To Agent or Not To Agent, That is the Question

literary agentsWriter’s Conference Series, Part 3


It was a topic that came up repeatedly during the writer’s conference I recently attended. “What is the agent’s role? Do I really need an agent? Can’t I get a book published on my own?” Some of the questions I heard were questions I also had, at least at some point in my writing journey.

If you’re a writer, especially one who is hoping to get published in the near future, you might have a few questions about agents.

I am not an agent. At the moment, I do not have an agent, although I am perfecting my work-in-progress with the intention of contacting a few agents soon. My perspective is limited and not from a standpoint of vast experience. But here are three personal observations about agents from the perspective of a writer.

Agents Have Experience

In the writing world, questions are bound to arise. “What’s the best publishing path for me to take? How do I know whether this contract is what I want for my book?” Agents might not be able to tell you the exact route you should take for your writing journey, but they can offer some good advice.

They’ve been around the block more than once. They’ve seen the end of the road for a variety of publishing options, and can advise accordingly. They’ve seen contracts, so although we might be thrilled to sign that first contract no matter what it says, agents would likely have helpful advice to offer. An agent’s experience can be vital in navigating the vast waters of the publishing industry.

Agents Have Connections

Writing tends to be a solitary activity, and writers often tend to be solitary people. That used to be okay. Emily Dickinson rarely left her house and remains one of the most famous American poets. But today, connections are big. The more, the merrier, it seems. Even if more is not better: all you need is that one connection. Your “way in” to a particular publishing house or other opportunity.

Agents are often agents primarily because of their connections. They know people. They’ve been authors or editors or played some integral role in a publishing house or related company. They can read your proposal and often know straight off who in the publishing industry is looking for a similar title or genre or how-to. An agent’s connections can be just what you need to publish your manuscript.

Agents Have Insight

In the good ol’ days, writers wrote. That was pretty much it. Okay, some fell under the category of starving artists, but it was easier to focus on solely writing and make a living from it. I’m still getting over my envy of an author who lived 300 years ago, because I read that he was sponsored for six years to do nothing but study and write. Nothing but study and write for six years? I can’t even get six days!

These days, a serious writer also needs to develop a platform, understand and utilize social media, be tech-savvy, and hone their business skills. That’s a tall order, and it can be daunting to know where to start. An agent can offer insight as to what platform a writer might focus on. They might suggest a budding author focus on a particular genre and build up a readership in that target audience.

In summary, if you love to write, and you hope to make a lifelong career (even part-time) of writing and publishing books, your next step might be researching the agent that is the right fit for you. As writers, we need help. From editors. Sometimes from illustrators or web designers or graphic artists. And often from agents, for their experience, connections, and insight. And for their friendship. After all, writing can be a lonely world; it’s nice to have someone in your corner. To advise you, pray for you, and encourage you along the way.

Who knows? Maybe you can offer them encouragement too. That’s what friends are for.

Your Thoughts?

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