The Benefits of Having an Agent

The Benefits of Having an Agent Today I’m covering some back-to-basics information. While people have always asked me about the advantages of having an agent, I’ve noticed an increase in the frequency of the question in this age of independence and do-it-yourself. People want to know: Do I need an agent? If I had one, how would they help me? Is it worth paying out 15% of my revenues?

Not everyone wants or needs an agent. Your job is to assess your situation and decide if it is the kind of partnership that would serve you. Here I offer you an overview of the ways the right literary agent can enhance your writing career.

What kind of publisher do you want?

You only need to consider an agent if you’re interested in pursuing traditional, full-service, advance-and-royalty paying publishers. If you’re 100% committed to some kind of self-pub or subsidy publishing, you can probably do that on your own, although many agents today offer publishing services.

Preparing Your Manuscript

An agent can help you prepare and polish your proposal and manuscript before they’re submitted to publishers. Agents know what’s sellable in the current market, and they can help make sure your materials are top-notch before submission. They can help with everything from revisions on your manuscript to showcasing your platform in the most impressive way possible.

Submitting to Publishers

When your proposal is ready for submission, an agent has a big-picture view of all the possibilities, and they have information and experience that tells them which houses might be best for you. They have relationships with editors and an awareness of the editors’ preferences and current needs. The agent knows exactly how to submit your project to publishers so that it gets the proper attention. Often the agent has multiple conversations with publishers at the submission stage—answering questions, providing further information.

Offers from Publishers

When offers come in, the agent knows how to respond and how to negotiate the initial offer (at the Deal Memo stage). This is typically the time when the amount of the advance and the royalty rates are discussed, along with other key terms that may include the rights being sold, whether the publisher wants an option on the author’s next book, and the author buy-back discount. If there are offers from multiple publishers, the agent sets up a formal auction to decide the publisher.

But What if You’ve Already Secured a Publisher?

All the the functions listed above assume that you need a publisher. But sometimes an author is already working with a publisher when they begin considering an agent. In this case you’re asking, “Does the agent serve any function beyond the initial submissions and sale to a publisher?”

The answer is yes—read on below. But also, consider that even if you already have a book deal, signing with an agent will mean that your agent can help you with all the above functions—on your next book. By then they will have been working with you for some time, they’ll know you, and be in an even better position to help you take the next steps.

Negotiating the Contract

Most publishing contracts are 15 to 25 pages of legalese spelling out what rights the publisher is buying, and what rights you retain. The contract details how much money you’ll make on each format of your book and on every different kind of sale the publisher might make. It details how much it will cost you to buy your book from the publisher, whether the publisher wants an option on your next book, when you are eligible to get your rights back from the publisher, and whether your right to publish other materials is restricted. A typical boilerplate publisher contract that hasn’t been looked at by an agent usually doesn’t contain the most favorable terms an author could get if they tried (and I am not just referring to money). And most attorneys do not understand the implications of much of the language, unless they specialize in intellectual property.

Your agent understands the contract, and their job is to make sure your rights are protected and you are getting a fair deal with the best terms possible in your situation. They know which terms are most important to negotiate given your own goals and publishing scenario. Most importantly, they won’t allow you to sign a “bad” contract that would probably come back to bite you in the long run.

Interacting with Your Publisher

Once the contract is signed, you are on a long road with your publisher in which you’ll go through the process of:

  • writing your book,
  • dealing with several rounds of editing
  • having your book cover designed
  • possibly having your title changed
  • promoting your book in cooperation with the publisher’s marketing department
  • launching your book

Throughout this journey, you will have many questions, and your agent will have the answers. Whenever you have an issue (for example, if you think you may not meet your deadline) your agent will handle it with the publisher. Whenever there is a conflict, such as a cover design you hate, your agent knows how to go back to the publisher and facilitate a satisfactory resolution.

It is this day-to-day partnership that is most valuable to many authors. An agented author is never alone on this publishing journey.

An Agent is Your Royalty Statement Watchdog

When your royalty statement comes, it will probably be confusing and hard to read. You may have no way of knowing if it contains mistakes or if you’ve been paid the proper amount. Part of an agent’s service is that they analyze your royalty statements to be sure your sales are being properly accounted for.

Constant Input and Education

Your agent can be a great source of knowledge about the industry. They can offer you a wider perspective whenever you have a question or concern. When you hear industry rumors, your agent usually knows what’s true and what’s not. Many agencies also offer concrete help and education for their clients, on topics that concern authors such as how to use social media to market books, or how to make the most of a writers’ conference. Some agencies have regular webinars for their clients, some have retreats, and many offer an online forum in which their clients can communicate and support each others’ careers.

Strategic Career Management

One of the best values an agent can offer is brainstorming with you about your “next book” and the entire direction of your career. They can take into account your personal goals and the state of the publishing marketplace to help you determine your next steps. If you have three different book ideas on the table, your agent would offer guidance as to which would probably be your best bet. They are keeping your brand in mind and will want to help you maximize your sales potential over the long term.

Ancillary Services

These days, literary agencies are doing more than just representing books to traditional publishers. They’re offering their clients multiple ways to be published, whether it’s traditional publishing, self-publishing, or a hybrid method. They’re always on the lookout for new opportunities for their clients.

Still, Not Everyone Needs an Agent

It’s up to you to determine whether a partnership approach to publishing would be right for you. I’m not trying to convince you to get an agent! But for those who’ve asked, I wanted to point out the benefits.

If you have an agent, how would you describe the benefits?

 

Tweetables

Do I need an agent? If I had one, how would they help me? Get the answers. Click to Tweet.

Does the agent serve any function beyond the initial sale to a publisher? Click to Tweet.

Here’s an overview of the benefits of having an agent. Click to Tweet.

 

 

 

 

 

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  • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    I find that not having an agent is like sailing without a keel or centreboard. I can get a tremendous turn of speed straight downwind, but working to windward – in any way – is very, very hard.

    “Blessed Are The Pure Of Heart” was picked up from Kindle, with a standard royalty contract, when an editor saw it and liked it. I have another novel ready to query, but I’d really like to find an agent who’ll work with me to develop BPH’s full potential (and try to get the film rights sold). It would be worth the percentage.

    Is this even possible? Or, having launched BPH on my own, so to speak, am I stuck there?

    Advice? Anyone?

    http://blessed-are-the-pure-of-heart.blogspot.com/

    • http://twitter.com/RachelleGardner Rachelle Gardner

      Andrew, you said you wanted an agent to work with you to “develop BPH’s full potential” and get the film rights sold. Is it possible? Only if you can find an agent who sees the same potential you do. Getting the film rights sold is another story. As an agent I worry when people have unrealistic expectations — it usually takes significant sales numbers to interest someone in film rights. I also worry because many authors don’t understand how little money there usually is in film rights. In your situation, I’d recommend querying the second book, and when you are in conversations with an agent, talk with them about BPH. It may, or may not, be worth an agent’s time to “develop it’s potential.”

      • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

        Thanks, Rachelle. There is so much I don’t yet understand about this business, and I appreciate your reply – and your blog as a whole.

        In terms of potential, I guess what I was trying to say was this – finding an effective way to market BPH to reach the audience to which it may appeal. The feedback’s been great – but how to get from here to ‘there’ is so hard, and I could easily chuck my advertising resources into the deepest of pits without care – and guidance.

        And, yeah, I put my brain in neutral when talking about ‘film rights’. Lucky this doesn’t run Skype, as I’m beet-red with embarrassment!

        Again – thanks.

        BTW – I finally did get “How Do I Decide” downloaded, and it is wonderful. Concise, informative, and the personal experiences you’ve included flesh out the concepts nicely. I’ll have a review up on Amazon shortly. Thank you for the privilege of reading it.

      • Cherry Odelberg

        “Only if you can find an agent who sees the same potential you do.” This concise comment, buried in a reply to one person, says it all about the intricate relationship between author, agent and publisher.

  • Michael Seese

    Something I’ve been curious about. I knew that advances could be all of the map. But I assumed royalty rates were reasonable static. SO you’re saying those can vary, too? What are typical ranges?

    • http://twitter.com/RachelleGardner Rachelle Gardner

      Yes, they vary. There are different ranges depending whether the publisher pays on net or on retail price.

  • Jo Murphey

    My agents negotiate the international sales of my books also the ancillary sales contracts that I do not have time for. I have a good working relationship with several publishers because of my agents. Agent-speak goes a long way in breaking down international barriers.

  • http://apocalypsestarts.blogspot.com/ Sarah Stasik

    I don’t have an agent yet; although I’m definitely a DIY gal when it comes to many things, this isn’t one of them. I want to find the right agent for me for all of the reasons you stated, and also for a personal reason.

    I’m socially awkward and pretty quiet until I’m comfortable with someone, then I’m very much myself. The idea of having to deal with dozens of people about book business, writing, and my “inner-most ideas” is terrifying to me. Although I come from a business background and am certainly capable of emailing/speaking with publishers and editors about things, having someone I’ve built a relationship with on my side would make a huge difference overall.

  • Sue Harrison

    In addition all those advantages you mentioned in this post, Rachelle, an agent can be an incredible encourager. That alone is worth so much, especially on those days when discouragement robs your words and peace of mind.

    • http://twitter.com/RachelleGardner Rachelle Gardner

      Thanks, Sue!

      • http://twitter.com/mridukhullar Mridu Khullar Relph

        Absolutely. Totally agree with Sue. Another thing I’d mention is that an agent can push you to be better than you thought yourself capable. If my own agent hadn’t told me that I’m capable of a bigger book and selling myself short, I’d be writing a very different book. 15% isn’t a lot if you consider that the right advice and insider information from agents can more than double the advance you’d otherwise have received.

  • http://forthisisthetime.blogspot.com/ Esther Aspling

    Thank you for all the information! I’ll be sharing this one :-)

    http://forthisisthetime.blogspot.com

  • http://twitter.com/quirkycity Heather C Button

    Having dealt with contracts in my construction world, I can’t imagine wanting to take them on in the writing world. It just seems crazy to attempt on my own, because I will never understand all that legalese. For that reason alone (and cause I want to do traditional publishing) I want an agent.

  • Ramona

    I adore my agent. She’s the best career counselor I’ve ever had (other authors just don’t have her perspective). And one thing she does for me that’s NOT on this list is that the work she does allows me to write AND have a life. Since I have a day job as well, I don’t have to squeeze publishing research, submissions, etc., into my either my writing time or my personal time.

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  • http://twitter.com/russiankatya Katya Pavlopoulos

    You know, lately I’m seeing more “This is Why You Need an Agent” and even more “Agency closed to all new queries /or/ We only accept queries from people whom we met and whose manuscripts we have already requested.”

    I personally think agents do one heck of a great job and I wouldn’t dare to work with a publisher without an agent, but now I’m wondering if it’s even possible to find one these days.

    • http://twitter.com/RachelleGardner Rachelle Gardner

      There are around 900 or so agents. Sounds like a lot, right? But there are hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of writers wanting to be published. That’s some tough math. :-)

      • April Brown

        That puts it in better perspective. So, I’ve queried 1/10 of agents out there, and all I could find interested in my genre.

        Guess it’s time to move on then. Thanks for your honesty!

      • Darcy Flynn

        Wow! No wonder I’m having trouble finding an agent! Plus, the fact that my books are shorter in length, 55-60K and sweet, leaves me with very little choices in whom to pursue.

      • http://twitter.com/russiankatya Katya Pavlopoulos

        That is some eye-opening math! Oh my goodness! And probably only like 5 of them are currently seeking Christian fiction for young adults… Yeah, no wonder the road to publication is so long. At least now I know what to expect as soon as my manuscript is done.

  • D

    I desperately need help and do not know where/how to go about it. I have written and self published. Those that have read my book all loved it. It is on Amazon with a 4.5 rating but no one knows about it.

    I have very little means and no help.

    • disqus_suWyPEbzos

      Are you marketing on FaceBook, blogs, etc? You have to get a following before you publish.

  • http://twitter.com/TedtheThird TedtheThird

    “When your royalty statement comes, it will probably be confusing and hard to read. You may have no way of knowing if it contains mistakes or if you’ve been paid the proper amount.”

    This really surprises me. Why do you think publishers do this? What protections does the contract provide if they make a mistake on the royalty statements? Are they equal (i.e. an error in your favor – you got too much money, versus an error not in your favor – you got too little)?

  • http://twitter.com/TedtheThird TedtheThird

    An additional benefit I see is validation. We can be poor judges of our own work. If I had an agent interested in my manuscript, it would be a good sign to me that my writing had matured to a professional level. Its hard to get that on your own.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dougie.brimson Dougie Brimson

    Never had an agent and to be honest, I’ve never worked out how having one would ever have added anything to what I’ve been doing for the last 17 years.

  • Joshua David Bellin

    One of the best things my agent has done for me is provide a realistic assessment of my prospects, from query to submission to acceptance (which happened a couple months ago). While I was anxious and freaking out, she was steady and calm. Writing is nerve-wracking enough, so I’m grateful to have an agent to keep me grounded.

  • Jan Thompson

    Thank you, Rachelle, for listing all these advantages of having an agent. The biggest thing for me is the contract.

    You said: “And most attorneys do not understand the implications of much of the language, unless they specialize in intellectual property.”

    As an IT consultant, I’ve hired an intellectual property lawyer at various times to look over contracts, but IMO the book publishing industry is quite specialized, and an agent would have more to offer an author because the agent speaks the publishing language everyday.

    And re: “You only need to consider an agent if you’re interested in pursuing traditional, full-service, advance-and-royalty paying publishers.”

    Rachelle, I have a question about this. What about hybrid authors? They want to publish both eBooks and printed books. Do you, then, handle just their printed books, or do you also manage their eBook side? TQ,

  • Ian

    Rachelle, this is fantastic. Best summary of what an agent does besides the initial publisher contact & contract. Thank you…

  • Erin MacPherson

    The 100% honest truth from me is that without an agent, I wouldn’t have ever sold any books. I’m not organized or good at writing queries or good at submissions… so I would’ve gotten lost in the fray. So, for me, if I want to make money writing, I need an agent.

  • http://www.danerickson.net/ Dan Erickson

    I don’t have an agent by choice at this point. I’m self-publishing a trilogy and then perhaps I’ll shop a fourth book. But one area I can see where an agent could help other than those mentioned is she could save me time. I spend so much time working on building my platform I barely have time to write these days. An agent could be another team player that might free up a bit of time in regard to making connections to publishers. I suppose a full-service publishing deal is what I really need to save me time. Maybe someday.

  • Christina Baglivi Tinglof

    I love my agent. She’s very knowledgeable about the industry and answers my questions and gives me honest feedback. I wouldn’t be where I am without her.

  • http://twitter.com/KristenLNelson Kristen Nelson

    Thanks Rachelle! This was timely… just the insight I was looking for and needing at this point in my journey… I am a big supporter of traditional publishing… call me old fashioned but I like the idea of my book in print and backed by a reputable publishing house. After reading this I know an agent is for me… now to find one… know of any one good? ;-) Blessings! Krissy

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1156910627 Beth Browne

    You are my favorite blogger! This is another really wonderful post, great information, easy-to-read, well-organized, love it!! Thanks so much.

  • J.M. Bray

    Thanks for the great points. Now if you could crack the code on finding and agent… ;-)

    J.M.
    **From deep in the query trenches**

  • http://www.facebook.com/princess.rosebud.14 Princess Rosebud

    Excellent information; answers to all the questions we want to know!

  • Becky Doughty

    Rachelle – I’ve been self-promoting, self-publishing, self-editing,
    self-platform-building, self-educating, self-wearing-myself-out… for a
    while now. I think the most profound difference I’ve seen since landing
    an agent is the SPEED in which things get done. I know everyone says
    that publishing is SLOW, SLOW, SLOW, and you must be PATIENT, PATIENT,
    PATIENT, but I’m amazed at how QUICKLY things happen when an agent says
    ‘yes.’ Suddenly, doors fly open; doors that I could only dream of one
    day approaching on my own. I think that’s one of the most remarkable
    benefits of having an agent for someone like me, who DOES like to know
    how it all works, and likes having my fingers in all the pots.

    Now, at the risk of sounding pompous, which is NOT my intent at all, according to my agent, it is partly BECAUSE I did so much work on my own, that the agency saw in me an author who’s willing to work hard, who’s willing to go the extra mile, who’s willing to flex and bend and stretch, who’s prolific (no one can afford to write one book anymore), who’s willing to learn from my mistakes, to apply constructive criticism, who’s always working on my craft and honing my skills, willing to try new things, who’s careful about my public image, etc. I have a track record and history that was attractive to my agent, and therefore, showed potential for my future.

    Now all I have to do is… keep doing (almost) all that I’m doing. It’s exhausting, being an author. But it’s nice to know that I have a team who will take this crazy horse by the reins and guide the ride for me.

    • http://www.peterdehaan.com/ Peter DeHaan

      Becky, thanks for sharing your experience. That is most encouraging.

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  • Ken FP

    This was helpful advice which now has me convinced I need to get an agent before I finish sorting contracts with the publisher of my first novel. The only thing is…how do I now go about finding an agent who will be interested in my genre of work here? Advice? Tips?…

  • http://www.facebook.com/roz.hamlett Roz Hamlett

    I’m new to this blog, and the information is water to a thirsty woman. I’m not yet to the stage of needing an agent, but I’d like to use my existing social media efforts to position a platform that will assist me when the time comes. Is it just a matter of how many ‘friends’ I have? Are there specific ways that I can use Facebook now to build my audience?

    Roz Hamlett

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