Do you ever feel like you want to take everyone involved in the publishing business–writers, agents, publishers, and the interns who open the mail–and shake them until their teeth rattle? Probably not, right? Well, I usually don’t either. But then I read a piece like this one in Galleycat and, well, you know….
At the risk of sounding self-serving, every serious author needs an agent. Not just any agent, of course. You need a good agent. One who is an advocate, who is willing to fight for you and who is able to tell you when you’re being unreasonable and doing your career more harm than good. You need someone who’ll tell you they believe in you when you think you’re the biggest literary fraud since James Frey (who is actually a very good writer despite his questionable morals). You need someone who asks about your ailing grandmother and vets your contracts. You need someone who will look at your royalty statements and make sure that the publisher isn’t holding a 75% reserve for returns. You need someone who is willing to try to place foreign rights to a book that is so hopelessly American that no one outside of the 50 states would want to read it. You need someone who will do battle with your publishing team and make sure they still like you despite the fact that you aren’t always discreet about them in your Facebook posts. You need someone who’ll see you through the process from idea to publication to the inevitable disappointment when the publicity for your book is done with before you noticed it had started. And, you need an agent because in these trying times, we’re sometimes the only people who offer continuity and stability in what everyone hopes is a long career.
So, how does the digital revolution change the fact that you need an agent? Not at all. Sure, you can upload your manuscript on the internet yourself and you can do all your own accounting when you start selling the downloads. But, if you’re serious about writing books, you’re still better served having someone else handle the business side of being published.
There is no question that agents, as well as publishers, need to get with the program when it comes to e-books and all things digital. There is a woeful amount of ignorance about this revolution and lots of needless resistance and hand wringing. In the end, however books get into a reader’s hands is irrelevant. The process by which they get there, who sifts through the good, the bad, and the absolutely unreadable, and who takes care of the administrative side of things while you hone your craft, should not change. I would argue that with so much content out there for the taking (or downloading), now more than ever we need agents and publishers to be better gatekeepers and advocates. Otherwise, I will begin to fear for the future of books, and not just because they don’t come in paper packages any more.