Are Lit Agents Necessary?

On the necessity of middlemen.
Feb | 9 | 2012

I talk to authors and prospective authors on a regular basis and often we find ourselves discussing the merits of literary agents. It doesn’t take too long for us to arrive at the ultimate question, “Are they necessary?”


I’ve dealt with two different agents over the last year in different capacities and have been less than thrilled with the results, but your mileage may vary.

Disintermediation and Disruption

Twenty years ago, the answer was probably. If you wanted to get published, you needed a proper book deal. To get one of those, someone needed to make introductions. Someone had to pitch an idea in the right way to the right people at the right time.

Ask Amanda Hocking if an agent helped her move more than $1 million in ebooks on Amazon.

These days, however, publishers are increasingly and directly reaching out to rock stars who’ve built their own tribes. It’s not hard to figure out which would-be authors can move books. Twitter followers, Alexa and Google page ranks, Facebook fans, and the like serve as pretty good proxies. Bonus points if you do speaking gigs.

And let’s not forget the tools available to authors who want to circumvent traditional gatekeepers altogether. They may scoff at the notion of giving away 85% or more of their royalties to a third-party that will do little if anything to promote them.

Brass Tacks

I’m not anti-agent, but let’s just say that their glory days aren’t exactly ahead of them. Individual agents aside, this is a group that has served a few fundamental purposes: to put writers in touch with publishers and to negotiate the best deals for their clients.

If you’re happy with your agent, then go with God. But do you absolutely need one? Puh-lease. Ask Amanda Hocking if an agent helped her move more than $1 million in ebooks on Amazon.¬†What’s more, someone has to explain to me why writers who can connect directly with their readers must use traditional channels.

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