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Why Bother with an Agent

Publishing is slow, very slow, and the hunt to find an agent only slows things down further. With that in mind, why even bother? Why not just go directly to those publishers who take unagented submissions?

This was a question sent in by a reader, and a fair question at that. I can go on and on about why an agent is the better route to go, but anyone in their right mind would know how self-serving that would sound.

What I’m going to tell you instead, is that it depends entirely on what kind of writing career you want. There are plenty of publishers who accept unagented submissions, there is also self-publishing. There is nothing wrong with either of those choices unless you have dreams of a big publisher. Most do not accept unagented submissions.

The process of getting an agent can be slow, as can the process of getting a book published, but much of that slowness is because of the work you’re doing. No submission leaves my desk the same way it came in. Before sending anything to editors, the author and I will do work to make sure it’s the best it can be. In some cases that has meant completely reworking a (nonfiction) proposal to better focus on the vision the author has for the book.

With this question, I often think comes the misperception that an agent’s job is solely to send a book to the publisher. That’s only a tiny part of the job. The real job begins when an agent negotiates the contract and helps build your career well beyond one book.

There is no right or wrong to how you want your career to proceed, but I do believe that good things happen with patience.

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5 comments

  1. There are, indeed, lots of reasons to work with an agent. In the long run, it can actually save time. It’s incredibly time consuming (and exhausting) for an author to rotate through all the hats worn by editor, designer, agent, publisher, counsel, publicist, wholesaler/retailer… complaint department – lol. And once the book is in the pipeline, try wearing them all at once! And, of course, that’s assuming you don’t have to scale a steep learning curve across multiple literary/publishing disciplines. But the question of agency/no agency, in itself, can be more readily resolved by an even bigger, but singular factor: finding the RIGHT agent! Matching agent and author is as important as author and editor; author and publisher… and hey… all of it goes right back to the right match-up of author and audience. Once you have proper and strong alignment, there can be powerhouse momentum toward a highly successful writing career, wherein all players form a network of mutual support. The happiest camper? The reader, thoroughly immersed in an exciting new read and greatly anticipating the next. New releases are made that much more certain and facilitated with a full team aligned behind it. The networked, collaborative linkages of author, agent, editor, publisher and public… can embody a phenomenally prolific and functionally structured process forward! And therein, lies the promise and the investment.

  2. I’m trying to find an agent but it’s slow. Writing the synopsis for my novel is difficult because it’s cross-genre spec-fiction. It’s a story about two flawed, troubled people separated by 400 years who fall in love and find redemption. So my story can’t be pigeon-holed into one specific category, but the women in my writer’s group fell in love with the story and keep asking me when it will be published. I write for several entertainment magazines and interview film directors/producers. Many agree that my story would make an excellent film.

  3. Thank you, Jessica! I’ve often asked myself the same question. Both take time and patience. Now, to find the right agent. Or publisher? A home for my novel. Good luck to all. It is a well worth it journey. Have a great weekend. Thank you.

  4. I liken signing a publishing contract without an agent to selling a house without a broker well-versed in real-estate law. Or to writing a will without a lawyer. It can be done, and many people choose to do it, but many who do end up regretting it because they get tripped up by technicalities they could not have known to watch out for.

  5. Agents are professionals who know the publishing industry inside out, and they have a level of knowledge of the field that an author couldn’t possibly have.
    I wouldn’t want to take an airplane and find out that I’m the one who’s supposed to fly it.
    I’d rather concentrate on reading (or writing) a book while in the air, buckling up my seatbelts correctly, and thinking of the destination the pilot is taking me to.

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