Do Writers Need Agents?

At the end of the year, I asked readers what they’d like to see more of here at the blog. I got quite a few requests for posts about the business end of publishing.

Specifically, I was asked about agents.

I’m currently sans-agent, because I’m focused at the moment on further developing my indie career. The agent I had got me some lovely deals–a two-book and one-book deal, each at a Big-5 publishing house.

But it probably didn’t happen the way you’re envisioning.

I think most writers who have never had an agent imagine that it’s the answer to everything. That once you sign, a book deal is imminent and inevitable. To be sure, an agent can open doors. But neither one of my deals came quickly. They both required more than a year of submitting and getting editorial feedback and resubmitting. I was really lucky that my agent was willing to stick the process out with me, and to continue to submit rewrites with the same amount of enthusiasm as she did the first round.

Without it, those projects would have been dead in the water.

If you’re looking to snag an agent, it’s clearly not going to happen during a face-to-face meeting at a conference. At least, not for the foreseeable future. It’s probably going to depend to some extent on a good query. I’ve written about query letters before, but I’ll rerun my own format for queries here:

  1. A third of the page devoted to the book itself—and no more than a third. I know you have a ton to say about your story, but it really needs to be brief. Think in terms of jacket copy. It often helps to start with a one-sentence tagline. If you can boil your book down to one sentence first, then writing a couple of paragraphs feels far less daunting.
  2. A third of the page devoted to the importance of the book—how it fits into the market, how you believe it fills a hole. If it’s children’s literature, you might indicate how the book would be useful in a classroom, etc.
  3. A third of the page devoted to your credentials (I’m including any platforms or followings you might have). If you’re a first-time author, you’ll take up less space here.

That being said, have I sold a book without an agent? Yes. I’ll talk about that more next week.

Got a question of your own? One about the writing process or the business of writing? Feel free to hit me up: hollyschindlerbooks (at) gmail (dot) com.