By Lindsay Bandy
One of the most important questions writers have when thinking about submissions is: Do I need an agent? It’s a question individual writers ultimately have to answer for themselves, but here are some considerations to get you on the right track. Seasoned writers, please add your wisdom in the comment section! Beginners, feel free to ask questions!
Let’s see what the SCBWI’s The Book has to say:
“Many successful children’s writers and illustrators do not have agents, preferring to control all aspects of their careers. And most editors will tell you that children’s books, unlike adult books, is one area where manuscripts are read whether agented or not.”
This is encouraging, isn’t it? And the good news is, if you do sell your work to an editor without an agent and then become overwhelmed or tired of the “business,” you can acquire an agent to help you out after you make that sale.
So, let’s look at a few pros and cons of working with an agent:
The Book weighs our options nicely:
“For an unpublished writer, in fact, it can be just as difficult to find an agent as to sell your first book, and the energy might be better spent in perfecting one’s craft and researching the market on your own.”
- Having a bad/poorly fitted agent is worse than having no agent.
- Without an agent, you keep 100% of your profits – if you’re business savvy and have the time and desire to manage your business yourself.
- An agent makes an average of 15% profit when you make a sale together.
“The agent’s time and effort frees your brain for creative endeavors. Therefore, finding an agent who meets all or some of these needs may take time, but it can be well worth it.”
- Many publishing houses will only look at agented material. One way around this is to make a personal connection through a writing conference/workshop, author friend, etc. However, if there is a closed publishing house you’re unable to connect with but you feel is a perfect match for your work, you need an agent to get you in!
- A good agent can give you more than contract and financial support. Editorial input and emotional support can be quite valuable, too!
- Agents can serve as a buffer between you and your editor(s).
àLiterary lawyers can be hired instead of agents to help with legal negotiations, and you need only pay the legal fee rather than share your royalty income.
Self-Publishing: In the brave new world of digital publishing, what used to be dubbed “vanity” publishing is now turning into a lucrative business – for some. Surprisingly, in certain cases, agents have a role to play. According to Forbes.com, a whole new breed of “hybrid” authors are gaining prominence, self-publishing first and then getting a traditional contract. Some literary agents work with successful self-published authors, helping them to get a traditional deal or simply helping them to improve upon what they’re already doing well. You can check out an interesting article about this phenomenon here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeremygreenfield/2013/08/02/how-do-literary-agents-fit-into-the-new-book-publishing-ecosystem/
Where can you research prospective agents? Here are a few reputable databases:
- The SCBWI’s The Book
- The Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market
- Agent Query www.agentquery.com
- Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents (via Writer’s Digest) :http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents
So, if the thought of turning your precious word baby over to the slush pile puts a knot in your stomach, fear not! We’re in this together. Here’s an encouraging bit of advice to take with you from agent/author John M. Cusick (found in the 2011 Children’s and Illustrator’s Market):
“My grandmother once told me, ‘John, surviving a hand grenade going off in your hat is a miracle. Getting published happens every day.’ She was right. Work hard, keep at it, be smart, be ready to give yourself entirely to your work, and chances are you will either (A) realize you have better things to do, or (B) get published. It’s not impossible. It happens every day.”
- To those of you in Eastern PA who have been published, what has worked well for you? What would you recommend (or NOT recommend) to your fellow SCBWI members?