Sunday, 8 June 2008

Who Needs an Agent?

If you want to be a professional writer, you need an agent.

Few big publishing houses take unagented submissions, and the ones that do leave them languishing for years on the slushpile. So having an agent will get your work read by more editors, at better houses, and more quickly, too.

An agent will also ensure that your contract is fair. So they'll ensure that there is a good reversion clause in place, for example, and perhaps an escalator which increases royalty rates after a certain amount of books are sold.

Agents negotiate your contract up so that you make more money and sell fewer rights. Their commission usually comes to less than the increase in income that they negotiate for you, and so they're well worth having financially, too.

A good agent will sell foreign rights and newspaper serialisation rights wherever possible, so maximising revenue for each book you write.


An agent will rarely represent you if your work is more suited to small presses; or if you write only poetry or short stories. Only books. And each has their own area of expertise, so make sure you submit to the right agent if you're trying for one.

It can be difficult to find an agent, but remember: they depend on representing clients who sell. Agents want to find exciting, interesting new voices whose work has long-term sales potential. If they're as-yet unpublished, so much the better—a new writer has no record of failure.

Finally, an agent is paid through commission on the sales they make for you. If they ask for a retainer or up-front fees, remember Dorothy Deering and run.


Anonymous said...

I don't agree entirely with the comment that if you want to be a professional writer, you need an agent. I have had nine non-fiction books published by major UK publishing companies and I don't have an agent.
I tried an agent for my first work of fiction and she did nothing more than send a few queries out over the course of 12 months. I fired her.
I think if you are intent on being a writer of fiction then yes, the right agent can help you, but this is not a necessity if you want to be a professional writer.

Jane Smith said...

In my experience, agents always negotiate the contracts for their clients until they are markedly in their favour. Few unagented writers negotiate at all, and when they do, they miss many of the contract points that should be a priority.

A good agent can make a considerable difference to most writers' income through contract negotiation and foreign and subsidiary rights sales. Few writers have the knowledge, expertise or skill to do this effectively for themselves.

I'm glad that things are going well for you, anonymous--but what a shame that you didn't let me know who you are, so I could look your nine books up on Amazon.

Anonymous said...

Jane, I would love to share with you my published books, but I am not inclined to provide my details to you on an open blog. I looked for your email address to contact you direct but I can't find it here. If you can tell me how to contact you I would love to chat to you about this.