1) Avoid agents at all costs. If you have one, fire them now unless your agent is also an attorney. No reason needed. A writer in this new world needs a good IP attorney on board. And not an agent who has other clients with the same publishing house that you sell to. That agent will NEVER fight for you. Ever. An attorney will fight for you and cost you a ton less money. (I do not have an agent and can see no reason now to ever bring one back into the picture.)
It is so important to remember that no two writers—or writing careers—are the same. The best agent for me (who is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Kate Garrick at DeFiore and Company) might not be the best agent for everyone. And there are definitely writers who can get away without an agent—just as there are writers who can get away without the promotional machinery of a major publishing house or writers who are better served by non-traditional advance/royalty structures.
But let me tell you just a few things my agent does for me:
Works with me from the very, very beginning of a project. Together we hash out the foundations for my ideas, and because I trust her implicitly and know her to be honest and insightful, I am always able to strengthen the bedrock of my work—which pays off immeasurably down the line.
Reads everything I write.
Helps me make everything I write better.
Is able, because of her experience and industry connections, to negotiate far, far better deals than I would ever be able to. I would like to point out here that she wants to negotiate the best deal possible for a few reasons. Sure, she gets a commission. (But let’s remember that the 15% agents take isn’t just good for her—it’s good for writers, too, because it aligns our incentives.) But she also just cares. About me. About publishing. About the things we create and put out into the world.
Doesn’t think in the short term about deals or commissions. The real money—and satisfaction—isn’t to be found in a one-off big-time advance. It’s to be found in a steady and growing career. I know that if I were ever to get two offers, one for more money but with less enthusiasm and another for less money and more enthusiasm, she’d counsel me to take the latter.
Talks me down from the eight thousand cliffs per day I think about jumping off.
Find me a lawyer who does all these things and I’ll show you a lawyer who works as a literary agent.
Now, to be fair, not everyone’s agents are like this. There are charlatans out there, for sure. So if you don’t think your agent believes in you enough to fight for you, yes, absolutely, find new representation. Because there are also lots and lots of awesome agents.
So think about what’s best for you. Don’t sign with a big agency just because they’re a big agency. Sign with the agent who gives a shit—or don’t sign with an agent at all
The same applies to publishers. Educate yourself about the industry and ask yourself hard questions about what you want, both financially and artistically. Sign with the publisher who gives a shit—or don’t sign with a publisher at all.
And, sure, again: if you think it’s best for you, hire a lawyer. There are certainly writers who don’t need the insightful, informed, and up-close-and-personal and editorial approach that so many agents can offer. There are also writers who are perfectly able to do it all on their own, managing their own careers and contracts or finding publishers who will help them do so.
But whatever you do, don’t buy into reflexive and misleading generalities. Instead be thoughtful. Be critical. Be yourself.
This isn’t easy, of course. It’s something I struggle with every day.
Luckily, I have an agent who’s always there to help me out.
“So then, sometimes you are not out of ideas. Sometimes you are afraid of the idea you have. This idea, it is an imposter. It will ravage your life. Undo all your hard work. Destroy you. You’re sure of it. At the least it will humiliate you. Are you really not inspired or are you afraid of being the person who will write the thing that will come if you sit down with the idea you have? Who do you need to love you so much that you will hide this idea from you and act like it doesn’t exist? Which is to say, sometimes you need to be destroyed. The person you are is in the way and the person you will be is waiting on the other side of the shell that you call you.”—