This week I will be recapping what I learned at the Columbus Writers' Conference in Columbus, OH which was held Aug 24-25th. First off, let me say I had a great time talking with people who also hear voices in their heads and aren't ashamed to admit it. If you have never been to this conference, you should take the time to attend. It's held late summer every year at the Fawcett Conference Center on the Ohio State University Campus. Easy to find and navigate. Hope to see you there next year.
That's enough of a plug. Now on to what I learned.
Most attendees come to a writers' conference to meet and pitch their ideas to editors and agents. Unless you have an "in" at a big New York City house--and face it who among us does--you can only get the attention of these people at a conference.
As soon as people find out you are a published author, their next question is almost invariably, "How did you find your agent?"
I didn't. I don't have one. It's not that I have anything against agents. I just happened to find a royalty publisher without the use of an agent, and have not seen a need to hire one since. My first class was held by a New York agent, Paige Wheeler. At the end of the class, I asked why a person who had been published without an agent would need one now.
She said a writer should never try to negotiate a contract without an agent. An agent acts as a buffer between the writer and publisher or the writer and editor if the writer ever disagrees with editing changes and is uncomfortable going directly to the editor. An agent can negotiate a bigger advance and handle movie deals, foreign rights, and all the other stuff that comes with getting your book onto the bookstore shelves.
I am currently working with a small press, TsabaHouse. I am completely comfortable directly contacting the people within the publishing house, including the editor if and when a problem arises. And yes, we have had some creative differences when it come to rewrites. I hired someone to go over my contract and explain what I didn't know, which was almost all of it.
Someone asked near the end of the conference if I had changed my mind about agents. I never had a problem with agents. For me, it's just that the need hasn't arisen at this time. If I ever decide to pitch a book to a publishing house who will not work with unagented authors, then yes, I will look for an agent. If I am ever approached by a movie company about one of my books or when I get too prolific and too busy traveling and writing that I can't handle the details of my career, I will gladly turn it all over to an agent.
If you want to approach publishers through an agent, then you should definitely find a good one. But I am living proof that an unagented author can find a royalty publisher. If you don't have an agent and you are satisfied working with a small press where you are a big fish in a small pond, don't despair. You can still find a publisher without an agent. That window is getting narrower all the time and will someday close completely. But it can still happen.
That's what makes this such an exciting business.