Are Literary Agents Necessary?

Who holds the keys to your career?  You or an agent?

Do it yourself. The more writers who take their careers in their own hands, the more likely in the near future that the wider world will notice that self-publishing creates as many first-rate works as regular publishing.

A friend of mine, a writer whose short stories have appeared in several prestigious literary journals, have been acclaimed and have actually won prestigious awards, told me he’s been unable to find a literary agent. These days, agents don’t even answer his query letters. Even with the intercession of well-connected writer friends, he’s been left in the dark by them. Another friend told me that since his agent disappeared – the agent simply vanished, perhaps due to personal problems – he decided to self-publish. And he’s happier that his work is out there, rather than languishing in that limbo of submission and rejection.

What is it with agents? Does a writer really need one? I know quite a few literary agents, all nice people, and most of them trying to expand their business to deal with new realities of publishing. That is, they’re looking at film and television production as an adjunct to literary representation. But do you need an agent to be heard?

What about those writers who aren’t thinking of TV? What about those who simply want someone, anyone, to give them a hand in managing their career? It seems they’re out of luck.

Sure there are darlings of the literary world, folks barely two decades old, with all of the life experience that implies, who seem to be embraced because they’ve got a certain “it” quality. But they’re few. Most writers toil unknown, at whatever age, creating worthy work that goes unread.

I believe more people should self-publish than subject yourself to the indignity of being ignored by the people who should be looking at, and answering, every query letter. That’s their job! But I get the impression they’d rather look at lists to determine what self-published books are doing well, and approaching writers who’ve taken the initiative to build a platform and find an audience. It’s better to get the work out there than wait for some self-important gatekeeper to give you the go-ahead that what you’ve created is good enough for the market.

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  • Anonymous

    Great insights. Thanks for sharing, Bob!

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