Blogger: Wendy Lawton
If you hope for a significant writing career one of the best things you can do is to begin amassing a crack team. That would include an agent, maybe a publicity or social media consultant, a critique team, some fellow writers to help brainstorm, a few beta readers and the start of a group of influencers. Yep, I included agent.
Can you go it alone in this day and age? Sure, especially if you are not planning to publish traditionally. And it’s possible to agent yourself even if you are going to publish traditionally. But who would want to? I’m an experienced agent but when I write, do I represent myself? Are you kidding? If I did I would have a fool for a client. After all, even the Lone Ranger had Tonto and Silver.
Despite what you may have heard from a few of the self-proclaimed DIY publishing gurus—the Occupy Publishing crowd— if you want to build a lasting career, you will eventually need an agent on your team. Lately the favorite internet blood sport seems to be agent-baiting— rivaled only by publisher-baiting. I know you’ve read some of the anti-agent screeds declaring that literary agents are a dying breed. Ignore all that crazy vitriol. For the record, I’m not worried about my job– short term or long term. Agents add real value to an author’s team. Show me a New York Times mega-bestselling author who does not have an agent. It doesn’t matter that they could sell their books to any publisher themselves if they chose to do so. These savvy authors understand that it’s a complicated world and they are smart enough to surround themselves with as many experts as they can.
An agent will be an important member of your team. Let me just mention a few things we do:
An agent is your worrier-in-chief. Because our experience spans many publishers and many careers, we are the ones who see patterns. Agents know where and when the bumps are likely to occur.
An agent is your air traffic controller. Publishing is becoming ever more complex. Your agent is going to be the one to safely land all the planes that are circling (new releases, self-e-pubbed books, re-releases, etc.). We’re seeing all kinds of collisions on the publishing runway these days. Some of these can be fatal to a career.
An agent offers industry-wide perspective. Writers know what’s happening anecdotally, which is less than reliable. Publishers know what’s happening in their company. Agents are the ones who have an idea what’s happening across the board. We see royalty statements from all the publishers. The information is proprietary and we never share but we have a perspective unique in this industry.
An agent handles many of the time-consuming details so the author is free to create. One of the best benefits. Yes, you might be able to do it all but is that the best use of your time?
An agent is a specialist in publishing contracts. You often hear people say that a writer could simply have an attorney look at publishing contracts. We smile. Publishers groan. An attorney who is not familiar with publishing contracts will have to spend hours getting up to speed. They question every clause not understanding the concepts. All on your dime. Your agent receives the contract he has negotiated with the publisher and it is usually far different from the boilerplate. Plus we’ve seen so many contracts, we can spot the least change and we can pick one scary word out of dozens of pages of legalese.
An agent is the bad cop that allows the author to be a good cop. Without an agent you need to deal with all the trouble that arises. And trouble always arises. We have long term relationships that can be leveraged to fix problems and craft win-win situations. And when push comes to shove, we are okay with being the bad guys and leaving you untouched.
An agent offers a collaborative community. Not all agents gather their clients together in a tribe, but when it happens it is invaluable.
An agent reads widely in the industry, staying on top of things in order to keep her clients apprised. Part of our job is stay on top of trends and industry issues. We read intentionally and widely. Our Books & Such agents have regular meetings to discuss what we are reading and hearing.
An agent stands ready to help over the rough spots. This is where we shine.
A good agent rarely costs the client anything. Some authors cite the commission we take, but we usually negotiate a deal with the publisher that more than compensates for our cost. And we don’t get a cent unless you are making money.These are stats you’ll never see, but if you could compare well-agented writers against unagented writers. . . well, ’nuff said.
When told that the New York Journal had mistakenly published his obituary, Mark Twain is supposed to have said, “Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” We agents agree. Rumors of our upcoming demise are equally suspect. When the time is right, you’re going to want to have a good literary agent on your team.
Do you agree? What would your perfect team look like? Should I have added housekeeper and gardener to the team roster? What other things would you love to have someone else do so you could write?