Why Authors Still Need Agents

Recently, I was lucky enough to witness a keynote speech by Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords. He talked about a day when writers supersede agents and publishers. He even made a joke of it:

One day, an author will tell some friends, “I just got a book deal.”
And they reply, “I’m sorry.”

This elicited groans from the audience (mostly writers with a handful of agents and editors). I agree in principle with Mr. Coker. Publishers have dropped the ball. They need to cut their own costs to become competitive and offer authors a greater piece of the revenue stream. Amazon’s 70% is far better than the 12% you get from publishers.

I still see a place for agents. Next time you’re on Amazon, or Barnes and Noble, troll through the lists of available ebooks. You’ll see plenty of indie authors. That’s a good thing. The ebook has become the great equalizer. Yet, try purchasing one of these indie books.

I did.

I tried quite a few. None were worth the $0.99. Typos were rife. Even when they weren’t the story sagged or had horrific info dumps, or just bad writing. What all these books had in common was a lack of agents and proper editing.

Agents serve as gatekeepers. They champion good books and turn the rest to the door. It’s true, that agents take less and less clients these days, but this is an issue based on the poor state of the publishers. If those corporate guys can get things turned around, I think you’d see many more author’s picked up.

The truth is, as a reader, I want someone to vouch my books. I don’t have a lot of time to read, and wasting it on poor prose is infuriating. That’s not to say that lousy books can’t make it through the agent and publisher system. They can and do. But usually I sour on these as a matter of style. Agents, at the very least, make sure the writing is free of errors and has a decent story.

Tim Kane