Why You (Still) Want an Agent

I enjoyed Eric’s lighthanded but thoughtful reflection on the merits of working with a literary agent in the digital age.

The times, they are a-changin’, mes auteurs. The digital age means more books are available in more ways than ever before, which in turn means two things: first, you have that much more competition for eyeballs, and second, you need some way to differentiate yourself from the crowd such that all those eyeballs are reading your book.


In short: regardless of whether [or not] you’re going (exclusively) digital, you want an agent… an agent’s multiple talents, myriad connections, and considerable experience will all be great assets to you in your quest for publication. This is true for more than a few reasons…

  • If you’re dealing with an editor, an agent is worth his or her weight in gold in terms of contract negotiation (not to mention that going with an agent in the first place generally makes it much easier to get an editor’s attention). This is doubly true as the details of e-rights are being hammered out.
  • An agent will secure you a publishing house by way of said editor, meaning he or she is basically getting you editorial input, a marketing team, a publicist, a sales team, and an art department capable of making you a Truly Fancy Cover. Unless you’re the aforementioned Jack/Jane of all trades, this is a huge bonus for you. (You also won’t have to worry about getting your e-book fed out to Amazon, Apple, and the like.)
  • You’ve got a buffer between you and your editor/publisher. This means that you can spend your valuable time writing while your agent spends his or her time talking to the editor/publisher (pitching your next project, hounding them for royalty statements, finding out why the awesome cover they helped you negotiate isn’t showing up on Barnes & Noble’s website, &c).
  • You have a Fancy Website with lots of loyal visitors. Your agent has a Fancy Website with lots of loyal visitors. If you both add links to your book to your websites/blogs, you get that many more eyeballs reading about (and hopefully soon reading) your book. Agents go to bat for their clients in more ways than one.
  • Finally, you get a measure of that e’er elusive brand recognition that separates your book from Joe “DIY” Lunchbucket. If you self-publish on-line, the only one vouching for your work is you. If you have an agent and an editor, you’ve got at least two organizations behind you vouching for your talent and credibility as a writer. (Pimp my Novel)

I wish that Eric had plunged a little deeper into the changing role of a literary agent in this brave new digital age. (This echoes the comment I left for him, so maybe he’ll feel inspired and take this up in a subsequent post?) Perhaps only hindsight will clearly define the transition, but it’s increasingly clear that agents will be assuming some of the responsibility for guiding and shepherding writers once handled by publishers. Agent/publisher roles will blur with the former actually gaining in influence and value while the latter declines. Of course, as in all things, the range will be huge, from nitwit agents shilling for a slice of the pie in exchange for zilch to publishing industry sages with vast networks, market wisdom, assertive negotiating skills and the nose for winners. In short: disposable pay-for-companionship copilots on your publishing adventure OR superagents who will eventually displace the mentoring and power brokering of yesterday’s publishers.

Or so it seems from my misty knoll… today. What do you think? Are literary agents slipping in necessity or are does a writer need a good agent like never before?

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