To Agent or Not to Agent

So you’ve finished a book, you’re writing a book, or you just want to write a book, and you’re wondering if you need an agent. Honestly, I don’t know. I will say this: a *good* agent is never a bad idea.

But allow me to tell you my story. There was a time in my writing career when I wrote secular romance. I wanted to sell to Avon–So. Very. Badly. Avon used to be very tight and for a long time only accepted agented manuscripts. So I set out to find an agent. I needed one to get into Avon and if nothing else, an agent would give me more credibility–an industry person in New York who believed in me.

So I made a plan and a list of potential agents. I went though the RWR and found names of credible agents. I also researched my favorite authors and their agents. Once I had my list, I sent out a mass mailing. I believe there were sixteen names in all. (Most agents won’t read unsolicited manuscripts and I’ve always been told to be leery of those who do.)  I wrote a query letter stating who I was, awards and contests I had won, my past publishing credits (I wrote true confessions for a while), and anything that would sell them on me as a writer. Then I put in a short synopsis about my manuscript, selling them on my book. I ended with the status of my manuscript–“complete and ready to send upon your request.”

Of the sixteen letters I sent, only one replied with a positive response–Mary Sue Seymour. Mary Sue has changed my career in ways I had never dreamed possible. Will you have the same experience with your agent? I honestly don’t know. But I’m glad that our relationship has worked out the way it did.

My question to you is what will/can an agent do for you? Why do you want agent? Why do you feel you need one? Okay, that’s three questions, but I think they are all valuable answers.

If you are successful on your own, I say keep going.  But on the heels of that, I’ll tell you that I was glad to have Mary Sue on my side come contract time. It was so nice to sit back and relax (and bite my nails) while she negotiated the movie rights clause and my advance. I would have never been able to do that myself. Not with the first contract for sure.

Please keep in mind that the above is my story and only my opinion. Everyone has a different take on the “to agent or not to agent” question. I have friends who are like me and likely wouldn’t have sold without an agent. I have a friend who is crazy successful without an agent, and then I have a friend who scoped out the agents, found one she liked but didn’t query until Harlequin called. JFTR–I totally disagree with this last method, you just did all the leg work for the agent and they’re still gonna take their 10-15%. Also your agent may have contacts that can further your career and if you don’t sign quicker than this, you may have just struggled through some totally unnecessary work. But who’s to say?

However you get there (or don’t) signing with an agent is a personal thing. Everyone’s career is unique. If it’s right for you, then do it.  It’s like the measure of success, only you can decide. But that’s a bog for another day.


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