Authors’ Views on the Value of Agents

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Do I need an agent?

The longstanding advice to new writers was that if they had any hope of a successful career in publishing, they absolutely needed an agent. Myriad books and blogs have been devoted to the topics of how to pitch agents and how to find the right agent. Unfortunately for most authors, winning an agent is easier said than done, and rejection is the rule rather than the exception. With the growth of indie publishing and of presses that will consider unagented work, entrepreneurial authors are starting to ask how relevant agents are in today’s publishing world.

Are agents worth their fifteen percent? The 2014 Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Survey asked more than 2,800 published authors (those in the sample who had started, completed, or published a manuscript) their opinions on various ways that agents help authors. While the survey is a voluntary sample and may not be representative of the population of authors, the responses reported here reflect the opinions of a large number of authors on different publishing paths: 1,563 indie-only authors, 674 traditional-only authors, and 597 hybrid authors.

Related: What Advantages do Traditional Publishers Offer Authors


Overall, the published authors in the survey were quite positive in their estimates of what agents offered authors. Asked whether they strongly disagreed, disagreed, neither agreed nor disagreed, agreed, or strongly agreed with several statement about what agents do, the majority of authors agreed or strongly agreed with each of the statements presented with one exception. Authors were unsure whether agents were helpful to authors who are self-publishing, with 47.6% neither agreeing nor disagreeing with the statement.

published authors agreement with statements of value of agents


The appraisals of the value of agents was indeed quite high, with over 80% of published authors agreeing that agents are worth their commissions. However, a minority of published authors in the sample, only 9.3% currently had an agent.

percent of authors with agents

Authors who had only traditionally published were the most likely to have an agent currently, 16.1%, and authors who had only indie-published were the least likely, 1.6%. Hybrid authors, who are both traditionally published and self-published, were more likely than the other types of published authors to have had agents in the past but to have parted ways, 20.6%.

Given the rosy estimates of what agents can do for authors, one might expect the proportion of published authors seeking literary agents to be quite high. However, just over a third of unagented published authors, 37.7%, are actively seeking agents: 35.2% indie-only, 45.5% traditional-only, and 37.13% hybrid.

In total, 39% of the published authors in the sample have discarded the prevailing wisdom and opted out of the agent search, never having submitted their work to literary agents and not seeking one at the time. Of these, about two thirds, 67.5%, were indie-only authors.

In Part II of this series on agents, I will examine the contribution that having an agent may make to the income authors received from their most recently traditionally published and indie published books, respectively.

Related: What Advantages do Traditional Publishers Offer Authors

6 thoughts on “Authors’ Views on the Value of Agents

  1. Robert Gottlieb

    The reason many authors don’t need agents for self-publishing is that agents generally don’t work in that space effectively. Or if they do in many cases they farm it out to third party aggregators and take a commission on top of the cost of the aggregator.

    Some agencies give the responsibility of managing eBooks to agents who have client lists to manage and don’t have a great deal of knowledge about the world of original eBook publishing/self-publishing or time to spend on the eBook/self-publishing business.

    That is not the case at Trident which has a department fully focused on our clients self-publishing eBook business from marketing, design and strategies for retailers across the entire spectrum. The eBook department works with and coordinates its activities with the agency at large including our Foreign Rights and Audio departments. Often this generates substantial income for the author in these markets.

    The result has been New York Times and USA bestsellers for our clients and substantial sales for many for both front list and back list titles.

    To learn more about Trident’s eBook operations please visit our website at:

    Robert Gottlieb
    Trident Media Group, LLC
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  2. William Ash

    I am not sure about the poll. Give the vast majority have never had agents, then the statements simply indicate the the authors only think an agent is good. They don’t know an agent is good. This is more of an opinion poll which is dealing with perception, but maybe not a reality. And if it is a perception of the “ideal” agent, then we really do not know what a typical agent is. And if nearly 40% have opted out of the agent search and 80% think an agent is useful for a particular task, it also seems to indicate that getting an agent is not that important as that particular task is not a priority.

    It would be interesting to parse the data based on those that have an agent and those that used to have an agent and see what the responses are.

    They are interesting data, however, they raise many more questions than they answer.

  3. Michael W. Perry

    I’d agree with the 77% who suggest that agents still have a place finding and negotiating translations. As an author I love to be contacted about translations. It means money with almost no effort on my part. I’d be more than happy to share some of that money with an agent who sets up those translations. He has contacts I’d never have the time to set up.

  4. Mark Leggatt

    Working on the assumption that an agent is basically a middle-man to pimp your book, I can see a degree of validity in the above figures, albeit with the stated caveats. Of course, some agents will be more effective than others, depending on their skills.

    However, my own experience has taught me that these activities are at the end of the process. The management, wisdom and industry experience of your agent, which ensures you have a book worth the attention of publishers, is a major factor in achieving success.

    Of course, success is not guaranteed. The writer and the book are just part of the overall package. It is most certainly a team effort, and a team success. Even if it’s only a wee team of two.

    This applies not only to traditional publishing, but also directly to self-publishing. My opinion on self-publishing has changed dramatically over the past few months, once I had removed the blinkers. It is now a perfectly valid, professional, and career-rewarding option for the writer. And if you have an agent as part of the team, then you stand a better chance of success.

    The 15% is not just for the sale, it’s also for all the work that helped you get there.



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