With the rise of e-publishing there are some people who will tell you that agents are obsolete, and that you don’t need them to get a book out there. This is technically true, but in reality it’s much easier to navigate the world of publishing with help. An experienced agent is invaluable for many reasons, but above and beyond all of them they have two things you probably will not; connections with established publishers and editors, and lots of experience in marketing books.
Do I need an Agent?
Literally? No. But it’s a good idea.
You can self-publish either online or in hard copy, and if you’re an expert marketer you could very well do a great job of it. However, this will take time and effort that pulls you away from what you love; writing.
An agent is, just like an author, or and editor, a specialist that brings a huge amount of value to the venture. Furthermore, most of the really big publishing houses do not take unsolicited submissions or submissions from those who have no representation.
There are many things you can do to attract an agent, but here are some things you definitely should not say;
Things you shouldn’t say to a potential agent
“I’m the next Stephen King, George R. Martin, J.K rowling [insert Big Name Here]”
You may be right, but agents hear this from over-confident authors day in, day out. Even if they believe you, you’re setting high expectations for yourself and your work. Not just once either; these are big names that sell consistently; if you have your agent and publisher believing you can replicate these numbers it doesn’t matter how well you do; it may not be enough.
Of course, it’s also very likely you’ll get this reaction;
“I know you don’t usually deal with X, but…”
No – get out.
Agents specialise in certain subjects and genres for many reasons, the biggest being that they knew who to sell these types of books to, and how to market them. They specify genres so that they can do their job well after you’ve done your job well.
Unless you follow that sentence with “but I’d like your advice on how to add elements of Y [which they do deal with] to it to make it stronger!” just shut up and research an agent that deal with your genre. Even then, it’s not their job to fix your writing. Its yours.
“There’s nothing like this out there!”
I can guarantee you there is; there’s nothing new under the sun, as that old saying goes, so this sounds like you a) have no idea what you’ve written and which genre it falls into mostly, or b) you have no idea what’s out there because you rarely read. One makes it hard for an agent to really sell it, the other is a worry because you’re probably re-using well-worn tropes that you would know to avoid if you have read widely in your genre.
“I’ve self-published [X amount] books!”
Unless one or some of your novels/stories have topped 3,000 to 5,000 sales (the average self-published book sells less than 100 – 150 copies) this won’t help your case.
“My book will appeal to everyone.”
That right there is a promise you cannot keep!
If you don’t approach an agent with a target audience in mind you’re making their job harder than it needs to be. If you write a novel with the aim of including universal themes, that’s fine, but the story and genre will appeal to one kind of audience in particular. YA lit might very well appeal to the masses, like Harry Potter or the Hunger Games, but by and large it appeals to young adults.
“It’s not finished yet, but…”
No! When you approach an agent your novel should be as ready for publication as you can make it. Get a professional critique if you can afford it, have another person (with good grammar) who reads your genre to test it and make suggestions. Edit, edit, edit!
Your agent may make suggestions, the in-house editor at a publisher may make suggestions, but its your job to write the book so don’t rely on getting huge amounts of help from agents and publishers. They have their job, you have yours.
Finally, please do not send out generic query emails to hundreds of agents; tailor your approach and pick people you think will have a genuine interest in your work. And, of course, if you have any advice about querying an agent let us know in the comments section!