Why a Good Agent Is Worth Every Penny

This is my agency. They rock!

A new writer friend of mine asked me recently if I thought it might be a good idea to try to publish a book without the help of an agent because, after all, an agent will take 15% of your money. Here’s a brief summary of my response to her question: NO.

As I told my friend, a good agent is worth every penny, and here’s why:

1. They’re your first line of defense. If you plan to be in this business for any length of time, you’re going to come up with a lot of ideas. And guess what? Not all of them will be good ones. If you have an agent, you can run the ideas by him/her before you go to the trouble of writing an entire manuscript, only to have publishers tell you no thanks. I usually run my new ideas past my agent before I start writing. If she thinks an idea is interesting, I write 10,000 words. Then I send the partial manuscript to her and we see if it’s working. If it’s not, I don’t throw good words after bad; I move on to something else.

2. They know what’s selling. Good agents have their finger on the pulse of the publishing industry. They know what sorts of topics/themes/genres are in demand at any given time. What a drag it would be to write a vampire book only to learn that publishers are sick to death of vampires. (This is a hypothetical…maybe vampires are back again? I don’t know…ask your agent.) This is not to say that a fantastic book won’t sell no matter what the topic (you should definitely write about what interests you instead of trying to jump on a trend), but at some level, you do have to think of publishing as a business, because it is one.

3. They help you to be taken seriously. Many publishing houses won’t even read un-agented manuscripts. I am sure that some successful authors go it alone, but I just think that having an agent gives you a certain sense of credibility from the get-go. It shows you’ve already been vetted if a reputable agent it is behind you.

4. They know who’s looking for what. Good agents know editors at publishing houses pretty well. They spend time cultivating relationships so that they know what each editor wants at any given time. Your agent can direct you to write something he/she knows an editor is looking for, or can steer your manuscript towards the editor who was just recently wishing for such a find. Think about it: you can blindly send out your manuscript to dozens of editors, from your email address that may wind up in the junk folder, or an agent can send a targeted email to someone he/she knows, with a message like, “I think this may be the middle grade thriller you’ve been looking for.”

5. They are your bad cop. One nice thing about having an agent is that, when things go bad, they really earn that 15%. You want to have a lovely, conflict-free relationship with your publishing house, so if a conflict does arise, you get to be the good cop. Your agent will handle all the unpleasant stuff.

6. They will probably negotiate a better deal for you. Chances are that your agent can negotiate a better advance and terms for you than you could for yourself, so that 15% doesn’t wind up being as big a deal as you might first imagine. Also, haggling about money is so distasteful and ruins your whole good cop thing from number five.

7. They understand contracts. Holy cow…have you ever tried to read a publishing contract? I don’t need that kind of stress in my life. You’ll probably have to pay a lawyer to make sure you’re not signing over your firstborn…unless you have an agent, who knows these contracts backward and forward. Good agents also have no problem crossing out certain clauses they don’t like–something I wouldn’t at all feel comfortable doing.

8. They’re your partner in your career. This is more of an intangible, I guess, but for me, it’s so nice to have my agent (whom I absolutely adore) to ride this roller coaster with me. A good agent will want to see your career flourish and will help you get there…and sometimes give you a much-needed pep talk when you’re ready to throw in the towel.

These are just a few reasons off the top of my head. Do you have other reasons why a good agent is worth every penny? If so, please share!

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