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Monday, 7 April 2014

Do You Need A Literary Agent?

By Antonio Litterio

The obvious answer to that question is–no.Writers have so many options open to them now, the thought of sacrificing 15% or so of your hard-won earnings to a literary agent is enough to send everybody rushing off to do it all themselves. To date, I've sold three million novels worldwide, hundreds of non-fiction articles and short stories to magazines–and all without an agent. 

But wait a minute. Most people fit their writing work in around their day job.If your aim is publication, once you've finished a book, the business of selling it must begin. Without an agent, you'll be spending a lot of time online, checking out which publishers are buying in your genre. You'll be reading the type of books on their lists, and targetting your submissions. If you follow my tip here and start on your next book straight away, all this research will eat into the time you should be spending on your writing. There are only so many hours in the day.  Which would you rather do - write, or spend your precious free time trawling the net in the name of research, and getting distracted all the way by pictures of cute kitties hazzing this or that(we've all been there)!

This is where literary agents earn their keep. They lift a lot of the non-writing stuff off your shoulders. They've got the inside track on current market trends, and they have ready-made networks. A lot of writers recoil from phrases like that.  This is why agents are vital. They know whose lists are closed, and who's buying, and most important of all, exactly what those buyers are looking for. Publishers use literary agents as a shortcut. If an agent thinks your work is worth showing around, it's already been through one roguing process. Think of it as first-stage quality control. When someone who knows the business thinks the mechanics of your work are worth forwarding, a publisher may be more inclined to check out the economics of your project. 

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Once a publisher says yes, the horse-trading starts. Most writers are loners. A certain amount of introversion goes with the job. Can you honestly say you'd feel happy negotiating the best terms for your contract, if you've never done it before? Professional bodies such as The Society of Authors will vet contracts for you if you're a member, but that will take time to arrange. And if you've got no experience in the craft, can you really see yourself getting the best deal over publicity arrangements, tour dates, extending deadlines when necessary and sorting out foreign editions and rights? Really?

Writing is a lonely business. A good agent will be on your side. That’s a great feeling. It takes the pressure off, knowing that someone is taking care of business. It gives you the chance to get the "creative" back into your "creative writing". 

To return to what I wrote at the beginning: yes, I might have sold three million books without the benefit of an agent. But how many more books would I have actually managed to write if I'd had an expert on hand to help me target my work and do all the drudgery, while I got on with the fun stuff?

Have you got an agent? What are your experiences?