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6 Benefits of Having an Agent in Today's Publishing World

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.

6. Agents are in touch with the industry pulse.

With the speed at which things are changing in the publishing industry, I have a hard time keeping up. I'm already devoting my most concentrated work time to my writing. And now we're needing to take ownership of our own marketing as Michael Hyatt explained in his post: Four Reasons Why You Must Take Responsibility For Your Own Marketing.

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.

Sidenote: Since I write my blog posts a week ahead of schedule, I had no idea the role of agents would end up being the topic of the week! For additional thoughts check out Elizabeth Spann Craig's article: Why My Agent is Still Needed and Anne R. Allen's post: Literary Agents: An Endangered Species?

What about you? Do you think that the need for agents is changing? Are there are still benefits to having an agent in today’s turbulent publishing world? Why or why not?

33 comments:

  1. I love all of your points, Jody, and agree with you on the benefits of agents, but with the everchanging climate of publishing, I'm afraid some anxiety exists for those who do not currently have an agent. If self-publishing/e-publishing is on the rise, and if that affects publishing houses adversely, what will that mean for the publishing houses' choice to take on new, unproven writers? And will agents choose to adapt to the everchanging environment, stick with writers seeking traditional publishing, or bail out altogether?

    I think the world of publishing is changing in many ways and it will be interesting to see how it all shakes out. Some changes are good for writers. Some seem good on the surface, but I'm not so sure about long-term. But to those seeking an agent, it seems to be getting more and more difficult. BUT I'll go back to what I live by when it comes to writing - Keep writing a GREAT story, and the rest will come. Hopefully. I can only control what I can control - story, craft, and who I am as a writer/person.

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  2. Well gee, I'm sold! Just wish it wasn't so tough to find one. :)

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  3. Goodmorning to everyone!

    And Heather! Those are some very deep questions!! I don't have all the answers (and I realize you weren't asking me to have them!). But here are my initial thoughts. As you know, there are agents who are leaving the business. But then there are new ones too, like Karen Ball who recently joined up with Steve Laube.

    For the time being, I think traditional publishers are still taking on debut writers. As you said, they're looking for well told stories. So, agents are still looking for them as well. However, I think those who epublish and have very successful sales will likely have a new way of getting into traditional publication (if that's what they want).

    And as far as agents taking new clients, Rachelle just took on a new client last week, Krista Phillips. It's still happening! So, don't give up hope!

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  4. I def. think agents are still needed. For their industry knowledge and also for their contract knowledge. I think some authors who self-pub or e-pub might be in danger if they don't know anything about contracts, rights, options, etc.

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  5. Whoa, Krista hooked up with Rachelle!!!!! That's awesome!

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  6. I'm in an odd position of having landed a publishing contract before getting an agent, something I wasn't expecting in my career. Would you advise me to to seek out an agent with the next book I try to have published, or submit straight to my publisher first? I'm not even sure what the etiquette is about having multiple publishers, or suddenly introducing an agent to an existing author/publisher relationsip.

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  7. Great post. I think agents are going to be needed more than ever b/c of how tumultuous and confusing the publishing industry is becoming. Their role is just going to shift a bit. Rachelle mentioned she and Greg are thinking of ways to help their authors with self-publishing, which is one of the smartest things I've ever heard. If agents can adapt in those way - offer their clients assistance in all types of publishing venues - then they will continue to be invaluable.

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  8. I think agents are still needed, especially for those who go with traditional publishing. And I don't think traditional publishing is going to disappear anytime soon, or ever, really.

    I just signed with pretty prominent an agent the beginning of June. So yes, they're still looking.

    And one thing I wonder, when ebook sales are figured, is anyone looking at what percentage of ebooks being sold are still published by traditional publishers? Because it seems to me Jody's ebook sales or Beverly Lewis's ebook sales are still a testament to traditional publishers. Having a traditional publisher who also produced ebook formats is far different from self publishing via ebook.

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  9. Jody,

    First, what uplifting things to write about your agent. Very cool.

    Second, I am here. My head is spinning. I'm getting new advice from well-intentioned friends every day. I'm a brainstorming junkie and I come up with new ideas constantly of how to stay afloat in this industry. But it can get pretty confusing.

    Third, I've decided I don't want just any agent. I need one I can trust in these crazy times.

    Great post. Once again right on the pulse of what's spinning around us.
    ~ Wendy

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  10. Paul asked: Would you advise me to to seek out an agent with the next book I try to have published, or submit straight to my publisher first?

    My thoughts: Paul, I'll give you my opinion, although keep in mind I'm no expert! But I think if you have a great working relationship with your publisher, see yourself working with them longterm, and understand the legal aspects of your contract, then you might be perfectly fine without an agent.

    If you head over and read Elizabeth's post, you'll see that she didn't have an agent for her first book, but then went on to get one and now has found it to be enormously beneficial.

    From what I've seen, agents tend to be more willing to take on clients who already have interest from publishers. Because you have another contract in the works, you might be a good spot to garner the interest of an agent if that's the direction you want to go. But ultimately, you have to decide if you feel it's necessary for your career direction.

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  11. I can't imagine navigating the publishing world without my agent there for revision, guidance, and emotional support. Editors move. Imprints close. My agent is the steady one who knows how to handle new situations and is there to cheer me on.

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  12. Thanks for the advice, Jody. I'll keep that in mind.

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  13. Naomi, Thanks for the reminder that you recently landed an agent too, along with a book contract! For those who want to pursue traditional publication, I think agents can still offer quite a bit of an advantage.

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  14. One of my short stories was published in a children's collection. Without an agent, I had to wade through the contract myself. I can't imagine doing that for a novel. To me, that alone is reason for having an agent. And I'm looking for one who will partner with me for my career, not just one book.

    Though I try to keep up with what's going on, I know a good agent is much more savvy about the business than I am. So, yes, I think agents will always be needed.

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  15. This is such a well-thought out post.

    Another benefit I've gotten from having an agent is new direction. When one door closed, she encouraged me to take the leap to another set of doors. I'm very grateful for her guidance!

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  16. Excellent thoughts, Jody, and well-put as usual.

    I agree with your points, and would like to add this one.

    I think the threat to traditional publishing is not just from self-pub and e-pub avenues in general, but more specifically from the plummeting prices and scads of free books being given away on e-readers, even books by well-respected, established authors. Some agents have blogged about this change recently. If readers won't buy books anymore because books are now supposed to be free, then the industry will see some major changes in everyone's roles. I'm curious to see how it all works out over the next five years.

    For those who aren't yet agented, I hope you won't let these changes discourage you. Things are changing for all authors, and there is going to be more opportunity for writers to find an audience, even if we make less money for it. :-) Perhaps brilliant publicists will rule the writing world, and our agents will all be courting publicists rather than publishers!

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  17. Really great post, Jody. I'm already sold on my agent - she was incredibly helpful through the revision process and has been really out there knocking on doors through the submission process. I think that agents really do have a lot to offer still, and while their roles may be changing, there is absolutely a role for them in the evolving world of publishing.

    Thanks for the links to the other articles as well. Definitely going to check them out too...

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  18. This was really thought-provoking for me; I plan to self-epublish my first novel this fall and never even gave agents a thought.

    I've been following the story of Amanda Hocking--the e-pub, YA, selling-a-bajillion-copies sensation--and was a bit shocked when she signed a contract with a traditional publisher. Then I heard her reasons: she was spending too much time answering emails, doing graphics, marketing, etc. to find time to write. She wanted to focus on writing and let someone else handle the other stuff.

    Should my work really take off--Lord willing!--I can see wanting to have someone in my corner who could help with those things. I think you've swayed me!

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  19. jody ... we all know the benefits. the trick is to secure a good one!
    .
    even with a great manuscript, getting an agent to take on a new literary fiction write is an uphill battle.
    .
    still ... a good "posting" ... i will check our your site from time to time.
    tom honea ... asheville, nc

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  20. Great post, Jody. Getting a good agent is just as much an accomplishment as finding a publisher. When I first thought about writing for publication, I didn't think an agent was a necessity. But with all the queries and contracts, ins and outs of the industry, and different people to work with, I can't imagine going it alone. My agent is knowledgeable and always willing to answer my "new author" questions. Handling the business side of writing is a job in itself!

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  21. I love your post, and the encouragement about finding an agent. Hoping to take care of that soon!

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  22. Thanks for the shout-out Jody. This is a great post. I think signing with a good, ethical agent (like yours) is still the best way to a professional writing career.

    Anybody lucky enough to fit into the "Big Six" paradigm, who has a smart, savvy agent in her corner is probably going to weather the storms and upheavals in the publishing business just fine.

    But the industry is changing fast and agents and publishers are scrambling. They're coming up with lots of great new ideas to stay relevant in this wild new Kindle-land.

    ...and some REALLY bad ones, too.

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  23. In a publishing world where things are changing so rapidly and writers are expected to do more and more, I personally wouldn't want to do it without an agent. I have enough to do without negotiating contracts and all the other things an agent does.
    Thanks

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  24. I learned contract law at Uni but learning it and negotiating one are so different. I totally appreciate the system and it appears to work best with an agent, hence why I am subbing to them now :)

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  25. Great post Jody! I totally agree with each point. A good agent is priceless.

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  26. I'm just getting started but I think getting an agent might be as difficult as getting published! I have sent two query letters to agents that received no response (I personally think this is worse than an outright rejection letter!). Just sent a third one this weekend. I'm also trying to learn as much as I can about creating excellent queries. So much of it seems subjective, though.

    esthersdestiny.blogspot.com

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  27. Three queries is pretty low, Sherri, so don't feel disheartened. I sent probably twenty queries or more before I signed with my publisher, and even that was because I saw a contest for a contract and figured it was worth a shot.

    It is a subjective game, you're right, and even the best query won't help if the agent you're querying just happens to already have a lot of clients writing similar stuff to yours. But remember that it can take months for an agent to get through to your query, so you're better off sending several at the same time.

    Send out as many queries as you can and eventually you'll find the right agent for you.

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  28. Great post, Jody. I wouldn't be without my agent, especially in this turbulent and ever-evolving market. I like to think I'm reasonably savvy about marketing and what-have-you but, when it comes down to it, my job is to put the words down on the page in the right order. The more I think about all the 'other stuff', the more the words get messed up. That's where my agent comes in. She's the voice of reason, the gentle (or not-so-gentle!) nudge in the right direction. Above all she thinks about all that 'other stuff' so I don't have to!

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  29. Thanks for the encouragement Paul. Three queries IS low, and I probably need to just take a day and start sending some out everywhere.

    I have considered entering some contests as well. The most recent query was because I read an agent's website that said she was accepting queries. That sounded hopeful. We'll see.

    Congratulations on signing with your publisher! Best of luck with that.

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  30. Thanks, Sherri. Good luck with your querying. I've got contact details for loads of agents. If you'd like, I can go through them and pick some out for you. Just mail me at pashortt [at] gmail [dot] com and let me know your genre and whether it's Middle-Grade, Young Adult, or Adult.

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  31. Jody, I've read the buzz about this subject also. I'm so thankful for my agent because she read through my manuscript, gave me detailed notes, and helped make it much stronger. Plus, she's trying to sell the book while I'm revising another!

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  32. Hey Jody
    I came to this post from Twitter and found msyelf nodding and saying 'uh huh' to every one of your five! Before I was published I wondered if there was a secret. Then as I worked my backside off and got published I slowly figured out that THAT was the secret - working hard until I got there. Back then, I thought when I got 'there' (published) I would be content. Now I realise that there's always a new goal to aim for, something new to learn.
    So I guess if I was ging to add a sixths ecret that would be it - don't ever think you've nothing left to learn. Keep learning, keep aiming higher.
    Thanks for your wonderful post.

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  33. Thanks for sharing, I will bookmark and be back again


    EPublishing

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