Juliet Mushens of The Agency Group dropped in for a guest post two weeks ago. In the post she set out some best practice for authors when approaching agents. Needless to say a lot of authors found the post really useful and it prompted some thoughts. I received this question on Twitter:
‘Hope you don't mind me asking, but what are the benefits, would you say to having an agent?’ – @KTScribbles
Obviously I can only answer from my direct experience, and I’m a very new writer. To give you some back story – I signed for the War Manuals unagented with Gollancz back in 2012. I then signed with Juliet and we submitted the first book of The Erebus Sequence to Gollancz, which was bought in the early stages 2013. As you can see, I’ve been through the process with and without an agent. So let’s look at those advantages:
A Layer of Quality – I recently spent a few days reading an editor’s slush pile (I’ll do anything for food and free books). The slush pile, for those that don’t know, is made up of manuscripts sent direct to publisher. This is called Open Submissions. Gollancz and Tor both have an open submission policy, other publishers such Angry Robot have windows for submissions. This highlighted to me those writers who are flying solo.
|I said 'flying solo', not Han Solo.|
Some agents (not all) will work with an author. Juliet in particular gave me notes for a structural edit, and then again for a more detailed line edit. In my case this was ‘Hey, where is the worldbuilding?’ This insight gives the manuscript added edge, and provides a layer of quality you wouldn’t have – unless you have some amazing test readers. An agent will also help refine the pitch, knowing what language to use to successfully communicate what the book is about, who it will sell to, and what makes it a good acquisition for a publisher.
Circles of Contact – And whilst we’re on the subject of slush piles – the vast majority of publishers only accept submissions through an agent - so you're cutting yourself off from a lot of them right away. An agent has the contacts and will have an understanding of which editors buy what type of books and so on. Why not save yourself some massive headaches and endless fretting and let them do the work?
Contract Jargon – Do you know what escalators are? Do you know the industry standard for royalties on mass market paperbacks? Are you an expert on E-books and digital rights management? Of course not – you’re a writer. How can you be expected to know all this legal stuff?
|'I find your lack of a Digital Rights Management clause disturbing'|
Remember, contracts are there for when things go wrong. It’s important they serve both parties so you need someone who will negotiate on your behalf to serve your interests. A good agent will not only know the nuances of contract negotiation, but also provide a barrier between you and the nitty gritty of the business conversation. Nothing kills creative energy more than worrying about contracts in my experience.
Selling – How much is your book worth? Nasty isn’t it? Putting a cold hard cash price on something you’re emotionally invested in. An agent will have a feel for how much a manuscript is worth, and they won’t tell you if they’ve half a clue, so don’t ask. The agent can then go on to sell the manuscript to a publisher, even getting an auction (where publishers bid against each other) for the book.
Now imagine doing that for yourself. I didn’t know the etiquette for publishing auctions, and I would never have dreamed The Erebus Sequence sold for as much as it did (not a brag incidentally, I’m still shocked as I write this). The temptation for a new writer is to practically give the work away, just so we can see it in print.
Parlez-vous? – Congratulations if you scored a foreign rights deal, your publisher will sell your novel to publishers abroad at their leisure, meaning more royalties for you hopefully.
But what if you only sold in the UK? Do you know who to approach in France, Germany, Italy, Norway and so on? An agent will go to the book fairs and meet with foreign publishers, pitch your novel, and make all important contacts. Meanwhile you can get on with the thing you’re supposed to be doing – writing the next book.
Confidence and Passion – Writing is solitary. Even if you belong to the largest and loveliest writing circle the hard truth is you’re going to spend a lot of time alone. This can lead to an element of doubt creeping in. Some writers lose faith in the work a third of the way in, at the mid point, or just before the end. It’s useful (essential in my case) to have a wingman, someone who believes in the work and wants you to succeed. If this person isn’t your agent you might want to think about finding a new one.
|It's essential to have a good wingman, X-wing optional|
‘Publishing is based on advocacy’ – Oliver Johnson, Hodder and Stoughton, FantasyCon 2012 (@oliverrjohnson)
If your agent doesn’t love it they won’t be able to communicate that passion to a publisher. If the publisher doesn’t love it you’re not going to get signed. Advocacy is everything.