Monday, June 11, 2012

Self-pubs & Agents - A Match Made in Heaven...or Hell?

In the self-pub community you'll often come across a big argument: should any self-respecting indie author seek out an agent and if they do, are they a sell-out?

Is an agent a writer's biggest goal or their ultimate enemy?

It depends on the author's point of view....

I'm sure you want to know which side of the fence I'm on. I'll be happy to tell you ... in a few minutes. ;)


Let's think about this a few ways.

First, what can an agent do for a self-pub?

Sell foreign/translation rights.

Yes, a self-pub can figure this out on her own. She can find someone to translate her book, format it, and upload it to multiple sites that reach other countries. However, an agent might have access to a reliable, professional translator. How do you know some random person on Craigslist, or who advertises their skillz online, can truly translate your novel? Not just verbatim, but adding those subtle nuances that come with quality overseas publishers?

Yes, you could do it yourself - but you MUST know exactly what you're getting into.

Sell film rights.

I have trad pub friends who've sold film rights. It sounds complicated to me. Really, really complicated. Unless you have a competent attorney  who has experience in this field, an agent is going to be your best ally (but you'll probably still want an attorney too).

Sell future books to traditional publishers.

Okay, okay, I know some people are screaming at the computer screen right now. (You know who you are, and I still luv you.) It's okay. Not sure if you know, but I'm one of those self-pubs who isn't against traditional publishing. I don't currently have anything written and edited that might work for that route, but I don't rule it out for the future.

Look, if you want to go traditional, getting an agent is the first step (unless you want to work with a small press, then you could probably do it without an agent).

Do the crap you don't want to do.

When agents first started side businesses to 'help' authors self-publish, I raged against it. I mean, really, these services are things any author can hire out, for a flat fee, to other professionals. Why in the <bleep> would any self-respecting self-pub give an agent a percentage to that stuff?

Because once you have six or seven products out there, sometimes you want to spend more time writing than managing. I don't think there's any shame in that.

What can a self-pub do for themselves?

Yes, you can do everything yourself as a self-pub. You can. You can write, edit, format, upload, manage, sell film rights, audio rights, foreign rights, do all the stuff involved in publishing. YOU CAN DO IT!

But, the question you have to ask yourself is: Do I want to do everything?

If the answers is yes, then go for it! Put out your best product and be proud of yourself. You should. Self-publishing is really hard work. Every time some random person whines about how self-pubs slap any old poorly edited combo of words on Amazon, I want to punch them. I don't know any self-pubs who do that. We all take pride in our work. It's not about the quick buck.

If the answer is no, then before you query figure out what kind of relationship you want with an agent. Then look for an agent who fits your needs. Keep in mind - you will give up a decent percentage of royalties and some control over your work. For some authors, this is too much to ask. Nothing comes for free and agents have to make a living too. It's a compromise and a business decision. There isn't one right path.

So are agents angels or demons? I think most are probably angels. I'd like to believe they are in the business because they love books and authors. Whether you want one, or need one, is up to you. ;)

Megg, age 8-ish (I think)

Megg Jensen is an author, mom, and wife. She hates laundry and loves road trips. She's got a bunch of books out. Epic fantasy, but with a young adult twist - less quests, more kissing. Check out her books at


  1. Good points! I'm still walking the line and haven't decided what's best... but I'm leaning toward agent for the very reasons you mentioned. I want someone to help steer me in the right direction so I can spend more time writing. But hey I never rule out indie and I admire all you indelibles who make it happen. I know how much work it is. :)

    1. It is a hard decision. One other thing to keep in mind - very few writers get an agent. You could spend years querying or you could be reaching readers through self-publishing.

      There are trade-offs for each path, though. It's not an easy decision to make.

      Best of luck to you, PK, in making the choice and great success in whatever path you take. :D

  2. there's also the hybrid option. I do the "regular" publishing myself (paper back and e-books in English), but have an agent for foreign rights. Not all agents are interested in that arrangement, but there are some who are. For me, that just took the weight of something foreign (pun intended) off my shoulders.

  3. Great post! There are many "hybrid" authors, as Jessie says, that are very happy with their blended approach. I think we all (agent, editors, authors alike) need to be open minded about what works best for everyone involved and proceed accordingly. No angels and demons required, just people who love books and want to get them into the hands of readers. :)

  4. I do hear about agents repping self pubbed authors just for foreign and film rights but I almost think it's something you have to stumble upon naturally. My impression is that if a previously self pubbed author queries an agent, they do it with a new manuscript they want to publish traditionally. Jessie found a sweet spot and I don't think most agents are looking for that kind of relationship or that's what it seems!

    I'm pretty neutral. A self publisher needs an agent who understands self publishing and the changing tide of books.

    1. Laura,

      Finding that agent is hard. I find that by staying open to many possibilities, if an opportunity presents itself I can weigh all the options.

  5. Wonderful post. Also there are other options, attorney's aren't bad, membership with organizations like IBPA funnel contacts that work as an Agent but aren't. In addition you can find agents who are willing to sell these rights. I must be honest in saying that many of the small pubs I have been mentored by usually sell their Foreign Rights during fairs with IBPA or with Cypress House who work as liason's for them. After they get a contract they just work with attorney's. Then they post the deals on Publishers Marketplace. So there are many options. Usually if you have done the work of getting an interest in a Foreign Rights or Subsidiary deal why pay an agent if you can just pay the lawyer. However, having a Foreign Rights/Sub Rights agent will allow you to multiply your sales which is why most Independent press and self-published authors would still like to pursue working with them.

    1. LM,

      I think those attorneys can be hard to find as well. I think it's great when a small press can work with foreign outlets too.

      So many choices!!!! :D

  6. In this evolving literary world I think anything is possible and authors should always keep their options open. I wouldn't turn my back on any opportunity that would be good for me or my books.

  7. This is a really wonderful post. I really enjoyed reading what you have to write.

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by, Gina. :D

  8. I am really, really, debating finding an agent now that I am on my second novel for self-pub. Yes, you can do everything on your own, but sometimes a lot can happen at once and things get pretty confusing really quick! The trick is finding agents that want to work with self-published authors. I've yet to find one.

    1. Bonnie,

      Best of luck to you in your search. I hope you find just the right home for your next book. <3

  9. So true, so true. This business is always changing and authors need to be willing to adapt accordingly to do what's best for them and their career. I'm just happy that we have options. :)

  10. I think this is such a great topic! Quite a few of my friends have gone the self-pub route and I think they are unbelievable! All the balls they juggle, and they do it with such grace. I wish I could do that in a way, but I know I can't sadly. I guess that is why it is so important to know who you are and what you want going into this writing thing. I know I'm just too darn lazy:) Like Karen above I think it's the best time to be an author because we have soooo many options:)