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


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.

43 thoughts on “6 Reasons You Need A Literary Agent Now More Than Ever

  1. Great post! Just one clarification: the link above says “I’ve written on why you should submit to agents and small presses at the same time already,…” but I think you meant “shouldn’t” vs should, right?


  2. Great info. As one who’s about to stop pursuing an agent and look into the self-ePub route, this good motivation to keep pressing on.

    I’m certainly not one to critique, but I think you have 6 points here, even if you count #5 twice. :-)


  3. I’d certainly love an agent. But when there are only approximately 30 agents in all of Canada, each and every one of them looking for the next Stephanie Meyer (ie. franchise, not quality) it’s damn near impossible to attract an agent, even when using the techniques you’ve outlined in your blog.


    1. I’m Canadian and queried both US and Canadian agents (most were in the US, however), and in the end chose a Canadian agent to represent me and my book(s). While I think most agents are looking for commercially viable, sale-worthy work, they also care A LOT about the quality of the writing. I got my agent with one book — not a series, or a “franchise” kind of book either — and a few months later we were offered a two-book deal. Hang in there — it can be done!


      1. I should add: I wrote two books before getting an agent (queried both), and wrote another before I got the book deal. That whole “keep going” thing? It’s very, very true.


  4. I was thinking of the necessity of an agent when I read about the criticism of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. I made it to the second round. Writers were saying that the author contract was vague, that the issue of rights was problematic. It made me worried about being in the contest (I did not make it to the quarter finals) What are your thoughts on this type of contest? I thought that the contestants all needed an agent to navigate the contest!


    1. That’s a good point. Contest like that try to grab up all the rights. As long as you know what you’re getting yourself into that’s okay. But an agent is always better.


  5. Carly, loved this post. There is a prevailing opinion out there that the digital revolution makes things more straightforward; the opposite is actually true. There are, however, many more opportunities, all the more reason to get a good lit agent!
    Cheers, Peter


  6. Carly, I read and read. Educate myself on all levels. But I would love to have an agent and I am working toward that goal. As Peter indicates, the more changes and advances in the digital revolution, the more you have to learn and understand. Thanks for your insights. Beth

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It’s so important to have an agent to maximize your income streams as a writer. I can’t get foreign or subsidiary deals done on my own, although I’d love to. Since I haven’t had any luck getting an agent, I’m sending my husband to law school instead. If only he knew my motives for supporting his mid-life career change are purely selfish…


  8. I love how you say that every writer you’ve met wants to see themselves in print, because sometimes I feel like I’m the only one. And when I tell people I’m seeking an agent, they’re response is most often, “have you considered self publishing?” For me personally, self publishing would be a last resort, not so much an option. I’m not ready to give up yet. Your post has validated my opinions and feelings as a writer. I often feel like a very rare breed.


  9. I think its the social media marketing and networking angle that bothers me the most. I’m such a private person anyway, I’d probably need coaching on how to do it. Even then some of the rabid hawking is just weird.:/

    Of course there are less resources for poets than there are for prose writers. (I write fiction, but nothing over 5K consistently.)

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I so want an agent for just about all the reasons you mentioned. Trying to negotiate a contract on my own makes my stomach hurt just thinking about it! =) It makes sense to side w/a person who’s trained for and knows so much more than I do about these sorts of things.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Getting an agent was the best thing that happened to my writing career; that said, it is a very difficult task indeed. (Note that I received a form rejection from Carly.) But I was ultimately successful and I learned much in the process. If you seek an agent, many of the original posts on my blog detail what I learned about the agent process. (There are no secrets or gimmicks, just hard-earned knowledge.) good luck.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. My goals…
    1) Finish editing my ms by May
    2) Have it professionally edited in June (by Barbara Kyle! So excited!)
    3) Take the summer to give it more thought
    4) Start querying agents in the fall (I wouldn’t consider any other route)
    5) Madly obsess over my inbox


  13. Great information! As an aspiring author–I will only traditional publishing an use an agent. I’m still searching for one, however — but I’m in the process of finding representation. I’m learning all he time about this subjective business and how opinions are so different. I’m building my writing platform so feel free to browse my blog and follow me on Twitter @sherrihasley : )


  14. Thanks for writing this awesome post! It’s incredibly informative. The more I research on the subject of finding an agent (or the right agent!) and writing a proposal, the more I realize how confusing it all is. Having a professional agent is clearly a top priority to help navigate this biz.


  15. I agree with your points – in anideal world. Most of us will wait forever for an agent to even open the envelope, nevermind take us on and it’s not because our writing is rubbish. In the UK there is help with contracts through the Society of Authors. It costs £90 to join but is worth every penny.


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