Monday, January 16, 2012

Do you need an agent?

At what point does an author decide she needs an agent?

Some writers find an agent with their first book and build a long and happy relationship. Others may find at some point in their career that the relationship is no longer working and part ways.

And some do very well working directly with the publisher, putting that 15% fee in their own pocket.

Quinlan Lee of Adams Literary talked to my chapter of RWA (Romance Writers of America), Carolina Romance Writers, at our last meeting. As an agent, she was well-qualified to discuss the advantages of working with an agent.

Agents, she said, become your advocate, working tirelessly to manage your career, provide support and negotiate rights to your work.

An agent doesn't just sell your book. Her job is to license the rights to your work in the U.S. and abroad. That includes audio and electronic versions, film, TV and merchandise, permissions and subrights, and theme park rights.

Theme park rights? Just think of the new Harry Potter theme park at Universal Orlando.

If you are fortunate, you have been offered a contract. One writer friend told me her first contract was four pages and five years later, her most recent contract was 14 pages long. The reason for the additional length is the ever-increasing and confusing world of electronic publishing. You can find an intellectual property rights attorney who sees you as another one-time client, or find an agent who will be with you for the long haul.

An agent will keep you from making mistakes. She knows editors personally and she knows what they are looking for. You might or might not know that Publisher X has lost interest in paranormal and is looking for World War II stories. She won't waste your time or hers by querying.

In the event that you get several offers for your book, she can sift through them and guide you toward the one most advantageous to your budding career. It might not be the largest advance, but it will earn you more over the book's life.

How do you find an agent that is right for you? Lee suggests attending writers conferences and writing groups, checking the AAR website and referrals from other authors. Look for an agent who has a knowledge of the market, a good reputation in the industry, a passion for her work and a commitment to your work.

Lee concluded by telling us what an agent looks for in a writer. "She should make us laugh, make us think, and make us want to turn the page," she said. Clients agents avoid taking on are "too needy, too greedy and too speedy."

Lest you wonder at the added expense of paying annual dues to a writers' group, I can asure you that the advice I got at this meeting alone was well worth it.

Before I stop, a gentle reminder that the 2012 Carolinas Writers Conference will be held in Wadesboro, N.C., April 13-14. Registration fee is only $20 in advance What you learn might be priceless.


  1. Agents are definitely worth it in my book (ha!) but its so hard to get them to take a risk on new authors. Actually had one agent ask me what I had indie pubbed that she could read. Other authors I know who have agents, have been told by said agents to self-publish a short story or something to get a cyber following. Very confusing time for everyone in publishing world.

  2. I'm open to both sides. I think agents have a definite role, but even they are having a difficult time finding publishers for some writers. I know of one writer in particular who was advised by her agent to go ahead and indie pub the work because although it was good, no publisher wanted to be the "first" to put it out there. So, I think it's a blend right now...I've been published, but am finding as my rights come back to me, that indie can do just as well. There...don't you love my ambiguous comments? I think I'll become a politician;)

  3. I, too, feel an agent has an important role and I would gladly raise my hand to be in a postition to need one, but for small publishing houses or self-pubbing, I'll handle that for myself. If I ever get an offer by one of the big six or a movie deal, I'll be on the phone to my top pick agents in a heart beat.

  4. Great post, Sandy. I never complain about my annual dues for just this reason. You never know when a meeting will have that one gem.