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By author Tara K. Harper

If I get an agent, will I also get published?
What, exactly, does an agent do for an author?
Is it worth it to get an agent?
Additional information about agents, getting published, query letters, and more
About Tara K. Harper

If I get an agent, will I also get published?

Not necessarily. Having an agent is not a guarantee of being published. (For that matter, having written a great book is not a guarantee of getting published.) Even if an agent thinks your manuscript might sell, there are a hundred reasons the publisher might not want it. For example, the publisher might feel luke-warm about the story; could have bought a manuscript just like it last week; might consider it to be yesterday's news; might hate your choice of protagonist; might believe the story too experimental, too similar to or too dissimilar from another author's work, too long or too short, etc.. There are a hundred reasons a manuscript can be rejected, regardless of how the agent feels about the potential of the author's work.

Remember, it is the editor, not the agent, who purchases the manuscript. The agent simply tries to judge and market the work based on current (and as much as possible, future) market trends.

What, exactly, does an agent do for an author?

So what good is getting an agent? Simple. First, he can get your (his) foot in the door. A publisher is more likely to look at an agent's submission than one from yet another unpublished author, because the agent will have already slogged through hundreds of manuscripts to find one he thinks is worth presenting to that publisher. That saves the publisher time and effort. The agent in this scenario is performing the job of an assistant editor: culling the herd, as it were.

Second, once the editor offers to buy the manuscript, an agent can help negotiate a more favorable contract than the inexperienced author might accept. This is because the agent has knowledge about the industry and can negotiate to strike out certain clauses in the basic contract that might not be advantageous to an author. New authors (and their lawyers) are often concerned about dangerous-sounding clauses that will actually have little bearing on their careers, and not concerned enough about innocuous-sounding clauses that can have significant and long-term effects on their careers. A good agent will know which clauses are which, and will be able to negotiate the best contract for the new author, while still satisfying the publisher and completing the sale of the manuscript.`

Third, an agent can help you build a career by talking you up to the publisher, by obtaining better marketing for your work, and by guiding you through--and hopefully over--various pitfalls into which you might be inclined to step. In some cases--such as for authors who never write more than one novel--it is not necessary for an agent to build a career for you, because, frankly, you don't usually have a career in that case; you have a single book. If you have only one book to sell, or if you don't intend to make a commitment to writing, the agent cannot negotiate using the possibility of other novels to help establish you. In other cases however, in which the author will write many books and seeks to create a career for himself, the agent has an on-going job of continuing to market the writer, not just the writer's work.

Is it worth it to get an agent?

Is it worth it, then, to get an agent? Well, an agent will cost you 10%-15% of your earnings in commissions. In some cases, the bottom-line question will be: Is 85% of something better than 100% of nothing? In other cases, the bottom-line question will be: Can I afford to lose 10%-15% of my income to someone else, if I can do the agenting, marketing, and negotiating jobs myself? If you decide against getting an agent, I strongly suggest that you learn from others' mistakes by discussing and researching the market before committing your mistakes with your own career on the line.

In my opinion, yes, a good agent is definitely worth it. However, if you understand the industry, are highly competent at contract negotiation, have developed a long list of industry contacts, and can perform schmoozing with the best of them, perhaps then you do not need an agent. Or, when you have acquired that knowledge, those contacts and skills, perhaps you will choose to break with your agent and perform those tasks yourself. In either case, you should still research the market so that you understand what an agent can, should, and will be able to do for you.

Additional information about agents, getting published, query letters, and more

More information and advice from Tara K. Harper can be found on her Web site at, including:
  • Query letters--how to and how not to write them
  • Publishers and getting published
  • Book doctors--are they legitimate?
  • Agency reading fees, or nonlegitimate charges
  • Fees an agency may legitimately pass on to clients
  • Advice to new authors who have just gotten an agent

About Tara K. Harper

"Tara Harper's novels ... Wolfwalker, Shadow Leader, and Storm Runner won her critical acclaim."

Tara K. Harper graduated from the University of Oregon, then went into sciences and high-tech, where she has worked for R&D, test-and-measurement companies ever since. She also writes technical material in biology, physics, psychology, and other sciences. She has served for over a decade on a national standards committee in quality control. Also active in community service, she teaches creative writing for alternative schools, trains youth in wilderness skills, and serves on the board of directors for a youth treatment center. In 1998, Ms. Harper was nominated to the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication Hall of Achievement. Ms. Harper is a member of the Author's Guild.

Since 1990, Ms. Harper has published eight science-fiction novels, including several national best-sellers. Currently, her novels are available in both English and German. Her 1994 novel, Cat Scratch Fever, was nominated for the Oregon Book Awards. She has also received numerous awards for science and technical writing.

A martial artist and musician, Ms. Harper is active in outdoor sports. She has sailed everything from small boats to tall wooden ships; and has kayaked and canoed rivers and lakes throughout Oregon and Washington. A scuba diver, swimmer, and waterpolo player, she has spent time in the open waters of the Pacific Northwest, British West Indies, and Hawaii. When she was younger, she enjoyed rock climbing, fencing, and cycling; now she hikes, camps, and explores the mountains. She has been bear-bashed while camping, swarmed five times by bees and yellow-jackets, and confronted by everything from sea lions to eagles in her explorations. She paints in oils, sculpts in stone, plays violin and piano, composes music, and still claims she wants to be a stuntperson.

"Tara K. far and above one of the most inventive and imaginative writers of Science Fantasy."
--James DeMaiolo, Explorations