Are literary agents really necessary?
I recently received an email from an aspiring writer, asking if agents are necessary.
The short answer is ‘yes.’
You can certainly make a go of it on your own…write your book, submit to publishing houses and hope for a monster deal, but the chances of the manuscript making it past the slush pile and on to an editor’s desk are extremely slim. And then there’s the whole liability thing. Most companies don’t open unsolicited manuscripts for fear of lawsuits.
You might get some traction with smaller publishers, but in order to play in the big leagues, you need to have a lit agent with major market chops.
The major publishing world is really quite small. The New York editors and agents all know one another… They lunch together, trade tips and industry gossip, and enjoy a (usually) friendly and robust competition. Agents with any real juice know exactly which editors are buying what, and their calls are promptly returned. Sure, there are agents in DC, Chicago, LA and Atlanta, and many do quite well for their clients. Chances are, however, they started in New York, built bridges and credibility, and then moved on to their city of choice.
Literary agents typically take a 15% commission for their services, and it’s worth every penny.
1) NEVER pay a ‘reading’ or other advance fee. Legitimate agents don’t charge advance fees.
2) If you’re a first-time author, write your book in its entirety before seeking out an agent.