Actually, Shakespeare is wrong. There are lots of trustworthy agents, and you don’t always want to negotiate for yourself. Shakespeare was referring to the heart. I doubt he would have said the same when it came to book deals.

I’m not sure why, but recently agents have been popping up in conversations. People have been asking me what I think about agents. Do I like them? Do I work with them? If I was an author, would I want one? The answers are yes, yes, maybe. Agents can be great. I have worked with them, and sometimes they can be frustrating since they can prolong the contract phase, but I would never not work with an author because they were agented. I have known publishers like that. Around 11% of the authors whose novels I’ve edited were agented. The number is so low because, as a small press, we do not receive many submissions from agents. I’m working on changing that. I like agented works. They tend to be farther along in the writing process, requiring less rewrites. However, having an agent does not guarantee we’ll publish it. I’ve rejected agented works in the past and will certainly do it again.

But what you really want to know is whether or not you should get an agent. And that depends on your goals. If you wish to be published by the large houses, you will need an agent. Period. The only exception is if you win one of their contests. It is almost the only way you will be able to have an editor at one of those houses look at your work. For the midsize presses, they occasionally acquire unagented work. I’ve heard stories of both Bloomsbury America and Charlesbridge acquiring work they found in the slush pile. And of course, small presses regularly work with unagented authors. And you do not have to have an agent to be successful. Lila Guzman has 10 books out and an additional 4 under consideration without an agent.

Now, would I personally want an agent? If I ever finish my thesis, (after it’s been filed, etc. and I graduate) I would like to try to get that thing an agent. I do not want to go to the effort of trying to match the book to a particular editor. It will be hard enough finding the appropriate agent.

Current thesis word count: 27,000 words
Goal: 40,000

© Copyright 2006-2011 Madeline Smoot. All rights reserved.
May be excerpted and duplicated for educational purposes.