If you want to play with the big boys then, yes, you need an agent. They will negotiate for you, they will field opportunities you may not have the expertise to deal with (case in point I had a contract with an Italian publisher I did myself and found I needed my agent’s guidance for tax purposes. Wish I had let them handle it). An agent can manage tricky creative questions with your editor. An agent will be the first to hear of new publishing opportunities – new lines coming out, changes being made that might affect yours. Having an agent also gives you street creds. If you are going to publish as an indie you don’t need one, of course.
Anything an agent can do, you can do better—as long as you have enough knowledge, connections, and experience. An agent is worth the money if you need help navigating the industry. An agent is worth the money if you do not already have an indomitable entrepreneurial spirit working to build your career in the face of a highly competitive industry. The choice of working with an agent or going solo is entirely up to you. You certainly do not need an agent if you plan to go indie. You most likely cannot go it alone to the highest levels if you plan to go traditional.
I was speaking to a couple of friends in the non-fiction world who wouldn’t have been able to get the lucrative deals they had without an agent. They had nothing but praise for their agents, especially when it came to sorting out problems with the publisher (international rights). That said, there are agents and agents. Some are fabulous and will work their socks off to help you. Others are terrible and will never do anything for you. If you self-publish, you don’t need any of that, but you will have to put in a little more work yourself for the same gains.
The answer depends on what it is you want.
You’ve written a book so now it’s time to take it to the next level. If having a traditional publisher is the one thing that will satisfy you, then you will need an agent. They say hen’s teeth are rare, but not as rare as a legitimate publishing house taking an unsolicited manuscript. An agent’s job is to champion your work to publishing houses. If she is successful, l then you have a publisher- at a cost. The agent will receive a percentage of any contract she sets up and a publisher will take a further percentage of sales.
I’m not demeaning those percentages; after all both agent and publisher have earned it but chances are, you’ll have to be the Champion of your work anyway. By champion I mean you will have to make the effort to market and publicize your work so that it will stand out to potential readers – stand out from the thousands of books posted daily on Amazon, Smashwords etc., or the hundreds of printed books on the shelf. Unless you’ve created a ground-breaking runaway akin to Hunger Games it’s unlikely that the publisher will do more than simply produce and distribute your physical book. For that service the publishing house takes its percentage of sales.
If you’re willing to take the time required to try to find a good agent – query letters, samples, response time – there is no reason not to at least give it a try. Unless Amazon et al change tactics you always have the option of Indie publishing should no agent work out for you – no agent required. In that case know that you have a marketing road ahead for you to personally strategize and implement in order to generate sales and the – all important – reviews.
Indie publishing is an ever-evolving critter and it’s a full-time job just to keep abreast of new developments nearly every day. (I’m amazed my clients have the time to write.) Amazon’s ever-changing algorithms give me a headache; I don’t pretend to understand them all, but that has created a need. That need has given rise to a new indie publishing niche – the Virtual assistant or VA. These are people who you pay a fee to deal with your social media. There are also agents who specialize in Indie authors and look for review options, seek foreign markets, manage rights, etc. Of course, there is a fee and many of them earn it righteously. The decision to take on an author will be based on sales history by volume and price.
The success of a book has costs – either in the author’s time and effort to market or in a share of sales dollars. Whether you have an agent or not, success ultimately depends on content. Be sure your work is the best you can make it.
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