Random thoughts on our impending doom and everyday life, courtesy of a Romance Writer who occasionally feels the need to talk like a Sailor.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

When does a writer need an agent? with Alex Adsett.

There's been a lot of discussion about whether or not a writer needs an agent.  It's a damn good question in these changing times with self-publishing booming and so on. Do you only need one if you're planning on chatting up one of the big publishing houses? And what exactly does an agent do for you?

Today, I'd like you to meet the awesomness that is Alex Adsett. Alex is the agent I have when I don't have an agent (Currently, I don't have one. I might in the future, who knows?). She checks my contracts for me and makes sure they're fair and reflect my requirements and all the rest. Also, Alex has a deep and abiding understanding of shoe porn which I admire greatly.  Let's go...

Why should a writer not have an agent?

Authors in Australia may feel they should have an agent or need to have an agent, but the truth is that more than 60% of the books that are published in Australia by Australian authors, do not have an agent. The situation is very different in the UK and US where almost all of traditionally published titles come through via an agent.

Agents provide three main services for an author: they get them the initial publishing deal, they negotiate the hell out of the contract, and they help build and manage their career. There’s a generous amount of advice giving, hand holding and ego boosting along the way, but those first three things are key.

If an author has already got themselves the initial publishing deal, then the first step an agent handles is already done. I recommend authors in this situation think carefully about whether they need an agent to do steps 2 and 3, when there are freelance contracts services out there like the Australian Society Authors or Arts Law (or me) to cover the contract, or for those authors who feel comfortable handling their own careers.

Why should a writer have an agent?

Peacock Shoes.
Once authors have gotten over the idea that they need to have an agent, they should consider whether they want to have an agent. Agents are great! They do a lot of the business side of things so that the author can just concentrate on the writing. Many authors love their agent and would never consider not having them by their side. A good agent will look out for your interests and always be ready to defend, promote or pull you back into line. 

Bear in mind that an agent is just about as hard to get as a publisher. You need to find an agent who really gets you and your work, and who has a good reputation in the industry. A good starting point when looking for a reputable agent is checking out members of the Australian Literary Agents Association. There are some great agents who haven’t qualified for the ALAA yet (like me), but the ones that have, have a solid standing in the industry. 

The best reasons to get an agent are if you’re an unpublished author who finds an agent ready to champion your work (hang onto that person as tight as you can, but not in a needy way!), or if you’re an established author who’s fed up with handling everything by themselves.

What sort of services do you provide to unagented writers to make their business lives more happy and care free?

If an author doesn’t have or want an agent, I can step in to help with commercial business advice about their career, publishing options, and strategies. I think the most important service I offer is being able to commercially review their publishing contract and help them negotiate with the publisher.  I do not offer legal advice, but can review the contract and let an author know if there is anything included (or not included) that is outside publishing industry norms, and then provide suggestions on how the contract could be improved. If anything rings an alarm bell that the contract should absolutely not be signed, I let you know straight away, and if I think you need legal advice I can recommend some good lawyers who also understand the publishing industry.
I provide my review and recommendations in a written report, and the author can then use the report to negotiate directly with the publisher, or keep me involved to do the negotiations on their behalf. 

Happy Summer Shoes.
I charge a flat fee hourly rate, so instead of a normal agent who gets 15% of everything, I invoice at the end of the review or negotiation, and then walk away. I am as much or as little involved as the author wants me to be.  Some established authors have me on standby for any contract discussions with their publisher, but manage all their day-to-day editorial questions directly themselves. 

There are also a lot of new opportunities for authors out there; ebook only start ups, profit share ventures, etc. Many agents can’t afford to get involved in helping authors with these because there is no guaranteed income upfront. I can help review these contracts before you get yourself stuck in something dodgy, or at least make sure you enter into the deal with your eyes open.

You have awesome shoes. Can we see some pictures and where do you get them?

I love shoes! I’ve been a shoe addict since living in London upon acquiring my first publishing job. I’m not too proud to admit I go for cheap but funky, and because I’m addicted to Campers, I get a lot of my shoes from ebay.  I also made the ridiculously dangerous discovery of modcloth- online shoes at cheap prices []. I try to support Australian bookstores and Australian clothes designers (hello Maoicchi, Massuri, Wind & Water), but I’m afraid shoes are fair game from overseas for me.

Give us some book and movie recommendations, please. What have you seen or read lately that rocked your world?
Sparkly Shoes.

Always a dangerous question to ask a book addict... After reading the amazing Among Others by Jo Walton last year, I picked up her earlier work Farthing. It has blown me away in a completely different way, and now I want to read everything she’s written. I love the Roil series by my friend Trent Jamieson, and have been having fun “researching” the best romance books before another RWA conference. I can’t talk too much about Australian spec fic I’ve been reading, because I’m a judge for the Aurealis awards, and don’t want to give anything away before the awards are announced in May. (Check out the shortlist though- great books!!! I’ve also been reading amazing manuscripts that I’m now trying to find homes for.

I tend to run out of time to watch too much tv, but have loved every second of Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch, and over summer have devoured The Hour and (don’t judge me) Downton Abbey. I’m half way through Parade’s End, and it is quite as amazing as the reviews have said. I’m also looking forward to Game of Thrones and Dr Who (even if new Dr Who is sometimes so bad it makes me cry).

You were brilliant at RWA on the Gold Coast last year talking about not only your business but publishing at large. What events can people catch you speaking at this year?

He Loves Me Shoes. (These ones are my favourite.)
Aw, shucks – thanks! I’m going to be appearing at a bunch of panels at Conflux speculative fiction convention in Canberra in April this year. Not only panels, but my colleague Paul Landymore and I are hearing pitches from aspiring authors, and there are three fancy dress opportunities (three!). Anyone near Canberra should definitely come along to Conflux. In May I’m at the Gold Coast Libraries Literati weekend, in August I will also be at the Romance Writers Convention in Perth, hearing pitches and talking about contracts and copyright, and in October I hope to be at GenreCon again.

Keep an eye on twitter (@alexadsett) and my website for forthcoming events.


  1. Fantastic interview! So fantastic I wish I'd thought of doing one with Alex myself!! It's always good for writers to read about life on the 'other side'. Thanks Kylie, thanks Alex :)

    1. Thanks, Zena! It's an interesting question, for sure. Definitely one that keeps coming up in conversations. :)

  2. PS. the peacock shoes are my favourite!

  3. Samantha McHenry26 March 2013 at 16:58

    Thanks, this was an extremely interesting read and has helped.

    Also agree with Zena, Peacock shoes are amazing!

    1. Glad it was helpful, Samantha! The peacock shoes do rock, it's true.