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.