In the past writers had to have an agent to get a foot in the door at most the publishing houses. Agents selected writers that had previously published and sold well or showed excellent potential to do so. Why?
The agent’s main job is to broker a profitable contract between the writer and the publisher. The writer earns royalties and the agent makes a percentage usually 15 percent of that amount. This is still how it works for the big publishing houses which do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. In other words, those larger publishing houses only take manuscripts from agents or those they’ve specifically requested from an author.
Fortunately for many new writers this system has weakened in recent years.
Because publishers can now publish books at so little cost to themselves, they can charge much less per book. Furthermore publishers take less risk. Therefore, they do not need the middlemen (agents) to help them find writers. The reduced price of e-books also means there is less to go around. Writers can hardly survive if they give 15 percent of a $.99 or $2.99 book to agents. (And writers do not get the full face value of the book. So many writers get a portion of $.99 or $2.99)
Another important job of the agent is to negotiate a contract for the writer. In today’s world of instant information, writers can find sample contracts to help them understand what they are signing. They can talk to other writers in online chat rooms like Facebook writer’s groups, LinkedIn writers groups and many of the specific genre groups. All these resources enable writers to evaluate their own contracts without the help of agents.
Here are some tips for getting your work sold without the help of an agent:
Read all the fine print before you sign anything. Talk to other writers either in person or online.
Several things to look for: 1) What input will you have on the cover design? 2) How much will the publisher help you with getting the word out about your book? 3) Who has the rights to the print version or audio version of your book? 4) When will the book be released? 5) What happens if that release date is not met? 6) How are your royalties determined and distributed 7) What editorial support will you have? 8) Who will own the international rights?
One value of the agent is they know what publishers are out there. They stay up-to-date on mergers and new developments in the publishing industry. It’s hard for a writer to do all that. Find resources that can help you. The Literary Market Guide from Writer’s Digest is a good tool, but it is vast. I used an online database called Duotrope.com. Another is AgentQuery.com. Even though the title of AgentQuery is for finding an agent, they now have a large database of publishers as well. These resources will help you narrow your search.
If you write “women’s fiction” or “literary fiction,” you will have a lot more trouble than if you write “young adult fantasy” or “cozy mystery.”
Learn what they accept and what they are looking for at the moment. Look at their list of authors to find out if your book fits.
Everyone wants to believe you selected them because they are a perfect fit for your work. If you send out simultaneous submissions, you negate that assumption. You must disclose if you are sending out a simultaneous submission. It’s best not to do it.
Because you do not send simultaneous submissions, you can limit the time you wait for a response. Most reputable publishers will respond within three months.
Indeed, the writer has to do a little more work without the help of agents, but in this day and age, and with the difficulty many of us have with securing an agent, it’s worth it.
What are your thoughts? Are agents going the way of manual typewriters?