Do you need an agent if you are crowd funding? Alice Jolly

Many articles about the book world at the moment seem to suggest that agents are under threat. Since apparently 25% of books are now independently published, in one way or another, then is there much point in having an agent? You would think that the answer might be no but, oddly, my answer at present is yes, yes and yes.

Admittedly, my situation is so untypical that there is little that most people can learn from it. I am currently publishing a book which is neither independently published or published by the mainstream. Instead I have crowd funded through publishers Unbound. As Unbound are a very new phenomena, I'm learning on a day by day basis what this means, how it works. To be honest, I think Unbound are only a few steps ahead of me.

What I say today might change tomorrow. But so far, unexpectedly, I have needed my agent in this process more than when I was published by Simon & Schuster. S & S are, of course, very much a known quantity. They have huge experience. When I was dealing with them my agent did help me by pushing through my comments on covers etc but there really was not much else for her to do.

With Unbound it has been different. Firstly, my agent was the one who put me in touch with Unbound. I had already found them on the internet and I could have just sent my book there myself. But I know, in reality, that the fact that the book was sent by an agent meant it was looked at more quickly than it would otherwise have been.

She also helped me with the contract and that was important. Again, it isn't a standard contract, none of this is a well trodden path. She has also helped out with pushing things forward and making sure things happen. Also she is helping to hire a publicist which is something I would not have known how to do.

Could I not have done this myself? Well, yes and no. I think most people could have done a lot of this themselves but I am very bad at these things. I always feel myself at a terrible disadvantage when dealing with publishers. I don't know what is normal. When someone at a publishers says to me, 'It is going to be like this, this and this.' I have no idea whether what they are telling me is right or not. Doubtless I should be better informed but actually I just want to get on and write another book.

As I say, there may not be many lessons to be learnt from all this (other than that I should go on an Assertiveness Training Course). But I do think it is interesting that, although the role of agents is doubtless changing, if you take an unconventional publishing route, you can still finish up in a situation when you need an agent more rather than less.

Here is a link to a recent article about my book in You Magazine:

And one of the photos from the book (our front drive):


Enid Richemont said…
Alice - I'd really like to have an in-depth conversation with you re- agents (I have one, but...) and Simon & Schuster. S&S (always sounds like sado-masochism to me, and in my case, close to the truth) published my Y/A novel set in Paris in 2001 (!!) gave me a fantastic launch party, then put the book out of print a year later.

I want to re-publish it, both as an e-book and print, and I hold the rights, but I can't see my agent backing me on crowd-funding /Unbound - what would be in it for her? And what's the difference between Unbound and CreateSpace?

Kathleen Jones said…
Interesting, Alice. I still need an agent, although now publishing my own books through a small press run by my partner. I need an agent for foreign and other subsidiary rights. I couldn't have sold translation rights to Japan, for instance, if I hadn't had an agent. Where would you start!
I suspect that Unbound will get a boost from the success of Robert MacFarlane's book. Having books in prize lists always raises the profile!
Hope your book goes really well. I'm looking forward to reading it.
We can only really speak from personal experience, but for me, doing without an agent was the best thing I ever did. Looking back on a longish and occasionally very frustrating career, I'd say that on balance, they hindered rather than helped. Somewhere along the way, agents started to edit. They didn't used to do this. They used to take a manuscript and try to sell it. The publisher did the editing with the author, after they had paid out some cash! It seems to me that there's something inherently wrong with a relationship where a writer can't make decisions about his or her own career. I do believe that if agents want to survive they are going to have to change the way they operate - the relationship has to be a business partnership with the writer making the ultimate decisions. For anyone worried about signing contracts without an agent, The Society of Authors will vet contracts for members and since they employ IP lawyers to do it, they are sometimes a whole lot more on the ball than agents who don't always have any legal training. Bigger agencies will have legal departments, but it doesn't seem to be a requirement of the job.
As Kathleen says foreign rights are where an agent would be helpful. But none of my agents (and they were part of big London agencies) ever sold foreign rights for me. I'm not even sure they ever tried. If somebody approached me with only that in mind, I'd be happy to consider it.
Lydia Bennet said…
I too have my books published by a small indie publisher, and have no agent - the three I've had did nothing for me, in fact did nothing most of hte time - but I'd love one for foreign sales etc, but have no idea how to find one just for this. all the ones I get approached by or recommended to seem to want the lot or nowt.
Debbie Bennett said…
I had a big London agent for many years. I suspect I was a very tiny fish in an enormous pond, to the extent that they forgot I was even a client! We parted company officially when I went indie and I've never looked back.
Umberto Tosi said…
In the past, my agent helped me mostly by gaining me access to larger publishers, and secondarily in the negotiations, though as a former editor and publisher I had some experience in that myself. Now, with indie publishing, I agree, agents could still be very helpful negotiators and perhaps in giving feedback for works in progress. Independent publishing requires a very different kind of agent than those who deal in the corporate publishing world, who mainly are marketeers. Perhaps the new model would look something like the very old, when agents acted more as partners to writers. Otherwise, who needs them? It would be interesting to compile a list of qualities that author-publishers should look for in selecting an agent -- and perhaps even a list of such agents who specialize in indie publishing.
Alice said…
Thanks for the comments. This is very interesting. However, I think it only shows that, in the current confusing times, everyone is different. It seems to me that maybe what we need is better dialogue between agents and writers and more flexibility on the part of agents about what could be offered. When I am teaching there is always an agent who comes down from London and gives a talk entitled, 'What an agent wants.' That title always gets on my nerves. Why is no-one asking the writers what they want?
Alice said…
Dear Enid, Would be happy to talk to you more about this. My agent is Victoria Hobbs at A.M.Heath (big, high profile, traditional agents) but she was happy to go down the Unbound route. She can make money out of it but not until the book is published. We have a contract to that effect. I think Unbound are working with quite a few agents probably. I'm afraid I don't know the difference between Unbound and Createspace (in fact have never heard of the latter). The Unbound website explains fairly clearly how it works and I'd be happy to tell you what I know. The difficult bit is raising the money .......
CreateSpace is Amazon's POD arm. Can't imagine most agents would approve, but there may be people on here who will prove me wrong! You don't need to raise money to use CreateSpace.

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