Some of the most common questions beginning writers ask are “Do I need an agent? How will I know when I need an agent? Why would an indie author ever work with an agent?”
If you’re just starting out as a writer, with nothing that’s yet publishable, then you don’t need an agent. At least for the moment.
The main role of an agent is to help you sell your book to a traditional publisher and then to negotiate the contract and manage your relationship with the publisher. So if you have nothing to sell yet, then you don’t need an agent to help sell it.
An agent may also give you some help on editing your manuscript, planning your career, or washing your cat. But none of these are the main job of an agent. If you need help editing your manuscript, but you don’t intend to sell it to a traditional publisher, then you should hire a freelance editor, not an agent. If you need help managing your career, but you don’t plan on working with traditional publishers, then hire a life coach, not an agent. If you ask your agent to wash your cat, you’re going to have one angry cat and one very unhappy agent.
Most traditionally published authors have agents. The reason is that most traditional publishers don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts from authors, so the only way to get your manuscript in front of an acquisition editor is through an agent. (If you happen to know an acquisition editor at a traditional publisher, you may be able to send your manuscript directly to that editor. If you decide to take this route, you should ask yourself how many acquisition editors you know. I know a few trad-pubbed authors with enough connections that they prefer not to work with an agent. But not many.)
Most indie authors don’t have agents. The reason is because most indie authors have nothing for an agent to do.
Hybrid authors (authors who publish both traditionally and independently) typically have agents because they typically need an agent for their work with traditional publishers. But hybrid authors need to have an agreement with their agent about their indie work, just to avoid misunderstandings.
I started life as a traditionally published author and worked my way through three agents. My third agent died (and I miss him greatly), but before his death, I had shifted most of my efforts to the indie way. So after his death, I terminated my contract with his agency because I thought I no longer needed an agent.
But if you’re successful enough as an indie author, you may find that you need an agent after all. And that’s where I now find myself. After the release of my last book, I suddenly started receiving e-mails from foreign publishers and agents, inquiring about foreign rights to my books.
I’m a very busy guy right now. In principle, I could figure out how to vet these kind of requests, filter out the riffraff, and negotiate deals. But I don’t have the time.
So I e-mailed an agent, (Steve Laube, a long-time friend of mine who acquired several of my novels years ago when he was an editor,) and asked if he’d be willing to handle this part of my business for me. He agreed, so we worked out a flexible agreement that makes sense to both of us, and he’s now on it.
Indie authors need to build a team of go-to people who can handle tasks as needed. A typical indie may have any or all of the following kinds of people on their team:
- A freelance editor for macro editing, copyediting, and/or line editing.
- A freelance proofreader.
- A freelance formatter to handle e-book and paper book formatting.
- A freelance audiobook narrator.
- A freelance graphic designer for book covers and other needs.
- A web developer.
- An accountant.
- An agent.
- A mastermind group of entrepreneur-minded authors who help each other work through the chaos of life.
In my case, I work with almost all of the above, with just a couple of exceptions. I do my own copyediting and line editing, and I do my formatting for e-books and paper books. But I also know people I could hire for each of these jobs, in case I ever need them.
Do you have a team yet? What roles do you need for your team. Who’s on your team?