Agents play a huge role in publishing. Because fewer editors at fewer houses are reading more material, they rely on agents to be the gatekeepers. There are few editors who will read unagented material.
But more than that, agents are your first serious reader, sometimes providing editorial guidance, your sounding board, your advocate, your foreign rights representative, your contract negotiator. A good agent shepherds you through the process. Some are more willing to hold your hand than others, some offer more editorial advice, but that’s all a matter of style and preference.
As I rejoined the ranks of the agentless, I began crafting a list of agents that I thought would better suit me. I wrote my query letter and did all the things you’re supposed to do. Except I began to wonder why…
Think about forever. Most books have a limited shelf-life. They go into print. Then they go out of print. Rights revert back to authors when books go out of print. Agents earn money from books sold, so when a book goes out of print, an agent is no longer earning from it.
But an e-book never needs to go out of print. Which means, that your agent is essentially getting a cut of your book forever. Like their children and their children’s children.
I know that a lot of these issues will be ironed out and resolved as time goes on, but it’s something to think about as we begin to shift from focusing on paper books to focusing on e-books.
There’s been some hoopla on-line about some agencies starting e-publishing services in addition to agenting. I can’t stress enough that I think this is a huge conflict of interest. If you read Courtney Milan’s posts on conflict of interests than you’ll understand. Even the POSSIBILITY of impropriety is problematic. Safeguards would have to be put in place. Such as a rule stating that if the agency e-published for someone, they couldn’t also act as their agent, and vice versa.
I get that with things changing, agents need to come up with other sources of revenue. I even applaud their innovation. In my opinion, it seems like a waste of money to pay someone to do something you can do yourself, but I have lawn maintenance people not because I can’t mow my own lawn, but because I freaking hate doing it. And people will feel the same way about finding an editor and formatting their books for the different e-reading devices.
As I was thinking about all of this, I asked my friend Rach if I was being a knob for considering not going with another agent. We talked about it and some things became clear:
Agents are still immensely valuable. Their roles are changing and I think that when I’m ready to query, I’ll have to really have a conversation with any interested agent as to how they see the future working. Because I don’t know. I’m not sure whether agents are going to be useful in this new future. I think that agents are smart people and will find ways to be useful.
But as to whether or not I need an agent this time around? I’ll answer that later. First I want to talk about publishers. And I’ll do that tomorrow.