Do You Need an Agent?
Do any of you have an agent, who are here? Who wants an agent? (laughs) Yeah. I mean it's... They're helpful, and also you don't necessarily need them. You need them for some things, not for everything. Let me see. I published six books before I got an agent, and I was publishing on small and medium sized presses, and those publishers, you don't necessarily need an agent to get through the door. They're more likely, and open to looking at stuff that comes to them, either through the slush pile; and that's when you sort of, just submit something unknown, or if you can get an introduction to that publisher by somebody else who's published on them. They're very willing to look. Small, medium sized presses are much more accessible. And you know, it's an agent's job to get you money, and sometimes these small presses just don't have money, and so they don't like working with agents, because it's like a struggle that kind of goes nowhere. With a larger press, the stakes are higher. If you wa...
nt to get onto these larger presses, you generally do need an agent. At the very least, having an agent shows these bigger presses, where there's more financially at stake, that your work has been vetted; somebody can vouch for you. Your agent will probably have relationships with these editors, so they'll be like, oh, it's so and so's, one of so and so's new writers. Oh, she's got, you know, great taste. She gave us x, y, and z. So, it's kind of like the publishing world, in a big way, is sort of divided into these two different worlds, which is the independent presses; those small and medium presses on one side. The smaller ones, no agent. The bigger, medium ones, you can agented and work with. And then these really large, more corporate presses, and you really need an agent to get in the door with them. So it might have something to do, whether or not you need an agent with, where would you like your book to be published ideally. You know, if you have a small press that you idolize, and you think they do great work, and it would honor you to be on that press, you can probably just kind of contact them directly. If you want your books to be in airport bookstores, you want to get an agent and get with a big press. That's how that happens. Let me see. Here's some things agents will do to you. So they'll connect you with publishers. They will bring you to publishers you probably couldn't get to on your own; editors that you can't get to on your own. Once somebody wants your book, they will fight to get you a better deal than what is initially offered. In the best case scenario, they will have shopped your book around to a bunch of publishers and would have gotten interest from more than a few editors. And then you get a bidding war, and that does happen. It's very exciting. They can be your go between with the editor, once you are working with them. If something is uncomfortable, if you don't like something that your editor did. If there's some sort of issue, and you just feel like you don't wanna deal with it, your agent will go in there and talk to the editor. That's really great if you're like me, and you're a conflict averse people pleaser; you can just kind of have the agent. And also, if you were like, a loose cannon. (laughs) It could also be great to have your very professional agent kind of deal with your editor so you don't, you know, mess things up. For all of this service, your agent will take 15% of your money. In my experience, agents have gotten me money that I would have never been able to get on my own. So it was every bit worth it to have their help. That was my experience. Here's some things that agents might do. They might help you with your proposal; which, my agent helped me with How to Grow Up proposal. She really held my hand through it, and I'm really grateful for that. She was kind of, more of a young, starting out agent, and I think she had the time and space to do that. I know there are other agents who are very big and powerful, with huge client rosters, and they're probably not gonna hold your hand through it. So, that's something to think about. They will probably give you editorial notes too. Like, if you give them a book and they think like, oh, I think I could sell this if you kind of made it more like that, you know. They'll give you that. They're not going to sit down and line edit your book, or anything like that, but they'll give you overall notes that can help you if you wanna take it. Can help you shape your work; basically more to their liking. So, that's something that you have to weigh a little bit, right? You have to think, do I agree with these notes? You know, this is what... The notes you get from an agent will be what that agent needs the book to look like for that agent to sell your book to their network. You know, maybe it's not the right match. Maybe there's a different editor, agent out there with a different network, and you won't have to make those changes. So, always trust your gut. If you're getting feedback that you need to make changes, and they just feel so wrong to you, don't take the advice. You have to stick with the book that only you can write. Agents will not charge you money up front. If any agent tries to charge you money up front, run from them. But first, spit a raspberry at them, and flip them the bird because they're terrible people, taking advantage of poor, you know, struggling writers. And they won't edit your manuscript, so that's on you. You can always work with freelance editors that will edit your manuscript for a fee. There's lots of people that offer that service, and I imagine it's really helpful if you're so in your book that you can't really see clearly what needs to happen to kind of bring it up to the next level.
Those working on or about to complete their first book are likely wondering what comes next. How will you go about getting your work published? What are the various options available? And what are the steps for each pathway to publication?
Michelle Tea is an award-winning author, editor and teacher who’s published her work in every conceivable way. She’s placed works with the help of an agent and on her own, and she’s published with tiny independent presses as well as major imprints of Penguin and HarperCollins.
This class will demystify the publishing process, present the pros and cons of the different ways to publish, and help you figure out the method that’s right for you. It will also address what happens after publication, including the promotion of your book.
In this class, you’ll learn how to:
- Create a book proposal, including the introduction, pitch, sell, bio, table of contents and sample chapters.
- Figure out if you need an agent by looking at what agents do and don’t do for you.
- Acquire an agent and let one go.
- Self-publish your work as a zine, chapbook or blog.
- Join or build a literary community.
- Choose between a small or large publisher.
- Understand book deals, including royalties, two-book deals and right of first refusal.
- Promote your book with blurbs, galleys, online content, social media, essays and tours.