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