What Stace had to say on Thursday, November 12th, 2009
Yes, Virginia, you need an agent

For those of you who haven’t yet heard, yesterday Galleycat published a rather ridiculous opinion piece about how agents are unnecessary and they don’t do anything and they’re just evil old vultures and blah blah blah. The same crap we’ve heard before, in other words, although I find it fascinating that this piece was written by someone who last year–obviously unaware that I already had an agent and two book deals–offered to query agents on my behalf for the low, low price of $500.00, and yes I still have that email exchange saved. He’s perfectly entitled to run such a business and I’m not calling him a scammer, but it’s interesting, isn’t it?

Agent Miriam Goderich rebutted it here very nicely. So, I’m sure, have others, but I’m about to add my voice to the chorus simply because that’s the way I roll, baby.

Do you need an agent?

Yes. Yes, you fucking do.


Okay, sure. If you’re planning on having a career in epublishing, you probably do not need an agent. If you’re planning to self-publish, you do not need an agent. There’s nothing wrong with either of those things. I started out in epublishing, without an agent, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I’m glad I did it and am grateful to Ellora’s Cave for treating me so well and enabling me to make some decent cash. Working with them was a pleasure for me.

But–no offense–I wanted more than that. I wanted books on shelves. I wanted advances. I wanted a bigger career. I wanted to move out of genre romance/erotic romance; not because I didn’t enjoy it or don’t enjoy it (writing and reading), but because the more of it I wrote the more a little voice inside me told me it was simply not quite the right fit for my voice or the kinds of stories I wanted to tell.

To accomplish those things (aside from moving away from writing romance, which of course is a huge genre in all forms of publishing: ebook, mass market paperback, trade paperback, hardcover, audio, whatever) I needed an agent.

Here’s what fascinates me (and infuriates me) about the original Galleycat article (aside from the fact that its author apparently also runs a website devoted to helping writers self-publish; again, legal, but certainly interesting). It’s this paragraph here:

One published author who asks to be unnamed disagrees, “What do you need an agent for anymore, really? Why? To negotiate a meager advance? You can’t get them on the phone anyway. You’re stuck promoting the book yourself because publishers don’t put any marketing dollars into your book unless you’re John Grisham. I don’t see the whole point when I can hire an attorney to negotiate my publishing contract for a flat fee or just upload the book to Kindle myself.”

Let’s take a look at these points, shall we?

1. “To negotiate a meager advance.” Hmm. Speak for yourself, buddy. My advances aren’t huge, but I certainly wouldn’t call them “meager.” And having been involved in the negotiation process–through regular discussions with my agent, every step of the way–I’m well aware of how much bigger they became once he started negotiating them. In fact, several surveys have been done proving that the average agented advance is something like twice the size of an unagented one; Tobias Buckell’s, for one.

2. “You can’t get them on the phone, anyway.” Dude, if you can’t get your agent on the phone, you need a new agent. (Or perhaps you need to stop calling several times a day; ever considered that maybe the problem is you?) I can assure you, each and every one of you, that if I picked up the phone right now and called my agent, he would take the call. He always has, and he always will. And you know what? He calls me, too. When I send him a proposal, he calls me to discuss it. When he sells subsidiary rights (yes, we’ll get to those), he calls me. As I said above, he called me every step of the way, sometimes several times a day, when we were negotiating the sales of the Downside books and the second & third Demons books.

He calls me when something happens, like when my release dates changed. He calls me when we get cover art so we can discuss it. He calls me to talk about ideas.

Do we talk every day? No. Do we talk every week? No. Do we talk every month? No. But we do talk. And we do email, and he always answers those too. My agent is THERE FOR ME. And I am not unusual in that, I promise you. Every single writer pal I have is in the exact same situation. We talk to our agents. All the time. About all kinds of things.

An agent who does not have time for you is not a good agent. Find a good agent and stop bitching.

3. ” You’re stuck promoting the book yourself because publishers don’t put any marketing dollars into your book unless you’re John Grisham.” First, this is about agents how? Second, patently unfuckingtrue. Those books you see on front tables, end caps, mid-aisle tables, and those little rotating shelf things in bookstores? Are they all by John Grisham? No. Are they all, even, by known, NYT-Bestselling authors? No again. I see debut authors on those things all the fucking time, and guess what? Marketing dollars buy those spaces. Marketing dollars that publishers, real ones, put into the books they sell every fucking day.

And again, this has nothing to do with agents, as promoting your book to the public isn’t their job.

Here’s what my agent does for me. You look at this list and tell me if you think it’s worth it:

1. Reads my work, discusses it with me, offers suggestions
2. Sells my work to editors for major houses (not just “sends” or “submits.” SELLS. Pitches. Anyone who’s ever worked a sales job knows that isn’t easy.)
3. Negotiates not just my advances, but my CONTRACTS. All those confusing things about royalties and schedules and payouts and subsidiary rights and non-competition clauses and options and exclusive- and non-exclusive? He knows what all of it means, and how to get the best possible deal for me.
4. Sells those subsidiary rights. I would not have a UK deal without my agent. I would not have an audiobook deal without my agent. Which means readers in the UK and those who enjoy audiobooks would not have access to those books without my agent.
5. Keeps track of what monies have been received and which haven’t. Follows up on checks.
6. Keeps track of royalty statements. Follows up on those, too.
7. Knows what’s selling and what editors are looking for.
8. Talks about me; lets editors know I’m available (if I am) should they be interested in working with me.
9. Discusses my career with me. Offers guidance. Helps me plan my schedule.
10. Is a third opinion in discussions with my editors, should either of us wish him to be. Should a problem arise, my agent will step in to help. My agent is always on MY SIDE.

These are all equally important, at least to me. These are things that MATTER. My agent is the lifeline between myself and the world of publishing. He is invaluable.

Sure, I could probably do those things myself. I could fly to New York regularly and try to build relationships with editors. I could submit over the transom and wait a year for responses. I could spend ages learning about contracts. I could fly out to Frankfurt and London for the book fairs there and try to sell foreign rights (after first thoroughly researching all the publishers in lots of other countries, to determine if they’d be good for my book, and hope they’ll be interested), and then I could spend a bunch of time figuring out exchange rates. I could mark my calendar to make phone calls to follow up on payments and statements and all that stuff. I could be my own, my only, advocate, and jeopardize my relationships with my editors should disagreements arise.

What I probably couldn’t do, if I were doing all of that, is still have time to write.

If you want a real career, you need a real agent. You need an agent. YOU NEED AN AGENT.

Anyone who tells you that you don’t is either wrong or is trying to sell you something. Or both. Don’t believe them.

28 comments to “Yes, Virginia, you need an agent”

  1. Christina
    · November 12th, 2009 at 1:02 pm · Link

    People dont want agents? Cool. More agents for me! bwhahaha. :mrgreen: I know I want one.

  2. Damien Walters Grintalis
    · November 12th, 2009 at 1:22 pm · Link

    Fantastic post!

  3. Diana Peterfreund
    · November 12th, 2009 at 1:27 pm · Link

    Great post, Stacia! Absolutely agree. And as cool as Miriam Kriss is (I’m with you, there) I believe that post you link to was written by Miriam Goderich, seeing as it’s posted on the Dystel/Goderich agency blog.

    • Stace
      · November 12th, 2009 at 1:40 pm · Link

      Doh! Oh, geez, how fucking dumb am I? Fixed. Thanks Diana!

  4. Maureen McGowan
    · November 12th, 2009 at 1:27 pm · Link

    Fabulous post, Stacia!

  5. Shadow Ferret
    · November 12th, 2009 at 1:33 pm · Link

    I know! I know I need an agent!

    My task is to convince an agent they need me!

  6. Ellen Hopkins
    · November 12th, 2009 at 1:38 pm · Link

    Thanks, Stacia,

    As I commented on Miriam’s post, there are writers out there who think they’re going to build a major career themselves on e-publishing or by self-publishing. While these are viable options for niche projects, if you want to publish well (i.e. with a big trade publisher… and who, really, doesn’t want that?), you need an agent to do all the things you mentioned here. Yes, there are bad agents. But there are many more brilliant agents, working hard for their authors.

    • Stace
      · November 12th, 2009 at 6:57 pm · Link

      Exactly. There’s nothing wrong with self-publishing and there’s certainly nothing wrong with small e-presses (provided they’re legitimate ones with proven sales). But if you want an audience beyond that niche, you need to go for a large house, which means you need an agent.

  7. kat magendie
    · November 12th, 2009 at 2:01 pm · Link

    I published with a very fine, lovely traditional, but small indie press; however, I do know I need to query for an agent – that I’ve allowed myself to get “lazy” about that…now all this discussion has me feeling as if I should get me arse in gear.

    • Stace
      · November 12th, 2009 at 6:59 pm · Link

      Yes, you should! πŸ˜€ I love small presses, but I also love the big ones.

  8. DeidraK
    · November 12th, 2009 at 2:15 pm · Link

    I have been pondering these thoughts for a couple of weeks now as I see a ton of self published books and the link. I always give it the side eye. For myself I couldn’t do it, if I really wanted a decent, and as you call it, real career, then I would definitely go the route of an agent. Would it be for the money or for getting my stories out there and read by more people. I would say both. Plus I’m not for doing all of the work for myself.

    Now I must add that i think many go the way of self publishing to avoid negative criticism, and many times the truth. The stuff I have read that is actually up for sale on Amazon really blows my mind. Like they can’t be serious with this stuff.

    • Stace
      · November 12th, 2009 at 7:03 pm · Link

      Right, Deidra, it’s about money, but it’s also about AUDIENCE, and about craft, and about making it easy for readers to find good books.

      I do believe, however, that there are some very good self-published books out there, and some very smart people who believe in what they’re doing. It’s just not the way I think works best for writers or especially for readers.

  9. Kasey
    · November 12th, 2009 at 2:24 pm · Link

    A-fucking-men, sistah!!!

    And just to comment on No. 1: Meager? HA! My agent took my debut to auction, had 3 editors bidding, and the first offering house was excited enough to win the auction with a bid more than 3.5 times higher than its opening bid. So yes, YES, yes I need–and value–my agent!

  10. Synde
    · November 12th, 2009 at 3:19 pm · Link

    Yeah yes you fucking do is putting it mildly nicely

  11. Slush Pile Hero
    · November 12th, 2009 at 3:26 pm · Link

    i’m trying, i’m trying!

  12. Shawntelle Madison
    · November 12th, 2009 at 3:34 pm · Link

    This is a fantastic post! Thanks for posting Stacia.

  13. claudia
    · November 12th, 2009 at 3:48 pm · Link

    How many Kindles, etc, do people really see around, anyway, if they’re supposed to spell the death of publishing? Seriously. Look. Around.

  14. Stephanie Draven
    · November 12th, 2009 at 4:25 pm · Link

    The worst advice I ever got was to try to sell my books on my own first, and then get an agent to negotiate the contract. I wasted two years doing that. When at last, I finally decided to start querying agents I got an offer of representation within two weeks and a book contract within the next month. I love my agent. She always returns my calls. Sometimes she calls me several times a day, and she has fought for me during difficult times. Your advice is spot on!

    • Stace
      · November 12th, 2009 at 7:13 pm · Link

      I think people really tend to forget that last part, Stephanie. If all agents did was make sales, I could see the debate. But they don’t. They do so much more. I love my editor(s). They’re fantastic people and I’ve had a blast talking to and working with each one of them. But they are not solely on my side; they don’t work for me, they work for my publisher. My agent is solely on my side. He does work for me (although I think of it as a partnership). Having someone who is totally on my side–someone who, yes, will fight for me–is so important I can’t even put it into words.

  15. Jamie Harrington
    · November 12th, 2009 at 8:51 pm · Link

    Perhaps the question people need to be asking themselves is: “Do you need a sucky agent?”

    The answer there is no… you’re better off without one. But my agent is a badass, and my book is ten times better off ALREADY because of her.

    Sounds like Galley Cat poster is just a little bitter. Probably got a bunch of form rejections on his query. :(

  16. Tyhitia
    · November 13th, 2009 at 1:24 am · Link

    Great advice, Stacia! Thanks for posting this. πŸ˜€ Hopefully some folks who were confused about what to do will know it from your advice.

    As far as agents, I have my list on my desk, for agents I plan to query to. I’m participating in Nano and I’m at almost 18,000 words. And this is the WIP that I’m hoping to get an agent with. πŸ˜€ Long time coming.

  17. BernardL
    · November 14th, 2009 at 1:42 pm · Link

    I don’t see any other way an author can move forward other than getting an agent. The article arguing for agents not being needed ignored the reality of publishing completely. You made the point for an agent very well, Stacia.

  18. Jeff Rivera
    · November 16th, 2009 at 7:42 am · Link

    Hi Stacia,
    Thank you so much for your feedback on my GalleyCat post as well as from your readers. I really appreciate hearing people’s responses because this creates an important dialogue.

    I posed a question that many had been asking me, but never once did I ever state in the GalleyCat piece that that was my personal position on whether one would need an agent. For the record: in my personal opinion, of course you need an agent but that’s not my job. My job is merely to pose the questions and invite readers to react.

    I invite you and your readers to re-read the GalleyCat post with an open mind.

    I also wanted to share with them an open letter from me that Dystel & Goderich were gracious enough to post on their blog. It might clarify some things: http://dglm.blogspot.com/2009/11/open-letter-from-jeff-rivera.html

  19. Drama Mama (aka Mama Nice)
    · November 17th, 2009 at 12:17 pm · Link

    Thanks for contacting me via my site, I def. have some questions for you and am grateful for the offer you have extended to give me some info/insight.

    You’ll be hearing from me soon…after Nov when NaNo is over πŸ˜‰ 😯

    • Stace
      · November 18th, 2009 at 11:10 pm · Link

      Looking forward to it! πŸ˜€

  20. Mikaela
    · November 19th, 2009 at 3:08 am · Link

    I don’t need an agent, at the moment. Mainly because I write novellas, and plan to submit to e-publishers. If, I started write novels long enough to sell to big print houses, I know I would get an agent. Since in the long run, it would be better for my career.

  21. DeidraK
    · November 19th, 2009 at 9:04 am · Link

    Keeping up with the comments on this post by emails has been quite interesting to say the least.


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