Thursday, April 18, 2013
What Agents Do
With more and more aspiring writers skipping the lengthy and discouraging quest for an agent to deal directly with small presses that permit it or self-publish e-books and sometimes print on demand paperbacks as well, I thought it might be useful to review the many things that agents do in addition to placing manuscripts with the Big Six (or is it Big Five now?) traditional publishers. I’m not saying that every agent accomplishes or even offers all of these. But I suspect that many authors who think finding an agent is more trouble than it’s worth don’t realize quite how much they’re missing.
An agent is an expert on publishable writing who believes in you and your work. We all know about the periodic self-doubt that assails even the most successful authors. Praise from your mother and your three best friends is no substitute for an agent who loves your manuscript.
Many agents will work with you to make sure your mansucript is publishable—as good as it can possibly be—to give you the best possible chance with the editors to whom they’ll submit it.
An agent negotiates the contract so you don’t have to. Even if you’ve found your publisher without an agent, you may want one to make sure the contract doesn’t give away rights to your characters, get a bigger advance, maybe include more free author copies than originally offered, better percentages on sales, a shorter contract term, a clear mechanism for reversion of rights to you, and protect subsidiary rights.
Assuming you haven’t given away all the subsidiary rights, including e-books, trade and mass market paperbacks, audio books, foreign editions, and movie and television options, an agent can help you exercise them advantageously. Without an agent, you may have no idea how to market any of these or not even think about these opportunities to make more money from your work, except for formatting your book as an e-book and putting it on Amazon. An experienced agent knows whom to approach and how to dicker with them.
An agent acts as a buffer in the business relationship between you and your publisher. Ideally, your relationship with your editor is all about what you’ve written and how the editor can help you make it better. You may have some disagreements along the way—say, a plot twist or character that the editor wants you to change or delete. Those are the battles you want to devote your energy to. In the meantime, your agent may be working on getting you more visibility in the publisher’s promotions, finding out why your statement and royalty check haven’t arrived, or, if necessary, prodding the contracts department to disgorge that crucial reversion of rights letter.
Agents know a lot that authors don’t. It’s a full time job for them to keep their fingers on the pulse of the publishing market. In a time when things are changing constantly and everybody—publishers, authors, booksellers, marketers, libraries, agents, and the reading public—is guessing, sometimes wildly, about what’s going to happen next and how to stay in the game, it’s no small thing to have an agent in your corner.