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 without one.
* 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.