Sunday, 7 March 2010

Do you really need a literary agent?

Do you?
Have you really considered the options?

It's perhaps too easy for would-be published writers to follow the herd and accept the false maxim that you have to have an agent to land a deal.

It is good practice to occasionally re-evaluate your goals and devise fresh approaches and strategies. Part of that re-evaluation should include challenging perceived common wisdom.

So, do you really need an agent?

You could try submitting your work directly to any of these UK publishers, and you could try Macmillan New Writing, or Quartet, or Solidus, and, if you write crime, you could try Crème De La Crime.
And you could try submitting work to these U.S. publishers.

In Chapter Eight of his How To Write Damn Good Fiction, which tackles the subject of a writer's timidity, James N. Frey holds forth, in robust fashion, on how to circumvent agents.
I quote the passage at length here:

Writers run away not only from conflict. They aso run away from editors and agents. ... Go to the bookstore. Find some books similar to yours. Jot down the publishers of these books. Go home and the call the publishers and ask for the editorial department. Tell them you want to speak to the editors of the books similar to yours. When the editor comes on the line, tell her or him how much you admire the book. Say that you have written one like it and ask whether they would take a look. Nine times out of ten they'll say yes. I was horrified. What -- call the Olympian gods? on the telephone? Me? James N. -- for nobody -- Frey?

It was only later, after having attended a slew of writers' conferences and having met a lot of New York agents and editors, that it began to dawn on me that
the reason editors are editors and agents are agents is that most of them are failed writers who haven't the guts to face the blank page and the rejection slip.
They do not have any magic ability. In fact, most of them are work-by-numbers kinds of people. They put on their pants or pantyhose one leg at a time. If you call them, they will not send hot lightning bolts over the phone lines to turn you into cinders.

In fact, they will your respect your boldness. They know if a writer believes in himself or herself, chances are the writer is at least a sure-footed one.

While you're at the bookstore, by the way, it might be a good idea to look through the stacks of new arrivals for the bad books that got past the Olympian gods. You'll be amazed to find that half the books are not only bad, but almost unreadable.

Are you brave enough to try the above tactic?

To be fair to UK based writers the opportunities for meeting editors and agents are very much more limited than they are in the States.

When researching the recent update on U.S. literary agents I came across a few articles discussing the value, or not, of having a literary agent.

The articles are penned by two writers, an agent, and a publisher.
Interesting if you're looking for a rounded take on the question - do you really need a literary agent?

Haven't yet come across anything by an editor discussing this question - when I do I'll post a link.

First up a thoughtful blog post by writer Dean Wesley Smith.
Second, an article by Russell Galen, agent at Scovil Galen Ghosh.
Third, a post from The Bookseller by Naim Attalah, head of independent U.K. publishers Quartet.
And, finally, a blog post from the always very readable David Isaak, author of Shock & Awe.

Something to be thinking about.


  1. What a great blog! Lots of insight and great info here. I'll spread the word.

  2. Hi Anne, you're very welcome. Thanks. Regards

  3. Just wanted to let you know that your first link in "Useful Downloads" is 404. The second has changed to:

    The others seem OK.

    Thank you for such an exhaustive listing of links.

  4. Hi, thanks Thad, I'll sort something immediatly. Thank you for taking the time and trouble to post. All the best, regards.

  5. Haarlson,
    Thanks for one of best writing blogs on WWWeb. I've been trying to get published for nearly a year now...literary agents or publishing route...not there yet but getting closer...I'm like a dog with a bone!
    My debut novel "The Hanging of Margaret Dickson" the true story of a woman who survived a public hanging is on AUTHONOMY, so I was interested to see your posts regarding this site. I joined in March I think, and recently in forums was abused and insulted... I suspect authonomy is rife with corruption ...a person uploads a book on tuesday and has 362 backers on wednesday to get to editors desk and get the much desired gold star and harper's review.
    Personally, I think it's a waste of time if you want to be published BUT there are some great critiques and helpful writer's on there.
    Best wishes

    Alison J Butler

  6. Hi Alison, thanks for taking the time to post your comment. Apologies for not having picked up on your your comment earlier, and sorry too to hear of your experience of Authonomy.
    Writers write - and writers sell their work. Authonomy offers possible approbation from questionable peers and a very slim chance of a sale. Effort, time, other life demands, require writers to focus on markets. Authonomy is not a market -- it's a zoo.
    Keep writing -- keep looking for markets.
    Best regards.