PDA

View Full Version : Are Agents As Much the Norm as They Were Twenty-Five Years Ago?



Sapphire135
03-14-2015, 01:47 AM
In the early nineties I was under contract with a literary agency where I stayed for over a decade. About a year ago, I signed a contract with a new agency. Way back when I wrote my first novel, the general wisdom was: you write a book, you get an agent, you get a book deal.

It never occurred to me that this might be antiquated thinking nowadays. However, lately I am noticing that more and more people do not seem to have an agent at all. I belong to RWA, for instance, and in their new release section there are quite a few listed that say "self-published." Also, I see quite a few presses that allow authors to submit directly to them. I do not recall it being this way twenty years ago. Add into the mix that it feels like every time I do a search for a book to read on Amazon I get tons of books that were made through CreateSpace (I think that is what it is called). It has made me wonder.

I love my agent and am not considering going agent-less. Having an agent works for me. I am just curious, with the digital age and all, is having an agent not as much the gold standard as it was say twenty or thirty years ago?

Hope this is the right place to post this question!

Mr Flibble
03-14-2015, 02:42 AM
It's going to depend very much on both genre and what you want from writing

The romance genre especially has many avenues open to the unagented author (I've got 6 books out in that arena, before I got an agent...who does not deal with romance, but handles my SFF)


Diffeent genres will have different expectations. Self pubbed is another thing -- though again (and imo) romance is one of the better genres to self pub in -- the readers were early adopters of kindles etc, and they don;t always know/care if you have a publisher. Is the book good? Do they like the blurb? Did their friends love it?

If you are writing romance, you've got a lot of unagented options

BUT

Depending on the book, you may find better sales etc by getting an agent. May being the operative word, because you could do pretty damned well in places you don't need one (several HQ imprints do not require an agent iirc and for instance)


Bottom line -- what do you want for this book?

Siri Kirpal
03-14-2015, 03:32 AM
Sat Nam! (Literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

It's harder nowadays to be published with one of the Big 5 or one of the larger independent trade publishers without an agent than it was 25 years ago.

Self publishing is easier. now that it was. That does not mean it's for everyone or that it's easy. If you (like me) have little or no entrepreneurial skills, it's not the way to go.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

BenPanced
03-14-2015, 03:43 AM
I belong to RWA, for instance, and in their new release section there are quite a few listed that say "self-published."
I want to say most, if not all, of those are for people who have already been commercially published elsewhere and are self-pubbing a back catalog, which has also been happening a lot lately.

Roxxsmom
03-14-2015, 07:37 AM
I've heard that for trade publishing, getting an agent is even more needed than it was 25 years ago. Seems like many of the big 5 imprints won't look at a novel without an agent these days. And it's one of those "you can't go back" things. If you decide to submit to all the markets that are open to unagented manuscripts, and ten years later (it seems like it can take that long, given how long some sit in slush piles and how many want exclusive submissions), you've got no takers, trying to glean an agent would be even harder.

And while I know that not everyone on these boards agrees with this, it seems like the editorial expertise that many agents bring to the table would be a plus, especially for a debut author. Regardless of whether or not this is a good thing or something most are qualified to do (whatever that means), most of the agents out there who are looking for debut authors seem to say (when it comes up) that they work with their clients on edits. I assume they wouldn't be doing this extremely time-consuming extra step if they didn't think it increased the likelihood of a novel selling.

There are some people who got their first book sale without an agent (I know one who queried with their offer in hand and got an agent who then helped them negotiate something better than the publisher's "boilerplate" contract terms). But it seems smarter to try and get an agent first, then try self publishing or submitting directly to the publishers who don't require agents if you get no love.

Sapphire135
03-14-2015, 08:25 AM
The whole thing is interesting to me mainly because I remember how it was way back when. The whole necessity of having an agent, I mean. Of course, way back when, there were no ebooks or even email.

Thanks for the responses!

JubbyO
03-17-2015, 12:18 AM
I am in a "literary/academic" critique group and I am one of the few who is actively seeking to entice an agent. Almost all the rest are looking for small publishers or self-publishing. I don't know why that is. It blew my mind actually.

cornflake
03-17-2015, 12:24 AM
I am in a "literary/academic" critique group and I am one of the few who is actively seeking to entice an agent. Almost all the rest are looking for small publishers or self-publishing. I don't know why that is. It blew my mind actually.

There are people who do a lot of research and find that, for them, self-publishing or seeking a small publisher are the best fit, for a variety of reasons.

I get the feeling, from stuff I've read elsewhere mostly, and some comments from people who've found there way here, that there's a LOT of misinformation about publishing that's been quite widely and well spread, that's led to what you've noticed.

As I said, for some people, this is a choice they make fully and with open eyes. For others, they seem to have bought the 'agents won't take unpublished authors/it's better to self-pub something and wait for agents and houses to come to you/there's tons of easy money to be made in self-pubbing/agents and houses take all your money, you can keep all your riches by self-pubbing/you have to do all your own 'marketing' anyway, publishing houses don't do anything/etc., etc., etc.' stuff and not done research into the veracity of that stuff.

I've also found it hard to penetrate that veil - it's always 'well, Bob self-published his thriller and made a million and then a publishing house and agents came running, this is how it happens now!'

Jamesaritchie
03-17-2015, 09:23 AM
Agents are far, far, far more the norm now than they were twenty-five years ago. Twenty-five years ago, standard advice was to shop your first book without an agent, and use that contract to get an agent. Almost none of the publishers that looked at unsolicited manuscripts twenty-five years ago still do so today.

blacbird
03-17-2015, 11:24 AM
Agents are far, far, far more the norm now than they were twenty-five years ago. Twenty-five years ago, standard advice was to shop your first book without an agent, and use that contract to get an agent. Almost none of the publishers that looked at unsolicited manuscripts twenty-five years ago still do so today.

Twenty-five years (or more) ago you used to be able to send unsolicited manuscripts to agents, as well. Not any more. Now we have "pitch" and "query" and "hook."

And God help you if you can't play those games well.

caw

Aggy B.
03-17-2015, 02:50 PM
Twenty-five years (or more) ago you used to be able to send unsolicited manuscripts to agents, as well. Not any more. Now we have "pitch" and "query" and "hook."

And God help you if you can't play those games well.

caw

Computers and email have made the production of manuscript length work far easier (though writing a good book is just as challenging as before), and email now means submissions don't cost anything (whereas before there were postage costs involved). This makes it far easier for anyone with computer and internet to send material to an agent, thus increasing the amount of slush received. Queries are one way to keep that manageable.

Learning how to pitch a story in a single sentence is invaluable as a writer. I've met a lot of folks who insist they "can't" distill their book into a single logline and they are always the ones with poorly edited, bulky manuscripts who get suckered by the whole "debut authors never get published by the big guys so just self-publish" crowd. (Or worse. They are also ripe for the picking by vanity presses.)

Pitch, query and hook are not strategies for a game - they are vital business skills. (I still send my agent a "query" of sorts for new projects because it's the easiest way to show him how I think it should be pitched, and it demonstrates I have a clear idea of what I want to do with the book.)

Jamesaritchie
03-17-2015, 05:23 PM
Pitch, query and hook are not strategies for a game - they are vital business skills. (I still send my agent a "query" of sorts for new projects because it's the easiest way to show him how I think it should be pitched, and it demonstrates I have a clear idea of what I want to do with the book.)

Maybe, but I have no doubt at all that the query process is why every editor I know, along with most agents I've had or talked to, complains about not being able to find enough really good, unusual fiction.

A query is not a god way of showing anyone anything, except that you can write a good query. This is not at all teh same as being able to write a good novel. It just isn't.

Nor is a pitch, and certainly not some "hook".

The only way you can show anyone you can write good fiction is for them to read your fiction. Query slush always contains a lot of good queries. Few of them, very, very few, result in a good novel. Likewise, bad queries very often hide a great novel.

The good news is that most agents and editors will at least look at the first five pages of your manuscript, and these are far more important than a pitch, or a query, or a "hook".

I understand teh logic of using only pitches, queries, and some sort of "hook". There are many, many more writers now than there were pre-internet. This immensely large number does fill the slush to overflowing.

But I also believe teh logic is completely flawed. All it does is find those who can pitch better, or write a query better, or come up with some clever "hook" that's meaningless where writing a good novel is concerned.

The simple fact is that no one on earth can tell how well you write a novel by how well you pitch, by how well you write a query, or by how well you come up with a "hook".

Being good at these things is not a sign of being good at writing a novel, and being bad at these things is not a sign of writing a bad novel.

Getting teh first five pages into teh hands of an agent or editor does help, does even out the playing field a good deal, but in this age of electronic submissions, there is no reason for agents and editors not to accepted at least the first three chapters.

E-mails do not take up space like paper submissions, and an agent or editor can read one sentence, or the entire thing, as they choose, so the time factor really doesn't change much, either. If they decide to read all three chapters, it will be because those chapters are good.

I have seen a few agents and editors who have started doing just this over the last year or so, and I really hope it's a trend that spreads.

There are simply far too many good writers out there who can't find an agent or a publisher under the current system, and too many poor writers who do. If not a game, it most certainly is a poor way of doing business, at least from the standpoint of new writers, and, I have no doubt, for publishers, as well.

Aggy B.
03-17-2015, 07:27 PM
When I was querying (a year and a half ago) there were only a handful of agents that didn't request the first 10 pages or so as a part of the query package. (Even the couple of folks who still only took queries via snail-mail asked for the first chapter in addition to the query letter.)

It's rare these days for any agent to be making a decision based only on a query letter (although there are still some who roll that way).

As always, if you want to be a published author writing an excellent novel is the most important thing you can do. But being able to answer the inevitable question "What's this book about?" is also a key skill. If one is capable of learning how to formulate a logline/pitch/query that accurately and effectively communicates the contents of one's novel, then one should certainly learn how to do just that. Why refuse to learn how to sell what one has created? (If one is incapable of learning this skill then one should get help from those who have it.)

As far as "excellent" queries for poorly written books go, they aren't "excellent" at all if they have misrepresented the author's ability and/or the content of the manuscript. (And yes, there are folks who work really hard on perfecting their query when they should be working on perfecting their manuscript. I knew a few of those in film school too, and they tend to come out in the wash, so to speak.)

So, while the value of the query process is debatable, the value of learning how to pitch one's work is not. Unless one is the sort to never talk to anyone about one's books ever, in which case learning to pitch is a waste of time.

blacbird
03-18-2015, 09:45 AM
If one is capable of learning how to formulate a logline/pitch/query that accurately and effectively communicates the contents of one's novel, then one should certainly learn how to do just that. Why refuse to learn how to sell what one has created? (If one is incapable of learning this skill then one should get help from those who have it.)

. . .

So, while the value of the query process is debatable, the value of learning how to pitch one's work is not. Unless one is the sort to never talk to anyone about one's books ever, in which case learning to pitch is a waste of time.

I fear, alas, that I is one of them ones.

Or maybe several of 'em.

caw

Sapphire135
03-18-2015, 10:09 PM
Agents are far, far, far more the norm now than they were twenty-five years ago. Twenty-five years ago, standard advice was to shop your first book without an agent, and use that contract to get an agent. Almost none of the publishers that looked at unsolicited manuscripts twenty-five years ago still do so today.

I was very young when I got my first agent and my understanding was the opposite. Then again, I was very young, so except for the advice of my mentor and later my own agent, I knew very little about the publishing world. I am glad to know it is actually even more the norm today to have an agent. Some of the things I have seen of late have made me wonder if the necessity for agents was diminishing. The landscape has changed so much in the last quarter century.

Argus
03-25-2015, 08:39 AM
In the early nineties I was under contract with a literary agency where I stayed for over a decade. About a year ago, I signed a contract with a new agency. Way back when I wrote my first novel, the general wisdom was: you write a book, you get an agent, you get a book deal.

Back in the nineties, literary agents weren't flooded with manuscripts by everyone and their momma either.