Publishing Without an Agent
- By: Jessica Faust | Date: Oct 14 2021
Not every author wants to work with an agent. Or at least, that’s what we hear in comments on Instagram and YouTube. I’m not even going to get started on Twitter.
As an agent, I have thoughts, and insights into why I believe you save far more than you spend by publishing with an agent.
A Time Before Agents
When I started my career 20+ years ago it was a lot easier to connect with Big 5 editors without an agent. Part of my job as an editorial assistant was to comb through the slush pile (this was a true slush pile) for potential.
And I found it. Sometimes I found a romance that wasn’t agented and had what I needed. Other times I bypassed agents to search for an author who could write a nonfiction idea I had. And this was before the Internet was what it is today, so that took some serious networking.
When this happened I would call the author directly and make an offer. I would also, every single time, suggest the author get an agent before talking further. I even had a list of five agents I had worked with and liked in the past.
The refrain we hear from those against agents is why bother if you can submit to publishers directly. The answer. Submitting to publishers is the least important piece of our jobs. It’s the smallest thing an agent does for you.
The true work of an agent happens well after publishers received your manuscript. It’s in the upfront contract negotiations when the agent will work to get you a higher advance, better royalty rates, and better terms for things like subsidiary rights and territory. Don’t know what those things are? An agent does.
Then, when your 20+ page contract comes in, an agent reviews and negotiates each word and detail. In fact, an agent typically has already done that with the publisher what they get in their inbox is their pre-negotiated boilerplate. And then they still negotiate!
Beyond negotating and book deals, an agent is your business partner and partner in crime when it comes to everything from dissecting the book cover, to rewriting cover copy. They help plan your next book and, frankly, plan your entire career. Agents are the go-to when things go arry and your heavy when hard conversations need to be had. Trust me, they will need to be had.
Publishers Like Agents Too
In my experience, at least with Big 5 Publishers, most editors prefer their authors find an agent. Editors, like agents, are in the profession of advocacy. A huge part of their job is fighting for authors and their books. But…they also work for the publisher. Therefore, they can only fight too much.
I once offered a book deal (back in my editorial days) to a nonfiction author who chose not to find or work with an agent. They felt that since they’d had previous book deals through book packagers, they were knowledgable enough to handle things on their own. Except they weren’t.
The contract negotiations between the author and me went well. They got what they presumably wanted. It was when the contracts department got involved that things went south. The author, not understanding a publishing contract, was unhappy and uncomfortable with some of the terms and tried turning to me for support. Except, I couldn’t negotiate against my own company. Not only was it unethical, but it could have gotten me fired. More importantly though, what the author needed was someone they trusted to explain the clauses to them, and that wasn’t going to come from inside the company they were negotiating with.
In the end, the author decided not to sign the contract. I found another author who did, and the book turned out to be quite successful.
The 15% that first author would have paid an agent, would have been well worth the time, energy and aggravation they went through for what amounted to $0.
Beyond that though, an agent’s job is also about education and explanation. Editors rely on agents to help explain the process and act as a bufffer if the author seems dissatisfied with the editor or the publisher.
The Business of Publishing
When I started my business I put together a support team. I got an accountant and a lawyer and talked with experts who could help me set up everything from contracts to a website. Yep, I got a website designer too.
Authors shouldn’t treat their business any less than if they were opening a storefront or a law firm. Getting the support you need and the experts where you aren’t an expert builds a stronger and longer career. Agents are those people.