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Do you need a literary agent?

Iain Broome
Iain Broome
4 min read

Video time again and this week, or last week actually, if we’re being specific about it, I talked about literary agents.

One of the questions I’ve been asked most frequently by writers in the last couple of years is: ‘Do I need a literary agent?’ It seems to me that the answer depends entirely on the type of writer you are and, more importantly, how you want your work to be published.

Anyway, you can watch the video here or on YouTube. Or you can read the full transcript below.

Full transcript

Do you need a literary agent? Now there’s a question.

And here’s an answer: it depends. There we go, thank you
for watching. You can subscribe to my YouTube channel… I’m joking.

The funny thing is, this didn’t used to be a question at all. I think it’s fair to say that before the rise of self-publishing, if you’d written a book and you wanted people to read it
then you probably needed to get a literary agent.

But now self-publishing does exist in a very large and significant way, so let me try and answer the question properly by painting two or three scenarios. And let’s start with being self-published.

If you’ve written a book and you intend fully to self-publish it through Amazon or the iBooks store, wherever it may be, then you probably don’t want a literary agent. You want to do all the work, you want to keep all the money, and you want to keep that delicious, delicious control.

And that’s totally fine. Absolutely fine. You carry on. I have a tremendous respect for people who self-publish their work because it’s difficult, challenging, and pretty much just as difficult to get any rewards as publishing in any other way.

However, it’s worth noting that some people kind of do both. Some people will self-publish their books and then other books they will have an agent for. I don’t think it’s especially common or a widespread thing. It’s definitely the case with more successful self-publishers who have then gone on to, for certain books, get an agent too.

Anyway, this question has cropped up a couple of times and it’s always been from people who are looking to publish in a more traditional way. Even then, this was not a question a few years ago. Most writers accepted that if you wanted to get a publishing deal then the chances of you getting actually seen by a publisher, getting your manuscript in front of someone who might actually say yes to it, then you are probably going to need an agent to get it into that position.

Because that’s one of the key things that an agent does. They have all the industry knowledge and key contacts to make sure that your book ends up on the desk of the right person at the right publisher. It’s the kind of thing that you can’t really do yourself, unless you’ve worked in the publishing industry
for several years. Which, I have to say, is a rather tremendous shortcut that some people do take.

But, should I get a literary agent? This is now a real question because some publishers do take on authors who haven’t got an agent. So I guess my answer is it can happen and you do need to think about whether you want one. But the question you really need to ask is what will an agent do for me?

My own experience and I think most people’s experience is that having an agent is like having someone else on your team who is your best supporter ever. Having an agent should mean that you always have someone to be totally behind you, who has always got your back, who is always there for you.

Their entire reason for being is to make sure your book does as well as it possibly can do. That it finds the right home,
is worked on by the right people and ultimately is read by as many people as possible.

And me personally, I want that person on my team. I’m interested in publishing and rights and various other intricacies of the business, but I don’t really want to be dealing with the day to day of those things. Apart from being useless at maths, I’m not that fussed about going through my contract line by line to make sure that everything is in the right place.

And that’s one of the things an agent will do for you. They will handle the entire business side of your… business. And I suppose that’s an interesting way of looking at it. If you don’t have an agent, you’re going to be handling the entire business operation as well as the actual creative writing side of things. If you do have a agent, then you have someone in place to take care of all of that for you.

Now, of course, the truth is your agent is going to need to be paid for that. I think it’s still the case that most agents will take 15% of whatever you make, in terms of an advance and royalties, and that kind of thing. In my opinion and experience, that’s 15% very well spent.

Ultimately, like I said at the start of this video, it really depends on what you want as an author. The reason I say it depends is because you don’t need a literary agent, but I believe that having one significantly improves your chance of finding not just a publisher, but the right publisher. And then getting the best very deal for your book.

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I'm the author of the novel, A is for Angelica. Every week, I send Draft Mode, a newsletter full of tips and tools that help you improve your craft and promote your writing.