Current Topic: Why Agents Are Worth the Money
I write science fiction and fantasy, some of it for adults and some for
young adults (YA). My agent is marketing my YA novel Turnabout, but I have posted a short story that is
a prequel to another novel as a “Free Sample,” (links are in the left frame). For more information
on me, see my bio; for more information on speculative fiction, writing, or ebooks, see the Other Topics link or my blog.
Literary agents are an interesting breed. Almost all of them love books. Many
of them used to be editors. A few of them are or were writers. Some of them toil in solitude, working out of
their homes, the living embodiment of “The Jane Doe Literary Agency.” Other agents work in agencies
with two, three, four, or more agents, usually supported by a small but devoted cadre of assistants (many of whom
aspire to be either agents or authors). Each agent has a “list” of clients, some already published
and earning them money, others new authors trying to make that first sale. If an agent is reputable, he or she
makes no money from a client until he sells the book.
In the good old days, before word processing and PCs, aspiring writers often
sold their first book themselves, and only then contacted agents to find someone to represent them before they
signed a contract with a publisher. That doesn't happen nearly as much anymore. Back then, most publishers had
slush piles, stacks of manuscripts sent in by those writers dedicated enough (or rich enough) to produce a clean,
typed manuscript using an actual typewriter, and maybe some Whiteout. Somehow, once the actual production of a
tidy-looking m.s. got exponentially easier, the number of people producing them increased exponentially, too. Many
publishers responded by closing their transoms and refusing to even look at unsolicited, a.k.a., unagented,
submissions. That's when it became really important for aspiring writers to get agents.
Agents: Good and Bad
The tricks is, you have to be sure your agent is a real agent. There are so many aspiring
writers in the world today that we've become an industry. People write books to tell us how to get published or
even how to write a best seller. They put on writers conferences, some of which charge for “pitch
appointments” where writers can try to persuade editors or agents to read their books. Some of the
people who call themselves agents are really just sharks scenting aspiring writer's eagerness. If an agent
asks for money up front, a smart writer will run like heck the other way.
Once you get an agent, it doesn't ensure your book will sell. But it does
greatly increase the chances that editors will at least read it. Unlike writers, agents can make simultaneous
submissions. Instead of waiting a year or more for an answer from one editor, an agent can send your book to
four or five or more editors. This helps a lot. Plus, they often get an answer much faster than a slush
pile submission gets, and they may be able to pass along specific feedback.
But selling the book aside, the agent represents the writer's best
interests. He can look through a contract and point out the things that really need to change before the
writer signs it. He can negotiate, and he can give advice on what, realistically, a new author can
expect (like not having any say about the cover). Instead of a shark, a good agent is like a
shepherd, guarding the writer's career from the many dangers that can beset it.
Your agent is the one person
who not only wants you to succeed, he knows how to help you get there. If you're a new writer, you
really don't want to be out there alone, not even if you actually found a publisher on your own. And
if you did that, I can promise finding an agent will now be easier.
Helpful agents blogs:
Nathan Bransford, of
Jennifer Jackson, of the
Donald Maass Agency
Kristin Nelson, proprietor of the
Nelson Literary Agency.
Other Useful Sites
Preditors and Editors
Guide to Literary Agents blog