Thursday, September 25, 2008

Why do I need an agent, anyway?

I realized that in my how to get an agent post I didn't address the question of why you need an agent at all.

Well, if you want to be a full-time professional novelist, you do. I know, people do it without. Fine - if you're one of those people, I'm not talking to you.

But for those of us who DON'T have that kind of business savvy, this is what an agent does.

A good literary agent lives in New York (that's CITY). An agent's job is pretty much to go out to breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, and drinks with every good editor in the city, and know what those editors are looking for, so that when you hand your agent your new book or proposal, your agent will know exactly which editor is looking for what kind of a book - know each editor's taste intimately, so that your agent can submit to exactly the right editor at each publishing company and put you and your book in the position of making the best possible deal available on the planet at that moment.

Really. That's what your agent does.

When your agent submits your book, s/he will most likely submit it to 8-10 of the top publishers in New York simultaneously, and you need to have that book submitted to the editor MOST LIKELY TO BUY IT at each house, in the hopes of -

1 - creating an auction and/or pre-empt situation

2. - getting the best possible editor for you and your particular book and the best possible deal out there.

You cannot do these things yourself. An agent can. This is the difference between writing for a living and writing in those spaces between the demands of the day job.

So that's the WHY of an agent. The HOW is here.

And here's some video of a panel discussion that I did with Dusty Rhoades and Stacey Cochran that goes further into what an agent will do for you and why it's so important to have one. The question I was asked in the beginning of this tape was "Can I sell a book without an agent?"

And continued here:


All the information on this blog and more, including full story structure breakdowns of various movies, is available in my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks.  Any format, just $3.99 and $2.99.

Amazon US

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Amaxon DE

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If you're a romance writer, or have a strong love plot or subplot in your novel or script, then Writing Love: Screenwriting Tricks II is an expanded version of the first workbook with a special emphasis on love stories.

Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

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Barnes & Noble/Nook

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If you're in the LA area, I hope you're coming to the West Hollywood Book Fair this Sunday!

Sept. 28 - West Hollywood, CA
West Hollywood Book Fair
Sunday, 9am – 5 pm, West Hollywood Park

- I'm doing a supernatural fiction panel at 11:45 with Heather Graham, Les Klinger and Adrienne Barbeau

- And signings all the rest of the day, including at Dark Delicacies booth (1-2 pm) Mystery Writers of America booth (2-3 pm) and Sisters in Crime booth (3-4 pm)


Alexandra Sokoloff said...

I've been reminded by a reader that an agent also is or functions as a contracts lawyer (or a good agency will have a department of contracts lawyers) who will, after the sale, negotiate a contract that is far better for the author than the boilerplate - such as retaining rights in other media and other countries.

Writers without representation or with less than ideal representation might realize just how unfavorable the contract is only when it’s much too late.

I’m so used to film contracts which you actually have to have vetted by an entertainment lawyer that I neglected that perk of a book agent - they do that part for you, too.

L.J. Sellers said...

Thanks for a great post. I've been vacillating on this subject a lot lately, and now I'm convinced.

L.J. Sellers said...

Thanks for a great post. I've been vacillating on this subject a lot lately, and now I'm convinced to try again.

Bobby Mangahas said...

Honestly, Alex, I don't know where I'd be without the generous advice that you and other established writers offer to the writing masses out there. Thank you.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Good grief, LJ, it's horrifying to me that anyone would want to try to do any of this without a great agent. Glad to be of service.

And RJ - it doesn't feel generous at all... we learn as much from talking about it with writers like YOU.

(LJ and RJ... why is "J" such a cool letter to have as par of those initial names?"

Bobby Mangahas said...

I'm not sure what it is that makes the letter 'J' in the initial names so cool. I guess I never really gave it too much thought.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Legendary Putnam editor Neil Nyren has this to say about finding an agent:

"The question I always hear the most at conferences is about how to find the right agent, and I always say, “Homework.” Now that homework is easier to do than ever. Besides such sites as Publishers Marketplace, AgentQuery, and the like, every agent in creation has his or her own website where you can find out about their preferences, authors, deals, ways of doing business. Really, people, there’s no excuse for cluelessness anymore."