A comment to a post on The Agent as Publisher by regular visitor and longtime professional author, Laura Resnick:
“I don’t see much future for the profession ”
I am very sadly forced to disagree with you. At least for the foreseeable future. I was at a con last weekend, my first in about two years I think, and I found that the myth that “you have to have a literary agent” was alive and well and being proclaimed loudly, often, and emphatically again and again and again on the writer panels there.
I was assigned to a panel about agents on the final day, which was (IIRC) the first time I discussed the subject all weekend. And when I contradicted the assumption that you have to have an agent, explained that my sales record and income have typically been better WITHOUT agents than WITH during my 20+ years as a full-time, self-supporting writer, and that my sales frequency, advances, and income all improved significantly after I permanently shed agents from my business model six years ago…
The reaction was as if I had suddenly grown an extra head. And not in a good way.
As long as writers keep telling each other and everyone else that you HAVE TO HAVE AN AGENT, the majority of writers aspiring writers are going to keep beleiving it.
In the past year or two, I have been VERY pleased and relieved to see that my position is finally no longer the seemingly unique and isolated anomaly that it has largely been since I shed agents form my business model 5-6 years ago and starting talking about it.
These days, I know more and more writers who are working without agents–including, yep, writing for large traditional publishers. A couple of longtime, well-networked pros I recently had dinner with were talking about how many longtime career writers they know who are now thinking about shedding their agents–because they’re increasingly finding that their agents cost too much money while doing too little of the work. Some writers making first sales on their own are increasingly wondering, well, now that I’ve broken in and started selling… why should I go hire someone who’ll take 15% of the money to do what I’m already doing? (Whereas selling to a publisher has long been seen as an “opportunity” to get an agent, many of whom hate heavy lifting and will therefore only consider clients who are ALREADY selling books.) Other writers are self-publishing, where having an agent isn’t just an unnecessary expense, and small presses, where agents have never been considered necessary (and which many agents have long been unwilling or reluctant to deal with).
So things are certainly improving. But the myth that you MUST have an agent is nonetheless alive and well–and, as I discovered last weekend, still repeated loudly, emphatically, and often.
Additionally, a longtime pro I know who recently decided to stop working with agents, having grown tired (as did I) of mostly selling his own books and then being required to donate 15% of those deals to the agent anyhow (even when the writer’s self-generated sale is with a project the agent had declined to send out)… Recently got a rejection from an editor at a major house declining to read the MS because it’s unagented.
As I said to the writer… that’s an editor who’s too stupid to work with, so be glad you found out now, BEFORE the editor had a chance to damage your career with inept in-house management of the book. This is a bestselling writer with dozens of book sales… but the editor won’t even LOOK at the MS… because the writer is too sensible to pay someone 15% of the income just to FWD the paperwork after sale. That’s an editor who’s clearly terrible at the job–the job being to look for, acquire, and publish “books thatreaders will buy,” not to look for, acquire, and publish “books that were sent to the editor by a literary agent.”
But, again, as long as their are editors THAT in inept (in that particular way), as well as writers running around insisting loudly and in public that it’s “impossible” to sell a book or to get a good contract without an agent, etc… This industry will continue to be flooded with literary agents–including mediocre, inept, unethical, and incompetent ones.