This is based on a Stephen King article I talked about in “Everything You Need to Know.”
King asks, “Agent?” Then says to be a successful writer, you should “Forget it. For now.” He goes on to say agents have bills to pay and things to buy like the rest of us. Agents generally take a percentage from their clients. King states this as 10%, but I imagine that has increased since the late 1980s when this was originally published. No matter what the going rate for an agent is, if you aren’t making significant money from your writing, you probably aren’t making enough to have an agent.
Here’s how I calculated the money aspect to see if I needed an agent:
- I took the total amount of actual money (not subscriptions, gift cards, etc.) I made off my writing in the last year.
- I subtracted 15%.
- I assumed I wasn’t my agents’ only client so I randomly said my potential agent had ten other clients like me.
- I took the amount I got when I subtracted 15% from my total earnings and multiplied that by ten.
- I looked at the resulting amount and said: How many bills could I pay with this amount?
- My answer was 0 so I concluded I don’t need an agent.
I’ve even heard of some authors paying agent fees out of pocket in the hopes of landing better book deals. This doesn’t make sense to me since there is no guarantee they will be able to recoup those funds. Also, my cynical side kicks in a little and says, “If I’ve already paid the agent, will said agent be as motivated to put in the extra work to get me a good deal? He or she already has their money.” Sure they may stand to earn more if and when they get a taker for my book. However, if they already have money in hand, or bank account, would they be as likely to put in twenty hours of promotion for me or would they stop at ten hours?
On the flip side of this, I’ve also heard a lot of people say it is unethical for an agent to take payment up front. While I definitely fall into the bucket of authors who don’t make enough money to need an agent, I would be more likely to trust one who works for me and waits with me for their cut of the money.
Paying or not paying an agent, shouldn’t be confused with other pay up front or pay as you go writing services. It is more common to pay for things like editing services, classes, workshops, or other evaluations of your work to make it better, stronger. There are also hybrid publishing models out there where you pay upfront to be published. This option falls somewhere between being picked up by a traditional publisher and self publishing.
If you are a writer and you are trying to navigate the murky waters of who you pay, what you are paying for, and when to pay them, all I can say is be careful. Do your research. Talk to other writers. Research some more! Really take the time to evaluate what you need, what you expect, what you can and will do for yourself, and what is being offered. At least until you hit the literary jackpot and have agents lining up at your door offering to work for you (for a modest fee of course.)