Agents: Do I need one?
That depends on your goal. If your goal is publication by a large commercial publishing house with a good reputation and far-reaching distribution, then yes, you need an agent.
The reason for this is simple: lots of other people want large commercial publishing houses to publish their work too, and there must be some way for these houses to filter what would otherwise be a staggering number of submissions every week. Actually, the number of submissions they receive is already staggering. Agents help prevent it from becoming ultra-double-staggering. This is the main reason why many houses don’t accept unagented submissions. There would simply be too many of them.
The other major reason is because of the gatekeeper effect. Let’s be honest… there are a lot of bad manuscripts out there. (I’m sure yours isn’t one of them, of course.) Publishers have established relationships with certain agents because they know these people are not going to waste their time by sending them utter dross. Good agents can generally tell good work from bad work very quickly. They establish their reputations with publishers by submitting manuscripts that are well written. And publishers especially love to build relationships with agents who send them stuff that sells.
For here, my friends, is the hard truth: at the end of the day, that’s the only question that matters to publishers. Not Is it good? or Is it literary? or Would Dickens or Hemingway approve of this? but, Will it make me money?
Why is this? Because publishing is a business, and businesses exist to make money. That’s what they do. Once they stop doing that, they stop existing. You can complain all you like about how unfair it is to brilliant-but-unappreciated authors that publishers only publish a book because it sells, and you might have a valid point. But if publishers don’t exist, then they can’t put out any books. And a bookless society is one that I don’t care to live in, thank you very much.
So, if you plan on self-publishing, or publishing with a small house that accepts unagented submissions, then you don’t need an agent. If you want your book to be published by a mid-sized or large house, then you do need an agent. Read on next month.
Learn more about William Kowalski at https://www.williamkowalski.com
Read Will’s followup article: Agents: How Do I Get One?
Read his previous article: The Business of Publishing.