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To Agent or Not to Agent ( Issue #4 of a newsletter by @karmicangel)

Words to Live By (a newsletter by @karmicangel)
Words to Live By (a newsletter by @karmicangel)
I expect this will generate some conversation from the many agents and agented folks on Twitter, so let me start by saying that this is just my experience and does not pertain to everyone.

Do I need an agent?
Short answer: maybe. I have been represented by two fine agents over the past eight years (since I’ve had manuscripts to shill) and neither got me a deal anywhere. I in the meantime got six books published, and screenplay optioned and made other strides in the publishing industry.
What these two women did do for me is to hone my work, teach me what publishers were looking for and introduce me to a network I had no access to without them. I believe that they did their best for me but at the end of the day, I had ONE product I knew inside and out and sold and they had MANY products to sell and they failed on mine (but succeeded for other people on their list).
But what these women also perpetuated was a list of old-school rules that the publishing industry thrives on, and as a woman of colour who writes for more than one bookshelf, I often confounded them with my work because it didn’t sit in their perfect boxes.
I am better at selling my work than anyone else
This isn’t true for everyone, but I am very good at talking about my books, representing myself and my work at conferences and in classrooms and just generally getting my face and voice out there in the media.
If you’re not good at selling yourself and talking about yourself, that might be where an agent could step in and represent you. On the flip side, you could get better at selling yourself. It’s a skill and it will aid you in every step of the publishing journey, so why not develop it?
Getting the big deals
I will be the first to admit that none of my book deals were giant deals wherein I could retire and live a life of writing full-time. So yes, an agent can help you get your manuscripts in front of the Big 6 publishers. Many publisher’s websites explicitly tell you not to submit to them directly and that they only take agented submissions.
A lot of writers have assumptions about what agents will do for them (come to think of it, they often have those for their publishers too) so do your due diligence. Talk to other writers represented by these agents before you sign with them. Do they help you market? Will they help book your tours? What exactly are their services?
Also, where do you sit on their list? Do they have ten big name authors in front of you? Will you get their attention?
Writers Edit actually has a good Pro/Cons list of whether to get an agent that goes through these kind of questions.
The Best of Both Worlds?
Where I’ve landed is that instead of paying an agent 10-15% of any money I make on my books (forever btw - not just 10-15% of your advance, but also your royalties) I know have an entertainment lawyer I trust. She has that same gravitas of having read thousands of book deals and can help me push back on publishers and producers for whatever she thinks I deserve. And I just pay her for her work at an hourly rate. That’s what works for me. I find the deals, she makes them better.
You could try out an agent, but my advice is to give yourself a deadline: one year or 18 months for them to find a home for your work. If they fail, everyone walks away. Normal screenplay options are between 1-2 years and those are much harder to sell than a book.
What do you think? I’d love to hear from you.
Next time: the deadly comparison game
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Words to Live By (a newsletter by @karmicangel)
Words to Live By (a newsletter by @karmicangel)

Digital Director @TheWalrus, journalist, fiction author, instructor @RyersonU and nerdy Kashmiri Canadian. Opinions are my own.

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