Part II of III on understanding the world of agents. The content for today's post has been gleaned from the ever-so-gracious Jody Conrad, author of When Goliath Doesn't Fall.
Are agents necessary? Having a reputable agent represent you is like having Coca-Cola represent your unknown, brown, chemical syrup. Without an agent's well-respected name representing you, the the chances of a publishing house seeing your brown liquid as anything but brown liquid are slippery at best.
Authors can get published without agents, it's just sometimes more difficult, especially for a first-time-author, to get the attention of a busy publishing house. It's easier for a publishing house to rely on the trusted name of an agent they already know sends them good referrals.
Agents do three things:
1. Help you get your foot in the door of the publishing world.
2. Negotiate the finer points of a book contract (i.e. % of advance, basket-accounting, etc).
3. Provide market tips and strategies, keep an eye out for further placing your work, and give general encouragement.
Why is it so hard to find an agent? All that said, agents are sometimes just as hard to 'win-over' as publishing houses. They have to really believe in your work to take you on because taking you on means they are endorsing your kind of writing which, in turn, reflects on them. Too, besides a percentage of your advance, they only get paid if your book does well; a risk for them. So, they weigh whether your writing is worth putting their time and effort into tweaking, representing, and pitching to publishing houses. In essence, their agency's name is on the line.
When you keep that in mind -- that an agent takes a risk by associating with you, an unknown -- it starts to put things in perspective. And a bit of perspective is like a twist of lemon: it keeps things real while giving you mouth-watering insight into the life of others.