1. SilverWolf0101
    Offline

    SilverWolf0101 Active Member

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2009
    Messages:
    333
    Likes Received:
    8
    Location:
    New York State

    Literary Agents: Helpful or Harmful?

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by SilverWolf0101, May 10, 2010.

    I've been spending the last year comparing publishing companies and their submission request. I noticed that a lot of the companies recommend a literary agent. Often times though it is followed with a line similar to "We recommend a literary agent, although they are not needed to ensure publishing."

    So here's my question, as I tend to do a lot of thinking on important decisions before jumping in: Are literary agents really something to get involved with? Or is it bad to avoid them because they truly are as harmful as some people have claimed?

    Also, what exactly is their job? As I've been told they are the "lawyers of the writing world".
     
  2. Banzai
    Offline

    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 31, 2007
    Messages:
    12,871
    Likes Received:
    150
    Location:
    Reading, UK
    They aren't lawyers, they're agents. They represent the author in negotiations with publishers. From the publisher's perspective, they provide a sort of gating system. Established agents have relationships with the publishers, who know that if they look at manuscripts given to them by an agent, it won't be a complete waste of their time. Equally, a literary agent will be able to get you the writer a better deal than you would otherwise.

    A literary agent's pay is taken as a percentage (usually 10 or 15%, I believe) of what the publisher pays the author. They are not paid up front, and any agent (or publisher for that mattrer) that asks for up front payment is almost certainly a scam and should be avoided like the plague.

    I would say that an agent is definitely the way to go. I don't see how they would be harmful at all. If you have a good agent, they can open doors that would otherwise be closed to you, because some publishers won't even look at unagented submissions. The type of caveat you mentioned probably means that a publisher is willing to consider unagented submissions, but you're better off with an agent, as a) it demonstrates that a professional in the industry has already deemed your work worth a go, and b) they will look after the author in the submissions and publishing processes.

    So basically, yeah, an agent is a very good thing to have, if you can get one.
     
  3. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    A literary agent is your negotiator. He or she has the Magic Rolodex, which is to say all the personal and professional connections, to match your work not only to the right publising company, but to the right submissions editor in that company. The good agent can strike a good deal with the publisher to maximize your revenue. After all, that also maximizes the agent's cut. You can probably end up with more in your pocket working through an agent than you can negotiating on your own.

    You do have to choose your agent carefully. There are scammers out there, just as there are predatory publishers. As Banzai said, no reputable agent will charge up-front fees, such as reading fees. It is part of the ethical code for the profession, and an agent who does charge up-front fees will be blacklisted by their professional organizations.
     
  4. izanobu
    Offline

    izanobu Senior Member

    Joined:
    May 9, 2010
    Messages:
    149
    Likes Received:
    0
    http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=357

    That, and the other posts about agents found here: http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?page_id=860

    The comments on those posts is really interesting and eye-opening as well.


    I realize this stuff won't be easy to hear for a lot of people who are wrapped up in the idea that all they have to do is find an agent and then they can wash their hands of the business side of writing. But I figure it can't hurt to point out a different understanding of what an agent is and what they should do :)
     
  5. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    smith has one original novel on amazon... it was vanity-published with authorhouse... his other books are singly and co-written franchised Star Trek tales...

    so i, for one, wouldn't consider him an authority on the subject of agents... for the best neutral/knowledgeable rundown of the pros and cons:

    http://www.invirtuo.cc/prededitors/pubagent.htm
     
  6. izanobu
    Offline

    izanobu Senior Member

    Joined:
    May 9, 2010
    Messages:
    149
    Likes Received:
    0
    Smith has sold over 100 novels, many of them not under the name Dean Wesley Smith (he's writing thrillers now under another name which is kept separate from his DWS stuff, probably partially due to the unpopular but useful advice he has on his blog). He's done a lot more than the Star Trek stuff... He's been making a very good living writing for as long as I've been alive, so I know who'd I'd listen to.
     
  7. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Are you Dean Wesley Smith? You seem to be pushing an agenda that contradicts nearly every other resource for writers witrh respect to submissions.
     
  8. izanobu
    Offline

    izanobu Senior Member

    Joined:
    May 9, 2010
    Messages:
    149
    Likes Received:
    0
    Hahaha. God no, I'm way too young and female to be Dean. I wish I was that published at 28 though! Maybe in 20 years...

    I'm not "pushing an agenda" either... I just know that there are more than one way of doing things, and good business sense is good business sense. It's my hope that by linking to information that many newbie writers never get to hear, maybe some of them will come to understand better ways of taking their careers seriously. There are a lot of "myths" and a lot of misinformation out there. I realize that Dean's posts might be tough to swallow for someone who has only ever heard the other ways of doing things. But for some people, hopefully, they'll see information in there they can use and that will make them a smarter writer and better at taking care of their career. I've still got a ton to learn myself, but I know that a lot of what Dean says makes sense to me, and since I've started taking his advice (and Heinlein's Rules for Writers - google it), I've seen a lot more results and a lot more development for myself as a writer. I know that I wish I'd heard this stuff somehow five or ten years ago instead of spending so much time treading water without a clue.
     
  9. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    his other advice may have helped you to write, but you haven't been successfully published without having an agent, have you?
     
  10. izanobu
    Offline

    izanobu Senior Member

    Joined:
    May 9, 2010
    Messages:
    149
    Likes Received:
    0
    mammamaia- of course I haven't been published yet (well, that isn't totally true, I've sold a short story). I've only been submitting at all for about a year, and only submitting novels (and just the one so far) in the last couple months. I don't even know if this novel will get bought. Many writers don't sell their first novel. That's why I'm writing more novels. But I feel hopeful since I've already had an editor request the full already, which is a good first step and means my query letter works.

    Publishing is a numbers game. I have to write a good book, then get it in front of the right editor at the right time. The more books I write and submit, the more chances I have to sell something. I've only begun this process. It could take years to get published. I feel very lucky and encouraged that it took me less than a year to sell my first short story. I know people who had been submitting short stories for years and had a hundred or more rejections before they made their first sale.

    I follow Heinlein's Rules for Writers. Write, finish what you write, never rewrite except to editorial order, mail your writing to someone who can buy it (ie editors, not agents, agents can't pay you for your work), and keep it in the mail until it sells. They are very simple rules and have worked for many writers (Heinlein included). They might not work for everyone.

    But the whole "have to have an agent to sell novels" spiel is just an outright lie. You don't have to have an agent to sell a book. And the agent you want might not be the agent you could get as an unpublished writer. Why not wait until you have an offer on the table and then pick up the phone and start calling your top agent picks (that you have researched, because hiring any random stranger to handle your business seems stupid. Better to research and know who you might like to work for you.)

    Agents can be really helpful. Good ones know contracts and can help you in your career with selling sub-rights (again something you can do yourself, however) and with negotiations. But it is a lot easier to get the agent you really want when you have an offer in hand. And you don't need an agent to sell a book. That's all I'm saying.
    (Also, you can just use a literary lawyer as well to do many of the things an agent does).
     
  11. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,351
    Likes Received:
    2,891
    Location:
    Boston
    izanobu,

    While it's true that writers don't have to have an agent, it is helpful to have one for many reasons. First, some publishers don't accept unsolicited manuscripts (imagine how many submissions they would have to deal with). Second, agents can get a much better deal for the writer, even after the 15% commission. Third, agents have contacts with editors that most writers don't have. This can save a lot of time for the writer.

    Unless you have very good writing credentials, it is better to get an agent. It's basically in the writer's interest to get one.
     
  12. izanobu
    Offline

    izanobu Senior Member

    Joined:
    May 9, 2010
    Messages:
    149
    Likes Received:
    0
    Again, thirdwind, those things you list about agents aren't always true. There is no college degree or oversight agency or anything required to be a literary agent at all, you guys do realize that, right? I can slap a header on some stationary and be an agent. That's all it takes. All agents are not equal. Some are really good, many are just okay and can't do much more for a writer than the writer could, and plenty are downright awful and harmful to a writer's career. Educate yourselves if you want to be a professional, that's all I'm saying. :)

    Again, go read the Sacred Cows of Publishing stuff on agents (well, read all of them, that whole series was pretty shocking but good stuff that has really helped me start to take my career seriously). And read the comments (where writers chimed in with their own agent experiences as well). It is pretty eye-opening.

    Also, I'm not saying don't get an agent. I'm saying wait until you have an offer on the table before you hire one. That way you can pick your agent (and if you can't find someone who will work for you, hire a literary lawyer to help with the contract) and you can then make use of a good agent to negotiate your contract and terms with the publisher. There's a use for agents, but they don't buy books, so why submit books to them? Editors buy books, so it makes sense to send books to them since they can actually pay you for them.
     
  13. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,351
    Likes Received:
    2,891
    Location:
    Boston
    I never said to go out and pick a random agent. It's important that the writer do research and find a agent that is not only reputable but will also do a good job of representing said writer.

    I've never heard of anyone doing it this way. Suppose the writer can't find an agent. Then what? And what if your agent thinks that you can get a better deal with another publisher? Besides, writers without agents tend to get worse offers, and I don't see how getting an agent afterward will make a publisher change that offer (I could be wrong).

    Like I said before, it's in the writer's interest. Agents can get a better deal than a writer can get by himself/herself. And again, they have contacts that can speed up the submission process.

    The fact is that the majority of writers/editors recommend getting an agent because it's beneficial for the writer. Also, I have never heard of anyone getting a deal from a publisher and then getting an agent afterward. (I have heard of instances where writers get agents after publishing their first book, but this is not the same as getting an agent after an offer.)

    By the way, why are you so keen on taking advice from Dean Smith? What he says is contrary to all advice I've ever heard/seen from other writers and editors. And just by looking through his website, he does not seem like an authority on such matters at all.
     
  14. izanobu
    Offline

    izanobu Senior Member

    Joined:
    May 9, 2010
    Messages:
    149
    Likes Received:
    0
    You are wrong about the offer stuff. All things in a publishing contract are negotiable, including the initial offer. That's why you need an agent or lawyer in the first place, to help you understand the terms and argue for a better deal on your behalf.

    If you can't get an agent, hire a literary lawyer. Editors don't mind, they like having someone who knows contracts helping the author, especially new authors.

    Jim C Hines got an offer from a publisher and then called up and got his agent. That's just one example.

    Dean Wesley Smith has been an editor, a book seller, and an author for over 20 years. He's sold over 100 novels and a ton of short stories (won the very first Writers of the Future contest, in fact). His wife is also a massively published author. I've talked to many published writers who got their start listening to his advice and recommended I read his blog and attend a workshop or two of his (not sure how much of what we talked about was said in confidence, hence my issue with naming names). I think I'd rather listen to a guy who makes a living as an author than listen to newbie writers who just repeat the company line. His advice is tough to hear, but I've seen it work and it is working so far for me. What more can you ask for? (Also, and he'll say this too, Dean is mostly just repeating at more length what Heinlein advised in his Rules for Writers). The comments on his blog posts are pretty eye-opening as well. Read them, plenty of published writers chime in regularly with their own experiences there.
     
  15. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,351
    Likes Received:
    2,891
    Location:
    Boston
    I should have phrased this better in my other post. What I meant to say was that this seems very amateurish. Getting a deal and then keeping the publisher waiting while you get an agent seems like a bad idea to me.

    I'm repeating what I've heard other authors and editors and people who work at publishing houses say. You, on the other hand, are taking advice from only one person. Isn't it better to see what other writers have to say on the matter?

    You mentioned a few posts back that you are unpublished, so I'm confused as to how you can claim this is working for you.

    I've said this before but some publishers don't accept unsolicited manuscripts (a lot of the larger, more successful ones don't). So you are pretty much limiting your options, which is not a good thing considering getting published is hard enough as it is.
     
  16. izanobu
    Offline

    izanobu Senior Member

    Joined:
    May 9, 2010
    Messages:
    149
    Likes Received:
    0
    I have published one short story so far.

    And again, Dean isn't the only one saying this stuff, he's just got the most comprehensive and easy to find info about it.

    And for the final time- I am not limiting my options. I am expanding them because I am mailing my queries to editors directly EVEN IF the guidelines say no unsolicited manuscripts. (Which is how I got a full request from a publishing house that says that. If I'd paid attention to the no unsolicited manuscripts guidelines, I wouldn't have even gotten a full request. If I were listening to conventional advice, I'd be sending my queries out to agents, which would mean that I'd be putting another middle man into the process, someone who is supposed to work for me, not me for them. Agents work for the author. Their 15% comes out of the authors 100%. Why would I let a potential employee dictate where I sent something or what I did with it. If you had an agent who only sent your book to 5 or 6 editors and then said "write something else, this one won't sell" would you really think they'd made a good effort? Google JA Konrath if you want to see what perseverance looks like, he got over 500 rejections before he sold a novel, and now he's making over 100k a year just on kindle sales of novels that AGENTS couldn't sell. Don't leave your career up to a stranger. It's a lot easier to get a good agent when you have an offer in hand- why would a good agent turn down free money? You've already proven you can finish a novel and sell it. A good agent who has space on their client list will pay attention to that.)

    And yes, you can in fact let editors wait while you get an agent. This isn't amatuerish at all. Your agent would let them wait while they contacted whatever other editors had the manuscript and let those editors know there's an offer on it (hopefully anyway, it's bad when they don't).
     
  17. arron89
    Offline

    arron89 Banned

    Joined:
    Oct 10, 2008
    Messages:
    2,460
    Likes Received:
    91
    Location:
    Auckland
    Because they know better than you. Pretending otherwise is nothing more than arrogance. It is the job of a (good) agent to know the publishing world inside out, to know where to send your work, who to have read it, when to send it and how to sell it. No one is saying you can't achieve the same result on your own, but having an agent takes a considerable chunk of the element of luck out of the equation. Sure, you could send your manuscript to every publishing house in New York, unsolicited or not, and you'll probably get a couple of requests for full manuscripts, and if you have the time, energy and resources to do that, then great. Most people, I imagine, would rather have an expert do that for them.

    I'm sure you can cite plenty more examples of people who have found (some, limited) success by the method I described above, but they are not the majority and they are not the most successful.

    And I have to agree with Thirdwind, making a publisher wait for you while you find an agent to negotiate a contract for you reeks of ineptitude. Good luck making that one fly.
     
  18. izanobu
    Offline

    izanobu Senior Member

    Joined:
    May 9, 2010
    Messages:
    149
    Likes Received:
    0
    http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=720

    This from a man who has worked with 4 agents.

    excerpting part of this post: (emphasis mine)

    "—Agents work for writers.

    —Agents can’t buy books, no matter how much they talk about “acquiring” a novel.

    -–Agents make 15% of what they sell of a writer’s work, never money in any other fashion.

    —Agents don’t know enough about writing in any fashion to make a writer rewrite a book. If they did, they would be writing and making 85% instead of 15%.

    -–95% of modern agents, especially agents you can get as a beginning writer, have no more clout with editors than a beginning writer does. (Yeah, I know, that’s a huge myth all by itself.) The 5% that do have major clout (and can get a manuscript pushed up high in a company), you don’t know their names and couldn’t find them if you tried. In other words, not all agents are equal.

    —It takes nothing but stationery to become an agent. No rules, no organization, no school is needed."

    The rest of the post (and others) is at that link. Also, read the comments.

    And if you think making an editor wait reeks of ineptitude, you really have a lot to learn, sorry. How do you think auction situations happen? You think no one waits while the agent gets a hold of the other editors who might want to make a counter-offer?
     
  19. marina
    Offline

    marina Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2008
    Messages:
    1,280
    Likes Received:
    55
    Location:
    Seattle
    [Also, I read that agents don't usually deal with short story writers. Not sure if that's the manuscript you were trying to entice an agent with.]

    In the end, what matters is that the odds are against a new writer getting their book published period, so it can't hurt to send out queries to agents AND editors/publishers, and just crossing their fingers that someone will request to read at least a partial manuscript.
     
  20. izanobu
    Offline

    izanobu Senior Member

    Joined:
    May 9, 2010
    Messages:
    149
    Likes Received:
    0
    I would never send a short story to an agent... any more than I would send a novel to one :p Novels go to editors at publishing houses, short stories go to short story markets (anthologies, magazines, etc...). I won't send to agents because agents can't buy my work. Agents instead get paid by authors (their 15% comes from your 100% from the publisher). When/if I ever get an offer on a book, THEN I'll hire an agent. Before that, what do I need one for? I can sell my books myself. Until I have a contract, why would I need someone to handle contracts and negotiations for me?

    Again- do whatever works for you. But don't necessarily think that your way is the only way (I also know plenty of authors who have great agents and got published that way. It's just not the way I'm going to go, because I like to have more involvement with my own career than that and I'd like to sell my own books AND THEN have an agent or lawyer help out). I'm posting the links and this stuff here to try to show that there are other ways of going about having a career writing fiction, so that not just one view is represented. There's no one path to success. Being educated and open minded about the various methods can't hurt, however. No one is ever going to care as much about your career as you will. Knowledge is good to have.
     
  21. marina
    Offline

    marina Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2008
    Messages:
    1,280
    Likes Received:
    55
    Location:
    Seattle
    Ah, okay. I probably misread you (but I blame it on the Nyquil, lol), but it sounded like you believed agents were never the right way to go. I'm totally with you on being open minded about the various methods.

    Reading an article about the author that literary snobs love to hate--that'd be Stephenie Meyer (hah)--she sent queries to both publishers and agents. In the end, it was an agency that was interested, and they requested a full manuscript. From what I recall, the publisher originally offered $100k for a 3-book deal, but in the end, due to the good work of her agent, she ended up with a $750k deal. I offer that up only as an illustration to counter-balance your arguments.
     
  22. arron89
    Offline

    arron89 Banned

    Joined:
    Oct 10, 2008
    Messages:
    2,460
    Likes Received:
    91
    Location:
    Auckland
    This isn't what you were talking about though. You were talking about sending out an unsolicited manuscript, then, if a contract is offered, then going out, finding an agent, have that agent negotiate a contract, and then, if you wanted to try to get a competitive auction going, sending your manuscript out to other publishing houses, negotiating contracts with them, then mediating a bidding war on your work.

    If you think any agent, yet alone any major publishing house, would waste that much time (and therefore money) on an unpublished writer, then you really have a lot to learn. Or you think you're the greatest writer to have ever lived. Either way, you're wrong.
     
  23. izanobu
    Offline

    izanobu Senior Member

    Joined:
    May 9, 2010
    Messages:
    149
    Likes Received:
    0
    arron- you misunderstood me somewhere in there. the way it works is this- you send your query out to a few publishers at a time (I picked 5, because that is a good number, but not so many that it would be annoying to notify them if an offer came in and a number I can keep track of). Then you wait and hope they request fulls. If they do, great. If more than one request the full AND THEN one of those gives you an offer, it is totally appropriate (and in fact, very professional of you) to notify the other editors reading the novel that there has been an offer made (which gives them a chance to make a counter-offer if they want). It is also totally acceptable to say to the offering editor "Hey, I'd like to have my agent (or lawyer) help me with negotiating this contract, so I'll call you back." Editors don't expect you to say yes to everything right away and they like dealing with people like good agents and good literary lawyers who know their way around deals and contracts. An editor won't mind you having your lawyer or agent get in touch with them.
    Not sure where in that you got the idea that you should wait until you have an offer to submit to more publishers? I'm talking about notifying editors who have your full manuscript ALREADY and might want to know that someone has made an offer so they can either make a counter-offer or stop reading a sold book. That's just courtesy. (In fact, recently Lou Anders, the editor at Pyr Books, got super mad at an agent who didn't notify him that the book he'd spent the last nine days reading had already been sold.)

    Hopefully that clears that up for you. You CAN submit directly to editors. You CAN tell an editor who makes an offer on your book that you'd like to have your agent or lawyer get in touch to work out the details. You CAN (and should!) then have your agent or lawyer or yourself notify any other editors that ALREADY have your full on their desk that there has been an offer made so that they can counter-offer or at the least not waste time reading a manuscript that has been sold (and then get mad at you or your agent for wasting their time by not telling them about the other offer, thereby burning an editor relationship you could have had).
     
  24. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    no offense intended, but you're only showing your inexperience and naivete with these long posts trying to justify one schlock author's dislike of agents, iza...

    after you've had the many years of being intimately involved with the writing and publishing world, as some of us here have under our belts, then maybe you'd see why we can't take you seriously...

    it seems pointless to argue with you any further, since you're clearly so entrenched in your mis-beliefs that you don't want to entertain reason/logic and listen to the neutral voices of experience that are trying to get through to you here...

    i, for one, will stop trying now and only hope that as you mature, you may become more open-minded and less narrow in your choices of whom to believe...

    love and hugs, maia
     
  25. izanobu
    Offline

    izanobu Senior Member

    Joined:
    May 9, 2010
    Messages:
    149
    Likes Received:
    0
    It's ok, Maia :) I don't expect this info to help you specifically. It's for people who actually might be serious about having a career in traditional publishing. But thanks for being pejorative and cute ;)

    I guess I'll go back to lurking, since I really should be writing instead of posting in forums anyway. Hopefully though at least a few people will have learned something :)
     

Share This Page