Blogger: Rachelle Gardner
Many times on my blog, I’ve answered the question of why you, a writer (singular), might need an agent (also singular). But today I want to answer a slightly different question. How do authors, collectively, benefit from agents (plural)? How does the existence of agents in this business help all authors?
You, as an individual author, may or may not require the services of an individual agent. But whether or not you realize it, whenever you deal with a publisher, you’re benefitting from the collective work of agents over the years.
For the last few decades, agents have been on the front lines when it comes to advocating for authors in their relationships with publishers. It’s interesting to speculate on the state of publishing contracts if agents had never been involved and authors had to fend for themselves or just take whatever the publisher was offering.
The economics of publishing are tough, and like in any business, publishers are always trying to figure ways to save money — or a least keep their money longer. Occasionally they come up with brilliant money-saving ideas that involve paying authors less. They lower royalty rates; they bump up the royalty breaks (i.e. raise the number of copies you must sell before increasing to a higher royalty rate); they may extend the length of time over which they pay out the author’s advance; and they pay lower advances.
Those are the simple things. The last couple of years have seen publishers and agents in serious discussion over rights reversion, non-compete clauses, e-book royalty rates and numerous other things, especially related to new digital technologies. It’s complicated and tricky trying to negotiate all these points in rapidly changing publishing environment.
But over all the years and all the changes in publishing, agents collectively have had the knowledge and the clout to talk with publishers on a contract-by-contract basis, holding as much ground for authors as possible. As we continue into the confusing new world of digital publishing, authors are going to need advocates more than ever. You are going to have your hands full, trying to work your full-time job plus write your books plus market them. Do you really want to be in business with a huge international corporation without a knowledgeable advocate on your team?
If you sign with a royalty publisher and remain agentless, you may be missing out on the latest knowledge and expertise that will protect the value of your intellectual property; but you’ll probably also benefit from the work agents have already done in the last few decades. Your agent doesn’t just work for you. Each agent is, in their own small way, protecting the rights of all authors. So love ’em or hate ’em, if you’re an author, agents are your friends.
P.S. I imagine some of you will argue that it’s really the other way around—that agents need authors. Well, of course that’s true. We need authors if we want this job. But if authors didn’t need agents, none of us would have this agenting job in the first place, so it’s kind of a moot point. When authors stop needing agents, agents will cease to play a part in the publishing industry.
Have you ever thought about how authors have collectively benefitted from the work of agents? What are YOUR thoughts on why authors need agents?