The rise of self-publishing has posed many questions from the traditional publishing industry, one of which is whether authors still need agents, in a world where writers can publish their work themselves and manage their own affairs. Do they still need deal-makers? For those who choose to self-publish, it’s not always essential to be agented. But for writers who are looking for a way into the traditional model for their first book, the advice you’ll be given is to find yourself an agent. Here are five facets of agenting which are ways in which we help first-time writers achieve their goals.
1) Gatekeepers to the publishing industry
Some publishers accept unsolicited submissions (i.e. submissions that don’t come from agents), or have brief windows for open submissions, but the majority of trade publishers will only accept submissions from agents. We’re your first champions, and if you have an agent, you’re much more likely to find a traditional deal.
2) Editorial support
Most agents in most cases will do some editorial work on a manuscript or proposal before submitting it to editors. For lots of authors, this is their first time getting feedback from an industry professional. Writing can be a lonely life, and authors often really feel the value of having a sounding board throughout the editing process.
3) Author care
Agents are managers and negotiators, but we’re also cheerleaders and therapists. The author and agent relationship is so important, and we’re there to support the author at every step of the way – through long phone calls about redrafts, hand-holding through the purgatory of submission to editors, and celebratory drinks if the whole thing comes off. Being a team with my lovely talented authors is the best thing about my job.
Agents are here to find homes for books, and we work to get our authors the best deals possible, at the right houses. At PFD, we also have agents who handle foreign and US rights, film/TV rights, stage rights, audio rights, and broadcast and live events. Our goal is to build careers, and get our authors’ book to the widest possible audience.
5) Translating the publishing-ese
When we draft contracts for our authors, we explain to them what all the various complicated legal wording means. One minor detail in a sub-clause in a contract would in reality equal a lot of money, or result in a total disaster, so it’s so important that our contracts are negotiated meticulously. One the road to publication we also help our new authors understand what’s going on in this brave new world for them, and what work all the various people involved in the process are doing at every step of the way. We’re also there to step in and argue on behalf of the author if we think a ball has been dropped.
Submitting your first book to agents can be daunting, but we’re here to help. I love being an agent, and there’s no better feeling in the world than when an author you believe in and have invested in finds success.
Laura Williams is an agent at Peters Fraser + Dunlop, representing a wide range of fiction and non-fiction authors. Peters Fraser + Dunlop is one of the longest established literary and talent agencies in London, representing clients with expertise across a range of media, including books, film, television and radio, public speaking, digital platforms and journalism.