I honestly don’t know the answer to this question. Other than for a brief period in my career, I’ve never had an agent. And the short time I had one it didn’t work out well (but that’s another post), especially when I was making the deals, contacting the publishers, signing the contracts, and sending her checks .
Part of the reason I’ve never had an agent is that I’m not fond of the query system and never have been. It’s a set up for failure and the basic concept frustrates me. A lot has to do with luck, too, and I believe we make our own luck.
Another reason why I never queried agents often is that most literary agents don’t rep LGBT fiction…at least not until recently. In the past, a few agents repped what they referred to (and are still referring to, sadly)as “gay/lesbian.” And the handful that did rep gay/lesbian, usually either despised erotica or laughed at it.
It’s not that I didn’t want an agent. I’ve made more than a few business mistakes and I’ve had to learn everything the hard way over the years. An agent would have been extremely handy. But it didn’t work out that way and I don’t have any regrets so far.
I’m reading Julia Child’s bio right now, and I learned she never had an agent either. She had excellent attorney’s represent her. But for the most part, up until she got older, she and her husband controlled the money, the book deals, and everything that had to do with her career as an author.
I have one last non-fiction editorial client left. I only keep him on because I love what he writes and I’m the only one who can read his manuscripts…he writes everything in long hand. His books are spiritual/self-help and his name is Curtis von Dornheim. He already has published books on amazon…he was publishing his own books long before it became popular. He’s recently begun a new venture of his own to self-publish Kindle e-books, and he’s not even thinking about querying agents.
I’ve also written several pg rated hetero romances for publishers under a pen name that have sold well. I didn’t need an agent to get those deals either. I shopped the books myself, and took advantage of every opportunity there was.
In the past, the publishing system worked this way: You wrote a book, you started querying agents, and you waited to hear back from the agents. Most publishers didn’t take unagented material…or queries. So the literary agents were, in fact, the gatekeepers, and they’ve been coveting this title for many, many years.
The only problem is that the books chosen by the gatekeepers were subjected to their own personal taste. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a million times, “We have to love a book in order to sell it,” is what most agents will say. And this subjectivity may have worked before people became enlightened and knew they had choices, thanks to technology. We don’t have to read what literary agents “love.” As readers we can spend hours on our own now shopping for e-books by many unagented authors who are working with e-publishers…or self-publishing their own books.
Like I said, having a good agent can’t hurt an author’s career. It can be one of the best relationships in an author or agent’s life. In a way, it’s almost like a marriage-friendship-partnership. But I’m not so sure authors need agents in the same way they needed them before. They need the expertise, the ability to negotiate, and the good common sense to remain objective when it comes to important business matters. And I’m not sure exactly how things will work in the future as far as author agent relationships go. They may remain the same, and agents might continue as the gatekeepers. But these new authors I’m seeing out there who are self-publishing and making their own deals are talented, full of energy, and extremely aggressive. And they aren’t sitting around writing queries and waiting for rejection.