I know, getting an agent is the dream. I know of people who only query agents period. I’m still querying agents even after successfully publishing ten books and counting. An agent opens doors.
But agents aren’t always the best path for a writer’s career.
No, you say? Of course an agent will direct me down the best path! Some do, yes. Some don’t as well.
The ultimate dream is become the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. Having your books be so widely beloved you’re a household name. That would be nice. But let’s be realistic here. Amazon has literally millions of books available by almost as many authors. Those are two names. Yeah, you could probably name more off the top of your head, but can you reach a thousand, a hundred even, authors without looking them up?
I’d also like to mention that both of these authors began before the rise of ebooks. It’s no joke that ebooks have changed the shape of the publishing world, and I believe has changed how and what people read as well. Nowadays, even man and his dog can publish a book on Amazon if they want. Back when the above mentioned authors began, books were made of paper. Becoming an author meant an agent was pretty much essential. There wasn’t much in the way of “small presses” or “self-publishing” the big publishing houses ruled and were the only way in. No agent meant no book. The rise of the ebook has completely changed that.
So, reeling our expectations back to reality, a book that sells well will probably bring about 15-20k a year for the author. Most authors probably get little more than a couple of hundred a month, very likely even less. So if you want to be a millionaire, you’re in the wrong career. The honest to goodness truth is a vast majority of authors don’t become millionaires from writing. Most use it as a side income on top of their day jobs, even those with an agent.
Now that we know that becoming a household name and insanely wealthy is highly unlikely, let’s get down to the nitty gritty.
Agents are essential for one thing: Getting into big publishing houses. The Big Five and their affiliates, along with several other large publishing houses only accept submissions from agents. They have the demand, the means, the decision making power to make it so. The big publishers drive what is available, so can pick and choose what they sign on. Anyone who wants to have their wide range of distribution and publicity needs an agent to do so. This is why I want an agent even now.
But so often I see authors with agents signed with small presses. This blows my freaking mind. Not that small presses are bad, because I LOVE them (which I will go into more detail about in a minute) but honestly, the author could have submitted to the press themselves. When I see agented authors signed with small presses I believe they’re getting duped. Big time. In general, press contracts will give around 35-40% royalty rate. That’s pretty good, and the presses do their best to promote their books because they want their money too. But they can’t sell like a Big 5 publisher can, realistically their income for any book will be lower. Take into that now that the agent takes say 15% that’s taking what was about 40% down to 25%. The author, the person who poured their heart and soul into creating the book, gets a quarter of the book’s earnings. But a small press has direct author submissions, so instead of getting say $500 a month which they would get if they’d submitted directly themselves, they’re losing about $200 for the agent. Seriously, if your agent tells you they have a book deal with a small press, tell them to take a hike and submit it yourself. This is a business deal you have with them, and if they’re not performing and doing things you could have easily done yourself, you should be looking for someone better to represent you. It’s called firing them. I’ve had many friends who have fired their agents because they didn’t perform. It’s not unheard of. As an author, you have rights too.
I’m not saying agents are bad by any means. Agents who get deals with big publishers are worth your time. They’re worth that percentage they take from the royalties. They’re good agents. They’re the ones every author should seek out. Go, find them!
Now, small presses. Guys, I cannot tell you how much I love them. I work with three great presses including Soul Mate Publishing. Two of them have over 200 titles, and I believe authors too. All of them are eager to grow, promote their books, and be well respected and trusted by readerships. Small presses have put out my favorite books in recent years. Books that are unique and don’t fit the mainstream. Also, these places don’t have to worry about what’s in vogue. They just get GREAT books. Market trends bear a moderate influence on their titles, unlike big publishers, which I know from a conversation with an editor at one after she read my manuscript from a conference request, are the main factor in contract selections. She explained that although she loved my book, the team couldn’t accept it because they were only seeking thrillers/horror/suspense in YA because that’s where the market is leaning.
Small presses can and do accept outside of the mainstream. Dead genres like Paranormal and Dystopian are still being published and read through them. I know my non-contemporary romance new adult makes agents balk and run away, but small presses love them.
Don’t get me wrong, you should definitely look into the small press before submitting to them. Many presses have flopped, and some were scams. Ask their authors about them, read some of their books. When you find the right one, you will love them.
My advice to all writers out there: know your market. Know the agents you are submitting to. Also, don’t think that going with a small press is settling. As I mentioned, agents submit to them too, but you’re better off doing it yourself rather than through them. If you want to see your work published and you’ve been querying agents for years, try a reputable small press.
Don’t you think it’s time to take hold of your writing career and make it work for you? When you do, I promise you it will be more fulfilling than you realize!