In preparation for this Novel Spaces blog post, I reached out to my Facebook friends and asked them to suggest a topic/question they wanted me to cover. The first reply I got was from Diane Sewell Dorse, asking: Do you think it's relevant now for an author, new or otherwise, to obtain a literary agent?
I chose Diane's question because I had never really thought about whether it was still relevant, needed, or beneficial nowadays. But considering the indie movement in literature, self-publishing being more popular then ever, seeming to squash traditional publishing, one has to wonder. So, I decided to take on the topic. After all, it's all about books, our readers, and if we decide to not self-pub, it's about that publishing contract.
While it's true that a lot of authors; 1) have no choice other than to self-pub because they cannot find an agent or publisher, 2) prefer to go the self-published route to keep track of their own sales and income, and not pay percentages to agents and publishers, 3) are established authors who have built up enough of a readership where they believe they don't need an agent or publisher, 4) there are still authors who do prefer to have an agent, and the backing of a mainstream publisher for purposes of production and distribution, to give them more time to write, and hopefully provide more income, upfront or otherwise, through advances/sales. And when it comes time for a new deal, their agent can act on their behalf to get them the best deal. I just found out as well that some agents manage a writer's sub-pubbed efforts. Interesting.
I reached out to my agent, Leticia Gomez, CEO and Founder of Savvy Literary Services.
Leticia was kind enough to offer the following information:
* Major traditional publishers will not consider a project unless it's submitted by a literary agent. So if an author wants to become a career writer who is published by traditional publishers, having a well-trained and hardworking agent is a must have.
* An agent can help you polish up your manuscript or book proposal before starting the submission process.
* Having an agent will give an author more credibility among his or her peer writers, editors, and film and television executives
* An agent can be instrumental in negotiating better terms and catching any red flag items on publishing contracts than going at it alone.
* An agent can help you brainstorm new book ideas and give sound career advice.
* An agent will be your watchdog, making sure advance and royalty statements come in on time and the terms of your publishing contract are carried out and adhered to. In other words an agent will handle all the unpleasant business matters so the author can focus on his or her creativity.
Now for me, having an agent was beneficial when I started out. I had written my first novel, May December Souls, from 1997 - 1998, and was all set to obtain an agent and have my book published, like so many other authors who were getting deals back then, particularly African American writers, thanks to the popularity of the iconic N.Y. Times best-selling author, Terry McMillan.
In 1999, I shopped my books to agents, and received rejection letter after rejection letter. And then I met Michael Baisden at a book-signing. He suggested that I self publish, telling me about a book called The Self-Publishing Manual, by Dan Poynter, suggesting that I follow it to the letter. I did, and by 2000, I had three-thousand books delivered to my home, as I released May December Souls under my own company, 4D Publishing. The books were selling out, but bringing in the money was not so easy (that's another post). Before ordering another print run, I decided to again submit to agents, but this time, instead of sending a manuscript, I had a bound copy to send with successful sales. Within two weeks, I heard from three agents, and Richard Curtis was one of them. He promised that I would have a book deal within a month. Three days after I signed with him, there was an auction underway for my book, and I signed a deal with HarperCollins. He helped me work through the contract and went back and forth for me. And so it began. I had a six-figure deal, and May December Souls was re-released immediately. I was on to writing my next book, The Chocolate Ship.
I've had a few agents since then, even one whom I work with if I have ideas that fit into what he and I still discuss, and he reaches out to send the checks, so he's my friend, lol!
A few of years ago, Leticia Gomez brokered a deal for me within months of signing with her. She is warm spirited, talented, professional, and very well connected within the industry. She has the relationships with the powers that be, that agents need to have. Particularly, relationships with editors/publishers, who, as Leticia indicated above, if they're top major publishers, for the most part will not accept unsolicited manuscripts. You still need an agent to introduce your submission on your behalf, just like we did years ago. Your agent will be a good person to bounce your ideas off of, be honest with you, help you to refine the story if necessary, and just overall be your connection to possible literary deals, and maybe even TV, film, etc.
I think the percentage agent's charge is worth it, as they need to work hard for you, and have your back. Leticia has been pleasant, positive, available, and open, and for that, I am forever grateful.
So, yes, I think that having a relationship with an agent or someone who can be the communicator in submitting and/or negotiating, renegotiating, etc. is still relevant.
Thanks, Diane Sewell Dorsey, for your question! Thanks, Leticia!
You can reach Leticia Gomez by going to her website, Savvy Literary. Make sure to check out her submission requirements. She's my girl, so treat her right! Also, check out a list of agents to see which might be best for you depending upon your genre, etc. You can try The Guide to Literary Agents 2017, available electronically or print.