6 Reasons You Need A Literary Agent Now More Than Ever

contract signingYes, even you self pubbed authors need an agent now more than ever.

There’s no disputing that you can publish your own book, get a deal by yourself meeting an editor at a conference or submitting to certain publishers that are open to the slush. I see more and more in our query inbox that an author has an offer from a small print publisher or digital first start up but want an agent to help with the process because they realize they are in over their head. They ask questions like: Is the publisher good? Should I have submitted to them on my own in the first place? I’ve written on why you shouldn’t submit to agents and small presses at the same time already, but this is about why you need an agent first.

6 Reasons You Need An Agent Now More Than Ever:

1. Access to ‘Big 5′

Yes, you can submit to small publishers by yourself, but you will never have access to all the big 5 publishers without an agent. Every writer I’ve ever met has wanted to be published in print. There are writers that are ‘okay’ with digital first publishing, but they all want to build to a career in print.

2. Complex Contracts

More than ever (and publishers have always wanted this!) publishers are intent on grabbing up all the rights to your work. For example, when you sign a contract for ‘world rights’ you are signing up the rights to your work in all languages and all countries, but how do you know the publisher is going to actively license those rights all over the world? You don’t. That’s why agents hold back foreign rights to sell them directly themselves. A publisher on the ground in other countries will always be more effective than a publisher exporting copies.

3. Sub Rights

Sub rights (or subsidiary rights) are things like audio, dramatic, film and TV among other things. Even if you do manage to wrangle these away from a publisher on your own–what do you do with them? Agents don’t only have editorial contacts, we know audio publishers, and film and TV agents that also sell our clients work.

4. Start up publishers

I’m glad that there are new publishers springing up, but you also have to be cautious about their business practices. Publishing is a long tail and I’ve seen start ups grab up a bunch of author rights and take off, not keeping up with regular royalty statements and payments. (Luckily, this hasn’t happened to my authors!) There are great resources to let you know about publishers with shady practices like Writer Beware.

5. Digital revolution

There is no arguing the industry is changing quicker than it has before and that means writers rights are at stake. Agents are on the case fighting for things like improved ebook royalties. Agents are also making sure that publishers are holding up their side of the deal with things like social media marketing.

6. Networks

There is more to having a writing career than just writing. Do you want access to speakers bureaus, PR professionals, graphic designers, TV hosts, and the works? Having an agent is an easy way to build and expand your media industry network.


You only get one chance to make a first impression with editors. Make a professional one by having an agent handle the business side of things.

Further Reading:

Poets & Writers on What Literary Agents Do


Why You Want An Agent Who Reads

BelleBATBAgent Janet Reid wrote a great blog post about agent burnout among other things. One part that stuck with me was her comment about agents reading things that aren’t client work.

I can understand when writers see their agents talking on Twitter or Facebook about books that aren’t theirs and they think: “If they had spare time, why weren’t they reading my manuscript?” But one of the most important things an agent can do is read and READ A LOT.

Why you want an agent who reads:

1. They know what’s selling.

If we don’t read published books, how up-to-date is our taste? How do we know what is working in the market? I call it ‘cleansing the palate’ and it’s a much needed respite.

2. They know what’s successful.

Not only do we need to know what’s selling, we need to know what’s selling well. We follow the ‘best of’ lists, bestseller lists, and indie picks. We read bestsellers to know what makes it to the top.

3. They know what certain editors are excited about.

Editors send us stacks of books all the time. We read these to know what editors are working on and what gets them excited about projects. We also get to support our agent friends and read their clients books.

4. They take breaks from work.

Work life balance is not a joke. In order for us to stay enthusiastic about client projects and keep our sanity, we need to take a time-out every once and awhile–and we’re book lovers at heart.




How I Read Slush: 3 Lessons for Writers

reading-piccsyAgents talk a lot about query letter writing and how we manage the slush pile. There’s the flip side of that too: once we request your material what happens? Well today, you get inside my brain. This is how I read requested material and how you make yours stand out:

1. I read on my iPad

I don’t print manuscripts out until I sign them and start to work on them. So I’m trying to see if I enjoy the writing and pair the writing with a name or book title to distinguish one manuscript from the other.

Lesson: Formatting! For the love of pete number your pages and title your file something like: Author Last Name BOOK TITLE. I don’t want to play a guessing game about which manuscript matches which query. The last thing I want is confusion when I’m trying to organize my slush. I also ask for a synopsis pasted into the first page of the manuscript document so that I can jog my memory and refer back to it.

2. I read 3-10 partials in a row

I’m not sitting down to indulge in one story, I’m sitting down to get through the virtual stack of manuscripts. Often it is between 3-10 when I start to read. That’s 3-10 different authors, voices, characters, plots and things to keep straight. When I read partials and other requested material I’m reading for plot, pace and potential. All I want is to be drawn in more than the story before that one. Continue reading

Why Agents Edit

typeAmong the many things we do for our clients it includes editing their work. Sure, the crux of our job is selling our authors’ books, but getting the projects to the point of selling involves anything from a light copy edit to complete overhauls.

We all know there are so many layers to get published: write the book, get an agent, get a book deal, publicize, have a writing career that spans many more books. And know that each opportunity requires its own mental stamina to achieve success. However, I still see so many aspiring writers putting an emphasis on getting an agent and think perhaps the rest falls into place. If it’s so hard to get an agent, then it must all be downhill from there, right? Wrong.

One of the big parts of our agent responsibilities is getting our client’s projects ready for editors’ eyes.

Why Agents Edit:

Because we know the difference between creative writing and book publishing. There is a lot of really good writing that doesn’t get published. Publishing is where creative writing meets Hollywood: Does it have a hook? Can you sell it in a sentence? Are the characters memorable? Is their journey compelling? Does it start when we meet the characters at an interesting point in their lives? Getting published requires some stripping down of overwriting and self indulgence. Getting published is about making your writing accessible to mass readers.

Because the competition is fierce. Sometimes I feel like this is the title of my blog. I do harp on it, but it’s only because I want everyone to know the stakes to ‘make’ it. It doesn’t make it easy when you know how many other writers there are out there trying to get published, too. But that information has to light a fire under you and make you want to revise and want to write the best book you can. Competition is about writing better than you did the day before, and the book before this. You are your own competition. Make that your mission.

Because we need to know that you’re able to work in a collaborative environment. Continue reading