I Have a Publishing Deal But I Still Want an Agent. Here’s Why…

Yay! I got a publishing deal! … but I have no agent. Crap. “But JM,” you say, “You have a book deal. Why do you want an agent?” Well, I really like sleeping, for one. But let me back up a bit…

JM is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Alyssa won.)


Guest column by J.M. Frey, author of Triptych (April
2011, Dragon Moon Press), a science fiction YA novel that
Publishers Weekly called “a deeply satisfying debut.”
She is active in the Toronto geek community,
at awards ceremonies,
appearing on TV, radio, podcasts, live
panels and documentaries to discuss all things

fandom. She also has addictions to scarves, Doctor
Who, and tea, all of which may or may not be related.
Visit her website here.


When I began to shop Triptych, I sent queries to both agencies and presses, scattershot. Every rejection I got, I would learn something useful that would help improve my manuscript. Wherever the book ended up, it would be a step into the publishing world, and I could devise my strategy from there. I assumed that I would get the agent first, because I’d heard publishing houses were hard to get interested.

And then I got an offer from a small publisher.

I had to really think about it. The publisher itself was never an issue
Dragon Moon Press was on my list of publishers with great reputations and good books. The need to reflect was personal: Did I want to publish my first novel with no agent? Could I do all the work that is inherent in being an author with a small press?


  • I have more ability to offer input, even if I don’t get final veto.
  • I could drive the marketing.
  • I keep all my profits. (Hey, I was a poor grad student…)
  • I could work more intimately with my editor and publisher than with a larger press, and I’m not lost among a sea of projects the agent/editor/publishing house is working on. 
  • No one else was banging down my door for the book (30 rejections at that point).
  • My editor, Gabrielle Harbowy, had a strong vision for the book, and it matched mine.

I don’t regret the choice. Dragon Moon Press has been incredible to me, and they have done everything within their power to push my book. I am grateful for the amazing opportunity, and humbled by their pride in me.

So, why do I still want an agent? I want to have time to write.

Book marketing is a lot more work than I thought it would be, and ongoing to bootan average of 20 hours/ week. Combine that with a 40 hour job, and 5-10 hours for fanthropology, and … yeah. And everything has to be paid for by someone, done by someone, distributed by someone. In this case, it’s me. And DMP have a publishing company they have to run, and very little budget to share with me. It wouldn’t be fair to the other writers if they spent all their time and money on me.

Additionally, if I want to have any momentum and gravitas in my career as a writer, I need to have another book out within the next three years or so. That means I need another deal soonish. So: back to slushing. So, now on top of everything, I’m also querying and revising other manuscripts.

I wouldn’t be opposed to working with DMP again (in fact, I have a short story in their anthology “When the Hero Comes Home”, August 2011).
But. Would I do it without an agent? No.


  1. I need help to understand my contracts. DMP does plain-language contracts, so they’re not scary. But if I place my new manuscripts elsewhere, who knows what I’m in for next time. An agent can explain everything, and they can negotiate a better deal for me than I could for myself.


  • I need an advocate with connections with publishers, publicists, industry press, and mainstream press. For everything I can do marketing myself, I don’t have the connections required to ensure that my book passes through the hands of people who can help sweep it into Best-Seller or Movie-Deal Land. 
  • An agent would be trying to sell my next manuscript right now; I could be simply enjoying the results of Triptych, doing a bit of marketing, and editing. And sleeping. 
  • I am swiftly becoming an emotional wreck. I am thrilled about the book but I worry constantly. I’m an established author, but must query as if I wasn’t. I’m very proud of my accomplishments, but am filled with doubt about what I could be doing better. I’ve had some incredible reviews, but still get rejection letters. I get invited to do radio interviews, podcasts, and guest blogs, and fear to open my credit card bill after I buy marketing materials. I don’t feel that I’m owed an agent now (what disgusting gall if I did! Uhg!), but then a small voice inside whimpers: But I have a book out. Aren’t I good enough, yet? 
  • As I have no agent, some people have insinuated that I’m not good enough for a “real” publisher. Infuriating, because DMP is a real publisher, and I’ve worked just as hard as any other author. 
  • An agent can work with the stores to ensure my book is on their shelves, and better yet, gets a lot of promotion. The big stores can sometimes do something for small-press authors (like have you come in and sign the stock, or move it to the “local author” shelf), but not anything like national release parties, huge marketing campaigns, or features on their websites. 
  • An agent is also a partner who works with you and guides your careerI enjoyed the editing relationship I had on Triptych, and look forward to another.


After having tried to do everything an agent does and be a writer at the same time, let me tell you, I am willing to start sharing my royalties, now! That little percentage they take seems like a blessing from this side of lack of sleep.

So … any agents reading this looking for a slightly Type A science fiction/ YA writer? I promise, I already come housebroken.

JM is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week;
winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Alyssa won.)


Writing fiction? Agent extraordinaire Donald
Maass’s guide, The Fire in Fiction, is a must-have
for those who wish to compose a dynamite
novel and nab an agent.



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18 thoughts on “I Have a Publishing Deal But I Still Want an Agent. Here’s Why…

  1. Jacob Tullos

    You know, If I were in that same situation, I would want an agent, too. I’m scared of legal-speak. And just the ability to understand and negotiate contracts is worth whatever % the agent gets. As far as publicizing, I don’t know how much an agent would do, but anything is better than nothing, and I don’t want to be taking time out of writing to be my own publicity agent.

  2. Zach Turner

    I totally understand where you’re coming from. I just released <i>Visions</i>, my first novel, last month as a self publisher. I fly in planes a lot and actually do pretty well there, but I’d like to make more than one sale per plane ride. Once you get an agent (cause I know you will), if you have any tips on query letters, I’d love to hear em! Thanks

  3. Madeline Sharples

    I’m definitely with you on this one. My book is about to be released by my small traditional publisher and I’m feeling like I’m in a whirlpool — I don’t know which way to go or what to do next. I think an agent could be great help in guiding me through the next few important months. I’ve been told that the time after the book is published is much harder than writing the book, and I’m beginning to feel that already. Thanks for your post.

  4. Jon Malice

    J.M., all the best for a great future in publishing. But as someone with an agent, I’m sorry to say that while they DEFINITELY help in many of the ways that you described…the truth is, a lot of that work will be staying on your own shoulders as well.

    I don’t believe we live in a world any longer when a creative person can simply lock the door and say "Somebody else do all the business stuff for me!" Nobody else is as invested in your career as yourself. You’ve been doing great shouldering the burden, and I know it IS a burden. Learning how to do that stuff is making you a stronger entrepreneur for the long run. We are all ultimately responsible for our own success.

  5. Linda Ellen

    Thank you for all the useful information in your post. I will keep in mind that an agent can be your best friend. I’m not a published writer yet, but it’s always good to learn about the experiences of others. Thank you so much for sharing, and best of luck!

  6. Jennifer Jensen

    Great post – I can sympathize with the need for sleep! I’d love to see a further blog post from you about the marketing you are/were doing. I file these things away for when my book comes out, which may be a while, but WILL happen someday!

  7. Kristin Laughtin

    You know, I don’t think most agents are the ones doing some of the stuff you desire–they’re not usually the ones calling bookstores to make sure your stuff is on the shelf, etc. They’re not the same as publicists, although how much publicity work they’re willing to do varies, I’m sure, with each individual agent. However, an agent could definitely be useful for trying to get a contract with more promotional support from the publisher, which would be a good thing! And the rest of your reasons are more than sound.

  8. Heather McCorkle

    Great interview J.M. Thank you for your honesty and the information. Every writer who is thinking of going it alone needs to read this! Best of luck to you, I have no doubt you’ll be partnered with an excellent agent soon!

  9. Kathleen

    You give me much to think about, considering I pitched directly to a publisher at a conference and am at the "submit partial" stage. Now, we need a followup: what do you do to market your novel??? I feel like this is an obvious question, but the answer doesn’t seem obvious to me, despite trying to educate myself.

  10. Nikki

    Good post. I have published with a small publisher as well and it’s amazing how hard it is to market. I mean, perhaps it’s not hard, but I work so many hours and have small children that I can’t spend the time it takes to do so.

    I’d love an agent too. I wish they were like kittens and people were giving them away. I have a nice home for them.

    Thanks for the post!


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