Friday, December 18, 2009

Do you really need an agent?

I can hear the screaming already!

What??? Why do you even have to ask??? Whaddaya mean: "Do you really need an agent?"

It's an innocent question, and not one meant to rankle anyone. I'm just wondering aloud...

In my early days, when I first started writing, my instructor at the only writing course I've ever taken was not a fan of agents. Her point had more to do with economics than anything else. As she put it, writers make so very little these days anyway, that automatically giving away 10 or 15 percent to an agent was not fiscally sound.

Now, before you jump on me, I must state that I heard these words as I was starting out, and, although, they've obviously stuck, I did keep an open mind about agents (since all was and still is new to me).

I can see the advantages that an agent can offer, number one being: landing you a publishing contract. Bingo! That's what all aspiring writers ultimately crave, isn't it? To be published? For a new, unknown author, an agent can open doors, pave the way, and all that good stuff.

However, in my case, I thought I'd try things both ways. I sent out twenty query letters. Two of my letters were sent to agents and the remaining 18 were sent to publishing houses. FYI - I live in Canada and queried only Canadian agents and publishers.

I got rejection letters from both agents.

But, I was offered a contract within about 3 months by a reputable publisher, and my book is now in stores.

I'm not trying to be a naysayer, but in my case things worked out well (and rather quickly) doing it on my own.

I wonder how many aspiring writers focus on getting an agent rather than applying directly to the publishing houses? I also wonder about the relationship between (not getting) an agent and self-publishing. Hmmmm... Do many people try the other steps or do they look at publishing as an either or situation between agents and vanity press?

I would love to hear from writers and agents about the relationships, and pros and cons of working with an agent. I know there is still much for me to learn about the world of publishing and I am curious about your own stories and experiences.

Thanks, Jill


  1. I hope you get lots of comments. This would be an interesting conversation.

    I don't have an agent (I did, but we parted ways). My nonfiction books have been published directly with the publisher, no agent.

    Straight From Hel

  2. I got my first big book deal without an agent (Midnight Ink, though, is a midsized press.) Penguin required an agent, but *after* my book deal, it was easier for me to find an agent.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  3. I'll do the same, send off query letters to both agents and publishers and see what happens...

    but if i could score a big name agent, there is no dout i would go the agent route.

    thx good post.

  4. hmm, agents aren't the best for everything but sometimes they make life easier.

    I mentioned your lovely book on my blog... it's a must read for anyone. Thanks jill, I know you did it without an agent, so you've probably got a story behind that as well.

  5. Thanks Rebecca! I just saw the mention on your blog & can't wait to see the review!

    Cheers! Jill

  6. Hi Jill!
    AS a callow youth, I skipped the agents and submitted directly to the publishing houses to no effect (and great expense, since this was back when manuscripts were still typed on typewriters and fulls had to be mailed rather than emailed). I have a very large stack of rejection letters to show for my efforts.

    Now that I have returned to writing, I am going the agent route for a number of reasons, one of the most important of which is turnaround time. The publishers can take a good 3-6 months to work their way far enough down the slush pile to respond, but agents (I have found) read and respond far more quickly (and if you are lucky they give feedback as well).

    The other key reason is that my experience with traditional publishing is limited, I am looking for an experienced agent who can help me understand what I need to do to make sure my work stays on top :)