A look at agents

I’ll admit that for a very long time I viewed writing agents as basically being parasites. Here is a group of people that have established themselves in a place that really has no business supporting life—the crawlspace between writers who produce works and the companies that prepare, print, and distribute them—not unlike these fellows.

But wait! Truth be told, that’s an entirely unfair judgment on my part. Shame on me! The services that agents provide can be quite helpful to a writer struggling in a sea full of white-collared sharks where sales are everything and the bottom line is the only ‘writing’ of yours that any of them will ever read. (What was it Paul said about similes and metaphors?)

The question is, with all of the self-pubbing options currently available, and the direct access that they give writers to their readers, are either agents themselves or even traditional publishing houses still worth considering? More on the deeper implications of what it can mean to self-publish (and avoid the sharks) later, for the moment let’s pause on the issue of agents.

This agent tells us that even within traditional publishing the image of self-pubbing has changed so drastically that the agency she works for is now setting up a program to help authors self-pub successfully. Are they working themselves out of a job? Many writers would probably say that that is a moot point—agents have already become irrelevant precisely because writers can now reach readers with no go-betweens necessary; a stance that has the added benefit of providing great psychological comfort. After all, who isn’t smarting just a little from an agent’s assistant sending you a form rejection email? Having put hundreds of hours into a book only to be told that it isn’t good enough from someone who barely read your blurb is one helluva prickly pear. (Another metaphor rears its ugly head–argh! Again! :)) But are they irrelevant? That, I think, depends entirely on what you can do with your book.

If you read some of the comments posted on the agent’s blog linked above, it’s pretty clear that some writers are selling very well entirely on their own. But what aren’t posted in those comments are the tales from all the writers that aren’t selling well on their own, and being one of those writers I can now say with all honesty that I’ve been knocked down a few pegs, learned my lesson, eaten crow (terrible one there), et cetera, et cetera. I’m not hunting for an agent because I have a very busy day job and too many things going on all at once, but if I were approached by one I’d be willing to give them the standard 15% or maybe a bit more. Why the change of heart? Because of what agents can do for you: sell your work, network for more outlets, represent your interests, and make sure that your interests are taken care of. For someone who’s as terrible a salesperson and networker as I am, that’s a pretty attractive deal. So come on agents, email me! And I promise not to make any more worm references.

Next week, Paul j Rogers throws his hat into the ring about agents.

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  1. Paul
    Posted July 10, 2011 at 2:50 am | Permalink

    So, a one hundred and eighty degree turn, hey? Interesting. I think it makes sense to go with an agent (at the moment), especially if social networking ain’t your bag (mine neither). Although even with an agent, you’re now expected to blog, tweet, sign books, go on the radio, do interviews, writers’ conferences, write about how you wrote the book , etc. etc. etc. It’s a long way from JD Salinger hiding away and refusing to comment about anything, isn’t it? Still, the landscape of the business is changing almost weekly which is probably worth a post in itself next week, in fact…

  2. Andrew
    Posted July 10, 2011 at 3:08 am | Permalink

    A kind of 180-degree turn (more like 90! :) ). I still think they should be the ones hunting us out, not the other way around.

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