I hear this a lot. We – and many other trade presses – have open submissions, meaning anyone may query. So the question is, if that’s the case, then why does an author need an agent?
Ok, I just wrote that to get your attention. But it’s not too far off the mark because I’m more apt to reach into my inbox and open up the query from an agent than I am a query straight from the author. It doesn’t mean the unagented author isn’t cool – not at all the case – but the author hasn’t undergone any vetting. Because of that, I turn down far more unagented authors than I do agented ones.
Knowing How to Pitch
Another reason so many unagented authors are rejected is that they don’t really know how to create a good pitch. And really, there’s no excuse for it considering all the online help that’s available to writers on the elements that make up an effective pitch. The agented author has a leg up because agents do this for a living. I’m not saying that all agents do a bang up job, but the odds are in their favor.
If you’re offered a contract for publication, do you know how to successfully negotiate your contract? Agents do, and they know what is most open for negotiation and how hard to push. I’ve seen several offers go belly up because the authors were trying to negotiate their own contracts, and they were pushing all the wrong buttons. It’s frustrating because there are certain things we won’t won’t budge on and other things where we will. All publishers have their sticking points, and if an author continues to push them, the editor is going to walk away because it’s not in their best interest. An agent understands these things and look for compromises elsewhere within the contract.
I can’t drive home this point enough – contract negotiation is a fine art best left to those who know what they’re doing. Some will say get a lit attorney, but they don’t understand publishers’ breaking points, and there’s no skin off the attorney’s nose if the deal goes south – they get paid no matter how things turn out. It’s far less personal because they have zero investment in you other than to interpret the contract. Personally, I look forward to these kinds of negotiations as I would a root canal.
There are times (sadly) when there’s a breakdown or personality clash between author and editor. And yes, it happens to every editor at some point. The agent can be an author’s savior because they serve as the buffer zone between the author and editor in order to sustain the publishing relationship. If an author is on their own, things can go south very quickly. I had one such case, and after nearly a year of his verbal abuse, I dumped his ass. No one gets paid enough to take that kind of crap.
You certainly can act as your own agent; a few of my friends do, however, they’ve been publishing books for a long time and know how to negotiate their own contracts. In short, the old adage of “he who acts as his own attorney has a fool for a client” isn’t just a cute little ditty. It’s the difference between a pleasant publishing experience and a nightmare.