Friday, 13 April 2012

Should I Find a New Agent?

I know that this sounds like a spoof, but bear with me – I really would like you to help me decide whether I should look for another agent. In groundbreaking fashion (for this blog, anyway), there's even a poll at the end. But first, here's some background...

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:
  • Agented
  • Published
  • Unagented and Unpublished
Have a guess which one I had to tick! Getting an agent is such an accepted step on the ladder, and I feel a bit left out. More than that, my manuscript is likely to be lower down the list of priorities for an editor than something coming in from an agent. Agents are allowed to be pushy and do things like set a deadline for editors to come back on a particular book – imagine the reaction if I tried to do that on my own!

- 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 ;-)


Should I find a new agent?


  1. I too am still among the great unwashed (unagented, unpublised). But it is firmly on my to do list.

    That said having spoken to many others who have, or have had agents, the trick seems to be finding the RIGHT agent. The one who loves your work, believes in your future and will fight your corner.

    Easier said than done I know Nick, let's go on a quest.

  2. heatherkilgour.com13 April 2012 at 12:15

    I’m in a vaguely similar position. I look forward to seeing your results.

  3. I voted yes but what I really mean is that you should submit to agents not necessarily focus on them exclusively.

    Also, I know nothing, so you might want to ignore that vote.

    A third option is to build a robot agent. It'll crush editors that don't accept your work beneath its spiky tank tracks.

  4. I voted 'yes', but suggest you add a 'build robot agent' option asap:-)

    Seriously though, if you have the contacts to go it alone with editors right now, then I'd try that first. If you land a deal that way, it'll give you enormous leverage with potential agents, as well as a great sense of achievement.

  5. Oh. Apparently I'm in the strong minority voting no! But even though the survey gave me the option to "change my vote", I'm going to stick to my guns! ;)

    I'm a huge proponent of agents, but what I hear time and time again in your pros and cons is how hurt this whole experience has made you feel. That makes me think now is the time to stand on your own feet, believe in yourself and your story, and see what you can do to pitch your book. If it doesn't work, or if some magical connection comes up, or if you write something else... agents are always out there. This is a journey, not a sprint. Take your time, take care of yourself, and follow your heart.

  6. I`m with Anne on this. Theoretically an agent is great and ideally you should have one but not before you are ready to work together with one who gets you and your book. Do what you think is right.

  7. I too, am fascinated by the Robot Agent option!

    Actually I voted no. As Anne says, you can always send to agents in the future. I would leave it for now.

  8. @ Bekki - robot agent sounds cool, but what happen when it malfunctions or needs upgrades...?

  9. Unless you can do as I did and win a competition it's hard to go direct to a publisher. I've voted 'yes' simply because there are so few publishers out there who will look at unagented material. I would at least submit to agents as well as publishers to maximise your chances.

  10. Wishing you every success. Which doesn't answer the question, but means to be encouraging, when you do make a decision. :)

  11. Full details of the Robot Agent can be found here:

  12. Nick, if you do decide to get a new one, can I have your old one, please?

    Actually, i'm just as undecided as you but I did note what Thomas said and the fact that you have editor contacts. So i voted no, which means no for the time being, until you've exhausted your contacts.

  13. Dear Nick, of course you're fine as you are, but I still think you should try for an agent. Not all agents want to be editors - mine shies away from anything editorial and makes only the vaguest of suggestions. She is a whizz at selling books however and has enabled me to be a full time writer. So it's about finding the right match for you.

    You have editorial contacts so can probably by-pass the system a bit, but it's a very tough world at the moment and personally I wouldn't like to be going it alone. I don't think I'd get read, let alone taken seriously.

    I'd like to offer the gentlest suggestion that you try not to be so personal about the arrangement. You wouldn't be a writer if you weren't an intuitive, creative person, but the relationship with agents and editors should be a business one.

    All feedback tends to feel as if someone is stamping on your precious baby, but it's very unlikely that they're doing it for reasons of malice, more that they think they'll sell it for more if it's written in a particular way. It's business, not personal.

    PS I really enjoy your blog posts BTW.

  14. I like Anne Leone's advice. I think you should follow your editorial contacts first.

  15. Nick,

    Can totally see your dilemma, however I believe and that you should totally go with your gut feeling. So well go with gut, (and i don't mean to the nearest bakery for cakes;))