On Writing,  publishing

Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: The Agent Section

Series Note: I am now working on updating each chapter and putting together this book, finally, after over 100,000 words that started back in 2009. So I am updating each chapter and putting it up here now for those who have not seen them.  

However, since I started this series, agents and what they are doing in publishing has changed dramatically. In fact, things have changed so dramatically since I started this book concerning agents, I am not, repeat, not going to include the agent posts as reprints here.

Why? Can’t stomach it is why. I will explain below.

If you want to read the old posts, including tons and tons of great comments, not updated at all, simply follow the links under the tab at the top of the page. Lots of history about agents as well as myths. 

My Reasons for Not Putting All the Chapters Up Again

Over a dozen or so chapters in this book eventually will be about the myths of agents if agents survive long enough. As I wrote the chapters on agents, and the discussion continued, I grew to hate this topic.

And hate is the right word.

I hate this topic because, for lack of a better way of saying it, writers are just stupid when it comes to talking or thinking about agents.

That’s how powerful the myths around agents have become in the last ten to twenty years. Luckily for all of us, the changes in the publishing field are killing the entire need for agents. Agents vanishing or shrinking down to a tiny part of the business will kill many of the myths at the same time, which is one reason I have decided to not, at this moment, try to update the agent chapters.

Second reason: I hate this topic.

Let me list some of the major myths around agents that have grown in the last twenty years and you can agree or disagree as you want. But before you come screaming at me, go read the original posts on these topics. And the comments on those posts. Again, just click on the tab at the top of the page for the full list of chapters in Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing.

Myth #1: You must have an agent to sell a book.

Too stupid a myth for words, yet new writers will defend this to the death even though they don’t know. They just want to believe. And of course, that’s what the guidelines say and writers are sheep when it comes to guidelines. You say the word “guideline” and a new writer’s brain just shuts off.

Myth #2: Agents know markets.

Nope. They have about six editors they know and who know them and if your book happens to fit into what those editors want, you are golden. If not, they either reject your book or worse, have you rewrite it to try to get it to fit.

Myth #3: Agents care about writers first.

Of course not, they care about their own business and could not give a crap about you. If you get in the way of their relationship with an editor or publisher, you are gone. Flat truth. (Yup, just the person you want negotiating for you, right?)

Myth #4: Agents can give career advice.

Nope. Every writer is different. If you are not listening to yourself, writing only what you want to write, and standing up for your own art, you are lost. Never listen to an agent about career advice. Ever. See Myth #3.

Myth #5: Agents sell your books overseas.

Nope, not anymore. Overseas (and Hollywood) contacts come to the writer. All your agent or overseas agent can do is screw up the deal or keep your money or both.

Myth #6: Agents know contracts.

Nope, not unless they are an IP attorney as well. In fact there are a couple pending suits that writers are challenging the agent who did negotiate a contract without a legal license and screwed up the contract. Writers are trying to recover damages from the agents on this premise. If one actually gets filed instead of settled out of court, this could rock everything. Go get an attorney, folks. An IP lawyer. Save yourself a ton of money.

Myth #7: You must give all your money to your agent first.

This is the worst myth and the most deadly. You are giving all your income to a total stranger who has no license to do anything, and then also giving them all the paperwork with that money. You would never do this on the street or in any other business, yet writers do this with agents as if it’s a good thing. Split payments or fire your agent. Period.

I covered a few other myths in long posts, like trust, agents taking care of writers, asking your agent for permission, and so on.

And I did not cover the myth that your agent can become your publisher. I am hoping some agency court cases that are pending will stop that stupidity shortly so I don’t have to write about it.

My Suggestion of What to Do

The publishing business is changing so fast and so quickly, I doubt agents will be of value to most writers in two years.

So just do it yourself for two years.

That’s my suggestion. Publishers are moving back to buying directly from writers. Slush piles will vanish in exchange for editors finding content in the  indie published world. IP lawyers are taking over negotiating contracts, and overseas publishers work directly with the writers through e-mail. Nothing for an agent to do now.

Before you go signing some ugly agency agreement (that was a chapter as well) where you give someone 15% and a controlling interest in your copyright, or worse yet, go have an agent actually try to publish your work, stop.

Just STOP!!

Plug back in your business brain and think for a minute. Your knee is jerking, your face is red, you are breathing hard because of the agent myths.

Just STOP!! Think.

You can do everything for yourself an agent can do.

Let me say that again: You can do everything an agent can do. You care about your own work. An agent does not. Do it yourself and just take a wait-and-see attitude toward agents.

Many, many long-term writers, me included, are asking publishers what they can do for us now that we can’t do for ourselves. And we are not getting good responses.

Well, ask the agent you are thinking of taking on the same question. Or if you have an agent, ask yourself honestly what they are really doing for you now for the 15%. What can they do for you that is worth 15% forever???

Can they sell the book for you? Nope. (If you have an agent, how many books have they turned back to you because they did not fit the agents idea of being “marketable,” meaning it didn’t fit their six editor friend’s lists.)

Can they negotiate the contract? Nope, a simple IP attorney on a small retainer will do it better. (Agents are not lawyers, don’t let them near legal documents of any kind. Besides, they care about the publishers, not you. They will not fight for you any more.)

Can they sell your books overseas or to Hollywood? Nope. You can do that better just answering e-mails and having your work up electronically so overseas publishers and Hollywood producers can find it.

And so on and so on. Agents can’t do anything for you that you can’t do yourself. And if you think an agent will save you time, you really have a lot to learn about agents. You will spend more time and energy and metal energy working around and for and through your agent than if you didn’t have one. Honest. I can’t begin to tell you how many books I didn’t write because I figured my agent wouldn’t like it.

I had three great agents over a lot of years. I liked all three and all three did a great job for me when I asked. But as I have said many times, in over 100 book sales to traditional publishing, I sold every book myself. No agent every sold a book for me.

I have NOT had an agent for seven years and have done better for myself. Sure, you can toss that off to me being me. Go ahead, I love that excuse. But until you start taking control over your own career, you won’t have the same knowledge I do either.

The agent myths are very, very powerful. Avoid them for at least two years, do it yourself, then see what an agent can do for you in two or three years. Of course, that may be a moot point if most agents are gone in two or three years.

Publishing is changing. Agents are going the way of the buggy whip. A few people will still need them, but not many. And that change will be nothing but good for writers as a class.

And maybe I won’t even have to put the dozen chapters into the final book. A dozen or so myths just gone with the changes in the industry. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?