This is the kind of question that can get a person into trouble, isn’t it?
After months of going back and forth with my agent about my new manuscript, a little frustration comes naturally. After rewriting said manuscript completely at least once more, revising it again, and cutting out nearly 60 pages from the original work, I’d have to be brain-dead not to wonder if I was doing the right thing.
Why did I listen to many of my agent’s suggestions?
Well . . . some of his points made incredible sense to me. On top of that, I respect his knowledge and sensibilities about the genre. And I’m hungry to be a better and better and better writer.
The members of my critique group thought I was insane to do all that to a manuscript that they thought would’ve sold anyway. They urged me to send out the book myself. I’m sure several of my cohorts on the ’Rati would’ve had the same advice.
Yet, I made the decision to listen. In the end, will all that mishmoshing result in a sale?
I’m waiting to see.
My agent has had tremendous success with other writers; we’re both hoping he will with me.
In the meantime, my question remains: Are literary agents necessary?
When I was learning the business side of writing, everything I read and learned about the industry would’ve answered, “YES!”
It seemed like an immutable law, as much a given as the sun rising in the east and dogs liking liver treats.
Sure, there were tales about people who’d gotten published without an intermediary, but those were the exceptions, the stuff of myth.
Then came 9/ll, the anthrax scares, and the word on the street was that publishers wouldn’t open anything from anyone they didn’t know. In this new and paranoid environment, agents became even more essential.
However, quiet success stories continued to make me wonder about conventional wisdom. One that comes to mind right away is Pati Nagle who negotiated a three-book deal with Del Rey. She used an entertainment lawyer after the contract was offered.
Her answer to my question would be “NO!”
So which answer is right? Which would benefit the many writers — the ones reading our blog for advice — that are striving for publication right now?
IMHO, people need to really weigh the pros and cons of seeking literary representation in their careers. As Toni wrote yesterday, they need to look at what makes the most sense for them.
Below are two lists to begin the conversation. I note the pros and cons in no particular order — and am sure I’ve missed many in both categories — but hope that we can examine this question frankly for everyone’s benefit.
- Contacts: access to — and attention from – editors who make the real decisions in publishing
- Business advice
- The abililty (to potentially) negotiate larger deals than a writer might do on his/her own
- An advocate for the author to the publisher—editors and accounting
- Legal and other specialized knowledge about the industry and trends therein
- Up-to-date knowledge of the good, bad and the ugly about the publishers themselves
- Current knowledge of the movements of editors across imprints and houses
- Editorial advice (at least I like that in my agent)
- It’s often more difficult to get an agent than it is to get a publisher
- Time wasted researching and querying to find a good, reputable agent
- Another block between the writer and the publisher/editor
- Loss of income to a “middle man”
- Potential pressure to write what you don’t want to write
- Dishonesty/lack of transparency in money/editor querying
- Lack of enthusiastic representation or, worse, misrepresentation
- Personality or ethical conflicts
What do you think?
Are agents necessary?
A program note:
Tim Hallinan will be my guest at Murderati next Monday, August 17. He’s written a provocative piece “Bleak is the New Black” that I think will spark a fascinating discussion. Please stop by and make him welcome.