Is it necessary to have an agent?

This was a question posted on a previous post, and as I get the question a lot I thought it might be better to put my response here as well:

Is it better for a novice author (unpublished, or nearly so) to try to get an agent, or should s/he go directly to the publishers? I’m thinking of novels, not short stories.

Heh…well, obviously I’m a bit biased in this answer since I never worked with an agent, mainly because it seemed just as hard to land an agent as it was a publisher, and I didn’t want to share the measly 6% that most large publishers offer…

The whole “to be agented, or not to be agented” argument is an old one, and really, in my opinion, has no steadfast answer. It’s really up to the writer and what he/she wants for their book.

As far as whether it’s “better” or not to have an agent, it really depends on the writer–that, and the publisher you’re trying to submit to.

Most small to medium presses do not require an agent to accept submissions. So in that case, it’s not necessary, and your book has as good a chance as one with an agent. Though if you aren’t schooled in the wording and terms of author contracts, having an agent to act on your part can help make sure you get the best deal possible as some contracts are not worded to benefit author and may be confusing.

A portion of medium publishers, and MOST (yeah, most dammit) large publishers require that an author have an agent, or they won’t even open up the envelope to view your submission. Mainly because they don’t want to deal with the slush pile anymore and instead want agents to “filter out” the bad ones.

Which, in my opinion, this “filtering out” of bad ones is a crock load of shit. If anyone has read my previous post on “Literary Agents from Hell,” you‘d understand why I think that…

Here are some pros and cons of getting an agent:

Pros:
They might help you land a deal with a large publisher
Agents allow access to markets that require one
They might help sell subsidiary rights (BIG might)
A good agent will help you get the best deal out of your contract
Agents know the publishing industry

Cons:
You have to pay them out of your royalties
You’re stuck with them for the length of your contract
There are a lot of “non-legit” agencies out there, and you have to be careful
It could take months (or years) to land an agent (at least a decent one)
A bad agent could sit on your manuscript and not push sales
A bad agent will represent your book badly, thus no publishing contract

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