The writing world has changed. And I am of the opinion that most of those changes have diminished the importance of the literary agent.
Not so many years ago, a writer had to be represented by a literary agent to have any chance of getting published by a reputable firm. To some extent, that’s still the case—certain imprints of the international publishing conglomerates turn their noses up at direct submissions. Queries from authors are lucky to earn a rejection. Most often, they are simply ignored.
But there are many, many small, medium-sized, and even large publishing houses more than happy to deal directly with writers. And, of course, there are innovations like digital publishing and e-books that essentially bypass the traditional publishing process—including agents.
So, does an aspiring author need an agent? I would never say it’s a bad idea, assuming you can hook up with one who’s reputable and recognized. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s necessary. I have managed to publish books with ten or so publishers, from fairly large ones to teeny-tiny ones, all with nary an agent in sight. And at least a few of those publishers had stated policies of not accepting un-agented submissions.
Of course my ability to evaluate contracts is lacking compared to the expertise of an agent. And, if I were overwhelmed with keeping track of royalties and subsidiary rights and such, I’m sure an agent would come in handy.
So far, however, my misdirected, misguided, and mismanaged literary career doesn’t require a whole lot of the skill or savvy an agent might provide.
Come to think of it, that might be the problem….