Agents - what's the point?

12th February 2010
2 min read
9th December 2020

To an aspiring writer, literary agents can seem like a parasitic race - they take their percentage, but what do they give back? And is it worth having one?

Blog Cressida Downing

The short answers are 'lots' and 'yes'. Read on!

An agent sends your manuscript out to see who would like to bid on it for publication. They're effective because they have more knowledge of the editors and publishers than most. An agent knows who is on the look out for the next big historical novel, whose lists are full, who is looking for a new crime writer, and can target their submissions accordingly.

It's a two-way street, as publishers will know what genres the agents are likely to be submitting, which ones specialise in crime, which ones are more literary etc.

Once an agent has matched your work to the right publisher (which doesn't always mean going for the biggest advance, sometimes a publicity commitment is worth more than upfront cash), they are the professional whose job it is to negotiate the best contract for you. Unless you're confident about tackling aspects such as high volume discounts, territorial rights, and the tricky area of electronic rights, these are all best left to someone who fully understands them.

A good literary agent will be the buffer between the publisher and yourself, negotiating, say, an extended deadline, better dates for a book tour, or fighting for improved deals as needed.

A strong agent/author relationship can be incredibly beneficial for a writer as it means having someone who's always 'on your side', who is enthusiastic about your writing, and whose desire for the best deal is for both your benefits.


(editorial consultant)

Writing stage


So agents do a lot for authors do they? All I have ever got from them is the same thing that Red Rum gave roses. I was granted an audience with an agent in London. All was going well. He liked my work, liked the story, said it had potential. The following week, he rejected it, along with all the sequels I was planning, in a two line email. When I asked why, he said it was 'impertinent of me to ask that, since he would not be representing me.' Since then it has been nothing but rejections, usually without any reason why. I have had my story checked by a literary service, it has had great reviews on Authonomy and from my writing group and still it is to no avail.

That's why I am going to take my chances on Kindle. I am sick and tired of pandering to the whims of one agent who expects this, or another who expects that. I am an author, not a PR consultant or a mind-reader, and I write because I have a story I want to tell. All literary agencies have done for me is get in my way and waste time that I could have spent on writing stories, not yet another re-edited submission they will reject, or another covering letter they will ignore.

Profile picture for user jackhugh_22479
270 points
Ready to publish
Short stories
Crime, Mystery, Thriller
Speculative Fiction
Jack Hughes

The AGENT Hustle

You have to get an agent or not is the question that worries you, once your work is complete. You want your work to be submitted directly to the publisher: but at times it is the extra sugar you add to make sure your work soars off.

People worry whether their work will attract attention or not; the question is that whether the agent you choose will be equally interested or not. At times some agents are only looking for a pot of gold , round the corner. Your work strikes their fancy and you being in a tight spot hire them. this might not work for all. Many of us would have to talk to a publisher directly.

So my Advice: In case you really need an Agent , do microanalyse their tastes, otherwise you might be the one running around in circles!!.

Profile picture for user tunes_85_6964
270 points
Developing your craft
A Rhyder

I have a question...

I sent the opening forty or so pages of my manuscript to an agent, she said send the rest. I waited three weeks (I know it's not very long but I was impatient), and sent an email saying ??? (Although obviously phrased slightly differently) Got a quick reply telling me that she understands my concerns and hopes to get round to reading my novel soon. So far so good, I appreciated the reply. The only problem is that was a month and a half ago. So I suppose my question is - do I pester her again or do I leave it? I have no idea what's normal in situations like this. I don't want to annoy her by constantly rushing her, but neither do I want to hang around waiting. I'm not sure what to do...

Does anybody have any advice?

Profile picture for user faust405_6151
270 points
Developing your craft
Harry Preedy