6 benefits of NOT having a Literary Agent

Most blog posts on publishing related websites talk about how important it is to have Literary agents represent authors. So it is only inevitable that the reverse question comes up frequent, specially from authors who’ve tried their best to reach out to the best literary agents in town (and outside) and haven’t had much luck.

Aren’t there any advantages of not having a literary agency offer representation? You bet there are.

There are always two sides to any story. Well, unless you are a politician…in which case you might have many more sides.

You don’t necessarily need a literary agent if you think you can manage many of the things they do. Here’s a list of benefits you might get if you don’t work with a literary agent.

Top 6 benefits of NOT having a Literary Agent

As always, this is not a comprehensive list. But hopeful this post, along with the others on this site, gives you a balanced perspective.

1. Save money

No literary agency commissions = You get to keep 100% of your royalty income, for life.

There’s no need to keep paying another team 10%-20% of your publishing income. If you have an literary agency representing your works, it’s not just your primary printed novel that you’ll pay the commission on, it’s also the derivative works – ebooks, movie rights, translation works, audio books. And it doesn’t end after a few years. It goes on till eternity or till all your work goes out of circulation.

2. Save time

When you have an intermediary in any process, there’s one extra hop to get from the source to the destination. So you sell your idea to the agent and then the agent sells it to a publisher. That theoretically adds many more months to complete the sales pitch cycle.

Assuming you are as efficient as the literary agency to identify the right publishers and the right editor within that team (big dependency on that assumption, so read it again), you are cutting the timeline by half. In the publishing industry where things move at a snail’s pace, that’s a huge benefit. You could start working on your next novel several months/years earlier.

3. Have more control

Once you have handed over the reins to the literary agency, you’ve pretty much relinquish complete control over where they submit and where they don’t. If there are suggestions to take up editing services or marketing services (either their own or one of their partners), how do you evaluate whether their recommendation is really in your interest or there’s a conflict of interest.

When you are managing the process by yourself, you know exactly where the manuscript is going.

Once a publisher has shown interest in your book, you can also arguably be more aggressive in your negotiations. Not sure why I’m saying this? Hang on for just a while more as this point is linked to the next one.

4. Gain more transparency

Playing the role of the intermediaries comes with some baggage. Agents represent authors. They get their commission from authors. So ideally, it would be expected that they only keep the authors interest in mind.

But look at the bigger picture. There are fewer good publishers for them to approach while the number of authors is huge. Which means agents can’t be as aggressive as you would like them to be for every single point that you believe in – the book advance, many clauses in your publishing contract and the overall expectations from the publisher.

Once your book has been sold to a publisher and both you and your agency have made a killing, you’d go back to your life. The agents still have to go back to the same publishers for subsequent book sales. So they can’t rub folks out there the wrong way.

5. Explore more options

This one’s more at a psychological level. If you’ve got a literary agency representing you and pushing your book to various publishing houses, it becomes a little more difficult to pull the plug.

There have been many cases internationally where many well-respected literary agencies have enthusiastically taken up new authors. But they have failed miserably. They couldn’t sell the book to even a single publisher. The author keeps waiting hoping that the book is in safe hands and it’s only a matter of time before the phone rings and she gets the good news from her agent.

Also the expectation levels go up. For the author, anything less than the top tier publishing house would be below par.

6. Avoid being taken for a ride

This is less of a concern when you are working with a reputed, honest and professional literary agency. But that breed is difficult to come by, specially in India.

In the super-competitive publishing industry, where desperation levels (to get published) are very high and new authors are willing to take any support that comes their way, the number of unprofessional and fraud literary agents is also very high.

The author thinks she is in good hands. And the agency takes undue advantage of that trust. Readers of my blog have reached out offline to share their stories (though I clarify that I can’t help out in a personal capacity yet). But it’s amazing to see the audacity of some ‘market makers’ to promote practices that are anything but fair to the author.

When you are your own market-maker, you are significantly reducing the chances of being taken for a ride.

When you are managing your own book submissions, you’d be happy if a decent smaller publisher picks up your book and gives you a small advance. At least your book gets a home and your morale gets a boost to move on to the next project.

Whether these are real, practical benefits or just theoretical, would depend on your individual capabilities and drive. For my book, Beyond the MBA Hype, I’ve tried both routes. The first independent one went on for a pretty long time and it did not give me the results I wanted. The second route was also long, but it had a happy ending. So I did see benefits of working with an agency. But you need to decide your own route.

What are your big concerns of going without an agent? Let’s see if they are justified.

27 Comments

  1. Anns Elizabeth says:

    Thank you Sameer,
    that was totally enlightening.

    does all the literary agents
    take commissions from sales + From advances as well or is just from the sales?

  2. Sameer says:

    Anns,

    Literary agents take commissions from ALL revenue streams – including royalty and advances.

  3. Dr. Urwashi Parmar says:

    Dear Sameer,

    I just thought of sharing an information with u. My short story got published in a magazine. Both the story & the magazine is meant for children. I even got paid for it.

    Regards
    Urwashi.

  4. Sameer says:

    Excellent, Urwashi!

    Hope this is the first of the many to follow.

    Does the magazine have an online presence that you can share here?

  5. Dr. Urwashi Parmar says:

    Sameer,

    It does have an online presence. The name of the magazine is ‘The Children’s Magazine’ & its website is http://www.pcmmagazine.com. But unfortunately one has to subscribe to the magazine as it is not available free online. My story has appeared in the current October issue.

    I don’t know how much famous the magazine is. I found it on the children’s section at a mall.

    Regards,
    Urwashi.

  6. Sameer says:

    Urwashi,

    Don’t worry about how famous it WAS. What’s more important is how famous it WILL be…now that you’ve posted the name and promoted it here 😉

    On a serious note, any exposure big or small is good. Enjoy the limelight.

  7. Dr. Urwashi Parmar says:

    Sameer,

    I am already enjoying the limelight. Thanks.

    Urwashi

  8. I have heard that the Publishers in India are slowly moving towards literary agency mode rather than accepting direct submissions, though their website solicits … Is that right?

  9. Sameer says:

    Amit,

    ‘Slowly’ being the operative word out there. Literary Agent driven books sales have been happening for quite a while in India.

    But compared to the number of manuscripts accepted directly from authors, the volume of agented books is so low that it hardly makes a ripple in the ocean.

    Having said that, many of the successful authors do seem to have use literary agencies to get their foot in the door.

    So we are getting there. But like you said…slowly 🙂

  10. Sameer, the slow thing has gained some momentum I guess… Hachette which used to accept direct submission, I checked today they don’t accept direct submission anymore 🙁

  11. Sameer says:

    Thanks for the update, Amit.

    Wow. That’s news. Not the fact that they take agented submissions. But the fact that they stopped direct submissions.

    Either they already have a huge list of pending books in their pipeline or the literary agents they’ve relationships with have given them some sort of an assurance to keep them busy for the forseeable future.

    Either ways, it’s quite a dramatic step to cut off the direct supply abruptly.

    Did they say this in an email response to you or is it announced on their website too?

    Let’s see if the other big publishers follow suit.

  12. Prameela Sreemangalam says:

    Thank You Amit, for sharing well researched, innovative and positive insights on this topic. I was looking for an answer and I am glad to have many queries answered. My first book is complete and now I know how to take it further ahead…Thank You :))

  13. Shyam says:

    Hi Sameer,

    I have never written a book but planning on one. How does the complete process work?

    1)Do I first write the complete book and then approach agents/publishers? Or do I first approach these guys with my proposal?

    2) If I give them my completely written book, how do I ensure that I retain ownership of the work? i.e. they just take it and publish it as their own work?

    Thanks.

  14. Sameer says:

    Shyam,

    Get ready for an exciting ride. Answers below:

    1. You’ll find some basic tips to get you started –> How to write a book and get published.

    2. The risk of someone stealing your manuscript is low. But if you are concerned, you can copyright your script before circulating it. Here’s a primer –> Should authors copyright their work?

  15. Mainak says:

    Hello Sameer,

    First, Starting with a Fact: Your site has been an important motivator for me to actually complete my debut novel, when I had self-doubts. Have sent it across to 7 publishers at the moment.

    I have read all your posts, so few of my below comments may not be related entirely to this article:

    1. Regarding the literary agent – after painstaking research, I have come to the conclusion that if you are new author, better to have one (now this is individual choice and decision), though in noway I say that new authors cannot get published without agents. But chances are better with an agent.

    2. List of lit agents you have provided – a very good one. BTW, I have contacted Writers Side 2 days back. Hope to hear from them soon. If not, there then are 4 more to go in my list.

    3. A post related to 10 depressing facts about the book publishing industry: Very relevant and and eye-opener.

    4. A post related to Book publishing industry: How the revenue pie gets shared – Yeah, better to expect little and be surprised with a few reprints 😀

    Thanks a ton for being there for new authors like me. You are doing a great job. Please keep it up.

    Cheers,
    Mainak

    PS: Few people have suggested if you can become their agent. May be not now, but in future do give it a thought 😉 May be your interest does not lie in publishing industry, still…

  16. Sameer says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Mainak.

    For now, this blog along with Booksoarus (where we provide 1-on-1 editing and advisory support to writers) continues to be my platform to give back to the Indian author community. Like you’ve pointed out, currently there is no interest to switch industries.

    Hope you get some good news from the literary agents and publishers that you’ve approached.

  17. Lijo says:

    hey, i read my first fantasy when i was 15 (lord of the rings) and then i started to succumb into the fantasy worlds!! i have read many high fantasy book that now i am writing my own. well it isn’t published. hell! i didnt event submitted my manuscript. the thing is i’m not looking for money or fame, i’ll be using my pen name, i’m an engg student so i wont have time to advertise my book! so will it be wise to approach an agent? my book is set in a different world with new human races and dragon like creature also different gods(the character’s are white’s). Do indian readers like these kinds of book?would they event bother to read?what do you think?

    ohh one more thing would you be so kind to inform me sum best agents in india and i also want the book to be sold internationally! this book is for all the people who wants to escape into a new world!!! ( do i get to publish internationally?)

    regards

  18. Sameer says:

    Lijo, irrespective of whether you go through agents or approach publishers directly or self-publish, the primary responsibility of promoting the book lies with the author.

    In India, lightweight books (content wise) with easy-to-read have been selling among the masses. But don’t let that deter you. If you’ve already written a book on a theme that interests you, go ahead and get it published.

    Indian literary agents are good for the Indian market (and given the current market mood they are struggling too).

    If you are aiming for the international market, reach out to the international agents.

  19. zareen says:

    Hi Sameer,

    Is it true that literary agents charge a lump sum at the start in addition to share of royalty of the sales? What are these values typically (lumpsum and royalty share) so that one doesn’t overpay?

    Also, is it true that agents help you get better royalty from publishers than you would if you submit directly?

  20. Sameer says:

    Agents should NOT charge you anything, Zareen. They get paid when you do.

    A lumpsum advance payment is never part of the deal. At least, I’ve never heard of it.

    All that you’ve mentioned seems pretty shady. Be careful!

    I’ve known cases where agents have got pathetic advances for their authors. So, you can’t generalise.

  21. Vijay says:

    Hi Sameer

    I wrote a script few days back and was trying to get it published, In the process I had sent synopsis and few sample chapters to Purple Pen, They responded bit late and replied that my script has qalified for thier own publication and asked me to send the complete script, But by the time I had submitted that script to an big production house in Mumbai, I am not enough confident that they will go for it or not but I am confused now, Shall I wait for some more time for the response from that Production House or shall I go ahead with Purple Pen. Further my script has also been evaluated as a good script for movie by Bollywood Writers. Really I am too confused now, what to do???

    Your valueable advise may show me the right path

    Thanks
    VKD

  22. Hi Vijay,

    You can send a note to the production house saying you’ve received a publishing offer from another team and you’d appreciate a quick decision from their end as well, so you could take a decision.

    Nothing wrong in being transparent with them. If they really like your script, they’ll respond back and let you know.

  23. Arun Jayakaran says:

    Hi Sameer,

    Is it possible for you to recommend a few reliable Literary agents?

    Thanks,

    Arun

  24. Richa says:

    Hi Sameer,
    I like your direct no frills answers, so here is my querie;
    recently i wrote a story of around 62000 words, the genre is romance. Now i gave it to a few of my friends who are avid readers to read and comment on it. They find it good but in places there are some grammatical errors. Now I am so much involved in the story that my eyes don’t see even the basic mistakes, i assume so are my friends. Now obviously i would like it to get published but would like an unbiased third party review for the errors. I would’nt want to change the story but would like to definitely remove the flaws before sending it to agents publishing houses etc…. now could you help me in telling me whom to approach for this kind of a job and how much would it cost me…….
    thanks in advance
    Richa

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