who have gone along with this advice – not sacrificing the core of their work – are glad they did.
2. Agents have the editor’s ear.
Face it: your unagented manuscript may sit for any length of time in the slush pile before – in the face of an impossible workload – a junior, underpaid staff member opens it and stuffs it right into your SASE for return unread. Unfair? Bear in mind that a smaller publishing house like Dutton receives 3500 queries a year, and only about 1% of that slush pile measures up in terms of quality and market.
3. Your agent can negotiate a better deal for you.
Unless you yourself are well positioned in the publishing biz – effectively qualifying you to be an agent – then you probably don’t know how much your books is worth or how much of an advance you can get away with asking for.
4. A good agent will navigate the labyrinth of a publishing contract in ways you can’t.
Myriad tricks and innocuous-seeming – but toxic – clauses await an inexperienced writer as she first dips her toes into the business side or writing.
5. The agent can act as a referee between writer and editor.
A writer nervous about the purity of his first-born book may come off as a prima donna. Busy, disgruntled editors will look like tyrants. The agent will pass issues on in a diplomatic way.
Good agents know the market and can powwow with you, nudging you towards which of the many projects you are keeping warms has, in his experience, more market potential.
Whew! That’s a long list. So what’s the question here? Well, many writers have had bad experiences with agents, too.
1. Your agent may not do anything.
This is a much shorter list, but point no. 1 here is worth at least five above. It is worth expanding upon. Children and young adult author Sandy Asher summed up her experiences:
[An experienced agent] took me on—and placed me in the very last stall of her very large stable of authors, some of them impressively rich and famous. She rarely visited my stall. She rarely answered my phone calls or my letters. ... Looking back, I suppose her theory was that I showed promise and eventually I'd send her something she could easily sell. No hurry. When that time came, she'd trot me out to the starting gate.
In the meantime, I sent her manuscripts—revisions of Daughters of the Law and a string of those ever-hopeful picture books. As far as I know, she never submitted a single one of them to publishers. Two years passed. I grew so angry, frustrated, and sick at heart, I stopped writing. The woman was, for some of her clients, wildly successful, and for others, like me, toxic. I finally called her secretary and said, "Gather up everything you can find and mail it back to me. Whatever this relationship is, it's over."
Obviously, Sandy’s agent – who just waited for Sandy to shine on her own – was the wrong choice for her.
2. Agents don’t usually submit your work to small publishers.
The small advances offered by independent publishing houses – sometimes just a few thousand dollars – will amount to peanuts for your agent’s commission. However, a small publisher may be just the right fit you’re a novice. Naturally, your chances of getting a foot in the door are vastly greater with a Hungry indie publishing house.
So there’s plenty to be said for having an agent – but let the buyer beware. If you are saddled with a do-nothing agent, then give her the boot and go elsewhere to get the treatment you deserve.
And Sandy, above? She’s gone through six, and is mightily satisfied with her current one, Wendy Schmalz.