Myths About Agents: True? False? Or Somewhere In Between?
by Anne Hawkins
Literary Agent, John Hawkins & Associates, Inc.
Literary agents only want published authors. They don't pay attention to a first novel.
Wow, is this ever untrue! For an agent, there's no greater thrill than "discovering" an extraordinarily talented author and helping launch his career. It's also a fact that it is easier to sell a first novel than one by a published author whose previous books didn't sell particularly well. Granted, any agent in her right mind would be very interested in an established writer with a successful career, but an author like that normally has a happy partnership with his present agent and only looks for new representation under unusual circumstances.
You can't get an agent unless you know someone willing to refer you.
Generally, false. Over half of my published clients came to me as a result of direct contact, such as query letters, E-mails, writers' conferences, on-line venues, etc. This isn't to say that referrals aren't highly desirable. A referral by someone known to an agent does tend to put your query package at the top of the pile and ensures careful consideration. From there on, however, the project swims or sinks on its own merits, referral notwithstanding. A referral may also be the only way to initiate contact with the handful of agents who are so busy with current clients that they are not accepting unsolicited submissions.
Self-publishing my book will get it into the public eye and make it easier to get an agent and major publisher.
Not true. The glut of fee-based E-publishing and print-on-demand technologies allow almost any project to be "published," regardless of quality. No agent is going to be impressed by this kind of publication, unless the book has also distinguished itself through significant sales, prestigious reviews, major media attention, or recognized awards. Some of these fee-based publishers also have nasty contractual language whereby they allow an author to "break" the contract for traditional print publication by another press, but the original fee-based publisher retains control over certain rights for a considerable amount of time afterwards. Lack of control of these rights -- electronic publication, for example -- make the author and project much less attractive to a name agent or major press.
There is so much crap on the market, and I know my book is better than most of the stuff out there. Why don't agents want quality books?
Oh, but we do. Fervently. In today's climate of publishing mergers and consolidation of imprints, there are simply fewer places to submit a book. And the surviving editors and publishers can afford to be very, very choosy. Editors are looking for quality books with the potential to attract wide readerships, so agents must do the same. I have to agree that there is still some real "crap" on the market, but I think we'll see the "crap-quotient" decrease sharply over time. Consider this chilling scenario as an illustration: an author well into his multi-book contract lays a real egg of a book. One bad book won't cost him his loyal readers and the confidence of his publisher, but several will. The result will be a lot less money for his next contract -- if, in fact, he can get a new contract at all. Enter the promising newcomer with a quality book. Who do you think the publisher will judge the better risk?
SOURCE: This article was originally published on Authorlink.com. It is reproduced here by permission to Jerri McCloud from Anne Hawkins, John Hawkins & Associates, Inc.