Getting an Agent… Later in the Game

I’ve just sold my second novel (unagented) to a major publisher, and have signed the contract. Would it be prudent to look for an agent? Do you think the publisher would mind one coming on board at this late stage? Do I need one?

Good question. Since there are so many reasons people desire to have agents, or find that they need an agent, it’s good to consider this from different angles.

Most writers who have published a couple of books can benefit from having an agent step in to help manage their career. Usually the agent will be able to steer you in the right direction as far as what to write next and which publishing houses to approach. They can help you get the advance you deserve which is often more substantial than one you could get on your own. (I’ve seen statistics showing the median agented advance is as much as 75% higher than the median unagented advance.) Agents can certainly try to get you a more favorable contract, and help you avoid writer-unfriendly contract provisions.

If you’re already in the midst of a contract, an agent can still step in and help with the process, dealing with the publisher on your behalf if there are disagreements along the way, whether editorially, or with title and book cover, changing release dates, or anything else than can come up.

The biggest advantage would be career direction from here on. Since you’re already selling books, you have to make the decision about whether you’re confident in negotiating your own contracts and steering your own career, or whether it would be prudent and worth 15% of your royalties to have professional help.

By now you have contacts at your own publishing house, but an agent has contacts at many different houses and can take a bigger view of where you might fit and how your career might progress. On your own, if you decide you’re not happy with your current publisher and want to explore a change, you’re back to square one, not knowing other editors you could submit to.

And would a publisher mind an agent coming on at this juncture? Yes, some might. But I think your concern should be what YOU need, and you should act accordingly.

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Elizabeth on July 15, 2008 at 10:15 PM

    >great post! thanks for sharing such necessary information.

  2. Cathy on July 15, 2008 at 9:41 PM

    >This is exactly the position I’m in–have sold two novels and negotiated those contracts myself. I once found myself in the embarrassing situation of having believed my contract said one thing only to learn (after signing) that the contractual language meant something different.

    I’m very happy with my publisher, but understand that an agent can be a strong advocate and advisor. You’re words make me think that seeking an agent is in my best interest. Many thanks, Rachelle.

  3. Ralene on July 15, 2008 at 8:11 PM

    >I agree with kathi and sheri. The thing to be careful with is that, even though you have an agent (hopefully, one day), you don’t lose sight of the process. Keep up to date with everything and you just might learn something!

    But I know how emotionally attached I am to my novel, I would need someone with a little more control. lol…

  4. sheriboeyink on July 15, 2008 at 7:20 PM

    >Although I’m currently unrepresented for my YA trilogy, I couldn’t imagine doing anything without an agent. I may be able to write, but it’s definitely not my strength to negotiate contracts, etc. So, if I ever get to the point where these are issues I may face, I’d want an agent–a Christian agent–by my side.

  5. Kathi Lipp on July 15, 2008 at 3:24 PM

    >Disclaimer – Rachelle is my agent.

    OK, now that that is out of the way…

    I am so glad to have an agent(specifically Rachelle). As a yet unpubed author seven months ago, I knew that I had a house very interested in my book, so I had a couple of friends who thought I was crazy to sign up with an agent.

    The problem was, I was so desperate to be signed, I would have PAID my house to publish my book. Because Rachelle was not as emotionally attached to the process, she was able to negotiate a better contract than I could have ever thought possible (I would not have had the guts to even ask for a two book deal.)

    Also, she has been at the front line for all my sometimes not-quite-so-informed questions (recognizing there are no stupid questions.) She has kept me from burning bridges and has helped me make some smart choices, not just for the current two book contract, but decisions I can build my career on.

  6. Anita Mae on July 15, 2008 at 1:22 PM

    >I’ve bought and sold enough houses to know that involving a professional will ensure that I get the best price b/c the realator has a personal stake invested.

    The same for writing your own will. Sure, you can buy a kit and do it yourself, but having a professional handle it will usually ensure your estate isn’t hanging in limbo while the gov’t decides who gets what in case of a dispute.

    Do I personally what an agent? Yes.

    However, as an unpubbed writer targetting the Love Inspired and Heartsong lines, I probably don’t need one – yet.

    But that’s only b/c I don’t know if my work will fit better anywhere else. That’s where an agent would come in.

    And that’s why I’ve requested an appt with Rachelle at the ACFW conf in Minn.

    Well, and b/c I’d like to meet her. 🙂

  7. Marla Taviano on July 15, 2008 at 11:43 AM

    >Great post, Rachelle! That’s exactly what I did. Had 2 published books before I got an agent. “Why would I need an agent if I’m already in with the publisher?” I asked. Someone with the inside scoop answered my question, introduced me to her agent friend, and that was that.

    I was clueless (still am), and my agent knows everything (or at least pretends he does).

    And he’s off at ICRS this week telling everybody about my newest book idea while I sit at home and go about my business (laundry, dishes, and the other glamorous things authors do). That’s worth even more than 15% to me!

  8. Inspire on July 15, 2008 at 11:43 AM

    >A terrific post, Rachelle. This is something all us writers need to read, since there are some in this very situation. I like how you ended this with ‘I think your concern should be what YOU need…’ Personally, if I had been offered a contract with a major publisher, I’d seek an agent to represent me for subsequent novels. Not long ago, I had an agent reject my submission, but said that if I found a publisher on my own to get in touch. I found this strange. Why would I give her a percentage of a sale that I made? On the other hand it might be worth it if the agent were to negotiate a better contract.