Some guy writes in the Guardian about the value of literary agents.
Aspiring writers are frequently told that the quickest route to getting published is via an agent. Having been on the books of two, neither of whom got my book on the shelves, and then secured a contract with a publisher myself, I wonder if that’s really true.
This is dangerous advice to give writers. The majority of publishers won’t really read a manuscript if it doesn’t come via an agent. Only occasionally—it does happen, it’s just rare—does the slush pile provide something that’s publishable. From an editor’s eye, agents provide a hugely important filter for quality. And believe me, it’s a filter that is so necessary.
My agent, John Jarrold, has been the biggest help of my writing career. He gives indispensable advice, and knows the industry inside out. He’ll not only help knock a book into shape, but will work hard behind the scenes to make sure an editor is actually keen to read a submission. He’ll even guide me as to making a book more commercial. He understands audience. Then there’s the whole stack of jobs an agent does once you’re lucky enough to get a deal. I don’t want to dick around with contracts and small print, I just want to write the book, and my agent allows me to get on with that. Sure, there are some dodgy agents out there, those that charge spurious reading fees, or some who are plainly not that good at their job; but for the majority of new writers they are the only way of securing a book deal. It always seems to be that tiny percentage of unagented authors who get some publicity, but I think it’s dangerous to begin advising writers that they shouldn’t bother. Agents are a massive reality-check. They’re there to earn money from your talent, which shows huge amount of faith, and it’s wonderful for your peace of mind to have someone believe in your abilities as well as have the knowledge to tackle any problem you might come across.