What is an Agent?

I’m going to ask a question that my fellow self-published authors are going to be hard-pressed to answer: What is an agent?

I’ve read that agents make the author’s job much easier by finding a compatible editor and eventually, a publisher. The publisher cuts the author a check for the work, and everything else just falls into place. Then the author rakes in the royalty checks, minus 15-20% commission the agent receives.

But I’ve also heard that going with an agent isn’t the best way. The editors take control of your manuscript, you don’t have a choice with the cover, and you still have to pay for some of the editing and marketing costs.

So for any of you authors who have been published traditionally, what did your agent do for you? Did you get paid for your work, or did you pay to have your work published?

The reason that I ask is because I really want to publish my werewolf book traditionally. But I want to know what to expect if an agent does accept my work.    


37 thoughts on “What is an Agent?

  1. I never had an agent, but I heard that an agent can get you some control if they’re good and that’s what you want. They do take away a lot of the pressure of hunting for a publisher and editor.

  2. I don’t have any experience with having an Agent myself but my brother did for his music and it really inflated his career. It was expensive that much I remember he was always struggling to pay his Agent in the beginning but once the guy started getting him some gigs on a regular basis he started to have a successful life!

    I would recommend getting an Agent if it’s possible for you because they can do stuff that we ourselves just can’t. They normally have a ton of connections and can setup events that would be impossible for new authors to do themselves and I am sure there are many other benefits…just make sure you have a lawyer look over the contract or deal you make with your Agent…some of them are evil and might try to take advantage of you, Just be careful!.

    • Thank you for the words of advice and caution. I know it was pretty nerve-wracking when I got my book contract, and both my mother and father read through it. They talked about asking a lawyer about it, but everything seemed to be in order.
      I thought most agents worked on a commission-based salary. Could it just be the difference between a literary agent and a music agent?

      • Np! =]

        I think it just depends on the Agent some do commission and some do Salary based deals, I think going the commission route would be better…it would ensure they would actually work hard and make things happen haha =]

  3. Agents can get you into a lot of the big publishers. Most big publishers will not take unsolicited manuscripts without an agent. An agent will often edit your work before sending it out to the big guys due to stricter standards now. They help you negotiate contracts so you and they make more money (but you’re still not making a whole lot of royalties; however, your advance can be made bigger). If you go traditional period you’re not going to have control over anything. It’s only through independent and indie that you’re going to have any control. I chose the independent route for a reason.

    • What are the expenses, out of curiosity? I’ve read that an author should never have to pay for anything when they publish traditionally: they are supposed to be paid for their work.
      And I’ve heard about several authors who make money hand over fist with their royalty checks. Could this just be the difference between agencies?

      • If an agent charges you, run. They are free. They take query letters, then sometimes go to either partials or fulls. They may also want a synopsis. It varies from agent to agent. If you’re going the independent route, like I am, you don’t get advances, but you also don’t need agents. I run on strictly royalties, but mine will be much higher than the standard 2% per book. A midlist author’s advance can run between 1,000-5,000 dollars. Most authors are midlisters. An assured bestseller might have 10,000 dollars or more. But with the traditional route, you generally get advances.

    • Who decides the royalty amount? The publisher I’m working with (some call them a vanity press) gives me 15% royalty, and 40% on anything bought directly from their warehouse.

    • 2% just seems like such a tiny number, considering all the work an author puts into their book. Does the rest of the money go to the manufacturing and marketing? Or are the agents and publishers getting most of it?
      (Sorry to keep asking all these questions, but I really want to know what I’m getting into before I send out any more query letters.)

      • Agent takes a share, publishers take a share, and the rest of the money goes to whatever they had to do to make that book and whoever made that book possible. And it is a tiny amount, which is why self-publishing and independent publishers are becoming increasingly popular. Some people find it’s worth it though, but it is usually the bestsellers. The mid-listers find they drown with this model.

  4. I went agent free and just queried the editors directly. Couldn’t see paying anyone else for something I worked so hard on. Have a great query letter, cut out the middle man.

  5. I was suggested during a workshop to join the writers’ union! In this way you’re well protected should something happen. But as I am still finishing the world building and the manuscripts I didn’t have a look into it.

  6. Yeah, one thing I keep hearing is that with the traditional model, money flows TOWARD the author. You should never pay a literary agent up-front for reading, submission costs, paying a salary, etc. They get paid when you do. That’s their incentive to get your book out there, and that’s why they have to be picky about who/what they take on. If they don’t think they can sell it, they’re not going to make any money on it.

    The other thing I hear a lot is to be careful. A great agent will earn her/his 15% many times over. Lots of them aren’t worth giving up that much of your revenue for. Don’t hire one (and don’t forget, they work for YOU) just because they’re willing to take you on; a bad one can do more harm than good. Make sure you can work well together, they adore and believe in your work, and they’ve proven in the past that they can get the results you want.

    PS- totally going to stalk… er, seek out… amberskyef’s blog now. 🙂

    • That is the Writer’s dream, isn’t it? To make money? Isn’t it like we’ve just created a beautiful painting and are now trying to sell it? Did Picasso have to give people money to take his paintings? I almost feel like that is what authors have to do these days.
      But I still have my heart set on going traditional. And if I ever make it there, I’ll write a post (or more) about what steps it took and what money I made, and how it all worked opposed to self-publishing or going through a Vanity Press.

      p.s. LOL

      • I doubt Picasso ever paid anyone to take his paintings any more than you pay people to take your books, but a lot of artists do work without it having been commissioned and without patrons, putting their own money into supplies/production and not getting paid for the up-front time. 🙂

        I think of it more like the music industry. Sure, some artists get picked up right away because they got an agent, sent a demo to the right person, got spotted on YouTube, etc., and the record company decided to produce and push their work. But you also have a lot of extremely talented musicians out there spending their own money to produce albums, booking their own performances, and doing well at it without a major record company backing them. Musicians have to put the money up up-front if they don’t fit into a company’s plan or want to stay independent. Both ways are valid, it just depends on the artist’s goals and the state/needs of the industry. If your dream is to be traditionally published, go for it! A good agent definitely has an important role to play if you decide to go that way, and it does change the direction of money flow (if they’re on the up-and-up).

        Off-topic, but looking at it like that does make me wonder why some people think independently-produced music is fine and groovy, but refuse to acknowledge that a book produced without a big publisher is anything but garbage…

      • I’ve never really thought about what musicians have to go through. I guess it is just as hard for them as it is for us, and takes just as much time, money, and hard work. Thank you for pointing that out!

        And I think that self-publishing a book is awesome. (I’ve done it twice!!!) I’m not going to refuse to buy a book jest because it wasn’t professionally edited or published through Random House (just throwing out a name there.) I am buying the book from the author. If I know the author or like the genre, I couldn’t care less were it was published. But in the last four months, I’ve come to have a lot of respect for self-published authors because I know that they put so much of themselves into their work.

      • Me, too. I hardly knew anything about self-publishing until a few months ago, and now I find the whole idea very exciting. More and more people are thinking like you, I think, but some people still turn their nose up at the idea of self-publishing. Silly, I think.

        (Not silly if people don’t want to do it, that’s totally their choice. I mean silly if they think that it’s not a valid way for anyone to get books out there. I’m going to stop bugging you now. 🙂 )

      • I really wish that I’d started sooner with the whole publishing thing, that way I’d be an old pro by now.
        It has been my dream since I was sixteen to be traditionally published, so I hope I’m not disappointed in the long run.
        Anyway, I agree with you: it is silly. And no worries! I enjoy talking to you! 🙂

      • It’s funny where dreams take you, eh? I always assumed I wanted to be traditionally published, but now I’m not sure it’s right for me; you’ve gone the other way and are now thinking about an agent. How amazing that we have choices, right? I have mad respect for people who do it either way. It’s not an easy thing to put your work out there. I hope you get all of the information you’re looking for and find the right agent for you, if that’s what you decide to do!

      • Thank you Kate!
        And yes, dreams are such strange things, especially the way they change over time.
        I wish you luck, whichever way you decide to go with your book. 🙂

  7. I’m trying to get an agent because I know they’ll be honest about what needs changing, yet they’ll go to bat for me. And they have the connections and resources I don’t. Glancing through the comments, I think you’ve already got some good info. I’ll just add one more to the pile, remember that if you acquire an agent, they’re only contracted so to speak to sell the one book. If you change genres or write a different series they still have every right to turn you down and you may be out searching for another agent again.

    At this point I still see agents as highly valuable to writers.

    • That’s what I’m looking for, too. I want someone who can take my work, direct me to an editor, and then and take my manuscript to a publisher.
      And thanks for letting me know about that, as I jump back and forth through several different genres, and was wondering if an agent will sticks with you permanently, or if the search for an agent continues with ever new book. But of course, if a publisher contracts you for say, six books for a certain series, the agent stays with you for that long, correct? And out of curiosity, if a publisher approaches you with an idea for a book they want you to write, an agent doesn’t have anything to do with that, right?

      • I think the agent is only contracted for the one book, but would probably stay with you during the whole series. They don’t have to though. I don’t know how often a publisher would approach you with a story to write. I’m guessing fairly rare. I know some authors have sold ideas to publishers they haven’t written (granted they’re already well-established authors at this point). I think if you are successful an agent will stick with you, especially if you both work well together. It’s just important to remember they may not represent everything you create.

    • Okay, so after that first book, you could be on your own for the rest of the series? That would be good, considering you’d get to keep the 15-20% commision rate the agent had been getting.
      Thank you for the info Jae!

      • Well, except I imagine the only reason the agent would ditch you is if they’d be getting a 15-20% cut of nothing. 😉 And if you plan to go sans-agent in the future, I’d start learning how to read legalese for the contracts. 😉

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