Why I Wanted an Agent

Following up on my previous post announcing I had signed with an agent, I wanted to explain why I decided to go the agent route.  This is a question a lot of beginning writers struggle with, including myself, and I don’t think it gets addressed enough.

I know over the past 18 months I certainly read everything I could find, and there wasn’t a whole lot out there. A lot of people seem to assume an agent is a necessary part of the publication process, and some people reject the whole system and want to make it work on their own.Neither of these positions is wrong–it all depends on the individual temperament and talent of the writer in question. Context is key here. So is making a knowledgeable decision.

It seems to me that the basic problem with these two possibilities–and one of the reasons writers going through the submissions process can wind up feeling simultaneously defeated, confused, and disgruntled–is that a lot of the literature out there in books and online confidently positions these two paths as mutually exclusive.

But they’re not, at least not necessarily, and certainly not in the beginning.

My plan of attack was agents first, then direct to editors/publishers second, and self-publication third. Not because this last was the least or worst option, but because the first and second were the better options for me.

Why?

Because I want someone experienced in the industry who will go to bat for me and knows her way around contracts; I want an experienced editor who can tell me what’s not working in my book so I can fix it; I want a copy editor to go through my manuscript and check for continuity errors, make sure my worldbuilding is consistent, and ensure I haven’t made some glaring science error that will make me look idiotic in print; I want an art department who will commission a professional artist to create a cover image, and place that original artwork within the collage of other items that make up a great cover; I want a marketing budget, however small it may be for a first-time author, and marketers who understand their industry, who know where to send ARCs, where to place ad-buys, where and when and whom to target.

And, let’s be honest, I want the credibility conferred by a publisher’s stamp on the spine of my books. We all have our favorite publishers, and we all know when we see their mark on the spine of a book that we’re looking at quality work. I want readers to have that same confidence when they seem my book on the shelf.

Now let’s be honest: I can do all of these things myself, or hire someone freelance to do them for me–except for that last one.  This is the argument many people make in favor of self-publication, and they’re not wrong–I can do all those things.  And you can find examples of writers who have successfully done them, and no doubt every year a few more will make it work.  This is wonderful: it’s good for readers, it’s good for the writers in question, and it’s good for the industry as a whole.

But it’s also not for everyone.  For one thing, doing all those tasks is a lot of work. Hours and hours and hours. Plus it’s a significant financial investment. If you want quality and credibility, there’s always going to be an associated cost. Some clever people find ways to get around the financial cost, but it still takes time.  And time is what I don’t have.

I have a six month old son. I have a full time job. I have a part-time job. After 7 years teaching university courses, I am also returning to graduate school as a full time student. And I’m working on revising one manuscript and drafting a new project.

I don’t have time to be agent, editor, copy editor, artist, art director, marketer, and publisher on top of all those other hats I’m wearing. Even if I did have time to do all those things, there’s an additional reason why I wouldn’t want to: I’m not experienced at them. I’m sure I could learn the ropes as I went along, and several years from now might even know some valuable things.

Experience is a wonderful teacher.

But in the meantime, while I gain that experience, the books I want to share with readers now might very well be languishing due to my own incompetence or inexperience at any of the above roles I’m forcing myself to fill. And it only takes one misstep to doom a book; the chain of publication is only as strong as its weakest link.

So yes, I want that chain to be strong. I want to stand on the shoulders of giants.

And I want to preserve my sanity.

That’s why I wanted an agent.

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