Sunday, October 10, 2010

Writer's Conference: Agents - Part 2 - Do I Really Need One?

I'll be attending a Writer's Conference early in November, and I'm planning on approaching an agent.  Last week in Part 1, I looked into the three main agents attending the event.  I learned that none of them specializes in sci-fi.

Today I ask the question: do I really need an agent?  This is where I get really confused, as I get mixed messages from several reputable sources.

It's really time consuming to look up publishers, research them, decide which ones are right to send a manuscript, look for errors in the query submission, etc., etc.  I'd rather have an agent take care of all this so I can spend more time writing.

Yet, I read that sci-fi is a special genre.  That is - it may even be better to sell the first book without an agent.

You don't believe me?  Check out these articles.

Orson Scott Card writes: "If you're writing sf or fantasy, an agent is not needed at first. In fact, the kind of agent you can get before your first offer from a publisher is not the kind of agent you want afterward, as a general rule."  He writes that the best time to find an agent is the moment you get an offer from a publisher.  Then you're more likely to get a reputable agent.  He also adds: "If you're in another genre, however, then those query packages have to go to agents, not publishers."

Another writer, Lawrence Watt-Evans gives similar advice.  It's an older article, though.  He argues that a reputable agent has no real incentive to help an unpublished aspiring writer sell his first book.  He gives the same advice as Orson Scott Card, though.  That is: get the offer first from the publisher, and then the agents will pay attention to you.  He also mentions that Isaac Asimov never had an agent.

Some successful authors claim that they don't have an agent.  In fact, some of these authors are openly critical of agents - how they came into being and how they've contributed to filtering out too many good books.  I won't link to any of these articles, as these seem to be "fringe" opinions, and not particularly useful to me.

The SFWA offers this advice.  It states that the advice given above (Card and Watt-Evans) was once useful and pertinent, but times have changed.  There are fewer publishing companies and they're relying more and more on agents.

Finally, the SFWA provides these tips for avoiding bad agents.  These two paragraphs stand out, especially since I'm still considering signing up for a Pitch Session at the upcoming Writer's Conference:

    A writers’ conference can be a great way to network and to learn. However, don’t take it on faith that the agents and publishers who attend are reputable. The larger conferences do a pretty good job of making sure to invite only successful professionals, but smaller conferences aren’t always so careful. Some fraudulent and marginal agents are regulars on the conference circuit.
    This is an especial concern with conferences that host pitch sessions. Always research the agents/editors before you sign up for one of these sessions. And think twice–or three times–before signing up for a pitch session that costs you extra. These are not just moneymakers for the conference, but also, sometimes, for the agents, who get a cut (very similar to a reading fee).

I'm pretty sure the three agents listed by the NC Writers' Network are all legitimate.  They may not do sci-fi, but Daniel Lazar from Writer's House might be able to refer me to an agent that does.

So my decision: keep pushing forward.  I'll start my search for agents.  At the same time, I'll continue sending out manuscripts to publishing houses.  If I can't find a good reputable agent to represent my novel, then I'll end up doing the Orson Scott Card thing anyway: that is, I will have gotten an offer from a publishing house prior to finding an agent.

As for the upcoming Writer's Conference, I still have more research to do!  That means there will be a Part 3!

Happy writing,

PS - if you happen to be going to the NCWN Fall Writer's Conference, let me know and I'd be happy to meet you.

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