LitChick, Do I Need an Agent?

Q: Hi, LitChick. I’m a writer with a finished manuscript, wondering what the next best step is. I’ve asked many published and aspiring writers how they would proceed. My biggest question is, should I try to find an agent or not? Many have said that in the current publishing culture agents are obsolete. Would you agree with that?


No, I would not agree that agents are obsolete, but should you look for one? It depends—on you, your goals, and your manuscript.

I forwarded your question to literary agent Krista Goering. She has this to say:

Your next step is to do some research and learn everything you can about how the publishing world works. This includes learning how to write a terrific query letter, which will introduce yourself and your manuscript to an agent. Also, you may need to hire a freelance editor to polish your manuscript. Agents know that it’s a tough publishing climate out there and they want to represent only the strongest, most polished manuscripts which have the best chance of being picked up by a publisher.

First, who else has read your book?  Someone needs to—and not your mom or your friends.  Their job is to praise you.  (Make sure they know that.)  You need someone with an editorial sensibility to look your book over and give you feedback.  

How do you find this person? Attend conferences or local creative writing programs, like the New Letters weekend workshop or workshops at The Writers Place. The judgment of experienced writers can help you shape your book into publishable form—and for the most part, they will be happy to help.

What you don’t want to do is expect an agent to perfect your manuscript for you.  Only send your best work to the agent.  Don’t waste your shot—or her time.

What about self-publishing?  It’s true that, thanks to new technology, ebooks and ereaders, writers have more options—and these innovations have put the publishing business, like the music business, in flux.   Self-publishing gives writers complete control over the whole process, but self-published writers are publishers, and do the business of designing, and marketing their books themselves.  The Writers Place hosted a panel recently about self-publishing, and all its writers talked about innovative ways they’ve brought their books to readers.  These included selling in places like gift stores and assisted living centers, and giving away free chapters.  

If you’re interested in self-publishing, your next step should be to start learning everything you can about how that works. This article on CNet by David Carnoy is a good place to start:  “Self-publishing a book: 25 things you need to know.”  

Whatever direction interests you, my best advice is to learn more. The Writers Place has two upcoming programs that may help. This fall, we’ll offer another self-publishing discussion at the Woodneath Library. We’ll also feature a discussion about traditional publishing. Agent Ellen Geiger of New York’s Frances Goldin Literary Agency will appear at The Writers Place on Saturday, October 10, 2014. She and her client, novelist Linda Rodriguez,whose third Skeet Bannion mystery comes out this month,will talk about the author–agent relationship.  

Congratulations on completing your manuscript, and good luck.