Lit Power

Literary agent; friend or foe.

As I come to the pointy end of my first novel and contemplate how best to publish the beast, Ive begun thinking of all the options available to the burgeoning writer. This has led me to think about literary agents.

In days of self-publishing, hybrid publishing, traditional publishing, where, oh where, do literary agents sit? Are they still needed? Still used? Do they perform a useful service? Can they actually help you to get your book served up to a big publishing house? Can they help you climb to the top of the slush pile? Or are they just another cost and not really necessary?

Those of you out there who’ve had experiences with literary agents, please weigh in and share your advice!

22 thoughts on “Lit Power

  1. There are pros and cons to both traditional publishing (including agents) and self-publishing. Agents and publishers are not all alike, so if you go that route, do your homework. 🙂 And be prepared to market your book either way! Most of all enjoy the experience of getting your first book out there!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. See, I’ve heard that traditional publishing no longer really frees you from the marketing process. That’s the main reason I’m contemplating traditional publishing. I want someone else to market the dang thing for me. If I still have to do this with traditional publishing, maybe I should just go self anyway.

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      1. That’s one of the reasons I cancelled my traditional publishing contracts. I still had to market and I had no ability to discount and therefore had a heck of a time promoting. My sales were awful, and I was working my butt off for pennies. Now, not all publishers are the same, so this is just my experience. I’ll send you a couple links, Jessica, that spell out the pros, cons, and results when I switched to indie. 🙂

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  2. I can’t say I have any personal experience, but the authors I’ve talked with have said that the main difference is whether you want to do all the work, or share the load. No matter what you will have to do a fair amount of marketing, but there are some connections and opportunities that can only be found through a literary agent and traditional publisher.

    I think the biggest advantage is a literary agent, and later a publisher, are vouching for you, giving the public one more reason to give you a chance. There’s the classic that in a world full of so many stories, most audiences are looking for reasons to rule out stories, and narrow the field of options.

    The ones that I know of who went the self-publishing route also made it a point to attend lots of conventions, and had a specific sub-culture community where they had established themselves, a core who would support the book.

    One of the authors also cited that if someone goes the route of self-publishing, and the first book does not perform well, that can be a stronger deterrent for literary agents than no past publication history.

    From what I understand, the biggest advantage with traditional publishing houses is that you now have a team of people with very selfish motives to make sure that your story is profitable. In the process of making it profitable they may edit it more than you would like, but if they say yes, it’s because they are confident they can make a profit.

    I definitely agree with D. Wallace Peach (based on what I’ve heard from authors), that finding the right literary agent can be very tricky, and there were numerous warnings to be wary of agents, or publishers, who seem too eager to “find you”, as that’s often a sign that they are pulling some kind of “con”.

    But, no matter which path you choose, I’m sure many here look forward to hearing the happy announcement, and ordering their copy.

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  3. I’m not cut out for self-publishing and I’ve never tried it, but I’m all for traditional publishing. One advantage no one’s menitoned is that it gives you access to traditional review publications, which self-publishing doesn’t. It doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be reviewed, mind you, but it opens up the possibility. It also opens up the possibility of bookstore sales. They’re not as powerful as they used to be, but an outlet is an outlet.

    Adam’s right about traditional publishing connecting you with a team. I’ve worked as an editor and a freelance editor, and in spite of my good intentions I could never work as well for someone who hired me to edit their work as I could if I weren’t working for them. It changes the relationship.

    The down sides? Yes, you’re expected to market your book, but the house will market it as well, and their work may be great and it may not be. Your editor may be great and may not be. You may hate the book cover. (Pitch a fit if you do. They may or may not listen, but it’s always worth a try.) And so on and so on and so on. And of course, you may not manage to find someone to publish it. Or an agent to represent it.

    My experience with editors has been wonderful. At its best, it’s like having someone show up and sing harmony with you. I’ve been lucky. With publicity, my experience has been mixed. None of my books has taken off wildly. That’s the risk you take. Most books that are published end up that way. I’ve made a bit of money but not much and probably spent more on efforts to publicize them. You roll the dice and wait to see what happens. But the books have gotten out there and although the entire world hasn’t read them, some people have. That means a lot to me.

    I’ve written books I haven’t managed to sell–some I’m sure for good reasons and some quite possibly for bad ones–but I’ve never decided to self-publish them. I’m just not the person who can do that. And there’s a lot to be said for having a gate keeper standing between us and the bad decisions we can make. We’re not good judges of our own work. I stayed with two novels that were rejected endlessly, and it took years–lots of years, as well as rewrites–but I did finally get them published. Others are in the virtual drawer.

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  4. Ellen’s got some great points. My debut novel is due out next year, traditionally published. One of the biggest advantages of having an agent, IMO, is they will do what they can to help you. That is, if you’ve got a great agent (which I think I do). She helped me get my manuscript in shape to present to publishers. She shopped it around to editors/publishers she thought would be interested in it. She also negotiated my contract for me, which is big. She knows the business, and I think I got far better terms than I would have if I’d gone in without an agent. She’s also got my back if I have problems with my publisher.

    The other thing about good agents is they are interested in a writer beyond the first book, or at least mine is. They can help you become a career writer. Again, this is my experience with my agent. YMMV.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. An ongoing and interesting debate, Jessica. Do keep us updated as to what you decide. I read all the comments to as I am interested in the experience of others. I am with a small publisher. I do most of the marketing but Anne helps with all the other stuff which helps me a lot.

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