In today's quickly changing publishing industry, what role do agents play? With the growing prevalence of self-epublishing and ebooks, many writers are opting to publish without the help of an agent. Even those pursuing traditional publication are beginning to see that an agent’s job description will likely need to morph as publishing evolves.
Obviously, most traditional publishers still work primarily through agents who essentially act as curators for publishing houses. (Agent Steve Laube had a great article about the function of curation in publishing.) So, yes, for now agents are still important to writers who want to land book deals with traditional publishers.
But what need (if any) do agents serve above and beyond the initial book deal? Should a writer pursue representation, particularly if they’re planning to self-epublish? Are there benefits to having an agent that transcend the type of publication we pursue?
As I’ve wrestled through these questions, I jotted down six benefits I’ve experienced from having an agent in today’s turbulent publishing world:
1. Agents have connections.
Agents are in regular contact with others in the publishing industry. They work behind the scenes with a variety of editors and publishers. As a result of their inside connections, they’re privy to industry news and publishers needs. They can pass those needs along to clients giving them an advantage. And because agents are always on the lookout for ways to help their clients, sometimes opportunities arise in unexpected and unplanned ways.
2. Agents help with career planning.
I recently finished a three book contract with my publisher. So over the past few weeks my agent and I have had many conversations (via phone and email). We hashed out potential scenarios for what will ultimately be best for my long-term writing career. With her knowledge of the industry and her experience, she was able to direct me how to proceed.
After all the discussion, I wrote up six ideas for future books with the hope that my publisher would like at least three of the ideas and offer me another 3-book contract. Rachelle tweaked what I wrote, put the ideas into a professional format (which is something else she’s very good at), and sent them to my publisher.
3. Agents act as arbitrators and negotiators.
My agent is skilled at acting as a go-between. Even though I have a very open and amiable working-relationship with my publisher, Rachelle is able to act rationally, calmly, and logically on my behalf during times when I’m more emotionally invested in the situation.
She’s tactful and proceeds carefully. Through experience, she’s developed the skill of working with a variety of publishers and professionals without harming relationships or future prospects.
4. Agents offer feedback on books.
Many agents will read their clients’ books and give editorial notes before attempting to sell the book to publishers. They want to help the writer polish the manuscript to make it all the better in order to have the best possible chance of making the sale.
During my previous book deal, whenever I completed book, I sent it directly to my publisher. There was no need for my agent to read it first since my synopses and ideas had already been accepted and approved. But, my agent went above and beyond with The Doctor’s Lady. After my second rewrite, Rachelle read it and offered both encouragement and valuable feedback.
5. Agents can provide emotional support.
The writing industry is tough. The waits are long. The revenues are low. It’s easy to get discouraged. My agent is adept at sensing when I’m having a low moment. She has surprised me with encouraging calls at those times.
Whenever I have a conversation with my agent, I feel inspired to keep going and work harder. She has a way of building me up, telling me the things I need to hear, and pushing me to give my writing all I’ve got.
So, with both writing and marketing, I don't have time to keep up with all of the changes within the industry. Rather, I rely on my agent to stay on top of the latest developments and to keep me informed of what I need to know as it pertains to my writing career.
My Summary: Yes, the publishing climate is changing and agents’ roles will likely change too. But in working with my agent, I’ve come to realize the incredible benefit of having an advocate who’s working in my best interest.