Do you need an agent? Ask these 5 questions!
Feb 09, 2022
You’ve poured your sweat and tears—and lots of fuel in the form of coffee—into what you consider to be an amazing manuscript. Great job! But, now what? It’s no secret that publishing has shifted considerably over the past few years. With print-on-demand offering affordable printing options, and companies like Amazon KDP, Ingram Spark and Lulu serving as distributors, writers can release their books through an independent route with increasing ease.
However, the on-ramp to traditional publishing is a bit more complex. It is a competitive process, with publishers receiving hundreds to thousands of manuscripts a year. Agents have increasingly become an important part of the publishing pipeline—gatekeepers that help traditional publishers with the sorting process. It may seem like a scary prospect to approach an agent, but they are meant to be your best advocate, depending on which publishing route you take.
Here are 5 questions to ask to help you know if you need an agent:
- Who is this book for? If you are writing your life story for your family to look back on in the future or as something for your close circle of friends, publishing the book for distribution, via traditional publishing, may not be necessary for you. In which case, an agent is not necessary.
- Do you want full control or a publishing partner? When it comes to publishing your book, there are different routes you can take. Only with traditional publishing will you need an agent. Most traditional publishers won’t accept unsolicited proposals, making an agent necessary. However, smaller houses sometimes will and some larger houses will make exceptions (platform size, connections, etc.) However, if your heart’s desire is to have complete creative control and ownership of your content, traditional is probably not your route, and you won’t need an agent.
- Traditional publishing involves an established publishing house entering into a contractual agreement with you in the release of your book. They will work with you on design, marketing, editing, distribution and more. But the final decisions will rest with the publishing house since they are financially on the line. In exchange you will receive an advance, the backing of a professional team, and hopefully, royalties.
- Publishing independently allows you to take total control of every detail. You become the author and the project manager—implementing each step yourself or by hiring it out. This process is hard work but doable and fulfilling if you know for sure that you want to own your content. It also gives you the opportunity to keep all the profits.
- Hybrid publishing is a combination of both worlds, where you invest in your project on the front end with a reputable self-publishing company who then takes care of everything from cover design to editing to getting your book on Amazon for you (often for a baseline price with ala carte options). But you should retain control over your rights to the content and profits. It is a good option for you if you want to own your content and have the benefit of all profits, but you don’t want to handle the logistics and details of the publishing process.
- Do you plan on writing a one-hit wonder or looking at long-term goals? Agents want to partner with an author who isn’t just interested in putting out one project. They are looking to help build an author’s career for the long-term and will guide you in a way that facilitates growth. Remember, they are your advocate and will invest their time to set you up in the most successful way. Knowing your goals will help you as the author take intentional steps toward a flourishing career. If this is your intention, seeking out an agent will be crucial to your journey.
- Does navigating the publishing world alone feel daunting? This doesn’t mean that you don’t have the skill, know-how or endurance to handle tough processes. But there are so many details involved in traditional publishing – from contract negotiations to industry trends – and having an advocate is wildly to your benefit. In addition, manuscripts may get translated into other languages, formed into related merchandise or turned into a movie. Agents are often former authors, editors and publishing professionals that are experienced at working through the areas you may not have yet navigated. Having a literary agent is advantageous as you traverse through the particulars of an unfamiliar traditional publishing world.
- Are you experiencing growth, have you worked on gathering an audience, and do you have some tangible proof that says you are ready for an agent? You don’t have to be the biggest influencer on social media or have the largest email list in the world, but if your goal is to publish traditionally, there are some things you need to start doing now before you start looking for an agent. Often in their desire to move the ball into publishing, budding authors will want to retain an agent right away, but most agents will not sign an author until and unless they show proof of growth and viability in their audience and message.
While the word platform can carry a negative connotation, your platform protects you and allows your message to speak for itself without you having to feel like you’re trying to sell you. It tells agents and publishers that your words resonate with other people. It’s an indication of the need of your book and the book’s sales potential. It is also the way you do due diligence work in gathering people to hear the message you want to share, should you hybrid or self-publish. (It is a false belief that you don’t need a platform for these types of publishing. You do, and in fact, it makes it even more necessary since you won’t have the marketing backing of a traditional publisher.)
We’ll share more specifics in upcoming posts, but agents want to know they are representing someone who has a marketable message and an engaged following, because that makes them able to sell your idea/book to a publisher who wants to know this book has an interested audience. Social media following and engagement (key), building your email list, making connections, serving your audience and fine-tuning your skills are all a part of this—not to mention knowing how to craft a well-written proposal.
It is also helpful to keep in mind that because agents are aware of book trends, they may be looking for certain writers to help fulfill project requests. If you are putting yourself and your words out there, you never know what opportunities could come your way that would pique the interest of an agent.
We hope these tips help you make the best decisions for your career!
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