I recently gave a speech before the largest chapter of the venerable California Writers Club (founded by Jack London) entitled “Why You Don’t Need An Agent”. There were a lot of writers in attendance so I guess I hit a hot button.

For so many decades literary agents represented the gatekeepers of publishing. If you didn’t have one, you simply could not get a contract with a major publishing house. To some extent that still exists today. But it’s changing. Rapidly.

Since 2008 when the Kindle, Smashwords and social media disrupted traditional publishing paradigms in a huge way, the author-agent-publisher-reader chain has been simplified by self publishing into a much more direct author-reader interaction. This simplification has spun out many variations so that today’s authors have more options than ever before. All types of publishers are rushing to service this need. There are ebook-only publishers. Hybrids who offer ebook and POD. Digital first imprints at the Big Five. The times they are a-changin’.

And agents are changing because of this shift as well. Whereas most writers think of agents as salespeople or contract negotiators, today’s agents need to offer a whole lot more value to their clients if they are to remain viable in the publishing food chain. That’s okay with me. Good agents have always done more for their clients than simply sell their books. An agent is also:

  • A scout who constantly researches what publishers are looking for
  • An advocate for an author and his or her work
  • A midwife who assists with the birth of a writing project
  • A reminder who keeps the author on track if things begin to slip
  • An editor for that last push before submission
  • A critic who will tell authors what they need to hear in order to improve
  • A matchmaker who knows the exact editors for an author’s type of writing
  • A negotiator who will fight to get the best deal for an author
  • A mediator who can step in between author and publisher to fix problems
  • A reality check if an author gets out of sync with the real world
  • A liaison between the publishing community and the author
  • A cheerleader for an author’s work or style
  • A focal point for subsidiary, foreign and dramatic rights
  • A mentor who will assist in developing an author’s career
  • A rainmaker who can get additional writing work for an author
  • A career coach for all aspects of your writing future
  • An educator about changes in the publishing industry
  • A manager of the business side of your writing life

So do you need one? Not necessarily.

If you self-publish, no self-respecting agent should ever take a penny of what you earn. Period. If your agent is not contributing to a particular project, they do not deserve compensation.

If you desire help with your cover design, want questions answered about editing on any level, need formatting advice, or seek wisdom about social media marketing, legal issues or other professional areas, you could either pay a flat fee per service rendered or if an agent offers to do this for a percentage of sales, that should be your choice. Agents know the entire process from creative writing to distribution, so they are business experts in the publishing equation.

Self-published authors might hire agents to sell all the subsidiary rights that they still own. In fact, I’ll make a prediction that one day we’ll see agents who only specialize in selling subsidiary rights for successful self-published authors. And why not?

You might even sign on with an agent if you desire a business partner who can help lengthen and strengthen your writing career. At Fuse Literary we specialize in hybrid authors…authors who determine how they would like to publish on a case-by-case basis. Some works belong at small, university, or regional publishers. Some should be self-published. And the best of your work could be traditionally published. An agent can help you determine that.

So in conclusion, you don’t need an agent in this dawn of a new age in publishing. You are perfectly capable of writing, publishing and selling every single book you write.

You no longer need an agent to be a real author.

However you might want one. And the first question asked after my speech was, “So if I DID want an agent, how do I find one.” Sigh…

If you want to read a blog post based on my speech, click on over to the amazing Anne R. Allen’s blog.