Occasionally, like perhaps once a month or so, the same question always seems to surface on the writer forums I frequent. It comes in different forms and with different intentions, but the essence is the same.
What's the point of an agent?
Sometimes the question is a genuine one. And then sometimes it comes in the form of: "Why do agents take 15% of OUR money."
And I sigh. And then I always write the same thing.
I write about Julia. Julia Churchill, my wonderful agent. I write about how enthusiastic she has always been about my work. How she helped me to edit it several times over before she had even signed me on. And how she has somehow managed to sell my manuscript to the world.
Because an agent does so much more than simply get your book published. There is handling the contract itself. No other person out there understands the technicalities of a publishing contract like an agent. Not even an entertainment lawyer. An agent knows what to ask for, and how to get it. An agent will send your manuscript around the world and sell your foreign rights. An agent will conduct a book auction. And an agent will do a hundred other things that I have no idea needs to be done.
An agent earns her 15% not from selling your book to a publisher. Okay she totally does, because even when you have an agent that isn't a guarantee you're book will sell. An agent earns her 15% by doing all those things you didn't know needed to be done. It isn't even a question of you, the author, not knowing HOW to do something, not having the contacts. It's about you, the author, not knowing that something needs to be done at all, in the first place.
People answer the agent question often with numbers. That 85% of $10,000, is way better than 100% or nothing. But I'm not interested in that argument as to me it is pretty self-explanatory.
To me it's about the work. The support. A good agent can make all the difference in the world. Someone who believes in you, someone who isn't your family or close friend, but someone in the industry who not only loves your work but can get stuff done? Someone who, when after she's read your blog, she emails you to tell you that writing a book is hard otherwise everyone would do it, and that you'll be able to get through it? - well that someone is more than worth the money in my estimation.
I asked a few blog entries down the other day, "Where's the love?" Well, there it is.
In that 15%.