You May Not Need an Agent

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by Barbara Florio Graham

Most authors dream about having an agent who will find a top publisher, negotiate a terrific contract, and provide guidance through a successful career.

Agents, unfortunately, can be as difficult to find as publishers, and the process of querying agents can be time-consuming and frustrating.

As with anyone you hire, if you think you need an agent, check out potential agents thoroughly. They should have an excellent website detailing a solid track record, belong to The Association of Authors’ Representatives (which prohibits charging reading fees), and specialize in the genre of your book.

But an increasing number of authors are hiring publishing consultants instead.

I identify the direction a book should take, help determine if the idea is viable or not, and then guide the author through the maze of publishing options. If the author comes to me early enough, I can help build a platform and create a website before approaching an agent or publisher. I also offer resources to self-publish.

My other strength draws on my expertise in marketing. Many authors want to see the book published in some form, and don’t realize that taking an active part in promotion is the only way the book will sell.

One author came to me with a very common book idea. She wanted to write about how her life fell apart and faith in God helped her put things back together again. I gently persuaded her that there would be a limited audience for that personal a story. But she also had two young adult novels she wanted to write. We started with the first one, and I guided her through successfully self-publishing that book, creating her own website, and generating sales. She then began work on the second one.

Another author had a book already written that I felt could succeed with trade publishers, so I helped him research potential publishers, assisted with writing the book proposal, and eventually helped him find an agent who placed the book.

In the process of doing this over more than a decade, I became quite an expert on contracts.

Hiring a lawyer to negotiate a book contract can be time-consuming and costly. I offer a less expensive alternative, as I know which clauses can be modified and how to translate some of the complex legal language that can trap authors into being liable if the publisher is sued.

The first thing I tell authors is that every contract can be negotiated. Accepting the first contract offered is a common mistake, and something only an amateur would do.

That’s what a good agent does as well. But I do this for a one-time fee, not a percentage of your revenues. Sometimes those I mentor return to me for my comments on the contract offered. Others already have a publisher and don’t understand some of the terms in the contract. That’s why I charge an hourly rate, because every situation is different.

Whether you’re searching for an agent or a publishing consultant, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Avoid anyone who calls him or herself an agent unless he or she belongs to The Association of Authors’ Representatives. I have information about agents on the publishing resources page of my website. When you find an agent who seems to be a good fit, go to the person’s website to see if he or she is accepting new authors. Then check what books the agent has recently represented, as this will give you an idea about the genres with which the agent has been successful. How long has the agent been in business? Are there testimonials on the site?
  2. Engage in a series of emails before you sign anything. Ask specific questions, and understand how much you will be billed for expenses, which often include photocopying, delivery fees, and telephone calls. Will you pay for the taxi and the meal if the agent takes a publisher to lunch?
  3. Agents earn a living by taking a percentage of authors’ earnings. In many cases, this is 15%, but check the website to verify this, and also to see how these terms are worded. Does the agent get a percentage of this book alone, or for all your work as long as you’re signed with him or her? Do you share earnings from anything related to this book, such as speaking fees, published excerpts, etc.? How about your other work?
  4. Perform the same due diligence before you hire a book consultant. How long has this person been in business? Check out the books he or she has published, other publication credits, a solid website and a list of clients. Look for testimonials, and click on the URL attached to the name of those posting praise. Anybody can fake a glowing comment from “Jim in Ohio,” but if the testimonial bears someone’s full name and website URL, it’s probably legitimate.

You don’t sign a contract with me, but rather begin the process of working with me by sending me a check. I charge what I call a “set-up fee” to cover my initial work on your book and our correspondence before I actually begin. After that I charge by the hour. New clients are asked to pay for three hours in advance.

Some consultants provide editing, some sub-contract work to others, and others operate as project managers, shepherding your book from rough draft through print copies that arrive on your doorstep or an e-book on Amazon. But you’ll pay dearly for this, so be careful!

Be very wary of someone who claims to be a consultant but is actually selling pay-to-print publishing services. The website will reveal this if you examine it carefully.

I’m the type of consultant who will offer suggestions about content and style, but not handle actual editing. I don’t oversee any book production. My role is to advise, provide resources, and answer questions along the way, whether you decide to publish the book yourself or look for a publisher who won’t charge you to produce your book.

I continue to be amazed at how brazen publishers can be. They ask authors to pay for all kinds of things that should be the responsibility of the company whose business it is to produce and sell books. Sadly, some authors are so hungry and naïve that they will agree to anything.

So do you need an agent? Perhaps, or maybe you need a publishing consultant. At the very least, you probably need someone who knows the ropes to review your contract before you sign.


Barbara Florio Graham is a publishing consultant and marketing strategist. The author of three books, Five Fast Steps to Better Writing (20th anniversary edition), Five Fast Steps to Low-Cost Publicity, and the award-winning Mewsings/Musings, she served as managing editor for Prose to Go: Tales from a Private List. Her website contains a great deal of free information, including resources for writers and publishers, contract advice, and many pages of interesting facts about science, history, food, animals, culture, and inventions. Check out the site map on the home page.

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