Six months ago, I was signed with an agent and things were going fairly well. I'm not going to name the agent in question – either you know who it was or you don't (and even then, you can probably find out using Google). Anyway, I had finished Die Laughing (my latest children's novel) and was looking forward to the redrafting stage, when - out of the blue - we had what I can only describe as "serious creative differences." There was a little more nuance that I won't go into, but basically I was forced to choose between my agent and my book. After much agonising, the latter won through, and I cancelled my agency contract. Suffice it to say, I found the whole experience immensely traumatic.
Since then, I've completed another draft of the book, improving the structure and pacing, but preserving my creative vision. Several accomplished writers have read the whole thing at various stages, and the verdict has been very positive. It is, I think, market-ready, so I've sent it to a small number of editors to test the waters. What I haven't done so far is send it to any agents, which is where you come in. I'm going to go through the pros and cons of having an agent (as I see it) and you can tell me what you think.
+ For an agent - It's a commercial book
Agents will only represent something they can sell, and I firmly believe that Die Laughing fits that category. It's a fast-paced, high-concept adventure story for boys, with plenty of subtext to satisfy anyone who wants to dig deeper.
- Against an agent - It's all subjective
You can write the most commercial book in the world, but that doesn't mean it will sell. Or even that people will like it. Agents, just like editors, need to feel a personal connection to a work in order to take it on. By submitting it to agents as well, I could just be opening myself up to a whole new world of rejection.
+ For an agent - The book may need work
I think that every book needs a good editor, and I'm sure this one is no exception. It's hard for me to see the novel objectively, or to know everything about the current state of the fiction market. The right agent could help me hone the book for submission and target exactly the right publishers.
- Against an agent - I'm introducing another opinion into the chain
My vision for this book is extremely important to me, and I want to preserve it as far as possible. That said, I'm very prepared to work with an editor to get the book right for their particular list. But do I want to add an agent's views to the mix as well? The last time I worked with a publisher, one of the first things the commisioning editor asked me to do was remove several chapters that my former agent had suggested I add!
+ For an agent - I need a champion
It's lonely being a writer, and there's only so much you can ask your writer friends to do for you without feeling guilty. Having an agent is brilliant, because it's their actual job to look at your writing and help you with it. They can be your light in the darkness, championing what you've done and building enthusiasm amongst the industry.
- Against an agent - I have trust issues
Following what happened with my previous agent, I'm reluctant to allow someone else into my trust. Imagine having a really bad break-up and never wanting to go on a date again. It's like that, except with more writing and less kissing.
+ For an agent - I feel like a third-class citizen
For the forthcoming SCBWI retreat, I had to fill in a form, choosing from:
- Unagented and Unpublished
- Against an agent - I have plenty of time
People tell me that Die Laughing is a pretty original book, and I'm trying not to chase trends or do anything with a fixed expiry date. With that in mind, I don't lose much by waiting for the right publisher to come along. I also have a very good day job, so I don't need a gazillion pound auction to launch my writing career.
+ For an agent - They have lots of contacts
Experience has shown me that - once a manuscript is ready - getting published is a numbers game. You may need to approach a large number of publishers before you find the right combination of: editor who loves it + receptive sales team + an appropriate spot on their list. I'm quite well-networked, but a good agent will know far more editors than me, as well as what they're looking for.
- Against an agent – It would be cool to do it all on my own
It seems that a debut novel not only needs a story within it, but also a story about it. Everyone loves a tale of victory against the odds - I can feel myself mentally noting every cruel twist of fate for later usage in blogs and interviews. Being without an agent does give me more freedom in what I say and do, which stories I write and which publishers I approach. But I'm not (for the moment) intending to self-publish, so am I just making life hard for myself?
I could go on, but I suspect I still wouldn't reach a conclusion. That's why I need your help! Please vote in the poll below, and you're very welcome to share your good or bad stories about agents in the comments.
Thank you, and please use your power wisely ;-)