A Question on Agents

In the midst of this publishing revolution, how will the role of agents change?

When I worked in corporate world, I could select and employ a PR company to promote my business; a design agency to come up with the company’s brand image; copywriters to pen the right message and sales people to work at the sharp end.

As a writer, I can do all of the above. And yet, if I want a literary agent to represent me, I cannot select and employ one. The prerogative on selection is entirely theirs.

Do you think it will change or not, and what would be your reasoning?

11 thoughts on “A Question on Agents”

  1. I do believe that the role of agents will change with the explosion of e-publishing: for one thing, the pool of potential clients HAS to have shrunken for agents. I’d be willing to bet their inboxes aren’t nearly as overflowing as they once were. So a savvy, good agent will realize that the author absolutely should have more control over marketing decisions. That being said, not everyone has the experience, or even the desire, to market their book on the level it needs to be marketed to be successful. That’s the agent’s job, their area of expertise.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Frances. It will be interesting to see how other people feel on this question.

  2. At present agents earn income from a percentage of their clients’ sales. As such, they’re entitled to choose who they work for. But if the model changed, and they were paid a retainer plus commission, then they might be persuaded to change how they operate. I guess we have to wait and see.

  3. Actually Rosie, an author *does* get to choose the agent she employs. The agent has to want to represent you, but you are by no means forced to work with them, and if you have several offers of representation, you can choose between them. (It does happen!) And of course, the author chose to submit to the agent in the first place, which implies that she’s selected the agent as someone she wants to work with. From speaking to agents, they seem to be as busy as ever, if not even more so, since the advent of widespread self-publishing. A lot of people still want to be traditionally published—even those who are successfully self-publishing often move over to being traditionally published, for many reasons, not least because it is a LOT less work to do well. 🙂 And the advent of easy self-publishing has encouraged people who may never have finished a novel and sent it out, to be more adventurous and ambitious. Don’t forget that agents do much more than sell manuscripts to publishers. They pass on manuscripts to foreign markets and sell television and film rights; they help manage their authors’ careers; they give advice; they negotiate contracts; they act as a go-between authors and publishers; they edit; they’re an author’s first reader and best supporter; sometimes they help their clients self-publish. Not every author needs an agent, of course! But it’s not quite as straightforward as you imply above, I don’t think. Julie xx

    1. Hi Julie, thank you so much for your input. You make great points – the agent does have a broad remit and adds massive value to the career of a writer – I hope I didn’t imply anything less by posting this query. If I could employ one, tomorrow, I would but the choice isn’t mine if the agent I select says their list is full or, worse, doesn’t reply. I do get what you’re saying about there needing to be a strong relationship between agent and writer, which is perhaps where it differs from that of client and supplier…and maybe that’s why it’s not so easy for a writer to engage one. (I have heard an agent say it’s rather like a marriage and the parallel would be like accepting a proposal by email. Unless a person was desperate to obtain a green card, that wouldn’t happen!)

      1. The huge number of writers out there means that agents can pick and choose the ones they want to represent. The picking is rarely done by the writers, sadly. It’s a case of supply and demand. I think self publishing is helping to change the dynamic for the better since writers no longer have to sit and wait for THAT call! xx

        1. Thanks for your comment, Linda. Yes, there is certainly a huge trend in self-publishing by authors who are keen to get their work out in the world, to be read. I think there are parallels in the music industry too. But that’s a whole other topic!

  4. Publishing prediction #6: Agents will introduce editing/PR/professional cover art side businesses. #publishing #askagent— Literary Agent Vader (@AgentVader) April 15, 2014

  5. An interesting development I’ve heard of in recent months is that some successful self-published authors have been approached directly by a publisher. They have created a following with their several self-published novels, and the publisher wants to zero in on their fan base: the self-published author is less of a risk than an unpublished author would be. The self-published authors accepted the offer of becoming traditionally published, but seem to have gone for an agent at that point – presumably to protect their interests.

    1. That’s encouraging to hear, Liz. I’d say an agent would be an essential addition to the team, where contracts and wider promotion were concerned. And at that stage, the author would have more influence on their selection. Thanks for your input.