Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Do you need a literary agent?


Ever since I was asked if I’d like to write for YA Stands, I’ve been racking my brain for a suitable topic for my first blog post. As most of you may know, I tweet a lot about queries, trying to share writing, publishing, and query tips while I go through my submissions inbox. And while this is something I promise to come back to in future blog posts, I thought I’d lose my YA Stands virginity to a much-discussed question: 

Does a writer need an agent?

The whole agent debate is a topic that seems to somewhat divide the writing community – just like self-publishing vs. traditional publishing, digital vs. print, the quality of 50 Shades, or whether NA is a genre.

If I had to give a quick yes or no answer to the question, I guess it would have to be a no. You don’t need an agent. But then again you don’t need that piece of cake. Doesn’t mean you don’t want it, right? Or do you need those black peeptoes with that cute little bow detail at the heel? Not really, but you can probably still come up with 17 great reasons why you should buy them.

Fact is, you don’t need an agent to be a writer. You also don’t need to be published to be a writer. Writing should be about pleasure, about doing something you love, or because you have a story in you you just can’t hold in any longer. And it’s not like you can’t put it down on paper without an agent or publisher. But an agent -- just like a publisher -- can come in pretty handy if you decide you want to be a published writer.

You don’t (necessarily) need an agent if…
  • … you are a control freak with severe trust issues. I’ve received queries from people who wanted me to sign them before sharing their writing with me. Apparently they were scared I’d steal their story. That’s not a great start. Trust is paramount for the relationship between a writer and agent. If you don’t trust another person with your writing, you might want to consider self-publishing. Or to hide it in your sock drawer;
  • … you want to self-publish;
  • … you want to approach smaller presses or certain digital imprints of bigger publishing houses;
  • … get lucky in a pitch contest/ at a conference with editors;
  • … you want to work with a vanity press. Which you shouldn’t want to. Ever. (Ever!)
But hey, I’m a literary agent, so obviously I think there are some pretty damn good reasons to get an agent.

Partnership: Your agent is your biggest no. 1 fan (besides your mother or cat), your wing(wo)man so to speak. Agents are extremely picky and only take on projects and writers they believe in. But once they've fallen for you, they're the Robin to your Batman, the Luigi to your Mario, the Monica to your Rachel. They will help polish and prepare your proposal and mansucript for editors. They will tell editors that your manuscript is the best thing that's happened to the world since cholocate... which is far less awkward than you doing that yourself. They listen when you doubt yourself (and give you a pep talk if needed), hold your hand throughout the entire publishing process, and help you shape your career as a writer.

Access: If you want to be published by one of the big traditional publishing houses, there's almost no way around an agent. The Big 5, and some other big independent presses, generally don't accept unsolicited manuscripts, meaning that you will have an extremely hard time trying to get one of their editors to even take a peek at your work without an agent. So an agent gives you access. Access to publishers you wouldn't have otherwise. 

Expertise/ contacts: An agent is always up to date with the going-ons in the publishing industry, whether it's trends, people roundups, or editor wishlists and no-gos. They know how to negotiate the best deal for you and your book, how to exploit your subsidiary rights (see next paragraph), and a whole bunch of people. Relevant contacts are pretty much the name of the game, and agents spend a fair amount of time building and maintaining these contacts. 

Subsidiary rights: Have you ever thought about how you get to licence your work around the world? If you self-publish, that is your responsibility. If you publish with a small press, it depends on the press and your contract. Just imagine you'd have to do that yourself. Doesn't it sound boring? And where do you even start? Wouldn't you rather watch cat videos on YouTube and pretend to be writing?

Time: Being a writer and your own agent (let alone your own publisher) is time-consuming. We're talking about hours and hours and hours (and hours and hours... you get the point) of doing things that are NOT writing. What would you rather do? Plot and write? Or research and chase editors, negotiate deals, review contracts and royalty statements, ALL the paperwork,... (I'll stop now before I bore myself to death.)? Why waste your precious writing time (and we all know, that -- for most authors -- writing time is very precious!) when you can have someone take care of all that for you? 

So, do you need an agent? 

I can't answer that for you. That's a decision you have to make for yourself. Of course, you can still get published and have a career as a writer without an agent, and even with an agent there's no guarantee that you'll be signed by the Big 5, but having a dedicated wing(wo)man by your side can make a whole lot of things easier and be pretty damn useful if you're serious about your writing career. And if it's only so you can focus on what you should be focusing on: writing. So let us be the Robin to your Batman, the Luigi to your Mario, the Monica to your Rachel. 

We love writers. (Awww....)


~Julia


And now, a picture of Zac Efron. Because… why the heck not? We deserve it. #eyecandyFTW




If you're still with me, do leave your thoughts in the comments section. I'm curious to hear what you think about this topic.



27 comments:

  1. All good points. I would want my agent to be a bigger fan than my cat, though.

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  2. As a writer of middle grade novels, I have to say my agent is a godsend. She's a wonderful support/fan, offers great editorial help, gets me better contracts, is always there to answer questions and guides and directs me through the extremely complex world of traditional publishing. Finding a good agent can be tough, but in my opinion, it's worth all the effort.

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    1. I'm really glad to hear that. I hope your agent reads this; it'll make her day. :)

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  4. I see an agent as a mentor and that's the main reason I still believe in finding one, even though I'm published with a small press.


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  5. Right on, Julia! I agree wholeheartedly. My agent is all these things. Wonderful post. And thank you for the eye candy. ;)

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  6. First of all, thank you for Zac Efron...

    Second, thank you for this post. I do not have an agent, and sometimes I wish I had tried the agent route first rather than submitting to very small digital-first presses. I have a question: Because of a variety of factors, sales of my YA titles have been quite low. I have been working on a project which I would like to submit to agents, so I'm wondering how much weight agents put on past sales history when considering whether to sign an author?

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    1. I can only speak for myself, but I don't really care about your sales history -- unless you query me with a project that has already been published. Or if you claim to be a super mega bestselling author. ;) I get a lot of queries from writers who've been published by smaller presses before, and who would like to take their writing career to the next level, which is why they have now decided to work with an agent. I wouldn't worry too much. Good luck finding representation. :)

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  7. Great post!! Excellent points ;o) Love that you're blogging here now!! YAY!

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  8. Julia is the Robin to my Batman:) Thanks for being there for me and all my crazies. I have multiple friends who've signed with smaller presses etc. without an agent to look at their contracts and with that 20/20 hindsight they've wished for an agent to have their back.

    Great post and welcome to YA Stands!

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    1. I love being the Robin to your Ro... Batman. :)

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  9. My agent is a rockstar. ;)

    As someone who sold her first novel in her own, I can honestly say having an agent now has been a godsend.
    Excellent post, Ms. Weber.

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    1. Ha, thanks. My brain needed a second to process that the pink hair in the picture belongs to #TeamWeber.

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    1. The finish was the best part. It took a lot of research.

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  11. Great Post Ms. Weber, and Zac Efron swoon! I wonder what would happen if I attached that picture to my query lol

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    1. I probably wouldn't even read it. I'd just gaze at the picture all day. Haha.

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  12. I will be searching for my Robin (once I actually finish my WIP) and I tend to think of agents as both supporters and soundboards. And sometimes I need that little voice to keep me on track (or, more likely, a great booming speakerphone). Brilliant post, thank you!

    Laura

    PS <3 Zac Efron. If he doesn’t encourage comments, nothing will.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Laura. And good luck finding your Robin.

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  13. I totally agree! My agent is the best!!

    Not only does she help me focus my writing and give me someone to bounce ideas off of, but she talks me down from the ledge whenever my crazy writer brain starts inventing freak-out "what if" possibilities. I'm so glad to have someone who believes in me so strongly by my side! <3

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    1. That's great to hear. Talking writers down from the ledge seems to be something we do a lot. Haha.

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  14. OH! An agent! I hadn't even considered that. Sign me up. Heck, if one is good, two must be better, right? I'll take two. Two agents please. Suuuuure! Great idea!

    Oh wait. What's that? Less than two percent of queriers find representation? Hmm. You made it sound so easy. You made it sound as if a writer actually has a choice. I guess that two percent have a choice, don't they?

    Crazy that only two percent of the manuscripts written are good enough to deserve representation. Crazy that 98% of written novels suck.

    But... There you go.

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