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Does A Novelist Need An Agent? by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Beginning writers often ask me if they really need an agent, and my answer is this: “Unless you’re really great at promoting yourself, and you’re willing to spend hours learning contract law, and you’re very good at negotiating for more money… you definitely need an agent.” There are very few writers who represent themselves successfully. I’ve heard too many horror stories about writers who were willing to sign any contract thrown at them, with very little knowledge of the business, and ended up regretting it years later. Believe it: A bad contract can have financial implications for you that can last a lifetime. Unless a person has a lot of experience analyzing lots of publishing contracts they can, and probably will, miss the little things that can add up BIG TIME.

I look at some of the stuff my agent does for me and I am amazed and incredibly humbled and grateful that I found her. She is a brilliant negotiator. She’s managed to get publishers to quadruple their initial offers mostly because, I say with humility, she believes in me as a writer. If she gets a whiff that my publisher is about to give my book short shrift as far as marketing goes, she’s on the phone with them straight away convincing them of why they need to rethink their strategy. Somehow, she almost always gets what she wants. She is my champion. Compared to her gladiatorial level arbitration, I’d be Oliver Twist holding out my bowl of porridge and saying in a meek little voice, “Please sir, can I have some more?” I know in my heart of hearts that I could never do what she does, on my own behalf or on the behalf of anyone else.  Few could.

Not only that but whenever I am out in the world hobnobbing with editors and they ask me who my agent is, I tell them and they often raise their eyebrows and say, “Oh! Well tell her to submit your work to me.” That’s because even if these editors don’t know who I am, they do know who my agent is. They know she has a reputation for excellent taste and they assume by association that they’re going to like my writing.

So yes, you need an agent – but you need a good one. My next article will be about how to find a good agent.


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