Saturday, 22 February 2014

Do Writers Need Agents?


It's a question I get asked. It's a question I see asked frequently on social media sites. So here is my 'take' on the agent dilemma. Please read this with the mindset that I am one writer, with my own views and experience. You may disagree. Feel absolutely free to do so.

I began writing without an agent. My first 7 books (counting from the bottom of the book pile up) were just submitted on a wing and a prayer. Then three books in, OUP decided I was not selling in sufficient amounts to warrant another contract, and closed the door. At which point a writer friend kindly suggested I try their agent, and even more kindly effected an introduction. As I had a track record, the agent (a big London based one) agreed to represent me. I was thrilled. More thrilled when my agent managed to place a book with Usborne.

But four Spy Girl books later, it started sliding downhill. The agent failed to place the next 4 books. They seemed to be taking an age to read them initially. I got sent no feedback from publishers on why they'd rejected my work (essential for redrafting and improving). I began to wonder whether my books were, in fact, being sent out ... trust started eroding. The final ''straw'' was the complete rejection of Diamonds&Dust - the agent saying it was in essence a load of rubbish, not worth even sending out on spec. We parted. I placed the book with Crooked Cat Books. It came out in December last year and is already up for two major literary awards. You can read its reviews on Amazon for yourself

That's my story. I would never trust my work to an agent again. However, we are talking you ... so:

Good reasons to have an Agent:

* You will never be able to submit to the BIG publishers, who won't take unsolicited manuscripts

*  You will have someone to negotiate contracts, advise on your future trajectory and manage any monies.

Reasons why you do not need one

* Agents take between 10% to 15% of  your earnings (and you are unlikely to earn more than 40% of the published price of your book anyway).

* ALL writing that you want to be published has to be submitted via them and is subject to contractual obligations (see above).

* You have to trust that they are submitting your stuff to the ''right'' publisher, chasing responses and keeping on top of things.

* There is no guarantee of publication. You may find the best agent on the block, who fulfills all your requirements, but big publishers are courted by many many agents.

*Agents are not there for you. They are there primarily to make money for their agency. As your sales drop, or they can't place your books, their interest wanes (that, in essence, was my story).

Indie publishers (now, along with self-publishing, the future for a large % of writers) will take unsolicited submissions and are happy to deal directly with a writer - and in this day and age are unlikely to hand you a bad contract: if you are unsure, the Society of Authors can be contacted for help.

Lest you are thinking: Ah, but once I have my agent, and they have secured my fabulous five book deal with a top publisher, everything will be roses, prosecco and candyfloss, let me introduce a final cautionary note. I was recently speaking to a very well known and popular writer on Facebook. The sort of writer you and I envy for her success. She candidly confessed that she is not sure she will secure another contract with her current publisher. And her agent is not replying to her emails.

Do you need an agent? I'd say that if you are good enough to be taken on by one, you probably don't.

If you'd like to read a free sample of my book Diamonds&Dust, A Victorian Murder Mystery, you can do so here. US readers can do so here.

47 comments:

  1. LUV that Catch 22 statement, m'Lady.. ' if you're good enough to attract an Agent, you probably don't need one !' :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hm....a most informative and very interesting post Hedges! I'm thankful Diamonds and Dust was published despite it having reduced me to the unwashed Josephine junkie I now am.....which reminds me....hurry up and finish MY next fix!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  3. As a completely amateur writer (I would never suggest I'm an author) this doesn't affect me at all; still, it's an interesting subject. I've always wondered exactly what an agent does. Apparently, get in the way, is the answer!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks people ...oh, and you can knock a couple of bnoughts off all those BIG advances you read about in newspapers. The current advance from Big Pubs is a couple of thou. Smoke and mirrors...all of it.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Interesting as always Carol. I'm just glad there are small presses around for people like me whose work is probably not commercial enough to interest an agent!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You & me both, Chris. We write ''outside the box'' and as such, would be of no interest ( as I was told in an email I shall keep) to any mainstream publisher. Our lovely readers seem to disagree!

      Delete
  6. Very interesting to read your experiences, Carol. Thanks for sharing! :-)

    ReplyDelete
  7. ...as always Carol, straight from the hip...
    And I can vouch for the truth of it too. The wonderful James Herbert once recommended me to his agent (no names, no pack drill) but he obviously thought I was his mistress and treated me discourteously to put it mildly... so that kinda put me off agents.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I don't think there's a simple answer. If you've Hilary Mantel or David Nichols, you probably need an agent - someone to help with contracts etc if you're really heading for the Big Time makes sense.

    But for most of us - we do all right, thank you.

    Surely the agents are noticing just how many are going it alone now? I wonder if they will adapt, like the rest of us, to the changes in publishing.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I am a member of a group of published writers. The group was first formed when our most successful member suspected that her agent was not sending her material out. She sacked the agent and has gone on from strength to strength. My experience with an agent was last year when an agent expressed an interest in my Children's Richard III but didn't know which publishers accepted nonfiction. I asked for my ms back and the book is coming out in a few months time without having to pay an agents' fee of even one Penny!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your story chimes in with so many commenting on this post. I knew it would draw out people. I am awaiting an ''agent'' ......

      Delete
  10. I think agents and publishers have had their crock of gold for far too long. I'm not saying I'm any kind of expert but reading your blog confirms that for me. I used to get so fed up with hearing the same old moan 'don't send us agents a coffee stained ms' Do they really think that's the most helpful thing to bang on about all the time? Really loved Diamonds and Dust. I get bored with some of the run of the mill stuff in traditional genres. Sorry but that's me. I don't mean way out stuff that's tricky to follow but writing that keeps you gripped and making the reader see things differently. I like something with a bit of flair and something different to say with a new way of saying it. I wonder if agents and publishers are far too shy of this and that they are often out of touch with what the reading public really enjoy. I find so many good download novels these days and that's what I base this opinion on. Forgive me if this sounds out of turn. It's just that I've read so many traditionally published books that I either can't finish or feel they're disappointing. I've also noticed many mistakes in them too these days. Well done with D&D Carol and thanks for sharing your experiences. I believe the standard of writing for ebooks is far higher these days than in the past.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for this. I agree with so much..... there are 'big' writers I could cite whose books leave me cold..who cannot write, but for whom publicity has paid off. One J>K>.....comes to mind. D&D was, I was told by my agent, so far off the accepted ''historical novel'' track that nobody would ever publish it. Yet it is its quirkiness that has been its appeal. Weird....

      Delete
  11. Well, you know we've had half this conversation already! I'm glad you did make the point that this was just your experience, and I am sure there are decent ones out there, as there are good and bad in all walks of life. The main thing, I think, is the submission to big publishers - that, for me, is what it's all about. As for the money - well, if my books are selling for 1.99, and I have to give a portion of that to Amazon anyway (which obviously I do), if they were published and in shops for 5.99, it would amount to the same thing, really. Also, lots of self pubbed authors pay out a lot for covers, proofreaders, formatters, etc.

    I do know about the pitfalls - I know at least two writers whose agents took the first one but not the second. My sister used to be in music management and she said it all works the same - if a band just wasn't working out that well (either had an unprofessional attitude, or wasn't a ticket seller), her boss would usually be 'out' when they phoned. It's like any creative field - acting, whatever; you're only as good as your last one, maybe with one 'second chance'. Everybody wants to make money, you can't really blame them, though indeed it depends on how you go about it!

    This is a very good article, Mrs H - I like the point about not knowing if they are making the right submissions. That's something I'd thought about, too - I wonder if that happens when they aren't so keen on what you're producing. No, I know there's no guarantee of publication - but there's a chance of it, which there isn't if you don't have an agent. I like that this piece points out all the downsides about it - it's the one to read if anyone ever wants to know about this stuff! Also, agented books that have no publisher are eligible for the White Glove promotions on Amazon, which guarantee huge visibility - I know one writer in this situation who sold (wait for it) over 100,000 copies of her first book with one of these.

    Nice one, C!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks TT, as you say, we have chewed this one over. I think your chances are slim to non-existent, but hey, it's your choice... keep me posted and prove me wrong.

      Delete
    2. Non-existent, eh? I'm quite a good writer, actually...! I just wanted to point out the plus points, too. I know it's vulgar to talk about money, but at the moment I get approximately 26p for every copy sold of Nine Lives. I don't think it could get much worse than that!

      Delete
    3. You know what I meant!!! you are up against those with ''connections'', those whose Creative writing tutors have '''connections'' etc. And I get 49 p on every Spy Girl book sold (they sell for £6.99). In you case. it's the curse of the Ebook, sadly!

      Delete
  12. Surely a good pen and plenty of paper would be of more usw, unless of course it was an agent with a well stocked stationary cupboard. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  13. When I had an agent it brought nothing but frustration - carrots dangled, promises of auctions and a lot of hanging around and waiting. As an Indie I go at my own pace, publish what and when I want and pay a small percent to Amazon/Lulu.
    Having said that, I'd bite the hand off the person with the right deal, if I truly trusted them!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There is no Right Deal. Every deal comes with conditions....some not obvious..I was told by one of my 2 'biggies' exactly what I was/was not allowed to do on my own. It wasn't much, and they weren't doing much either. Then I was dropped coz my sales figures weren't good.....

      Delete
  14. As you know, I've been both small press published and self published, but have never had an agent. It sounds depressing, CarolStar. As someone who really likes doing things her own way, the self-pub route suits me. In the end, I know that if I don't get sales, it's my own doing and I can't mutter at anyone else. However, it also means there's not pressure on me to perform when I'm very busy with my day job…like right now. I just don't have the time for a full scale marketing drive, so it'll wait until I do…no pressure except by me, on me, for me :-) I think you do a better job for Carol Hedges Limited than almost anyone else could anyway!

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hello Carol, really interesting post. When I first read your blogs I thought you were a massively successful best selling author, famous etc. I thought how nice that she keeps in touch with readers like this when she must be so busy. What a nice person. You;re still just as nice a person, of course, but I had no idea you'd had huge success, it fell away, and now you;re on you way up again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wouldn't call it ''huge'' hahahaha. But yes, D&D does mark a resurgence...

      Delete
  16. Thanks for this Carol and everyone else. I have heard lots of bad agent stories (and big 6 publishers) but up to now was pretty sure they were still the main path to success. Now thinking where are the good agent stories.? Ali B

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are clearly some good agents out there. However, they are up against all the others,and publishers being swamped by writers..it's a tough old world, sadly. But if you are good/persistent, you will get there.

      Delete
  17. Thanks for this post. It's so helpful to read this from one who's actually been in the trenches.

    I'm poised to release my first self-pubbed book (a quirky travel/trivia guide to Texas) in a few days, and I don't really feel the need for an agent at this time. Maybe down the line, but for now I'm feel all right without one.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I think having an agent is a bit like having a marriage. There are good ones and bad ones, ups and downs. I've never had one myself, and have always sold straight to publishers. I know people who swear by their agents, and others who swear at their agents, just goes to show there are as many routes to publication as there are genres of books.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is true..and as I say, the blog is my experience.... (though the comments are interesting!)

      Delete
  19. Really helpful, I'm going to share with a client, a new author, who's waiting (and waiting) for a response from an agent. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  20. They said your book was rubbish? I despair. I think getting a book published by a publisher and it making it big is just the same as some singers making it to the top and some not. It doesn't mean that the ones who make it are better just luckier.
    If I had been an agent and read Fifty Shades of Grey I would have threw it out (shows how much I know) The writing is awful. Oh My! (said about 100 times in book one) No I've not read two or three.
    Your book will do very well without an agent I think.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I'm enjoying Diamonds and Dust very much. It's its differentness that makes it so appealing. I'd always thought getting an agent was the thing to aim for. Seems not.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Miriam...the problem in maintream publishing is that ''difference'' is too risky..yes, publishers always SAY they want original work..but really they are looking for ''the next X'' where X is the latest big seller.

      Delete
  22. I'm probably the exception that proves the rule. If I hadn't been 'found' by my first agent, the renowned Darley Anderson, I wouldn't have been published at all because I had zero self confidence. He sold my first best selling book and thereafter got me fabulous advances.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I'm one of those authors who never tried to sign up with an agent. Right now my indie publisher Buddhapuss Ink LLC and I are getting ready to launch my books #4 and #5. I'm a very happy author with great contracts, and I get to work with people who deeply care about my work and me. My first two books won the Bronze and Silver Independent Publishers' Award (US). What else can I ask for? Oh - I'm also making money. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. See ..you are the prime example of what I am burbling on about!!!

      Delete
  24. Thanks for the useful information Carol.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Carol, have you ever heard Mavis Gallant's agent story? After the war, Gallant, who'd already sold some stories to the New Yorker, left Canada and moved to Paris. She went from Paris to Spain and was so broke she was selling her clothes. Her agent told her that the New Yorker had rejected three of her stories. Gallant thought it was strange that the editor hadn't said why he'd rejected the stories, but whatever. Then she came across a copy of the New Yorker. . .and found one of the "rejected" stories therein. She wrote the editor (at this point, she could barely afford a stamp) and said, "Why didn't you send me the proofs?" The editor wrote back and said, "You're agent said that you were in Capri and couldn't be contacted. Did you get the cheques we sent?" It turned out that the agent had been selling the stories and pocketing the money. Peace to all the honest agents out there--I realize that this is a rather extreme story. Gallant died recently--I'm not sure if she ever got another agent!

    ReplyDelete
  26. Thank you for this post and to all those that commented. You have given this new writer much to think about. I'm a tad overwhelmed by it all (smile) but with the help of all the kind writers out there who are sharing their stories, I'll somehow make my way through this maze. All the best,

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Kindness of Writers could be a book title. They are, on the whole. And f you need any help, sing out on Twitter, coz someone will always come to your aid.

      Delete
    2. Very useful article, Carol. Thanks. I've had an agent and found it's not always ideal. I like being able to submit direct. And I was with one of 'big' pubs at the start. I found that unless you're a lead it's still very difficult.

      Delete
    3. Thanks Lindsay. Indeed - I was told by OUP that they were going to spend their marketing budget on writers A B & C , and not me. 3rd book totally backgrounded. And without the internet, it was nigh on impossible to generate interest. The other myth, which I have tried to dispel in former posts, is the happy notion that publishers will do all the work for you! Ha.Ha.

      Delete
    4. Not in my experience. This was my first book and I knew nothing and like you it was pre-internet. On my publication day I sat on my stairs and cried - hardly any distribution and no publicity. It was a no brainer that sales would not be ace. These days I receive more royalty from my 99 cents epub books than any print books

      Delete
    5. Carol - this is SUCH a difficult question and I agree with so much of what you say, although I will add that it depends on the agent and the circumstances. I expect I will not be popular for what I'm about to say but I feel I need to say it: my own agent has stuck with me through thick and think for almost ten years, pitching my work and offering editorial and career advice, not mention counselling and support! She does not take a cut if I sub something to my smaller US publisher and I consider her to be a good friend. She secured my latest deal with a Big Six - a deal I would not have had a sniff of otherwise - and in the past, introduced me to a screen agent who doubled the size of a film offer I was lucky enough to receive. That far outweighed her and the agent's commission. I agree that it is not all roses and Prosecco with an agent and I hear many horror stories, but on the whole I am so glad I met mine and that we have built a relationship of mutual trust and negotiation.

      Delete
    6. I think you are very very lucky..if you read the comments, your agent appears to be a rare exception. Stick with them...if I had had one like this, I wouldn't be in the position I was in for so many years.

      Delete
    7. Carol - I have been reading them which is why I shared mine! I realise that this probably isn't a thread for positive stories - and that may be because there are very few but it would be cowardly of me not to put some different views.I'll go away now and hide.

      Delete
  27. Thank you for sharing Carol, you have given me things to think about...as have all the other posts!

    ReplyDelete

Comments will be visible after moderation. Please feed the fish. Thank you.