Agent or Nay?

When I first started querying (1.5 years ago... geez, that's it?), I didn't know if I should query agents or editors. I was only vaguely aware of what agents did. Based on my experience with real estate agents, I knew they handled the legal stuff and took a cut, that was about it.

I wanted help with the legal stuff, and preferred an agent to a lawyer. I figured I'd get one eventually, but I wasn't very adamant about it back then. Two things tipped me over the edge.

The first (though I don't remember where I read it) was this: say you submit to all the hundreds of agents and they reject your work. You can still submit to the editors.*

But, if you submit to all those editors who accept unagented queries and they reject you, any agent you get afterward will be quite disappointed to find half their prospective editors already said no.

* Though if all the agents are rejecting you, I don't know why you'd expect different from the editors.

The second was Tobias Buckell's author advance survey. I love statistics, and Tobias got some good ones from a decent sampling of authors. If you're at all interested in what authors make, I suggest you read it. But basically: the median advance for first-time authors with an agent was $6,000; the median advance to the unagented was $3,500.

Some quick math: the agent's cut is 15%. For the agented authors, then, the net gain was $5,100. Still significantly more than that of the unagented.

As far as I know, that 15% is the only downside to having an agent. If agents are making back 3x that, while simultaneously haggling for your rights, selling those rights for more money, and generally ensuring you don't get screwed -- all while you are busy with the task of actually writing -- the choice of agent or no seems like a no-brainer.

On the other hand, it seems to me that publishers could save a lot of money by encouraging writers to submit to them unagented. (Though for a third hand, see Moonrat's list of reasons why editors would prefer to work with agents anyway).

So do you need an agent? No. Should you have one? Absolutely yes.


Hilabeans said...

Great post. Absolutely agree - agents are a must.


AM said...

I think publishers find the average $2,500 per selected/published novel a preferable expense to hiring and paying staff to filter through all of the slush. In addition, the authors pay their agents - not the publisher – which reduces the publishers’ accounting and administrative overhead.

Agents also put distance between the publishers and all of the rejection negativity. The agents are the industry "bad-guys" until they choose to represent an author's novel and even then, the publishers still get to reject authors indirectly through their agents.

IMHO - it is a win-win for publishing houses that is well worth $2,500.