News, commentary, and fiction by Barb Hendee, co-author of the Noble Dead saga (www.NobleDead.org); author of the Mist-Torn Witches series, the Vampire Memories series, and more.

Agent or No Agent?: Some Thoughts on Reality

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As many of you know, JC and I have launched into a fun part time project in the cracks of time in which we will e-publish some stories and novellas set in the Noble Dead world.  The first one, “The Game Piece” went live two weeks ago, and so far, it’s sold a fairly small number of copies—but about what we expected.

For us, this is fun, and as the stories become more plentiful, we’re hoping the project generates a little more money.

But . . . if this had been a paperback Noble Dead novel (even a very short novel), it would have sold thousands of copies by now, as it would have been crammed into the racks at B&N, Fred Meyer, and the Safeway store.  That’s how we make our actual living.

I was reading a blog by one of the “go indie gurus” this week, in which he shouting to the rooftops that no one needs an agent anymore.  A lot of these folks say that no one needs a publisher anymore either.  “Just publish the book yourself!”

Well . . . yes, but I have watched a number of folks go this route and feel really disappointed when the book sells only a few copies, mainly because almost no one knows it exists.

So, the writer decides, “Okay, this might not be working for me. I’m going back to trying to land a New York publisher.”

The hopeful young writer reads a lot of blogs and then decides, “According to several established folks in the business, writers don’t need agents anymore.  Whew, that’s a load off my mind. Landing an agent is tough.”

For established writers, it’s quite possible that they don’t need an agent.  At present, JC and I have arranged our careers so that we are “agentless.”  We have a long-standing relationship with our editor/publisher.  They would cheerfully negotiate directly with us.  If need be, we can have an IP (Intellectual Property) lawyer go over a new contract.  We really could continue our careers without an agent.  Frankly, I’m not crazy about the idea of paying someone else 15% of my income forever if I don’t have to.

I see nothing wrong with telling established writers, “You don’t need an agent.”

But what about a new writer?  An unpublished writer?  This person is so eager to get his/her manuscript in front of a real editor.  The big publishing houses all have gone to a “No Unagented Manuscript” policy—and they are serious.  They receive such an unbelievable flood of submissions that I think this was sort of a self-preservation tactic—whether it’s fair or not.  There is an assistant at the front gates of the editor’s office who is opening manuscripts, looking at them, and sending back everything from unpublished writers who submitted the project themselves—or at least that is my understanding of how this works, and I’ve been in the biz, chatting with editors, for eleven years. 

See . . . this is the part I don’t get with some of these blogs that shout to the rooftops, “You’re free!  Wheeeeeee!  No one needs an agent anymore.”

That is true if you’re really going to go indie—and hopefully sell a few copies of your book.  It’s true if you’re an established traditional writer with a record of selling books.  But if we’re talking about an unpublished writer who wants a contract with a New York publisher, I just don’t see how anyone can get his or her project as far as the editor’s desk without an agent.

I don’t.


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