A literary agent can be an author's best friend. They know how to get you the best book contract and ensure that there’s nothing in the language that will hurt you. They also can help get your book in front of the right editors. All of that is nice if you are planning on traditionally publishing your book, but what if you want to publish the book yourself? Should you hire an agent? It’s not a requirement, but it’s certainly an option.
Self-Publishing Isn’t What It Used to Be
Several years ago, a self-published author was typically someone who couldn’t get picked up by a traditional publisher. Today, biases have changed and self-published authors are self-starters who want to be the publisher, maintaining control over their book and their costs and profits. To be a publisher, however, you have to think like a business. Being an author is only part of the equation—you have to think about book editing, book design, production, and book promotion. If all of that sounds a little daunting, an agent is someone who can help you manage everything. They are experts in all aspects of the industry and have the resources to help you.
Every agent is different, so you want to make sure you understand what exactly they would be doing for you before signing the dotted line. Some agents will sell your next book to a traditional publisher, some may help you manage your existing titles, and some will also help sell translation rights, film rights, and handle media bookings.
When Do You Need a Literary Agent?
Most new writers who are self-publishing do not need an agent. If you are self-publishing, then you are probably already comfortable doing things on your own. It’s also good to get your feet wet and learn about the industry that you are essentially operating as a business in.
Once you have two or three books published, then your career as an author should be blossoming, your readership growing, and your author platform developing. Hiring an agent is a little like expanding your business. You want to grow, and that’s where they can help you. You may also find that for your writing business to grow, you need to spend more time as an author than as a publisher, so this is another area where an agent can help.
How to Pick the Best Literary Agent for You
There are thousands of agents out there; how do you find the right one? An agent is going to be your business partner, so personality fit should be one of the biggest things you consider. Is this someone who's passionate about you and your work? And are you passionate about them, their dedication, and style?
If an agent is requesting that you pay them reading fees—or any fees for that matter—then you should run. Not every agent will work with self-published authors, but more and more will because of how many successful authors have decided to skip traditional publishers. Every agent has a different model; agents will typically take 15% of the book's profits; some agents will pay the up-front cost of publishing the books, others will share the costs or expect the author to pay all of it. Before you approach an agent, make sure you have a clear idea of what you want out of them and what they expect from you.
Is a Literary Agent Right For You?
Agents aren’t right for everyone. The biggest question you need to ask is how much time you want to spend being an author and how much time you want to spend being a publisher. If you think you could make more money as an author by spending more of your time on the creative than the business side, then an agent might be the right move.