Friday, May 2, 2014

Do you really need an Agent? What is the value of an Agent? #Pubtalk #ASMSG

Literary agents ~ once upon a time they ruled the world.
Now ... not so much.

Syndicated from:

Authors’ Views on the Value of Agents

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Do I need an agent?
The longstanding advice to new writers was that if they had any hope of a successful career in publishing, they absolutely needed an agent. Myriad books and blogs have been devoted to the topics of how to pitch agents and how to find the right agent. Unfortunately for most authors, winning an agent is easier said than done, and rejection is the rule rather than the exception. With the growth of indie publishing and of presses that will consider unagented work, entrepreneurial authors are starting to ask how relevant agents are in today’s publishing world.
Are agents worth their fifteen percent? The 2014 Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Survey asked more than 2,800 published authors (those in the sample who had started, completed, or published a manuscript) their opinions on various ways that agents help authors. While the survey is a voluntary sample and may not be representative of the population of authors, the responses reported here reflect the opinions of a large number of authors on different publishing paths: 1,563 indie-only authors, 674 traditional-only authors, and 597 hybrid authors.

Overall, the published authors in the survey were quite positive in their estimates of what agents offered authors. Asked whether they strongly disagreed, disagreed, neither agreed nor disagreed, agreed, or strongly agreed with several statement about what agents do, the majority of authors agreed or strongly agreed with each of the statements presented with one exception. Authors were unsure whether agents were helpful to authors who are self-publishing, with 47.6% neither agreeing nor disagreeing with the statement.
published authors agreement with statements of value of agents

The appraisals of the value of agents was indeed quite high, with over 80% of published authors agreeing that agents are worth their commissions. However, a minority of published authors in the sample, only 9.3% currently had an agent.
percent of authors with agents
Authors who had only traditionally published were the most likely to have an agent currently, 16.1%, and authors who had only indie-published were the least likely, 1.6%. Hybrid authors, who are both traditionally published and self-published, were more likely than the other types of published authors to have had agents in the past but to have parted ways, 20.6%.
Given the rosy estimates of what agents can do for authors, one might expect the proportion of published authors seeking literary agents to be quite high. However, just over a third of unagented published authors, 37.7%, are actively seeking agents: 35.2% indie-only, 45.5% traditional-only, and 37.13% hybrid.
In total, 39% of the published authors in the sample have discarded the prevailing wisdom and opted out of the agent search, never having submitted their work to literary agents and not seeking one at the time. Of these, about two thirds, 67.5%, were indie-only authors.
In Part II of this series on agents, I will examine the contribution that having an agent may make to the income authors received from their most recently traditionally published and indie published books, respectively.
Dana Beth Weinberg

About Dana Beth Weinberg

Dana Beth Weinberg, received her doctorate from Harvard University and is Professor of Sociology at Queens College – CUNY, where she directs the MA Program in Data Analytics and Applied Social Research. Her research focuses on organizational behavior, work, and occupations. Inspired by her own personal experiences as a novelist, her current research examines the way that digitization is changing the book industry for readers, writers, and publishers. Find Dana at or @DBWeinberg or


  1. Thus, it seems the answer come from hearsay rather than experience :)

  2. From experience: yes, you want an agent. Yes, an agent is helpful whatever career path you choose. Mine has been helpful in both self and traditional publishing and is worth every penny she's ever made off my writing. You want the RIGHT agent for whatever your choice of career is. And you want an agent you can talk to about your career and your concerns.

  3. Kirsten Nelson, Nelson Literary Agent, shares a generous newsletter which I have followed for the past three years. Before the recession she was pub'bing ~15 books a year. During the dark days of the downturn her agency's debuts' dropped to 3 books-a-year (but she had Jaime Ford's On the Corner of Bitter and Sweet in her stable). She reveals that her agency (OUT of the beltway, located in Colorado) receives over 350,000 queries a year - - - do the math.

    The odds of being hit by lightning are better than the chances of a new-2014 era author landing an agent. I earn $10-18K a year as a wholly independent author; I've been in the business for four years and have the same entree into the global market as an agented author. But I don't have a gateway to movie contracts LOL. An agent/publisher WILL set up your web page for you -- and the Laura K. Curtis website and blog is Hot Property! Her choice of crime/mystery genre was wise and her Penguin books are doing well -- I would imagine she earns .80 per book/eBook. She'll receive that income in from 9 months to 14 months depending on the 'gateways' that it travels from Penguin to her agent to her. (Indie authors receive direct income monthly, or tri-monthly.)

    PLEASE, dear reader, don't think that having an agent = someone does your promoting for you ---> so old school. One person (whether you are an Indie, or agented) does your outreach to readers --- You!

    Hybrid authors, eBook-revenue-splits and other "out of the box" ways of looking at an agent-author relationship would be interesting to hear about.

    1. Awesome perspective!

      I have considered this, and probably sometime later this year I will start hunting for an agent - solely to sell foreign rights and film rights.

      Why? Because I just don't want to mess with it.

      I already put in way too many hours publishing my books, doing promos, working on box sets with other authors, cross-promoting. I am happy to have the added revenue, and let someone else spend their time and effort putting together those deals for me.

      So, I do believe there might be an agent in my future, but, it will be a difficult relationship to find, because I really don't have any interest in 'selling myself' to an agent.

      If they can't take a look at my publications, my social media footprint, and see its worth their time, I have no patience for trying to convince them otherwise.

      And, honestly, I have never filled out a single query form letter. Not one.