To Agent or Not to Agent?

We’re hunting for our first house at the moment, and after only a few days of viewings I’ve already noted three of my least desirable personality traits coming strongly to the fore: I’m demanding, I’m impatient, and I hate spending money.

I know, my husband’s such a lucky guy!

Jessie J says it's not about the money, but I beg to differ.

Jessie J says it’s not about the money, but I beg to differ.

All of these characteristics came into play when I decided to skip the finding-an-agent step and submit what would become my debut novel to Carina Press’s 30-day feedback opportunity a little over a year ago. I didn’t see what value an agent would bring to the process, I wanted it to be over and done with as quickly as possible, and I certainly had no interest in sharing 15% of what I earned.

My attitude remained the same over the next year. I sold three projects to Carina and two to Samhain on my own, and as soon as I worked out how much money I was making per copy I was even less keen to shave any of that off for an agent.

Enter NaNoWriMo 2013, exactly a year since I got “the call.” I wrote a book that had come to mind during our American road-trip honeymoon, and the finished product was quite different to anything I’d written before. I loved the story, but I wasn’t sure about its ideal market, and I didn’t want to do a disservice to the novel by pitching it in the wrong places. So I went right back to my unpublished roots, rigorously researched agents, and submitted the manuscript to a select few.

That brings us to today. There are three requested fulls sitting out there in agents’ inboxes and, like Limos clinging to Erysichthon, my impatience is in full force. Do I really want to wait up to three months for an answer – which could very likely be a rejection – when I could just submit this manuscript now and keep my pipeline flowing? And if it is a yes, what exactly will I get for my 15%? What if the agent ends up selling it to one of my existing publishers anyway, making the whole effort a complete waste of time and money?

Harsh, right? But that’s my thinking at the moment, and I’d love to hear others’ thoughts and experiences. Is it worthwhile to bring on an agent when you’re already selling things on your own? If you have an agent, what benefits do you get from it? And if you don’t, why have you chosen to forego one? I’m all (demanding, impatient, thrifty) ears, people!


To Agent or Not to Agent? — 10 Comments

  1. Hi Rebecca! I’m published by a small press without the benefit of an agent. It wasn’t for lack of effort, though, as I had a half dozen or so agents turn me down before my trilogy found its home. While I’m thrilled with my current situation, I won’t rule out the agent route in the future, since there’s always the possibility an agent can open doors I’m simply not capable of myself. Best wishes to you for your new project and your house hunting!

  2. I can totally see your point of view. I sold two novellas to Carina on my own and then in June I wrote a new adult novel that I thought had what it takes to land me my dream: to be in a bookstore somewhere. So I did the agent thing. And, granted, my path was *very* fast (wrote in June, queried in August, had offers of rep in September, offers for pub in October), I wouldn’t change it for anything. Mandy is worth her weight in gold and 15% is negligible when it takes the tedious stuff out of my hands (like contract negotiations (that they actually WIN!) and being the bad guy when needed). Not to mention the fact there’s no way I could’ve gotten deals with Berkley or St Martin’s Press on my own. NO WAY.

    In the end, it really boils down to your business plan and the goals you have for yourself. There are so many options for authors now, and you just need to decide what path you want to take. Or you can try them all! Thats my plan. I’ve tried the digital imprint, doing the traditional Big-5 now, and at some point I’d like to try self-publishing so I have a clear picture of what each offers me.

    Hope this helps. Feel free to email me if you wanna chat more!

    • Congrats on your success Brighton! If I could realistically anticipate a timeline like yours I might be more inclined to persevere with finding an agent. That’s exactly the kind of supersonic speed I’m used to in my daily life – and the aspect of the publishing industry with which I struggle the most. Maybe it’s time to go back to yoga… 😉

  3. Great post, Rebecca. I’ve had a lot of these same thoughts as the landscape of publishing is changing. I definitely would like to go the hybrid author route, and like Brighton (BIG CONGRATS, BRIGHTON!) I do have dreams of getting an agent for future projects that I would love to see published traditionally. So an agents is absolutely necessary for that. However, I also want to do some self-published projects.

    While it would be great to not be responsible for some of the tedious, but necessary aspects of the business of writing, whether or not working with an agent makes sense depends on what you’re aiming for in your career.

    Aren’t some writers using agents specifically for trad publishing deals? That’s what I will be looking for when I’m ready to go that route.

    • Hi Reese! I’m with you on delegating the admin. I think my favorite part of having an agent would be shorter submission response times (see, impatient!). At least I think that’s part of what agents can do for an author? Hm…

  4. I have been represented in the past, but the agents were unable to sell my work, so I think for me–at this time of my life particularly–I’m better off on my own. It’s definitely a good question and a good discussion point.

    To Brighton–that’s great! Congratulations.

    • I think that’s definitely a fear – what happens when you’ve contracted a project to an agent and they can’t sell it? It’s a good reminder that there are no guarantees.

      Thanks for stopping by Liz!

  5. I’ve been wondering if this is the year I start looking for an agent. Agents can open doors not available to an author on her own. So my advice is not to rule it out but be careful who you pick. Good luck!

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