One of the most contentious panels I attended, the debate over whether or not you would have a fool for a client if you acted as your own agent was pretty drawn. Some of them hands down loved their agents and credited them with their careers, others, not so much.
If I take all the things I wrote down, but them in a blender and consume only that which is unlikely to poison me this is what I come up with.
-If you want a traditional publishing contract with a big publishing house, you need an agent.
-However, you are paying the agent for the relationship they have with the editor at that big house. Which means if push comes to shove, despite the agent’s paid role as your representative, they are going to protect the relationship they value the most. And it isn’t you. 1000 debut authors hit their desk every week.
-So to protect yourself on the above two points, always have an IP lawyer (Intellectual Property) who is familiar with the publishing world review any contact with the big houses before you sign. Maybe even consider this before signing with a small house depending on how the contract is written. Although I have heard from many people the small/indie houses use short 3-5 page written in English contracts.
Scary Story: one of the panelists used an IP lawyer who caught a clause the agent had slipped in stating any book the author ever sold to this publisher garnered the agent 15% whether the agent was still repping the author or not. Yikes!
-Most agents will let you call their current clients before signing with them, however, that might not tell you anything useful as no one bad mouths their agent publicly unless they want to get black balled.
-Always employ the expert. Foreign rights, movie rights, merchandising rights. There is more to a publishing contract than just how much will your advance be.
Scary story: this was told ala urban legend but…a debut author took their contract to a lawyer (not IP and not pub savvy). The lawyer told the author the publishing house was trying to cheat them, the author sued. Of course they lost because it was a standard practice contract widely accepted in the publishing world but the author also tanked their career. They were black balled. Always employ the expert.
-Most of all, educate yourself about what is going on behind the scenes in the publishing world. As a debut author be prepared to give up something you might want to get that big publishing house contract. Compromise will be the name of the game.
There really was no consensus on agents. The two poles went something like this.
-Without an agent I would not have books coming out this year or next. My agent made my career.
-self publish, make a name for yourself, then agents will be lining up to rep you for those large house contracts and you will have bargaining power.
Both sound like valid paths to me. So choose your own adventure.