Getting a book published has a lot of hurdles, and the first one is getting an agent. So it’s understandable that when you find a publisher that accepts unsolicited submissions (that is, submissions direct from authors), it’s exciting to be able to avoid the challenge of finding an agent.
But let me tell you why you’re better off with an agent.
1. Access to publishers
As most querying authors know, most publishers require submissions to come from an agent. These are usually the bigger publishers, too. While some publishing houses will have an open call from time to time, it’s pretty limited. The only way to have access to as many publishers as possible is to go through an agent. This is important because you want to be able to send your book out widely. If more than one publisher is interested, then you’ll have a choice, and often can result in a higher advance payment.
2. Getting the best deal
When a publisher decides to publish your book, they’ll negotiate some terms with you, then send you a contract. But will you actually know what you’re looking at? There are a lot of clauses in a contract, with details about who owns which rights, how royalties are paid out, which sales you actually earn royalties on, and so on. And lots and lots of jargon. An agent will know what they’re looking at, and as a person representing you, will make sure the deal is favourable to you and spend time explaining the details to you.
Additionally, do you know what to expect as an advance payment for a book? While you might be able to find some statistics online, the figures will be all over the place and subject to many variables. An agent will know what a good advance for your book and your situation will be.
Sure, agents take a small commission of the amount you earn. But books sold via an agent usually receive a higher advance payment than those sold without one. So you’ll still be better off financially with the agent.
Additionally, agents check royalty statements to make sure you’re getting paid what you’re owed – and paid on time. Why? Because if you’re not getting paid, then the agent isn’t either. Isn’t it nice to have someone chasing these things for you? Plus, an agent has much more power when contacting a publisher for missed payments than an individual author will have.
4. Career support
Agents aren’t just investing in you for one book. They want to support your career as an author, ideally giving you the opportunity to become a full-time author.
Once you have an agent, they are your go-to person with any ideas you have or initial feedback. They’ll let you know what projects will be marketable, and many agents offer editorial feedback, working with you to get your next book ready before sending it out to publishers.
And as your success grows, agents will make sure that is financially reciprocated by publishers. See point two again – they’re always looking out for the best deal for you and your book.
5. Publishers want to work with agents
One thing a lot of authors don’t realise is that publishers prefer working with agents. Most authors don’t understand every element of the publishing process, and that’s ok. But when an author is trying to handle everything on their own, it can be a lot to take in, and not something a publisher usually wants to spend time explaining.
An agent manages this process so that authors are informed of everything they need to know, while handling everything else behind the scenes. It’s a great way to not be completely overwhelmed as a new author.
Also, in the cases where there’s a disagreement between an author and publisher, an agent will act as a mediator. While they are always acting in their author’s best interests, they will also be able to keep an author’s expectations realistic.
While agents are the main gatekeepers to getting published, they really are the people championing and protecting authors. It’s easy to focus on all the negatives of rejections and want to bypass an agent, but every author will be better off with an agent in the long run.
An agent takes you on because they believe in your writing and want to support your career. Because of this, agents are generally selective and only take on a few new authors at a time. So remember: rejection is not necessarily a reflection of your book. Agents are usually asking themselves if they are the right person to support this book and author, considering the other books and authors they already represent.
If you’re ready to start submitting to agents but want help getting your query letter or submission package ready, I’d love to help you. Check out the query letter packages I offer here.