Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Agent or No?

I read this excellent article the other day on Great Writing. It's called "Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully: in Ten Minutes" and it was written by Stephen King.

There are some really wonderful tips in here, many of which are featured in the book On Writing. If you get a chance today, you should bounce over there and take a look at the list. It's a great read.

The point which I've been thinking about a lot over the past few days is #11: An agent? Forget it. For now. King has this to say about agents:
Agents get 10% of monies earned by their clients. 10% of nothing is nothing. Agents also have to pay the rent. Beginning writers do not contribute to that or any other necessity of life. Flog your stories around yourself. If you've done a novel, send around query letters to publishers, one by one, and follow up with sample chapters and/or the manuscript complete. And remember Stephen King's First Rule of Writers and Agents, learned by bitter personal experience: You don't need one until you're making enough for someone to steal ... and if you're making that much, you'll be able to take your pick of good agents.
I'm very close to finishing the first draft of my WIP novel, and while I haven't started shopping for an agent yet, I've been kicking the idea around in the back of my mind for a couple of months. After all, part of my timeline is going to the South Carolina Writers' Workshop to meet an agent, or possibly a host of them. I guess I thought of agents as advisers who go to bat for writers with publishing companies. But now that I've read this, I see his point. No agent is going to represent someone they can't make money off of.

So how do I handle the next phase of the MS without an agent? Do I shop my book to big publishers and just hope for the best? At this point, I still want to go to the conference and talk to some agents. I know Stephen King had a bad experience with an agent and this happens to a lot of people, but at the same time I am very intimidated by the idea of soliciting my manuscript without representation.

Writers, I need your input here. Do you work with an agent or are you flying solo? Which do you prefer? Which makes more sense? And how did you meet your agent (if you have one)? If you sent an unsolicited MS... did you send it to someone you know, or just send it out blindly?

Any and all comments are appreciated!


Curtis Hart said...

B. Shane and I are working without an agent. Of course, screen writing is slightly, but not a whole lot different. Screen agents will pretty much flat refuse you if you don't have published work. The fun part is that most advice sites will also tell you that producers will flat refuse to read your work if you don't have an agent. Kind of a catch 22 there huh? We have had some pretty good advice from professional screenwriter friends though. These guys work without an agent and have had several screenplays purchased and optioned. According to them, and I assume this applies to all sorts of writers, if your intro letter and synopsis (in this case sample chapter) impresses the reader, then it doesn't matter that you have no agent. I think that pretty much echoes what King said as well. I say that proven advice from a master should more than likely be followed. Besides, you are awesome and very talented, so I have no worries about you getting published in a BIG way. Maybe we'll adapt you to screen one day :)

Love you muchly,

Sophia said...

The flip side of the 10% of nothing is nothing rule would then be that if a publisher sees that you have an agent they'll realise that here's someone spending their time on something that is currently making them zero monies so maybe they should check it out to discover what that agent sees in you. Long sentence is long; my coffee hasn't kicked in yet. I also don't know if a publisher might see that you *don't* have an agent and wonder if that's by choice or if you shopped it around for an agent unsuccessfully before taking it straight to them. Just my thoughts. There are a few interviews on writerunboxed.com that talk about good reasons for getting an agent.
- Sophia.

Al said...

I'm flying solo.
But I'm going the whole hog and self publishing.

Theresa Milstein said...

I agree with a lot of Stephen King's writing advice, but there are many warnings from (mostly) agents about how you can't negotiate your own contract as well and other good aspects of having an agent.

King hasn't been a new writer in a LOOONG time, so I wonder if he can really see the positives and negatives of writers in today's markets.

I'm going to check out the other tips now. Thanks!


Not being a writer as such this is only my opinion, why not approach a few agents, as with most things what suits one dosen't neccessarily suit another, you may find one that finds your work "Just what he's looking for"

Have a good day and good luck.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Ultimately everyone wants an agent, but that's not the first time I've heard it's best to find a publisher first. There's thousands of publishers outside of the big ones in NY - plenty to query, Miller!

Anne Gallagher said...

King has good advice but not in today's market. With the e-pubs and the e-readers, it's a whole other ballgame. Having an agent means, like Sophia said, that you have someone in your corner to, not only look over the contracts but to shop the book at the publishers that may want it. Can you do that? If you send an unsolicited ms. to say, Random House, and they say no with a form rejection, how do you know you sent it to the right person at Random. An agent would have the right person at the right pub house at her fingertips.

Contracts now, are so tricky. Kristen at Pub Rants has been having fits over the e-rights issue. Do you know what you'd be giving up if you just blindly signed a contract without an agent, not to mention serial, world, foreign, movie, audio, book club rights?

Publishing is a tricky business and I know I wouldn't dare try to negotiate my own contract. Stepehn King got screwed over in the beginning of his career. But I bet he's got a Jim Dandy agent now.

Unknown said...

I don't think there is a right or wrong answer but for this round I'm going with choosing an agent. I plan on querying agents because it would be nice to have them on my "side" to help me market myself and search for that perfect publisher, I figure sometimes losing money to make money isn't such a bad thing. I'm not looking to take over the world so having an agent will just make my life a little easier.

Rae said...

I only wish I knew....I have not ventured out into the idea of publishing yet. But, I did read "On Writing" and loved it!
Good Luck!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I negotiated one deal myself and my agent negotiated the other. I have to *highly* recommend working with an agent, if at all possible. I did NOT get a good deal for myself, although I did counteroffer. The publishers will have you over a barrel if you're not working with an agent...they know how badly we want to be published.

Plus, Penguin wouldn't have even worked with me if I hadn't had an agent. You *could* go with smaller, independent publishers (and I do recommend that if you absolutely *can't* get an agent), but I'd certainly give querying them a go, just based on my own personal experience.

Basically, the agent got so much more for me that she easily paid for her own commission a couple of times over (from what I would have gotten without her.)

Karen Jones Gowen said...

It's a great big publishing world out there. Agents are nice when you can get them. So are publishing contracts. There are many small presses that take unagented submissions and have fair contracts. If you're concerned and have no agent, you can always have a lawyer review it for you. Then you pay once instead of every time your royalty check goes out.

Hart Johnson said...

B. I've looked A LOT at this, and my feeling is a very STRONG 'depends on genre'. The BIG publishers are going to take NOTHING from the slushpile (I am dead serious--you want BIG, you have to have an agent). But there are a number of GENRE publishers that DO take manuscripts from the slushpile, so if you have a mystery, erotica, fantasy, (possibly horror--and this MAY be where SK gets his bias) then your chance of getting read is okay.

BUT... no agent means you PROBABLY are going to want to hire a lawyer to help you understand your contract, you are going to need to NEGOCIATE for yourself (including all that fine print about marketing, which means you will probably have to do MORE of your own marketing--shelf space is ALSO huge). I think print run and rights to it after that go in here, too.

And then there is THIS: agents KNOW which publishers do what. If you have plenty of time to do buttloads of research, you might find the same publisher... or you might not.

And FINALLY, I think most agents actually take 15%, but if they are responsible for getting you a bigger advance, better placement, more format options, etc, they will probably more than DOUBLE what you sell.

I write mostly suspense and would never consider NOT trying for an agent. My Cozy mystery audition I only have BECAUSE of a relationship I've managed to secure with an agent--the publisher went to HER.

I love Stephen, but I think it's possible the industry has changed too much since he was a starving, unpublished person on this particular question.

Anonymous said...

I know a fellow who got published without an agent. Interviewed him on my blog, actually. But he was a public relations/marketing journalist with connections in the industry, and got passed onto a small boutique publisher by an agent who read his MS. He wasn't going at it from completely outside the industry, as most of the rest of us have to.

The accepted wisdom is that you'll get a better deal with the right agent than you will without. They'll negotiate a better contract for you, 'cause it's in their best interests.

As always, there are outliers, success stories, etc., but I know I'll be looking for agents when that time comes, as opposed to shopping directly.

Jessica Bell said...

I think blogger ate my comment. Anyway, here it is again:

I don't have an agent yet, but I can't imagine having the time to shop around myself.

I have a friend who won a novel competition and landed a publishing deal, then got herself an agent. If only it could work like that for all of us! :)

Laura S. said...

I've always wondered about this, too. To agent to not to agent? is a popular question and it's one with no easy answers! I'm not anywhere near searching for an agent or publisher, but when it comes time, I'm leaning more toward finding an agent. Though what King says sure does make sense. Ah, it's a dilemma!

Did I tell you I have a blog award for you? It's in last Friday's post!

Sarah Ahiers said...

i can't even imagine going into this without an agent. I'm going to need them to negotiate a better contract for me because that's something i would straight up suck at.

Megan Bostic said...

I've done both Becky. I had no success at all without. And the big pubs won't even look at you if you're not represented.

But of course, I'm going to say it's worth having an agent, after three years of trying to find an agent, or subbing straight to smaller publishers, I found my agent and had a book deal two weeks later. Of course I know everyone's story isn't going to be like that, but some are. :)

Talli Roland said...

I have two non-fiction books published under another name, and I've tried to get an agent for that work. It's steady sales but nothing crazy, and while I got some very nice feedback from agents they kind of indicated I wasn't really worth their time (fair enough, they have to make a living too). So I have since bought books on contracts and educated myself. The one thing it is hard to do without an agent is to sell foreign rights.

Jemi Fraser said...

I'm not at that stage yet, but I don't think I'd want to try it all without an agent. There are so many things I don't know - so many ins and outs and twists and turns. Agents know the routine, know what works... I definitely hope to get one.

Helen Ginger said...

Whether you look for an agent or go straight to a small press, do your research. Target your queries to those agents and editors who rep what you write and are open to new writers. And write your best letter and manuscript.

Straight From Hel

Yvonne Osborne said...

I'm going with the agent. At least, I'm giving it the full throttle try.

Elliot Grace said...

...took my time with a lengthy comment in regards to your most excellent post...and Blogger swallowed it whole:(
...in a nutshell, I was agented,we parted ways,a friendly split,finances being the culprit.
...I spent a year doing research,queried independent publishers,sold my manuscript to a spin-off from Simon & Schuster who broke away to do his own thing.
...my opinion? With an agent you'll get a better deal & more money up front. Without, you'll get higher royalties, but will walk away with little in your pocket.
...every writer reaches his/her dream from a different avenue. I'm of the belief that if the work's good, it'll sell, period.
...I couldn't be happier with the relationship I've had thus far with my Indi/pub. They've kept me in the know throughout, with a late 2010-11 release date.
Do the research & follow your heart, B. You'll figure it out:)

Anonymous said...

This is why I love blogdom so much. These articles are great. I've been beating my brains looking for an agent but am coming to the same realization.

I can do so much on my own. I'm thinking big thoughts for 2010.

Stephen Tremp

Dawn Ius said...

I'm a HUGE fan of Stephen King - not really his writing, since I haven't read even a handful of his books, but more his philosophy on writing. His memoir "On Writing" is a permanent fixture on my shelf and I refer to it often. So I agree with pretty much everything in this article - except, maybe the agent part.

I have an agent and value him tremendously. But I'm going for the whole thing - the big name publisher, major pub contract. Dreamer, I know. But, I know I couldn't get "there" solo - and my agent encourages me to keep writing while he's shopping my book. With my propensity to procrastinate, I'd keep him for that alone :-)

BTW, I had MANY rejections before I found my agent. My book wasn't ready. *I* wasn't ready. When I finally listened to what other agents were saying - and my persistent gut - it came much easier.

Hannah said...

I was listening to a podcast about this same subject and it was all, it depends on what you want to deal with. Because one author had gotten a deal, signed his contract and then when he got an agent (after that) the agent renegotiated his contract and he got more money.

I think there's legal stuff that I would rather not deal with and I'm pretty lazy so if I have someone else selling my work, it's all good. You just have to research the agent thoroughly.

But if you want to deal directly with publishers, there's nothing wrong with that. I have a friend who published his book recently and he did just fine without an agent.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Look for a publisher first. It's a rare first time author who gets on with one of the six big boys in New York with an agent. I'd always heard one needs an agent, but another author told me to pursue a publisher first, get some success, and then move up the ladder with an agent. And once I started looking at all of the publishers who accept direct submissions, I realized it was hundreds of times more than the number of agents out there.
I applaud King for saying that, too!

Mel Chesley said...

Hey B. Email me: Paridzule.keep@gmail.com

I want to tell you my tale of woe, but not here. :D