Do You Really Need an Agent When You Are Ready to Publish your Book?

Mary has a friend who works for a publishing house. This friend was excited by Mary’s book idea and said she could submit it to a publisher without an agent. What should she do? It seemed like a dream come true – to have an ‘in’ without an agent. But could it damage her career in the long run?

It’s essential to know the publisher who is interested in your book.

Is this their subject of expertise? Are they trying to break into a new field? Are they really the best match for you and your book? If they’re not the best match for your book, don’t settle just because it seems simple.

But should you do both? Send your book to publishers and agents?

It’s not a great plan to try and do both. Agents prefer a book that has not yet been previewed by others. A good agent knows the business and will find the most appropriate publisher for your book. Odds are, you’ll have improved opportunities because you used an agent.
Even if you do find a publisher on your own, there are many good reasons to have an agent.

Sharon had a bid from a publisher before her book got published. She thought about not having an agent.

She asked the publisher if she needed an agent and the publisher told her she did.

“You don’t want to be negotiating the deal with me,” he said. “That’s not how our relationship should work. And you want to get an agent not just for this first book, but for your career as an author.”

So she hired a great agent and didn’t have to negotiate a thing with the publisher. Her agent knows the trade and she was delighted with her contract.

Is there anything you should be aware of in signing a contract with a literary agent?


I was once asked about a particular literary agency I had never heard of.

I looked them up in Predators & Editors, a free online listing of editors, literary agents and others, which tells you whom to watch out for, and who has a solid reputation. This one was a big strongly not recommended.

Use this resource if you have any question about an agency. It’s a great place to start. Also ask for references from an agent before you sign.

Another author signed with a literary agent because her friend spoke highly of the agent. This agent promised all kinds of access. While I had some great agents in mind for this author, it seemed her new agent had super relationships with the publisher she wanted most. So I gave it my blessing.

Later, we learned that these promises were all hot air. The agent first recommended a terrible ghostwriter. A ghostwriter was unnecessary for this book anyway, but the ghostwriter hatched up the book and even the agent agreed it was a mess. Then the agent sat on the book proposal for over a year doing virtually nothing. And this was for a highly marketable book and an author with a very loyal and impressive following.

Once you sign with a literary agent, you have a contract, and you can’t just leave unless you can prove they’ve violated the contract. This is a really important decision–so decide wisely and do your research before signing. And certainly have an entertainment lawyer look at your agent’s contract.

How much do you pay a literary agent up front?


If a literary agent asks for up front payment, run in the other direction. The Association of Authors’ Representatives prohibits such up front fees. It’s considered a conflict of interest, because it could cause them to take on a book that doesn’t really have a good chance of getting published.

Literary agents get paid when you are paid by your publisher (through your advance and any royalties). A literary agent may suggest that your book proposal or book needs editing. They may even recommend an editor. But their own association prohibits them from collecting fees to make your proposal publisher-ready. You can hire a separate editor to do such work. They won’t have a conflict of interest.

A literary agent is one of the most important people in your career as an author.
A good agent will find you a publisher who is the right fit for you and your book. They’ll negotiate a great deal and look out for your interests. And they’ll often even help you plan your next books.