Note from Josh: Author (and edior, and friend) Bryon Quertermous takes over this space this week. Bryon's in an interesting position, as both an experienced editor and a novelist, he sees the publishing world from several angles. Here, he is discussing the relative merits of author representation. I suspect you know which side I come down...
Bryon's book, RIOT LOAD, is out from Polis Books, and is available on Amazon, B&N.com. and from your indie retailers. his website is http://bryonquertermous.com/)
by Bryon Quertermous
I just returned from a week of touring for my new novel, RIOT LOAD, and by far, the most common question I was asked was some sort doc variation on who my agent it or how I found my agent. The answer was always the same: I don't and I didn't.
This was met almost always with one of two reactions. Some folks gasped and went wide eyed at the revelation, like I had just told them time travel or faster than light travel was possible, while others nodded in a knowing way like I had just shared a secret with them and we were the only two people who really knew what was ups and that agents were a waste. The truth, of course, is somewhere in the middle.
I've mentioned numerous times that I never had any thought of MURDER BOY getting published. After years of writing novels I thought I should write I finally wrote the novel I wanted to write. And it was too short and too weird to really be of interest to most people, I thought, including literary agents. But when Jason launched Polis as a digital imprint I thought that seemed like a fine place for it and boy was I right. At the time I made the deal with Jason and Polis, I was also working as an editor and any of the agents I would have wanted to represent me were also representing authors I was working with as an editor and that seemed like a big conflict of interest to me so I represented myself.
I was lucky there in two ways. One, I'd done enough negotiating contracts to know what to be on the lookout for and two, my publisher had also been an author and knew how to write a fair contract. Most other authors won't have that particular mix of situations though, making an agent more necessary. And even with my knowledge and a fair boilerplate, there are still a few things I see after the fact that I would have negotiated differently and that would have been done differently if I'd had an agent at the time.
One of the reasons I went with Jason and Polis rather than publishing the book myself as I had long considered was because I didn't wants to have to do the work of mph listing the book on top of doing the work to write the book. Jason hired a great cover artist and a great copy editor and he gave me a great developmental edit. Jason got the book into the distribution system making it easier for stores to sell the book and for people to find the book and for the press to promote the book.
But when it came to the business side, I was doing more than I really wanted to do and would have liked to hand that aspect off as well to an agent. Because no matter how much experience I have negotiating contracts and how fair a contract Jason puts together, I will always be too close to my work and too emotional to make proper business decisions all of the time. I think for the author-editor and author-publisher relationship to really work best, there needs to be a buffer between the author and the editor and the author and the publisher. Again, I was lucky in that there were never any major issues between myself and Jason or Polis. But there were a few times were I realized had I not been with a publisher like Jason and had not been dealing with a friend, things could have very easily turned out poorly if I didn't have a knowledgable and fierce advocate on my side.
So even in my unique situation that makes representing myself as workable as possible, there are still areas I'm too close or too disinterested in to make it work completely to my advantage. Agents like Josh, who was kind enough to to lend me his space here today, and his colleague Danielle, and other great agents in the mystery field will always be better prepared for the current marketplace and its volatility than any single author will be. Even those authors with no interest in the traditional publishing world will find benefits of working with an agent. I have several savvy freelance clients who work with agents to secure foreign deals and audio deals or who handle film rights for them.
I always hear then advice in forums and other places that all a writer needs to do is have an entertainment lawyer look over a contract but I disagree. A good agent certainly works with a great contracts department or attorney but also has scouts in the field who keep them up to date on the world marketplace in publishing. Having an agent isn't just about making sure you don't get screwed in your contract, it's about having someone you can hand off the heavy business lifting to and who can work as an objective buffer between the author and the various publishing professionals involved in bringing a book to market.
So will I be looking for an agent anytime soon? Who knows. Maybe, maybe not. I've always been better about giving advice to other people than I am about taking it myself. Maybe I should ask my agent...