At a writing conference a few years ago, I found myself in a panel with a group of writers who seemed to collectively decide that literary agents are a total scam, and that everyone should just avoid the agent thing altogether and go at the publishing business themselves. And while the road less agented is a fine way to travel for some (particularly folks writing picture books), in my experience, a good agent is… the opposite of a scam.
I didn’t say anything, at the time, mostly because I was so surprised that a large group of writers would all sit around hating on agents. (Agents are great!) Instead, I sat in the back of the room mentally listing all the things my agent has done for me, all the things these poor people would miss out on if they decided to stay unagented.
Here’s a partial — certainly incomplete — list of things my agent has done for me:
- helped me revise my manuscript before an editor even saw it
- helped me to see the big picture of the book I was attempting to write
- brainstormed new titles with me
- edited manuscript (again)
- kept her ear to the ground & learned about different YA editors to find who was looking for what
- built networks & professional reputation so her pitch letters would hold weight
- wrote a pitch letter to sell my book
- sold my book(!)
- negotiated a better deal
- went through my contract line by line with me & explained what everything meant
- gave me a mug
- wrote endless encouraging notes
- harassed publisher to send me advance money so I could pretend to be a perfect angel who would never talk about anything so crass as cash
- acted as liaison between publisher & me to help negotiate deadlines
- helped (along with editor & me) write catalogue copy, book jacket copy, and author bio copy for the book
- negotiated audiobook deal (which involved no work on my end but meant extra money for me! yay!)
- read excerpts of unfinished other project and gave feedback on it
- convinced certain magazine/newspaper writers to send her draft articles about my book, then entirely re-wrote articles for them
- researched/suggested other book marketing ideas
- gave me advice on a student’s manuscript
- gave feedback/suggestions on a new website design
- been excited about and a champion of my book since Day One
- and more!
Every agent is different, and you may find yourself with one who is more or less editorial, more or less savvy about marketing, more or less of a shoulder to cry on, etc. But considering all my agent’s done for me in the last few years, I honestly can’t imagine having to do it all on my own!
Hey Iowa! I’ll be at Beaverdale Books in Des Moines tonight, reading from The Princesses of Iowa! Come celebrate with me!
M. Molly Backes
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