During a conference a few weeks ago, an author asked me: “Do we need literary agents anymore?”
The simplest answer is “No.”
With traditional houses sprouting digital publishing arms that accept unsolicited submissions, independent digital-only publishers working with agented and unagented authors alike, and a wealth of self-publishing know-how available at your fingertips, some writers are eager to kick literary agents off the industry ladder. Authors can submit their work directly, without agents, or self-publish on their own. And many have met success. So with all of these new and exciting options, it may be tempting to say that literary agents are things of the past.
As publishing changes, an agent’s role changes. It’s our job to keep up with this, because it is our job to lead authors along their road to publication. And new roads develop everyday. (Victoria Lowes wrote up a great blog post this summer detailing some pros and cons of each.) So why is it that we’re still here? Because we’re more than just a stepping-stone to being published.
The truth is that self-publishing was always an option, even before ebooks; writers could produce and print their books using independent presses. Still today, most small presses and independent publishers don’t require that you work with an agent. With the growing popularity and ease of digital self-publishing, anyone and everyone can do it—for free. Self-publishing has been around for long enough that writers have shared their experiences, their sure-fire tips and their crippling mistakes. As long as you’re willing to put in the work, you can be successful. So why are authors still working with agents?
Agents—good agents, anyway—don’t disappear once the contract is signed. We stick around for the editing, the promotion, the publication and the sales—the life of the book in every territory and in all formats. We assist the author in developing their next ideas. And as the landscape evolves, so do we. We adapt, so that we can help our authors adapt. It’s our job to master the steps to becoming a successfully published author (whatever that means to you) and to help you manage your own expectations as well as what the publisher expects from you. We read the needs of the marketplace and try to deliver. And while the specifics of our services may change, our goal never does. We find books that we love and figure out ways to share them with everyone else.
I adore my clients so I’m very excited that I get to continue building my list here at The Bent Agency. Recently, I sold a book by one of my very first clients. I was thrilled, not just because I made a deal for something I had been working hard on for a while, but because it meant that I didn’t have to say goodbye to a story that I really believed in. No matter how many times I read the manuscript, I was surprised by the quality of the writing, the richness and the complexity. At the end of the day, I love bringing authors and publishers together. And I’ll find ways to continue doing that, whether that publisher is digital-first or if it is a “hybrid” author; even when it means that I have to coach my clients to be more aggressive with their social media, or that I have to teach myself about metadata. I’m here because I’m a nerd, and I love it.
And while things continue to change and we all have to get used to it, your relationship with your agent shouldn’t. We’re the advocates for your work, the matchmakers, and often, the push that keeps you writing, keeps you trying. To me, being an agent is about streamlining this changing publishing process—because you’ve just written and revised SO MANY WORDS and it’s the least I can do, right??