This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Welcome to our new writing advice column, where you'll find bestselling author Julie Cohen answering reader questions! Hit a roadblock or have a writing-related query? Drop them in the comments or email email@example.com and keep your eyes peeled for Julie’s response in later columns. This week, does an author really need a literary agent?
So few people get taken on by literary agents these days is there any point trying to find one?
Every author and every career is so different, it’s hard to say if you, personally, should try to find an agent. Some authors have very successful careers without agents, particularly those who are self-published, or who publish with small or mainly electronic publishing houses, or who write for publishers with boilerplate (non-negotiable) contracts. It used to be that writers had slim to no chance of getting a novel published without the help of an agent; that’s not the case anymore, as there are many more opportunities for authors who want to go it alone.
But if you ask me (and you have asked me, so I get to tell you, hooray!), I think that it’s a really good idea to try to find an agent. I, personally, know that I would not have the career I’ve had without my agent. I would have got published, but there’s more to a writing career than getting published. A writing career is strategic and focused. And that’s where an agent is uniquely placed to help you.
A good agent does more than just get you a publishing deal, or negotiate contracts. She’ll discuss your work with you, give you advice, introduce you to the right people, talk you through the steps you need to take to reach your goals.Here are some of the other things a good agent will do:
An agent will give you business and market advice.
An agent will serve as your first reader, and sometimes help you edit your work.
An agent will often get you a better deal with publishers, and will help sell your foreign, film and TV rights.
An agent will, if necessary, act as the ‘bad guy’ with your publisher so that you can be the happy, sunny, easy-to-work-with author that your editor will love.
An agent will negotiate contracts, and help you when something goes wrong with your publisher.
An agent will tell you when you’re doing something stupid.
An agent will be the biggest cheerleader and advocate for your work.
An agent may be able to help you self-publish more efficiently.
Your editor works for a publisher, but your agent works for you. Your agent will always put your best interests first.
A lot of writers think that agents are these scary, unapproachable people. But actually, the agents I have met are very nice. What you have to remember is that agents need writers. They love books, just like we do. Selling good books is how they make their living. And they are always, ALWAYS, looking for a good book.
That good book might be yours.
So…is it worthwhile looking for an agent, even though it might be hard to get one to take you on? I think so. Others might disagree. Maybe right now isn’t the right time for you; maybe this book you’re submitting isn’t yet the right book. Ask yourself: do you want an agent? Do you believe an agent could help you? And if the answer is yes, then keep on trying, and keep on writing.
PS If you’re looking for a guide to approaching agents, I can recommend Nicola Morgan’s e-book Dear Agent. She also has a great companion volume on writing a killer synopsis.
Julie Cohen has had 20 books published under her own name and pseudonyms, selling nearly a million copies and being translated into 15 languages. Several have won or been shortlisted for awards, including the Romantic Novelists' Association's Award and the National Readers’ Choice Award. Her novel Dear Thing was a summer 2014 Richard and Judy Book Club pick.
Julie is also a popular speaker and teacher of creative writing, tutoring courses for Penguin Random House Academy, The Guardian, Literature Wales, The Victoria and Albert Museum, and Writers' Workshop. She runs a fiction consultancy business, with several of her clients having gone on to publication. Her latest book is Where Love Lies.