Do You Need a Book Agent?

You have an idea for a book. Or maybe you’ve already written a book (or two). Now you need an agent, right? Well, maybe. In this guest post, Molly Blaisdell, a prolific children’s book author, explains when and why you might want to engage an agent. With all the changes going on in the publishing industry, you may find that moving forward without an agent is a viable option.

As a writer in the children’s content market, it’s clear the publishing business is changing forever. New players are entering the market like Amazon Publishing, micro-publishers and expanded self-publishing packagers. Where do you fit in this publishing picture?

First it is important to know that the role of agents is changing. Now, more than ever, agents are taking on highly editorial roles with their clients. They invest time in unpublished writers who they feel have a spark and help guide their work into a more publishable form. However, this kind of relationship can last years before the agent moves to represent a project. This may or may not suit your purpose.

Agents are also becoming content facilitators. You may not have the contacts you need to get your work placed in global and multiple media markets. You may need to form partnerships to be successful in a big way. But be aware, this means that many agents are looking for projects with global appeal. An agent may or may not best suit your publishing needs.

Do you need an agent? As expert in my field, I believe the answer is variable. It depends. The following guidance should help you make your best decision.

No. You don’t need an agent. Don’t give away 15% for no good reason.

  • You only plan to write one or two books ever. (True unless you are Harper Lee.)
  • Regional authors working with regional presses. Your books will sell at the local bookstore, museum, craft shop, schools, etc., and not beyond.
  • You’re a niche author. You have a platform, but your books will never reach a large audience. It’s intended for a select few.
  • You like to be in charge, overseeing every aspect of a project from the writing, to the editing, to the production, to the marketing.

Maybe. You can go either way.

  • Your goal is to write a book every two to five years.
  • Your out-there content shocks publishers or you are writing in an unpopular genre.
  • You’ve sent out your book multiple times and have a stack on nos. Keep trying or consider self-publishing. (BTW, if you are successful on your own, some agent is going to call anyway.)
  • You are not an A-list blockbuster author, but a mid-list author. Do you want to be a small fish in an agent’s pond or an indie publisher? It’s your choice.

Yes. An agent is a must. You must share your revenue to insure success.

  • You are a prolific writer with multiple projects and a proven track record of credits.
  • Your book series appeals to a wide audience and it has blockbuster stamped all over it.
  • Surprise! Your “book” business is way more than you thought it would be and you now need partnerships to grow. Agents provide sales savvy and can help you navigate untapped markets like expanded digital, paper, international and multi-media avenues.

As an author, you need to be aware of the trends and revise your game plan accordingly. Don’t just jump on the bandwagon. Make the choice that is right for you.

Molly Blaisdell is the author 30 books for kids, notably Rembrandt and the Boy Who Drew Dogs (Barron’s) and most recently The Truth about Unicorns (Picture Window Books). She is the 2011 recipient of the Martha Weston Grant from SCBWI. She has also written hundreds of articles for many children’s publications like Scholastic and a few adult ones, including Hasbro’s Trivial Pursuit and MSN’s Mom’s Homeroom.

Molly is also a children’s market expert. Aside from speaking at many conferences and to many classes, she has written for the SCBWI Bulletin, The Chinook, ICL publications and the Author Learning Center. She also inspires artists of all kinds of artists with her weekly blog: Seize the day. A native Texan and mom of four children, she currently lives under the wide open skies of College Station, Texas with her husband Tim and cat, Mr. Tibbs.