The Pros and Cons of Finding an Agent

Agents are still on my mind, and the world of publishing is changing fast. There are new questions and new answers every day. The question of whether to get an agent used to be a no brainer. Everyone agreed that having an agent was essential to publishing success. That may no longer be true. There are dozens of approachable small publishers. And my own personal experience with agents has not led to success. So now I’m faced with that decision again, and I’m getting conflicting advice. Here’s the pros and cons as I see them:

• An agent has access to editors at major publishing houses and can get your work read and accepted by people with the power to print a large quantity of your novel.
• A good agent can help you develop your story into a marketable manuscript.
• An agent can negotiate a better contract and maybe a better advance.

• Finding an agent can take months or years. (See Wednesday’s post.) And there’s no guarantee you ever will.
• An agent will take 15% of any earnings she or he contracts for you (and mystery writers are notoriously underpaid). Some agents steal from their clients. See Tess Gerritsen’s post on Murderati.
• Most agents will want to help shape your story. This can be good or bad. It’s all subjective. An editor may like your story better the way it is. You never know. Either way, it takes time.
• An agent may only submit your novel to five or six major publishing houses, then give up (leaving you to submit to small publishers anyway).
• An agent may quit or move to another another agency after you’ve signed a contract. (Yes, this happened to me too.)

The disadvantages seem to outnumber the advantages. But the first benefit is so huge, that if it happens, its tips the scale. But that’s still a big IF. And I keep reading stories about people who say they didn’t get published until they gave up on finding an agent.

Tell me what you think. Do you really need an agent?