Do you need to hire a book publishing agent, even if you plan to self-publish?
Before the tide of digital self-publishing services, the conventional wisdom was that self-publishing authors should not bother to pay the fees for a book publishing agent. Furthermore, literary agents did not traditionally work with self-publishing authors, since their role was generally focused on brokering books to major publishing houses.
However, since self-publishing has become more widespread, an increasing number of literary agents are looking to work with authors who self-publish. Many agents are looking for authors who have already found success self-publishing and who are now looking to market their book to a traditional publishing house. As the self-publishing world grows, however, many are now also offering services to help authors find success self-publishing.
The needs of authors are no longer necessarily defined by selling their book to a traditional publisher. At first glance, this may seem like it leaves little room for the traditional role of a literary agent. Literary agents generally take a 15 percent commission on the author’s work. Since one of the most attractive benefits of self-publishing is keeping more of the royalties from your own work, many authors will want to avoid this sacrifice. But a key distinction needs to be made.
Some agents will want to take a commission on every work produced by their client, while others will take their commission on specific projects for which they offer administrative and marketing support. The latter can offer self-publishing authors essential services that can help you focus on writing, leaving marketing and other aspects to a trained professional. As one of the keys to helping your book make into the big leagues alongside bestsellers from large publishers, this can be well worth the 15 percent.
Finding the Right Book Publishing Agent
A quality literary agent can provide a number of make-or-break services to self-publishing authors. They can review and manage contracts, bringing with them the knowledge needed to modify them when appropriate. Agents can manage the administrative work involved in publishing, and can connect authors to third-party professionals for cover art, formatting, design, copyediting, proofreading, and other roles.
There is the story of Hugh Howey, author of the bestseller Wool, whose success in self-publishing online led him to find an agent in order to help him successfully navigate the maze of digital and international markets. Howey wanted to expand his work’s reach to bookstores around the world, while continuing to self-publish his own work on digital platforms. His agent helped him become the first self-published author ever to be offered a print-only contract that allowed him to hold on to the digital right to his work – not to mention a six-figure advance!
Perhaps most importantly, agents can provide authors with an established network of professional connections, including to the marketing departments of major book retailers. This can offer a critical key to the elusive step of getting a self-published book into the hands of a large audience. It also is yet another way to make sure you, the author, can stay focused on writing instead of branching out into what are essentially different professions, such as design and promotion, by delegating these tasks to experts in their fields such as a top-notch literary agent.
You’ll want to look for a reputable agent. These days, you can always look for reviews on the internet, and your editor may have contacts that include literary agents – it’s worth asking.
Negotiating with a Book Publishing Agent
To figure out whether an agent is worth their commission when it comes to self-publishing, be sure to ask some key questions. Usually, the author will be expected to cover self-publishing costs, but sometimes agents will be willing to cover expenses to be deducted later from the author’s earnings. Depending on your situation, this might be helpful.
Make it a point to ensure that you, as the author, will control the rights to your self-published work.
In your discussions with a prospective agent, find out how long the agent will expect you to commit to the 15 percent commission of sales from the work. Avoid agents that want you to commit to this commission indefinitely.
If you want your book to have a chance at the kind of success authors find with large publishers, a book publishing agent is certainly worth looking into. As a self-publishing author, you may well be able to get the job done without an agent. But finding one will accomplish two things. It will free you up to focus on your job as an author, and it will ensure your access to top-notch professional networks for promotion and other services.