More and more writers have started to build careers through self-publishing, without ever meeting an agent. And some have started asking, “Why on earth does one need an agent? Are they worth the 10% of your revenue that they take?”
In an article in The Guardian recently, British novelist, documentary maker, and former producer of BBC Radio 4’s Midweek, Chris Paling, argues that agents are worth so much more than their paycheck. And Paling would know; he has had five agents in a long writing career: three literary and two film.
He writes, “Writers need agents more than agents need writers. They have needed them since the late 19th century, when an increasingly literate public fed by the magazines and single-volume prints made possible by the invention of Linotype printing created a lucrative industry. Until then, authors operated on a “half profits” system with publishers, in which they shared earnings 50/50 once the publishers had deducted their expenses (and when they got round to sending the cheque). The new breed of agents empowered authors by leasing their copyrights to publishers in return for royalties and an advance on those royalties.”
But it’s not all roses. Paling writes about a perennial complaint from writers; “the impossibility of getting a response from your agent,” and recounts his own experience with an agent who kept two phones, one for his bestselling authors and another for the rest.
Which is what makes a good agent, when you find them, truly special. And we all know how hard that is. As one of the comments to the article states, “I feel that I must point out here, as one having three decades’ worth of experience in the matter, that even if you manage to find an agent – which is now as difficult as finding a publisher was thirty years ago – and your agent manages to place you with a publisher, don’t imagine that that’s the end of the matter and you’ll be living happily ever after…”
- You can read the full article on The Guardian website
- Read more about Paling’s literary journey in his new book, A Very Nice Rejection Letter: Diary of a Novelist