Literary Agents: Not Quite Dinosaurs

Literary Agents: Not Quite DinosaursOver the last few months, I’ve read posts around the web about how literary agents aren’t needed anymore. Agents are just “middlemen.” Extraneous. Who needs them? Everyone can just self-publish, or work with a publisher on their own…right? Such is the word on the street.

But some people aren’t saying those things. Want to guess who?

Our clients.

(And of course, all the writers still seeking representation from us.)

The people who are loudly proclaiming literary agents “dinosaurs” and “unnecessary” have a limited understanding of what agents do. (Recently, agents Steve Laube and Janet Grant each gave a rundown of what they do in a typical day.)

Agents are not just middlemen. Agents are more than gatekeepers.

Agents are business partners and trusted advisors.

Steve Jobs said, “People pay us to integrate things for them, because they don’t have time to think about it 24/7.” It’s this quote that got me thinking about the value of agents.

Integration is exactly why agents are still so valuable to both authors and publishers. We consume and assimilate reams of information about publishing, distill it, and identify the important parts so we can help authors make good decisions, find good author/publisher partnerships, and ensure the author’s interests are protected.

Those who dismiss literary agents often claim that there is so much information available that anyone can “be their own agent” – or publisher. But as in any walk of life, the more information that is available, the more people need an advisor to wade through it all and know how best to proceed.

There will always be “do-it-yourselfers.” Some people eschew a realtor and go the “for-sale-by-owner” route. Some don’t think they need a financial advisor, so they get a Vanguard account, do their own investing and manage their portfolios. Some fire up TurboTax and do their own taxes, avoiding paying a CPA. Yet realtors, financial advisors and CPAs continue to provide valuable services to the millions who use them.

What agents see, up close and personal on a daily basis, is that most of their authors have no interest in being publishing entrepreneurs. Most of them barely have enough energy to stay on top of all their writing and editing deadlines, not to mention the marketing activities required to sell books these days. Most are not eager to add “self-publishing” or “publish without an agent” to their to-do list.

Most writers want to do what they do best – write and speak – and leave the rest to someone else. We work with these authors every day, and we hear the exhaustion in their voices as they are asked to do more and more on their own. Most of them would say that they’re getting their money’s worth out of their agent.

Yes, things are changing in publishing, but agents are not standing still—we’re evolving along with our industry. Don’t place us on the “endangered species” list just yet!

Do you think literary agents are more relevant these days, or less? Have you thought about the agent’s role in integrating things for authors and publishers—the assimilators of information?



Are writers getting their money’s worth out of their agents? Click to Tweet.
Are literary agents dinosaurs — or work horses? Click to Tweet.
People who don’t like literary agents are just stoopid. Click to Tweet.

Thanks to Sally Apokedak for the Tweetables!


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. jubalbiggs on November 30, 2014 at 5:37 PM

    Deeply, deeply unconvincing article. Glad you used a cute little cartoon dinosaur illustration. It kind of takes the sting out of being one a little bit I guess. Just speaking for myself, I want to know a hell of a lot more about what someone does beyond “integrate” before I hand them 15% of my royalties FOREVER. If you are not doing the marketing, which is THE biggest and hardest bugbear facing me as either a indy OR traditionally published author, and lets say I attracted the interest of a publisher on my own (which is true), then why on earth should I give you 15 percent? Because you give me advice on the contract? What if I just hire a media lawyer on a one time basis? What, specifically, beyond “integrating things” qualifies you to take home 15 percent of what I make? ESPECIALLY since I am already going to be getting only a small part of print sales anyway. At least a traditional publisher can say “you will not get into the big bookstores or the supermarket bookshelves without me”. I can understand that. I cannot understand what I can’t do without an agent. I got noticed by a publisher without you, I will be marketing my book without you. I will probably just bring in an entertainment lawyer to look at the contract without you. What does “integrating things” even mean? You want my money, after my blood, sweat and tears have built the book that is your livelihood, I want to know what I am getting.

  2. Nikole Hahn on April 29, 2013 at 4:31 PM

    “Most are not eager to add “self-publishing” or “publish without an agent” to their to-do list.” That and the guidance would be invaluable to a writer. And I agree with one other writer who commented on another blog post…there’s no luck about getting agented and published…it’s hard work. I’ll put in my time.

  3. Chairman Ralph on April 16, 2013 at 8:49 AM

    Self-publishing is as American as apple pie — had those guys in powdered wigs waited for somebody in London to crank out their pamphlets, we’d still be paying a tea tax and watching the BBC. That point aside, though, Tom’s post hits on some unpleasant truths that — IMHO — many industry’s reps simply don’t want to face, because they’ve had it their own way for so long.

    Writers are tired of being treated like crap, so it’s not surprising that they’re embracing a medium that promises — which is a slippery verb, I know, under the best of circumstances — to assert some control over their destiny. Coming from a DIY punk background, I don’t see it as scary (or tedious) to your own work — I’m a big believer in learning than doing, so how could that be bad?

    And, unless you’re lucky enough to “have platform”, or be part of the inner ring (we live in an age where William Shatner “writes” novels, God forbid — don’t ask me, wasn’t my idea, though)…you’re not going to get much attention, so you’ll end up doing 99 percent of the work anyway. I know quite a few folks who are going the self-published route, and one comment that I consistently hear is that if you’re going to be stuck doing most of the work, you might as well get a bit more than the 10 percent of a buck norm that typifies most traditional publishing deals.

    Now, does that automatically mean that agents are off to the tarpit? I don’t quite believe that, but I also think they’ll have up their game a bit — after all, even big name authors are getting on the self-pubbing bandwagon, so it’s hardly the 21st-century-Buck-Rogers-type option that the naysayers would have you believe.

    Control is also a big deal. I know folks who’ve published music books, but can’t get the publisher to do updates, although a certain amount of time has passed, and there have been a lot of back catalog additions — which makes the author look like a complete prat. There’s no excuse for that situation, not when we live in a digital era that makes such tasks quite straightforward. But that’s what authors are expected to tolerate, because they’re not remotely on an equal footing…so it’s open season, basically.

    Self-publishing can also be attractive in giving a voice to people and places that have long been marginalized, since their stories aren’t deemed cost effective to bring out, though they may be 100 times more compelling than those of the big names that get trotted out again and again, with ticktock regularity. (This is why we have so many crappy muusic documentaries clogged with back-slapping celebrity buddies and half-bald talking heads jabbering over the clips — while the same anecotes are rehashed for the 999th time…but I digress.)

    As Tom alludes in his post, even those cherished traditional agent relationships aren’t what they used to be, either…for all the pooh-poohing here, you’d think we were back in the 18th century, adjusting our stockings and wigs as we tut-tut and pshaw-pshaw the groundlings for going against the conventional wisdom.

    However, even if you convince an agent to represent you, that doesn’t mean you’ll ever develop a substantive relationship — in most cases, the Name On The Letterhead will parcel you off to their assistant(s), with whom you’ll actually be working, and you’ll speak to them once in a blue moon. Is this bad? I don’t know; that depends what you’re looking for, but those realities doesn’t square with the oft-touted image of a literary confidante looking over your shoulder — and if you don’t rack up huge numbers in short order, you probably won’t get the chance to find out, anyway.

    Or, to quote the black joke from LIMO: “It’s lonely at the top, because nobody ever stays there for long.” So, given all these amply-documented hassles of the trade, it should hardly surprise anyone that folks are finding the self-pub option appealing — and, short of sending a Mao-style, peaked-cap-wearing requisition squad to confiscate everybody’s Kindles, is an option that will continue to draw strong interest, from big and small fish alike.

  4. Friday Features #52 - YESENIA VARGAS on April 15, 2013 at 10:36 PM

    […] Literary Agents: Not Quite Dinosaurs – Rachelle Gardner […]

  5. Sylvia A. Nash on April 10, 2013 at 7:00 PM

    What happened to all the comments from yesterday? Just wondering.

  6. Tom Arnold on April 10, 2013 at 2:08 PM

    I think this attitude comes more from the fact that writers are being forced, wether they like it or not, to understand all aspect of publishing considering how important success is to a career these days and how success depends on self promotion. Doesn’t sell, tough luck. Didn’t make enough money, talk to my assistant. You don’t have a platform (yes this is for fictions writers now, too) get screwed. And agents are starting to take on the same crappy attitudes towards writers as publishers. I do think there is still a roll for agents, but I don’t think writers should entrust their careers to them. Now that writers are having to hunt down their own editors and publishing their own backlist on Kindle, it’s only natural to look at their agent and think, stop telling me you’re so important because I’m doing a lot of the same things you’re doing and it’s started to sound like an insult.

  7. Thomas Ryan on April 9, 2013 at 9:41 PM

    Good message Rachelle. I totally agree. I don’t have an agent only because I cannot be bothered going through the process required to get one but would never put an agent down and have always recommended others to seek one out. Keep up the good work.

  8. Clarice G. James on April 9, 2013 at 6:24 PM

    When I don’t hear from my agent for months, I wonder what she’s up to, but I’m afraid to ask for fear that she really has forgotten who I am. Does that make me an impatient person or a stoopid one?

    • ErinL on December 10, 2013 at 8:29 PM

      It makes you human. 🙂

  9. Dan Erickson on April 9, 2013 at 9:38 AM

    Like any professional position, I think literary agents play a role in the world of books and publishing. I think they always will, even as self-publishing has become an option. Their roles may change, but they will still play an important role for their clients and the industry. I’ve chosen to self-publish and promote for now, but there will likely come a day when I seek a literary agent.

  10. Suzanne Brandyn on April 9, 2013 at 6:20 AM

    I think literary agents are still valuable within the publishing industry.
    It depends on what the Author wants though. I believe if they are targeting that big Traditional publisher, then a literary agent is an avenue where they can help the author, leaving more time for the author to write.

    It really is personal choice.

  11. Jennette on April 9, 2013 at 12:43 AM

    There’s so many responses, I ask why bother? But this is something important to me, so I figured I’d throw my comment as well. I agree with the post and echo what some of the others have said. I’m working toward building a platform, and one day I would like to have an agent to know everything so I don’t have to, ha! It is their expertise that can bring potential into achievements, and help authors navigate this ocean of choices. I definitely have blind spots, and it would be so helpful to have someone who specializes in the writing industry to help plan my career because I’m in this for the long haul. But we’ll see how the industry evolves and what that will look like for me, but every author differs in their journey to publication.

  12. Jan Thompson on April 9, 2013 at 12:26 AM

    Rachelle says: “Some people eschew a realtor and go the ‘for-sale-by-owner’ route.”

    That’s one reason I’m all for agents. Having sold houses before, I can say that good agents are worth it! Gladly paid the commissions.

  13. Jill on April 8, 2013 at 11:41 PM

    I haven’t read through all the comments, so I’m not sure if anybody else has mentioned this, but this post seems to forget the enormous difference between hiring, say, an accountant and having an agent. Well, I can’t just go around hiring agents. I don’t have to win the numbers lottery in order for an accountant to deem my taxes worthy. I can’t see the need for agents disappearing because they provide a highly sought after service to authors. But there are many people who have to be do-it-yourselfers out of necessity (if they feel it’s necessary to be published, anyway). This is the sort of confused reaction I have every time an agent makes this kind of bid for relevance. Of course agents are relevant! That is self-evident. It’s whether the average author can catch one that’s up for debate.

  14. Kim Kircher on April 8, 2013 at 9:18 PM

    Agents are also the best advocate for a writer’s career one could ask for. My agent, who sadly passed away recently, was my biggest champion through my first book project. Going forward, I’m looking for another agent because I miss and need that knowing ear and confidante.

  15. Sandra Bell Kirchman on April 8, 2013 at 7:17 PM

    I was appalled when I read in your post that some people are saying that agents are not needed anymore, that they are gone like the dinosaurs. Well, I know who are saying things like that…people who have never tried to market their own book, that’s who!

    I’d have tons more time for writing, so I’d also say the people who are saying that aren’t all that interested in increasing their writing portfolio.

    I know if I could interest an agent in my books, I would jump at the chance. Poor people who think lit. agents are dinosaurs. Didn’t they hear of Jurassic Park? 🙂

  16. Wendy Paine Miller on April 8, 2013 at 4:35 PM

    Have thought about it & am grateful for mine. 😉

  17. wayne kernochan on April 8, 2013 at 2:46 PM

    I’ve had two books represente and though neither sold, it wasn’t the agent’s fault. They both worked very hard and I learned a lot from them.

    I also researched and followed them both for months before I queried them. I like to make my own luck 🙂

  18. Jack E Rausch on April 8, 2013 at 1:44 PM

    Writers-write. Agents-represent, coach, market, and do all the things I haven’t been called by God to do.
    If someone chooses to sing, whistle, and eat at the same time, well…please don’t do it at my house.
    Traditional publishing and working with an agent pushes me to be a better writer.
    Thanks for your teachings Rachelle.

  19. R.A.Savary on April 8, 2013 at 1:35 PM

    Thanks for all you do, and what helps me keep me from giving up totally is that I know there is an agent “out there” looking for me with as much hope as fervor as I am looking for him, or in this case her.

  20. Jessica Nelson on April 8, 2013 at 1:03 PM

    I do think they’re relevant but I also think writers need to know what they’re looking for and what they want with their writing.
    I don’t foresee agents ever going away and personally, I’d never want to negotiate with a publisher or try to sell stuff to someone new. Yikes! Leave that to an enthusiastic, knowledgeable agent. 🙂
    Good analogy with the real estate too…

  21. Jaime Wright on April 8, 2013 at 12:58 PM

    REALLY? I think I would panic if I didn’t have an agent and was getting published or trying. An agent is numero uno on my list!

  22. Les Edgerton on April 8, 2013 at 12:42 PM

    I wouldn’t be without an agent. And, I’ve sold most of my 15 published books on my own. Doesn’t matter. Here’s a good example of how an agent can help you even if you make the sale yourself. Years ago, my then-agent was Jimmy Vines. I wanted to write a craft book and Jimmy declined to send it out. Not because he didn’t see the merit in it, but because craft books don’t ordinarily earn much of an advance and therefore wasn’t worth the time he would have to take, when he could spend the same time to get six- and seven-figure advances for other books. I completely understood and sent it out myself. When I received an offer from Writer’s Digest for FINDING YOUR VOICE, I called Jimmy and asked if he’d handle the contract. Sure, he said–the heavy lifting had been done and it was now worth his time. And, at the time I knew it meant I’d be giving up 10% of his fee (this was before it went to 15%). I knew he’d save me from a boilerplate contract that was designed in favor of the publisher. Well, he did one better than that. He got the advance bumped up from $2500 to $8,000. Which was far more than they paid in those days. Later, I got offers of $10,000 from them for other books, but it was Jimmy who got them to raise their advances. So, even though I sold it, having an agent made me a lot more than I would have… not to mention a more favorable contract than I would have signed without him.

    They’re worth every single penny.

    Oh, and Jimmy did the other thing, too. Got one of my novels involved in an auction and one of those large advances…

  23. Susi Robinson Rutz on April 8, 2013 at 12:30 PM

    I believe the guidance and encouragement from an agent would be invaluable for propelling me to do my very best work and achieve my highest level of productivity.

  24. Jessica Thomas on April 8, 2013 at 12:29 PM

    I got caught up in the lure of DIY, and while I’m glad it’s an option, it seems less and less feasible to me as a way to manage a career, because it is simply TOO much work. I tend to have all sorts of big ideas, but not the physical constitution to see them through. I’m currently taking a break from my writing as I embrace and accept these weaknesses. It’s proving to be painful, but necessary, and it’s bringing me back to a truth I’ve known for a long time, but perhaps tried to deny for awhile: writing is too lonely a pursuit to go it alone!

  25. Colin on April 8, 2013 at 12:01 PM

    At this point in my writing career (i.e., the very beginning, without an agent, and drafts of a couple of novels), I can’t even conceive of wading into the publishing world without an expert hand to guide me.

    What you say is very true, Rachelle–and not just of publishing. There is a LOT of information available to us now on a whole host of subject. It almost seems as if you could find enough information on the Internet to do anything–writing, publishing, designing, architecture, brain surgery… But there’s a BIG difference between having information, and knowing what to do with it. Of that information, what’s good and what’s bad? How do these facts apply to specific situations? What if you get thrown a curveball? And do you have the TIME it takes to weed through everything, make wise decisions, AND write the best novel you can? Clearly there are some that have done just that. But I think most of us can’t handle all that responsibility. I think we need to find our strength and play to it. I’m not a lawyer, I don’t do contracts, I’m not very good on the phone, and express myself far better in the written word. In other words, I’m not agent material. 🙂

    I have the deepest respect for agents and all they do, largely because they do things I haven’t the time or talent to do. I’d rather have a great agent on my side, than try to be a great agent and a great writer–I’d inevitably fail at one while trying to be the other. 🙂

  26. Kathy Heady on April 8, 2013 at 11:55 AM

    I agree with a number of the other comments. Agents certainly are needed. I would love to have one to smooth the way to publication, and hey, to have a friend that wants to see my book published almost as much as I do. Maybe what we need are more agents.

  27. Marla Taviano on April 8, 2013 at 11:51 AM

    Sounds like a bunch of sour grapes to me. Anybody saying agents are worthless probably just got rejected by one.

  28. J.M. Bray on April 8, 2013 at 11:50 AM

    I’m querying now…

    Does that show my stance on the debate?

    **glances hopefully at his inbox for something from Ms. Kent**


  29. Teri Brown on April 8, 2013 at 11:38 AM

    I’m with Mollie Glick and I can’t imagine not having an agent. There are plenty of successful self published entrepreneurs in my writing group, but at this point in my career, I don’t want to be one of them. My agent not only sells my books published for a fair prices, she helps me make good marketing decisions and gives me invaluable career advice and direction, as well. At some point I may choose that direction, but not this year!

  30. Jessica on April 8, 2013 at 11:11 AM


    Sure I can google “How to be your own literary agent” until the cows come home, but I’d rather have an experienced agent from the start. They have all the knowledge and connections in the publishing world.

    Relevant. Final answer.

  31. sally apokedak on April 8, 2013 at 11:11 AM

    Hey! Where are the tweetables?

    Here are some options:

    1) Are writers getting their money’s worth out of their agents?
    2) Are literary agents dinosaurs or work horses?
    3) People who don’t like literary agents are just stoopid.

    OK, I’m kidding about that last one. But as I read this post I was reminded of that ball scene from Pride and Prejudice where Mary and Lizzie are sitting out the dances because there are too many women and not enough men.

    Mary: I wonder at Kitty and Lydia, that they are so fond of dancing. I take little pleasure in a ball.

    Lizzie: I would take pleasure, if there were enough partners as agreeable as Jane’s.

    There aren’t enough agents to go around so their partners feel fortunate to be dancing. The ones who are sitting out can respond like Mary or Lizzie.

    There’s nothing wrong with not wanting an agent. But the bitterness that some seem to have toward agents (and editors) and the self-righteousness some express, is not all that attractive. Some of them look rather sour-faced, like Mary.

    • Christine Dorman on April 8, 2013 at 12:50 PM

      I agree, Sally. I completely respect a writer’s choice to self-publish or to try to get a publishing contract without an agent, but there is a difference between choosing to DIY and being anti-agent. The resentfulness and vitriol that comes out in the comments of some anti-agent writers is truly offensive to me and, in all honesty, reflects poorly on the writers who make those comments. Your Pride and Prejudice analogy is perfect.

      I also like the Are literary agents dinosaurs or work horses tweetable. 🙂

    • Rachelle Gardner on April 8, 2013 at 2:20 PM

      Sally, your Tweetables are now in the post!

  32. Tim Fairchild on April 8, 2013 at 10:48 AM

    I enjoyed this article very much. I think every writer would jump at the opportunity to have the advice and skills of an Literary agent. Especially new authors such as myself. I am an indie; not by choice, but rather out of necessity. Writing in a specific genre that is not popular at the present, does not bode well for the countless queries sent out. Even though I’ve received an award, good reviews, and even a nice book blurb from a NYT best selling author, I find that without the agency willing to take a chance on a genre such as action adventure, the chances are slim at best. Who knows, maybe some day I’ll get that one “yes” but until then, an indie I remain. Traitor? Not so much. Realist? Yes.:-)

    • Christine Dorman on April 8, 2013 at 12:44 PM


      You absolutely are not a traitor. And yes you are a realist. To me, there is a huge difference between someone who would prefer to have an agent’s guidance but who cannot get an agent for whatever reason (genre isn’t hot right now, the word count is novella rather than novel, etc.) and someone who declares, “I don’t want an agent. Who needs them? I can self-publish!” Like Sylvia, you’re doing what it takes to get your books out in the market. I would prefer to have an agent and publish through the traditional route, but I’m middle-aged, so if after a realistic effort, I fail to get an agent, I ultimately may self-publish. Even so, as you said, I would jump at the chance to have the advice and guidance of a literary agent.

  33. Joy Dent on April 8, 2013 at 10:47 AM

    I agree with you!!! And I would love to have an agent, have tried for three years, but my word count is too short for the ones I feel would be a good fit for me. I finally found a publisher who loves my voice and my books but I still have to do all of the promotion and marketing on my own. Not my first choice. 🙂

    Do you have any advice or encouragement for someone like me?

    • Donna on April 8, 2013 at 12:26 PM

      I agree Joy. My word count is also too short and I have had to find publishers for my books on my own. It’s been several years since my first book was published and I have learned a lot along the way. I’m fortunate that my eldest son is also a writer and has talked me through contracts, publicity, and author platforms. He’s been my anchor and I suppose, my agent! I’m glad I haven’t had representation otherwise I’d never had learned all that goes into publishing.

      • Joy Dent on April 8, 2013 at 12:34 PM

        Thanks for the encouragement, Donna! Oh, to have such a son! LOL

  34. Sylvia A. Nash on April 8, 2013 at 10:47 AM

    And if you could find a way to clone yourselves so you could accept more writers, we’d all have it made! 🙂 I’ve self-published out of necessity (long story, not for here). I knew I would rather have an agent before the experience. I KNOW I would rather have an agent since the experience. But I’ll continue to write and to publish if I’m not fortunate enough to attract an agent. (Anyone listening?) In the meantime, as someone else said, I’ll continue to read the blogs and articles and how-tos of those I’ve come to trust. I’ll also continue to improve as I learn. This, too, might be easier with an agent on board!

    • Christine Dorman on April 8, 2013 at 12:36 PM


      That’s a big part of the problem, isn’t it? SO many writers, too few agents. To say the competition we writers face is fierce is understatement. I applaud you for doing what it took to get your book published and for your wisdom in still preferring to have an agent to help.

  35. Robin Patchen on April 8, 2013 at 10:46 AM

    I’ve only been in this industry for four years, so I don’t know how the role of the literary agent has changed over the long-term. I can say that I want a business partner, someone who can point me in the right direction, someone to bounce ideas off of. Frankly, writing is such a solitary business, and other writers are often as ignorant as I am when it comes to the publishing industry. It’s changing so fast, who can keep up with it? Wait, that’s the agent’s job, right?

    I don’t want to sell my own house or manage my own investing (though I do fire up Turbo Tax every spring–and hate every minute of it.) I want an agent to guide me and tell me all the stuff I don’t know and don’t want to learn. Writing is hard enough.

  36. Maggie Amada on April 8, 2013 at 10:31 AM

    I think different people have different paths. Agents know the business and there is no way I will ever know as much as an agent about the business, the sales and the people because I don’t have the time. I have work and writing and family to worry about. Whereas self-publishing is seductive, I think even self publishers will be opting for agents in the future. It’s important to have someone on your side who knows what they are doing instead of stumbling along the way.

    • Maggie Amada on April 8, 2013 at 1:13 PM

      By the same token, I’m not convinced agents will be the first stop in the future. When we start a business, we would love to get a marketing consultant and an IT department, but we don’t because we can’t afford to. More and more, writing is becoming like a business. An agent is definitely in my list of things to acquire throughout my writing career but I’m not sure it’s the first thing on the list anymore. It’s a question I struggle with.

  37. Heather on April 8, 2013 at 10:21 AM

    Rachelle, I love the analogy to a tax program. Right now, husband and I do our own taxes with the store-bought software. We have very straightforward incomes: salaries, retirement savings and giving. But I anticipate one day getting a book published, with royalty checks, and all the complications of expenses that working from home will bring. I anticipate the need for a tax-accountant then, someone who can help us navigate the issues of taxes for us. That’s the way I view agents. I could self-publish if all I want is a book in my hands (or in my e-reader). My thesis was a PDF sent to my University where I got bound copies. But I want an agent for everything else, the contracts, the deals, that someone who believes in my work.

    • Christine Dorman on April 8, 2013 at 12:11 PM

      “I could self-publish if all I want is a book in my hands.” I absolutely agree, Heather. But having “someone who believes in my work” and who can help me share it as well as advise me on the financial / business side of having a career in writing (which is more than just getting a book published) is invaluable.


  38. Claude Nougat on April 8, 2013 at 10:19 AM

    No, agents are NOT dinosaurs, they’re not dead, they haven’t vanished and, if anything, they’ve morphed into something else and something more. At least all the good ones! Those are the ones who are a writer’s best partner (as far as I can tell because I haven’t got an agent, not yet). They can help untangle the legal webs, give editing advice and marketing support.

    Yes, that’s a lot to expect from an agent – I don’t know about other writers, but that is what I would expect and indeed, that’s what I’m looking for, a working partnership where we share the same goals!

    Am I day-dreaming? Maybe, but it doesn’t hurt to dream…keep smiling!

  39. Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts on April 8, 2013 at 10:15 AM

    Well, I started to write one of my usual long-winded rants and then I had technical difficulties with the computer. So I guess that’s a sign that my rant is unimportant and that I should make this brief. (Oh, it’s too late already! 🙂 )

    Agents are definitely needed in the current writing industry where everything is changing and seems to be getting more complex by the week. Rachelle, you’ve put your finger on exactly why I want an agent (and why I want to be published via the traditional route): I need experts in publishing to help and guide me. And the fact that there are experts (i.e. literary agents) who are willing to help without any financial compensation unless the book is published completely blows my mind. How can someone not want that deal?


  40. Esther on April 8, 2013 at 10:01 AM

    I know I plan on trying that route first. Michael Hyatt has some great posts about this topic as well. Why not get the extra help?

  41. Robin Tidwell on April 8, 2013 at 9:56 AM

    Excellent analogy, comparing agents to realtors, CPAs, etc. Some always prefer DIY, some always prefer to pay a professional.

    However, some can’t FIND a professional – agents are unique in that they must ACCEPT a client, whereas other professionals will provide service for a fee, regardless.

    I also think that more authors would tend to believe in agents if agents showed more overall professionalism, i.e., responding, in some manner and in a timely fashion, to queries.

    I understand the workload, since I started our own publishing house – AFTER having tried the agent route and been not only rejected, but ignored. But I still respond to all queries….

    • Christine Dorman on April 8, 2013 at 12:33 PM

      Robin, you make a good point about how agents are different because they accept only a small number of clients as opposed to many other professionals who will work with anyone who pays them. On the other hand, how many other professionals are there that are willing to work for months, even years, without compensation until they get results for their clients? Most professionals want their money upfront.

      Also agents are not entirely unique in being choosy about clients. There are lawyers who say the client will pay a fee only if the lawyer wins the case (usually accident / malpractice type cases). These lawyers interview potential clients and will only take on those clients if the lawyers believe they can win the case.

      In all honesty, I would prefer to have an agent who has scrutinized both my work and my capacity to make it as a professional writer before taking me on as a client. It means she, as a writing industry professional, believes that both my manuscript and I have have what it takes to succeed. There are (or at least used to be) songwriting publishers who would publish anyone’s work for a fee. So the publishing company got its money, but then the work just sat in a file somewhere, never sold, never sung. These company’s made their money by feeding off of people’s dreams. Literary agents could get very, very rich if they accepted–for a fee–everyone who wants to be a published author. But an agent with a few thousand clients obviously is not going to spend her time equally promoting all of those clients. I want an agent who believes in me and my work and who, therefore, is going to work hard to get my work published. And the fact that she won’t get paid unless I do might be an added incentive.

      • Robin Tidwell on April 8, 2013 at 12:36 PM

        And that was exactly my point – there are similarities, sure, but also differences.

        My point also went further – the communication factor.

  42. Jeanne Takenaka on April 8, 2013 at 9:53 AM

    Literary agents are more relevant than ever, in my opinion. Those who keep up with the changes in publishing are more than helpful for their clients. I can’t imagine trying to go through the process of getting a contract and releasing a book without an agent who’s far more knowledgeable than I am about how it all works, the ins and outs and the contracts and….you get the idea.

    All an agent must do to keep up with the changing climate, the relationships s/he must maintain, the understanding of contracts, the wisdom to help clients make right decisions. I have great admiration for agents! I can’t imagine being one. 🙂

  43. melanie schulz on April 8, 2013 at 9:47 AM

    I do not have an agent and am not looking for one. Not that I don’t think they’re valuable or necessary, but as you yourself must know because of the book you wrote; not all paths are right for all people.

  44. Patrick Sean Lee on April 8, 2013 at 9:36 AM

    “Do you think literary agents …”


  45. lisa on April 8, 2013 at 9:36 AM

    The blogs of literary agents have shaped my career so far. I would more than anything love one to partner with. I can’t imagine navigating the publishing waters without one.

  46. Matt Mikalatos on April 8, 2013 at 9:17 AM

    I love my agent. You’re right, he’s a trusted advisor and my friend. He frees up time for me to write, takes cares of details I know that I wouldn’t even if I needed to, and if there’s a problem with the publisher he takes care of it, allowing me to retain a strong relationship with the publisher.

    Plus, he asks for things I wouldn’t. With my last contract, I was pleased with the initial offer (which was generous). My agent said, “We can do better” and went back and got a generous offer to be a little sweeter. I wouldn’t have done that, and I’m thankful that he did.

  47. Susan Foy on April 8, 2013 at 8:40 AM

    I would love to have an agent, but my impression is that they don’t want to be bothered with unpublished authors. I’ve heard it said at conferences that agents don’t want you when you need them, and then want you when you don’t need them as much. Hmmm…

    • Stephanie on April 9, 2013 at 9:43 AM

      That’s pretty simplistic advice. I think a better outlook is that publishing is a business, and you need to have a book that can sell to catch an agent’s interest. I think it’s our job ad writers to do that leg work and know the genre we write. Otherwise, write anything you want, for yourself.

  48. Kate Larkindale on April 8, 2013 at 6:52 AM

    I definitely want an agent. I don’t want to have to wade through all the minutae that’s part of the publishing process. I’d rather use the limited time I have to actually write.

    And for that luxury I’d willingly pay 15% or more.

  49. Ernie Zelinski on April 8, 2013 at 5:29 AM

    As a writer who has had a few books published by traditional publishers and has had several successful self-published works, I have never had an agent for North America.

    Even so, I believe that agents can still be valuable for most writers. Indeed, I would like to have one myself for some of the creative projects that I have yet to publish.

    People such as Joe Konrath and his devoted followers say that traditional publishers and agents are no longer required. A lot of these same people have been saying that, “Print is dead” and ebooks are the only way to go. To these people I say, “Anyone who believes that ‘Print is dead’ is either lying or brain dead.”

    Fact is, there are still a lot of authors published with traditional publishers, using agents, who are still making a lot of money from print editions of their books.

    In short, a good agent will benefit the author so that the agent’s 15 percent commission pays for itself many times over.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    International Best-Selling Author
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 175,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

  50. Aj on April 8, 2013 at 5:20 AM

    Agents are like surgeons, they snip, cut away and seperate the unecessary & dangerous & fix what needs to be fixed. Take away the surgeons & there’s a whole lot of unecessary and dangerous just waiting to kill you. Writers need that surgical prowess so you they focus on doing what they do best, which is writing. If Steven King & JK Rowling realise the need for agents…then come on.

  51. Katya on April 8, 2013 at 2:31 AM

    Hey, I happen to like dinosaurs!

    Seriously though, whenever I read the Acknowledgements page in any given novel, 90% of the time the author will mention and profusely thank his or her agent. Agents matter, period. I would argue that PRECISELY because there’s so much information out there, authors need an agent to help sort through all of it!

    I know I’ll be querying agents when I’m ready. It’s worth it.

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on April 8, 2013 at 2:42 AM

      There are a lot of writers (mainly memoirs and nonfiction) who say that without their agents’ encouragement, their books would never have been written.

  52. Beth K. Vogt on April 8, 2013 at 2:30 AM

    This question crossed my mind the other day: Would I ever want to be an agent?
    After I cleaned up the mess I made because I snorted my Starbucks through my nose when I laughed hysterically at the notion, I sat myself down and had a frank discussion with myself. It went like this:
    My reply: Sometimes — but not crazy enough to think I could ever, ever, ever, ever, ever do my agent’s job.
    End of discussion.
    (And I think the coffee stains will come out of my clothes.)

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on April 8, 2013 at 2:45 AM

      Being your own agent is like being your own doctor. How’d you like to do surgery on yourself?

      (I get to ask this, because I actually HAVE done minor surgery on myself – repair of a damaged hand – boring story, but preferably never again)

      • Beth K. Vogt on April 8, 2013 at 10:44 AM

        Yeah, that’s another occupation I’ll pass on. That, and school bus driver.
        Don’t have the skills set for those, either.

  53. Connie Grudzinski on April 8, 2013 at 2:29 AM

    I would love to have an agent, and someone as awesome as you would be great! But as I write picture books and middle grade fiction, I will have to be content to keep learning from your blog and keep searching for my own agent. I don’t really wish to have all the stress of the self pub thing either.

  54. Cheri Gregory on April 8, 2013 at 2:23 AM

    I’ve always been sold on having an agent. But I had no clue how much I do NOT want to be a DIYer (or “entrepreneur” to those who enjoy indie publishing!) until attending a major writers’ conference. All the details agents handle for their clients would give me a permanent migraine!

  55. Gabrielle Meyer on April 8, 2013 at 2:19 AM

    Last Thursday I had the honor to announce I have signed with Mary Keeley (from Books & Such). Since then I’ve had dozens of people ask me why I made the choice to obtain a literary agent, and dozens more who didn’t understand the role an agent plays in the publication process. To answer their questions, I wrote a post on my blog today entitled: Ten Reasons an Author Needs and Agent. This list is compiled from a newbie’s perspective–I’m sure I will find many more reasons as my writing journey continues.

    • Jenni Brummett on April 8, 2013 at 3:07 AM

      So exciting Gabrielle. Congratulations!

    • Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts on April 8, 2013 at 9:49 AM

      Congratulations, Gabrielle! How exciting! I’m so happy for you. Many blessings on the next phase. I hope you won’t have to wait long before you sign a publishing contract. 🙂

    • Susi Robinson Rutz on April 8, 2013 at 12:10 PM

      Joy to you, Gabrielle! I wish you much success as you partner with Mary to achieve your publishing dreams.

    • Gabrielle Meyer on April 8, 2013 at 12:20 PM

      Thanks, ladies!

    • Sandra Bell Kirchman on April 8, 2013 at 7:27 PM

      Congratulations, Gabrielle. I bet you are dancing with joy. It’s a positive comment on your writing that you have been accepted.

    • Debbie McClure on April 8, 2013 at 10:03 PM

      As a writer with a first release out, a newly completed sequel I’m querying, and a learning curve the size od a tsunami, I understand the value of what an agent would bring to the table in a writing career. Add to that my 10 year background as first a realtor, then residential mortgage agent, and you know I get it! Thanks for the timely post.

  56. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on April 8, 2013 at 1:46 AM

    Agents are needed more than ever, and I wish I had one!

    From a personal perspective, I simply don’t have the experience necessary to do an agent’s job effectively. I can gain some of the knowledge by self-study, but not enough. I would gladly pay 15% – or more – of the income for that expertise.

    Taking a broader view, ‘eliminating the middleman’ will lead to a serious shortfall in the quality of available books. I’ve got a theory that the people who write the best books typically need agents the most.

    The creative spark that forms a world from nothing cannot, with a change of hat and computer window, become a sharp marketing executive in a self-publishing enterprise. I may draw some criticism for trotting out that cliche, but I’ll stand by it.

    In the Brave New World of Kindle and the Cloud and 5g Smartphones we’re all experts in everything, just waiting to be unleashed in the bright sunrise of technology…is it just me, or does that taste faintly of snake oil?

  57. Megan on April 8, 2013 at 1:35 AM

    It has to vary greatly from person to person. I personally can’t wait until my novel is query ready because I love the idea of having a partner in the publishing industry. In fact my number one question to an agent is whether or not they want to represent my novel or all my work. But not everyone is looking for that kind of relationship, and like you said, some people are more do-it-yourselfers.