Monday, September 21, 2009

More agent questions

Someone asked me the question, "Why do you want an agent if you already have a publishing contract?"

I thought it was a great question, and though I answered it in the comment section of the post in which it was asked, I thought I'd post my answer here as well. I didn't answer the opposite questions some of you have asked: why did I decide not to get an agent. I think I've answered that in previous posts.

So this is why a writer might still want an agent, even if they have a contract:

One of the main reasons people will seek out an agent after they already have a publisher is to have an experienced eye look at the contract and make sure it's fair and competitive, and not sneaky or a rip-off. I actually had a lawyer look at mine, and it was very straight forward with no fine print to worry about.

For me it was more a long term thing to consider. Right now I have a book deal. That's attractive to an agent because they basically have very little work to do. If an agent would want me now because I have a book, that's someone on my side for the next book if I want to submit to the larger houses on a new book. The larger publishing houses could offer greater marketing and exposure, advances, stocking in bookstores, and more likelihood of foreign rights.

If I don't use this publishing contract to get an agent, and if my book doesn't have some significant sales, it will be much, much harder to get an agent in the future than if I hadn't published at all. It's a huge risk: to go with a small press unagented is to risk never breaking into a bigger market.

I decided before I signed with NorLights and looking at the options, that I'd take that risk. Not everyone will agree with my decision. Traditional publishing is entrenched in the agent system, so it's hard for many to imagine traversing it without an agent.

My big question is why an agent would want to take on a writer with a small press contract. There is basically no money in it for them, very little marketing money to help their client, and if the book doesn't sell widely, they will have a much harder time selling a new book to a larger publisher.

There really isn't a right or wrong way. There are different ways. Each author has to evaluate the pros and cons, and what they want out of the agent relationship and out of their own career, and make the decision that's best for them.


  1. Did you follow up with the agent that really liked your pages, Heidi? Or what have you decided to do, there?

  2. The last one that requested? He asked who my publisher was and I wrote back and told him. I'm not sure why he wanted to know - maybe to offer representation if it was a big name group so he could get a quick cut.

    He wrote back and thanked me for answering and told me best of luck with the book. I think he realized there wasn't enough money in it to be worth it.

    Or I could be really cynical. Maybe he just wanted to know.

    In any case, the door is closed on that one. I didn't ask if he wanted to represent me and he didn't offer. We've had personal interactions though, so if things go well I can always go back to him on the next book and hopefully he'll remember me.

  3. It's interesting that in Canada, publishing houses will hardly look at you if you have an agent because they'll have to pay you more.

    Sounds like you made the right decision for you for this book.

  4. I think you nailed it, Heidi. It's really a personal decision. And small presses rely on authors willing to take risks, so more power to you for making that leap.

  5. It seems like you didn't get the publishing contract that long ago, and isn't your book coming out in the winter? Immediate gratification is a pro to small-press publishing. What are you doing to market your book? You wrote earlier about speaking to a library, but do you have a plan?

  6. Patti- that's so interesting! It makes sense, I suppose. I think in NY they use agents to weed out a lot of the chaff. It's probably worth the 15% to not see 80% of the slush that agents keep out!

    kathryn -you're absolutely right that small presses rely on authors to take risks. They are taking plenty of risk themselves. More agents add a layer of bureaucracy and red tape they can do without!

    Jessie - that's a great question too! I admit I'm really struggling with finding my way marketing wise. Because it is happening so fast it seems there just isn't that much time for everything I want to do. I think I'll do a post about that this week. Thanks for the idea!

  7. I have to admit I don't know whether you decided to try the agent routine or not.

    I do know that getting published is a huge thing for an author's resume. I can't imagine that some agent wouldn't be interested in taking you on--particularly one who has expressed such interest before.

    Unless, of course, as you mentioned in your reply to Jen, that every single last one of them are in it only for the money.

    Surely there's some that aren't?