10 Reasons Agents Are Not Gatekeepers

I read Publishing Perspectives‘s recent article “What is the ‘New’ Publisher?” which got me thinking about the ways that agents breakdown the gatekeeper stereotype and how the role of the ‘gatekeeper’ is changing in the face of digital publishing. (If you haven’t read the article I highly recommend it. It follows the recent Futurebook conference in London.)

If you think agents are gatekeepers you are holding yourself back from a world of possibilities and not bucking the traditional model, but making yourself jaded and adverse to the opportunities that are unfolding every day.

Agents are not gatekeepers.
  1. Agents’ skill set is not to close doors (which many querying authors think we do), but to open them. When we find a talent we are passionate advocates of we will knock on every door, throw rocks at every window, sift through every contact page, and not rest until our clients are happy with the work we’ve done for them. We don’t land every book, but we build our reputation on the ones we do so we keep working hard.
  2. Agents project manage. We are not keeping good writing from reaching the marketplace. We are project managing on the editorial, marketing, sales and publicity side of books to make our authors successful.
  3. Agents are contract experts. If you are published traditionally, indie, or self-publishing successfully you want an agent looking at contracts for clauses that can trip you up. Agents help you to know what you are signing.
  4. Agents negotiate. Again, no matter what avenue you are taking to make your work public agents are needed to negotiate terms. Territories, length of term, royalties, subsidiary rights, warranties and indemnities–these all need to be combed carefully.
  5. Agents can be publishers. While agents are steering away from calling themselves publishers they are facilitating ebook arrangements with companies like Smashwords to get their client’s work to market in ebook form. Agents are one of the most flexible people on your team: we can reach out to companies that do short ebook work like Byliner and Amazon singles; we can set you up with ebook only publishers like Carina Press and Entangled; we can find you a freelance publicist; and the list goes on.
  6. Agents can be third party facilitators. Agents can work with companies like Open Road to develop brand properties. We work with film agents and talent agents.
  7. Agents are career counsellors. Agents help with the big decisions. Do you want to crossover from women’s fiction to YA? Is it a smart time to submit a book of essays? Do publishers accept or look for short story collections? Are you unhappy with your editor, is it time to move publishing houses? How much is my content actually worth?
  8. Agents are brand experts. Agents want to create content around existing brands, especially in non-fiction.
  9. Agents can breakout midlist authors. We don’t want our authors to flounder. If our authors are not getting the right attention to break out we will do social media planning, we can find you a freelance publicist, we will use our networks to create a marketing plan that helps your work find its readership.
  10. Agents help lead thought leaders to publishers. Editors spend less time creatively thinking about non-fiction brand properties as their teams get smaller and their list grows. Agents look to alternative resources to break journalists, academics, and TV personalities out and build on their platform to bring new books and fresh concepts to light.
We’re in it for you.

Agents want good work to find readers, that’s why we got into this business: to share content we feel so strongly about with the readership it so deserves.

Find the agent that is right for you, and comfortable in the digital sphere.

Open your eyes to what agents can do for you, not what they can’t do (as you’ll see they can do just about anything if they have the right network). Our responsibility is to our clients and we can help them in any arena they want to move into. Agents are not an industry resource you want to shake. In the wake of self-publishing overtaking print books (or so the ‘indie’ newsers like to think), agents are who you want reviewing and negotiating contracts. Sure, some agents are less adept with digital strategy, but find yourself an agent that is comfortable and flexible in this space. It’s an exciting time to be in publishing so if your agent feels differently, then find one that can help you reach your goals of publication whatever they may be (traditional, indie, self-pub, ebooks etc.).

Are agents gatekeepers? Some will still think so.

The only thing agents can be accused of is keeping books out of mainstream publishing that don’t belong there (unedited, half-baked, not fully developed, and books we don’t think can compete in today’s busy marketplace), which is a Darwinian approach to our business, but the only way to make it successful.

Agents aren’t perfect, we’re talent spotters that work with the information we have from editors, consumers and marketers, so if you think your work has slipped through the cracks go ahead and go it alone. But the system that has developed organically into what it is today is there for a reason.

If you think an agent wouldn’t know a good book if it landed on their desk then prove us wrong! Make us come to you to and ask to represent you when your books have sold millions of ebooks on Amazon. Nothing would make me happier, because that is literature finding its readership, contributing to the canon and making our industry so innovating and exciting. BUT, remember that there is the exception and there is the rule. 99% of the time self-published authors are the rule, not the exception. Agents are in this industry for good writing to find its audience.

Don’t focus on what agents can’t do for you. Focus on finding an agent that has the same forward thinking as you for your books in the digital and print marketplace.

Image via Kobo

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

19 thoughts on “10 Reasons Agents Are Not Gatekeepers

  1. Thanks for the link to the Publishing Perspectives article: “. . . .publishers were making publishing decisions based on what the retailer wants to sell, rather than on what the reader wants to buy,,,,,,” Wow, that’s HUGE. It’s nice for everyone to be reminded of what all of this was originally supposed to be about.


  2. Some times it feels that agents are gatekeepers with mean, nasty, human-eating guard dogs who are only interested in writing terse sentences of rejection. With the coming of the e-age, you can’t even paper the walls of your garret with the rejection notices.


  3. I’m starting to understand why people politely look away when you say you’re writing a novel. No one has the heart to tell you.


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