Monday, October 17, 2016

Do I Need an Agent?

This TA series of posts is about agents.  There isn’t a right or wrong answer about agents.  Like everything else in this business the benefit of having an agent is subjective.  As most writers can attest, it is almost as hard to get an agent, as it is a publishing house. 

An agent is not a magic door to fame and fortune.  

Just because a writer signs with an agent doesn’t mean instant success.  There are many times when an agent sells nothing for a particular writer. 

I began writing without an agent.  I wrote my first four books, found publishers, and negotiated the contracts without any help.  It can be done. 

By my the time I negotiated my fourth book contract, the third with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, they would not budge on some of the contract details they changed on earlier contracts.  They refused to change a lot of things saying this and that was now “boilerplate” in the contract.  I suspect they would not have done the same with an agent representing me. 

I decided an agent could get better contracts for me in the future.  So I signed with an agent before my next book.  I changed publishers for the next two books with a different publisher. Having an agent took some of the pressure off of contract negotiations.  But for that, I will pay her 15% of every dollar I ever earn on that book.  And every other book she sells for me, as long as any money is ever made on those books.    

Every author must decide if the agent can help him or her make 15% more money than they could have negotiated for themselves.  Or is their help worth 15% to them?  

It is a business decision.  Writers need to remember that.

That said, I am happy with my agent.  It was only through my agent that I was asked to write a book for Scholastic titled Tech Titans.  It was a work for hire book that paid well.  I never would have gotten that chance without her.  So for me, she has been a great help to me for that book alone.  Plus she has negotiated good contracts.  And when she calls the editor or contracts department to ask a question, she gets an answer right away.  Then a few months ago, my agent handled all the details when my new book went to auction-which would not have happened without her. 

Can you succeed without an agent?  Yes. 

Are there times when having an agent really helps?  Yes.

Is having an agent a guarantee for a successful writing career?  No. 

Like I said, everything is subjective. 

Carla Killough McClafferty

Enter the giveaway for Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market 2017!  It ends on October 31 and is open to U.S. 
For more details see the following post by JoAnn Early Maken.


Carmela Martino said...

>>An agent is not a magic door to fame and fortune. <<
Thanks for highlighting this fact, Carla. Many of my students assume otherwise.

jan godown annino said...

This is an always-fascinating topic for authors.
Thanks for these insights, Carla.
And so cool about the work-for-hire that paid well & about the auction!

Carla Killough McClafferty said...

Thanks, Carmela, for this comment. Many writers believe that everything will be easy if ONLY they could get an agent. Carla

Carla Killough McClafferty said...

Thanks, Jan, for taking time to comment. The situation and path for each writer is vastly different. This makes the question of an agent a hard one to answer. I wish you every success. Carla

Mary Ann Rodman said...

I've managed to see and publish ten books without an agent. Not because I didn't want an agent...I cannot interest an agent, even though I have a proven track record. I've been told they think I'm good writer but...they don't represent picture book authors who aren't also illustrators2) historical fiction 3) I'm too "literary"...whatever THAT means. I know my current WIP will be a tough sell, so I would love to have an agent's historical fiction. Again.

Carla Killough McClafferty said...

Mary Ann, that is a good point to make. Your books are wonderful and successful-so common sense would say any agent should be thrilled to represent you. In the end you may be better off without an agent. I think each writer must write what their heart and passion tells them to. I know I do. I would like to write about a "happy" topic, but the books that tug at my heart are heavy, complex ones. Like the Holocaust, concessions, and now slavery. They are the books I know are mine to write. I'm not sure why, but they are.

I think nonfiction has more interest right now in general, but that doesn't mean it is easy to get an agent or get anything published. It is not easy.

Carla Killough McClafferty said...

Ha, that is a typo. I meant "concussions" not concessions. Carla