It’s not a rule that you have to have an agent. I have one successful author friend who fired hers because she didn’t feel her agent did anything she couldn’t do herself. My friend, however, has a background in sales and can pitch her heart out. I am nothing like my friend. Most authors aren’t.
I am of the very firm belief that you need an agent the very second you can get one. (A good agent, of course. A bad agent won’t do anything for you.) Here’s why:
A Good Agent Knows Everyone
Publishers are swamped with submissions. A proposal or manuscript that comes from someone they’ve known a long time and can trust will get a thoughtful review instead of an introduction to the trash can. Good agents have long, successful working relationships with publishers. They know who likes what, how they like it submitted, and can easily pick up the phone to check on things. You cannot.
They also know what the publishers bought, what they turned down, and what’s hot in the market; things you will never find on the Internet. Their insider knowledge is invaluable.
A Good Agent Will Soften the Blow
There is not an author on the planet who has not been rejected. Multiple times. It doesn’t matter who you are or how successful your past work has been, it’s human nature to want everyone to love everything you do every time.
When, not if, your time comes, having an agent deliver the news is far, far better than hearing it any other way (except perhaps not hearing it, but then we couldn’t work on fixing it…). A good agent will not only take the brunt of the publishers rejection, they’ll repackage it into something hopeful for you.
Writers tend to be sensitive folk. The only thing worse than writer’s block is there’s-no-point-in-getting-out-bed-because-everyone-hates-my-work block. A good agent will shield you from the latter.
To the right is another one of Writers House’s special Christmas cards. This one is from 2007, and was done by the beautiful Diane Goode.
A Good Agent Will Go To Bat For You
While the stories they print can be uplifting and fantastical, publishing itself is a black-and-white, profit-and-loss, dog-eat-dog business. And business can be rough. Things go wrong. Deadlines are missed because of natural disasters or blizzards or the fact that you fell off your son’s scooter pretending to be younger than you really are. Editors can reject your manuscript. Suppliers can go on strike. Contracts can be negated for no good reason at all.
When something horrible happens, you need someone on your side. A good agent will go all the way to the president’s office to make sure the publisher isn’t mistreating you. A good agent will protect you, and make sure no one abuses you more than they should. A good agent will remind everyone of how great you are and how this isn’t really your fault. Even when it is.
A Good Agent Comes With Experience & Legal Expertise
Book contracts are no joke. They are lengthy, they are obtuse, and even the biggest publishers will try and stick it to you by sticking in sneaky little clauses. A good agent knows what’s standard and not in those contracts because they’ve been working with them for years. And a good agent has a good in-house legal department they consult to make sure no one on their end is getting the short end of the stick.
I sincerely hope you don’t already know this from personal experience, but attorneys are outrageously expensive. Having a good agent with good legal expertise behind them more than pays for itself, especially when something goes wrong (see above).
A Good Agent Will Actually Bring You Work
They know everyone and know what everyone wants, and sometimes that means work landing right on your doorstep. Sometimes the publishers or major brands come up with ideas themselves and they need a good writer. Sometimes authors want or need a co-author. When agents hear there’s a need, they turn on place: to their own authors. You want to be in that group.
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