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To Agent or Not to Agent

2015 August 14
by Fay Lamb

sexy businesswoman signing online insurance contract in officeI’m going to come out right now and confess to my readers that I don’t have an agent. The choice is a personal one that I learned after a lot of research, a lot of questions, and after having received multiple contracts from my current publisher. This does not mean that I believe that all authors should abstain from seeking an agent, or that sometime in the future, that I might not want to seek an agent.

I’ve had authors approach me at conferences and ask me about whether or not they should have an agent. The question is one that an author has to answer for themselves. I mean, I’ll share a few no-brainers below, but this is truly a personal journal, so I thought that I would set forth a few questions an author should ask before deciding for or against agency:

1. Are the publisher’s you’re targeting writer friendly or agent friendly? A writer friendly publisher understands the difficulty new authors have with getting their work seen, and they accept manuscripts that are unsolicited. This means that the author does not need the help of an agent to submit, but don’t misunderstand. Agents submit to smaller publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts. However, with writer friendly publishers, the authors can do the work themselves and save that 15% off the top of their royalties–if they’re up to the task. Writer friendly publishers are usually small publishers, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that smaller presses don’t require excellence. I’ve worked with and for two writer friendly publishers, and they have the best authors in the business with names readers recognize.

Most publishers who request solicited manuscripts, which means an editor has met you at a conference or you have an agent that sends to that publisher, are not all bad guys. If you’d seen some of the work that people submit, you’d understand why there are gatekeepers. The larger publishers simply don’t have time to sift through every manuscript hunting for one that hasn’t been written by Sue who sat at her computer on Monday and finished the work on Wednesday without any idea that writing a great novel takes study, practice, and hard work, let alone understanding the market and what publishers are seeking.

So, if you’re savvy enough to put together a proposal or to follow directions, and you realize that you’re happy being a “large fish in a small pond,” as one agent aptly put it, then agency isn’t for you. Even if you’re seeking a large publisher, and you’re attending conferences and getting invites from editors, an agent might be something to think about after rejection–not before.  If, however, your eyes are set on the large publisher with the closed doors, and you haven’t had time or money to attend conferences, then an agent is exactly what you need. I would strongly suggest, though, that if a new author or struggling author has not attended conferences, that they find an online source to study their craft before seeking an agent. I find that a host of authors tend to seek agency before they are ready. Don’t do that.

Next question:

2.  Are you a tightwad do-it-yourseler or are you an author that needs help with everything from synopses, to proposals, to contracts? After I studied the market and found a publisher who offered me contracts, I decided I was a tightwad do-it-yourselfer.  Before I was contracted, I was undecided. Then I received my contract and realized with my legal background that I could sign it with confidence. I’d already done the hard work. I didn’t need an agent to help me, and I certainly didn’t want to hand over 15% of my royalties to someone after I’d already done the job myself.  That was a no-brainer for me. This is why it is so hard to believe that people still seek an agent after they have secured a contract.

But wait, you say. I don’t have any type of legal background. How am I going to wade through that contract language?

This is the main reason that so many writers seek an agent. And yes, some agents are very good at getting the best contract possible for their client. Others, truthfully, know the contract is well worth it, and they don’t bother seeking any higher benefit. If an author is simply looking for someone to read a contract for them, paying $150 to $250 to a lawyer versed in contract law might be better than giving an agent 15% over the lifetime of a novel, especially if the author is confident that they can make that lump sum back in royalties.

And now for our last question:

3.  How well do you know the market as a whole? Are you familiar with what publishers are seeking? Do you attend conferences and talk to editors and agents? Do you know the big sellers in the industry? Do you know the publishers (large or small) who stand upon the principles that are important to you?

That was a trick question. If you don’t know this information, why are you seeking an agent. You haven’t done your homework. Learn who these individuals are. Attend conferences, get a pulse on the market. This roller coaster ride as an author is both a profession and an art, and until you know everything about it, no decision should be made.

Books Collage

Fay Lamb (The Tactical Editor)  is an author, editor, and writing coach, who loves to work with authors to help them meet their goals.

Her emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Fay has contracted three series. Stalking Willow and Better than Revenge, Art of Characterization Cover FINAL FRONT (2)Books 1 and 2 in the Amazing Grace romantic suspense series are currently available for purchase. Charisse and Libby the first two novels in her The Ties That Bind contemporary romance series have been released. Fay has also collaborated on two Christmas novella projects: The Christmas Three Treasure Hunt, A Ruby Christmas, and the Write Integrity Press romance novella series, which includes  A Dozen Apologies, The Love Boat Bachelorand Unlikely Merger. Her adventurous spirit has taken her into the realm of non-fiction with The Art of Characterization: How to Use the Elements of Storytelling to Connect Readers to an Unforgettable Cast.

Future releases from Fay are: Everybody’s Broken and Frozen Notes, Books 3 and 4 of Amazing Grace and Hope and Delilah, Books 3 and 4 from The Ties that Bind.

Fay loves to meet readers, and you can find her on her personal Facebook page, her Facebook Author page, and at The Tactical Editor on Facebook. She’s also active on Twitter. Then there are her blogs: On the Ledge, Inner Source, and the Tactical Editor. And, yes, there’s one more: Goodreads. Anyone interested in learning more about Fay’s freelance editing and her coaching, should contact her at


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