Do Authors Need Agents
By Kim Childress
A question asked by every writer at some point, Do I need an agent? Some editors swear by them. Others agree agents aren’t always necessary. Whether or not an author chooses to work solo depends on the author’s personal style, talents, and knowledge of the book publishing industry. However, whether getting signed by a publisher or an agent, authors must put in the same amount of effort, in doing their homework, improving their craft, self-promoting, and just putting themselves out there.
Pro’s Got Your Back
“If authors want to be published by a traditional publisher, it’s good to have an agent,” said David C. Cook Director of Acquisitions and Development, Alice Crider. “When it comes to contracts, an agent can negotiate a win-win agreement between a publisher and an author.”
“Authors who want to publish at Disney Hyperion need an agent just to be considered for publication,” said Editor at Large, Stephanie Lurie. “We are prohibited by our legal department to read any submission that doesn’t come in via an agent.”
“It’s possible to sell your story direct to a publisher,” said Cameron Kids Children’s Book Editor, Amy Novesky. “At least a third of our list is unagented. That said, we still have an open submission policy. Many houses don’t.”
“While there are publishers who are open to direct queries, and authors who have established careers without representation,” said Little, Brown BFYR Editorial Director, Lisa Yoskowitz, “it’s tremendously beneficial to have a reputable, knowledgeable agent advocate in your corner.”
Marketing & Brain Power
Publishers rely on agents to screen book proposals for market viability. And agents have relationships with editors in traditional houses and know which publishers are likely to be interested in certain proposals. They can knock on more doors more effectively than most authors can on their own
Publishers count on an agent’s expertise. “It’s like a quality stamp of approval that saves the publisher time and brain power,” said Crider. “Publishers rely on agents to screen book proposals for market viability. And agents have relationships with editors in traditional houses and know which publishers are likely to be interested in certain proposals. They can knock on more doors more effectively than most authors can on their own,” Crider said.
“I consider the agent a valuable ally for the author,” said Lurie. “Especially when it comes to marketing and promotion.” Novesky added, “Agents act as author advocates, negotiating contracts, all monies, as well doing the work of submitting stories to publishers and knowing where to submit.”
An agent can also step in and act as a mediator if an issue arises in the book production process. “When an editor negotiates deal terms with an agent rather than the author, the creative relationship between the editor and author is preserved,” said Lurie.
Evaluate Your Talents
Working alone or with an agent, authors need to be willing to do their homework and self-promote. How well do you know the market? How confident are you in the submission process? Do you know your way around social media? An agent can be indispensable when looking at platforms and ancillary products, especially as technology continues to evolve.
One of the best ways to connect with agents and editors is attending conferences like SCBWI. When considering an agent, ask lots of questions. Does the agent help edit? How many books has the agent worked on within the same genre? Does the agent offer help with obtaining endorsements and/or marketing? How many authors is the agent representing? When does the agent predict being able to start submitting? “Agents can also serve as career advisors for authors,” said Crider, “helping them determine the best path for their publishing career.”
If working without an agent, it is highly advisable to hire a lawyer to finalize contracts—preferably an attorney specializing in publishing. It is also important to note that getting signed by an agent doesn’t always guarantee a book deal, and if an author-agent relationship goes south for any reason, every agency contract should contain language on amicably parting ways. Asking lots of questions in advance is key.
Former middle grade editor for HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Kim Childress is a product developer specializing in children’s publishing, and author and editor of hundreds of books, short stories, and articles for children and the adults in their lives. Read Kim’s reviews in Girls’ Life magazine and on her website, www.childressink.com. Be sure to check out her latest project, The Legend of the Fairy Stones, by Kelly Anne White.