Hey cHEwY gum gums!

Last week, I caught up with some author pals, including the One More Page podcast team (Nat Ammore, Kate Simpson and Liz Ledden), Jules Faber and Matt Cosgrove. We were there to meet Gavin Aung Than, who’s traveled from Perth for a week of school visits in Sydney. One topic that was discussed was an age-old question that writers ask/Google up.

Do you need a literary agent?

The short answers are yeah, maybe, but…

There is no concrete answer here. For every author with an agent, there are many others who don’t have one. So all I can do is give my hot take on this topic, supported with some tidbits that were shared from other authors…and I’m going to split them up into those short answers…

Yeah, you need an agent…

I’ve had an agent from the very beginning of my cHEwY journey. I went to see Brian Cook (from the Author’s Agent plugplugplug), who was also an manuscript assessor back then, at a Writing NSW festival, and he mentioned that he was also an agent.

We’ve struck up a lasting partnership since then. Brian’s been more than an agent to me, he’s a mentor and friend. He also reads all my first drafts of my cHEwY creations, giving me feedback and helping me to shape my stories before I send them into Penguin Random House HQ.

Another agent perk is that they can shop around your manuscript and get offers pretty quickly. It was only a few weeks before Thai-riffic! got snapped up after I signed up with Brian.

Now I don’t know if agents can make you more money, book contracts and advances are pretty standard in Australia (unless you’re a mega star author or celebrity). However, agents can squeeze out a better deal in terms of royalty rates, clauses and IP worldwide rights. If all that sounds confusing, then an agent will earn their keep by stepping in and sort out any messy contract and legal stuff. They can be the bad guy and get the best deal for you.

That’s the major perk for me, having someone else bat for me when it comes to negotiations is awesome. I’m grateful that I can talk to my publisher and editor about my books, and not about money stuff.

Agents may also use their know-how of the international market and get your book into more countries. In fact, nailing a US agent can do wonders and give you a fighting chance in a huge market.

Maybe you need an agent…

While I didn’t actively look out for an agent, I hear that literary agencies can be elusive, especially in Australia, and it is harder to get an agent than a publisher, let alone approach one. So most writers I know, land themselves a publisher first and then try to negotiate their contract. Or sign up for the first book, and now wanting to get a better deal with book two.

You could try looking for an agent with a book deal under your belt, it would certainly get their attention. But if you’ve come this far, why not go it alone? There are so many organisations, including the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) who can help with their informative page, as well as offer their own contract assessors.

The thing is, if you are good at selling yourself, and are backed with the legal know-how through other people, you can be your own agent and save on those fees. Like I said, many successful authors don’t have one because they have contacts with publishers and editors, and directly pitch their ideas to them. Of course, these successful authors have probably built up a brand, are next-level super stars, and have publishers approach them for new books (one can dream…).

Maybe you’re like a relatively unknown author, who’s only ever been with one publisher, and then after one or two books, quietly get shuffled off their radar. You can’t bear the thought of having to go back through the slush piles again. An agent could do wonders here.

But…

I wish I can say that having an agent is the best, but it’s not. Agencies are like publishers, with their long list of clients. They have their stars, and then well…the others. You may not hear from your agent except for when that slim royalty payment swings your way.

Or maybe you find yourself with an agent that doesn’t even specialise in your field. One of the reasons why I’m still with Brian because he’s had a history of being a children book’s publisher, and he’s proactive in the industry at various conferences and festivals.

An agent is not an one-way ticket to a Netflix adaptation. You also need to work hard and sell yourself, side by side with your agent. You need to arrange catch ups to discuss future projects, or just a chat to let them know that you exist. Outside of the A-grade authors, you need to keep fighting for air. Trust me, you never stop fighting.

I know many authors who think their agents are useless, and they could probably do better. Maybe they should. Or at the very least, find an agent that is going to champion their work.

Let me know your thoughts, would be keen to hear from both sides 🙂

O.W

About the author

I'm an author, stand-up comedian and teacher. My books include Thai-riffic!, Con-nerd, Punchlines and The Other Christy. I'm a massive Nintendo fan and love eating burgers. Follow me on Twitter or Instagram @oliverwinfree