Do You Really Need a Literary Agent?

by Karole Cozzo

Back in 2005, I completed my first manuscript. I was jazzed to learn that I could, in fact, accomplish such a thing, that I could take a story from start to finish without getting bored and starting something new or bowing out because I felt overwhelmed or lost along the way. I started Googling “how you get a book published” and quickly realized (especially back then), that querying and finding a literary agent was a necessary first step in the process, especially if an author had any hope of being considered by well-known publishing companies.

Fast forward to 2018. I’ve sold four books to a Macmillan imprint since 2014, and I still don’t have a literary agent. Through the Swoon Reads website and community, I sold my first novel, and I’ve sold my subsequent novels to Swoon Reads through direct contact with the directors and editors at the imprint.

Beyond Swoon Read’s crowdsourcing approach to book selection and publication, there are several other options for selling books without the assistance of an agent, including self-publishing and smaller publishing companies that are willing to consider manuscripts without the divine intervention of a literary agent. It’s definitely possible to see your work published — in electronic format or on the shelves of brick and mortar stores — without agent representation, but what are the advantages of having a person working on your behalf? I questioned some of my author pals, those with representation and those without, about the positives and negatives associated with the agent search in launching and sustaining publishing careers. Here’s some of what I heard:

The Benefits of Going it Alone . . .

  • Complete control, creative or otherwise. Sometimes, agents request one or more rounds of edits before they’re comfortable submitting your work to a publishing company. It’s likely that if a story is acquired, editors will request additional edits before publication. By this time, your novel may bear little resemblance to the story you initially imagined. These changes may be based on expertise and market knowledge, but some authors are uncomfortable or unhappy with the number of changes that may come along with having an additional person weigh in on his or her work.
  • Increased industry knowledge and opportunities for self-advocacy. When you represent yourself, you have to do the research in order to feel comfortable and confident that you’re doing it right. Instead of relying on someone else to manage your career, the responsibility is in your hands. This provides increased motivation for an author to learn all he or she can about how the industry works, contract nuances, etc. When you’re the sole person working on your behalf, there’s the impetus to become as knowledgeable and informed as possible, and there is complete transparency about contract negotiations, conversations with publishers, and career planning that might not come along with having someone speaking for you.
  • If and when you sell a book, you get to keep all the money! When you’re your own agent, that 10-15% cut goes right to you.

. . . and the Downside

  • You don’t necessarily know what you don’t know. This is probably my greatest concern in going it alone. I don’t necessarily know what’s typical or fair in the industry, and I can review contracts and royalty statements until my eyes cross and still not feel 110% confident that I understand everything I’m reading. There are definitely times I’d love to have someone else to bounce my questions and concerns off of. There is always a lingering fear that I’m missing something really important that an agent would alert me to immediately.
  • Most big-name publishing companies aren’t willing to review your manuscript without it being presented by a literary agent. This is a big one if you’re hoping to reach as broad an audience as possible and one day hold an actual bound copy of your book in your hands.
  • Who do you turn to for career guidance? Maybe you’re looking at branching out to another genre, maybe you want to know if the idea for your new novel is “so yesterday” based on market trends. Maybe you want someone to help you develop realistic and attainable career goals. Without an agent, a lot of this feels like guesswork (trust me), and even if you’ve developed a relationship with a publisher, as you attempt to grow your career, it can be difficult to know what steps are best to take to actually do so.

The Benefits of Having an Agent . . .

  • Advocacy. Several of my writing pals quickly noted that their agents are worth every cent they get, simply because it’s worth it, 10 times over, to feel like there’s someone in their corner and someone looking out for their best interests. One author friend mentioned truly believing “he wants to sell my book as much as I do.” It was also noted that an agent may be working on your behalf even when you don’t hear from him or her, coming up with new plans or ideas to be shared. They may be your biggest cheerleader and your most loyal teammate; as one author friend put it, “they’re not succeeding unless you are.”
  • Contract review and negotiations. I’ll be blunt — attempting to read a publishing contract is like attempting to read Latin. Maybe Chinese, because I often feel like I don’t even recognize the characters! Several of the authors I spoke to mentioned how valuable an agent can be when it comes to contracts. They noted that agents caught things and asked for concessions on points they never would’ve thought of on their own. While agents don’t usually get everything they ask for, they often can get publishers to budge on a few points that you wouldn’t have known or thought to ask for.
  • Contacts. They have connections with those working at the big-name companies. Beyond getting a publishing company to review your work, previously established relationships can make that much easier.

. . . and the Downside

  • That whole sharing your profits thing. Ah yeah … you have to do it. It’s typical for new authors to not earn out on their first books, which means a portion of your advance — maybe the only money you’ll ever see that is often taxed heavily — goes to someone else.
  • Like any other profession, there are good agents and there are bad agents. I’ve heard horror stories about unresponsive agents, agents who disappeared off the face of the earth entirely after signing an author, agents who rarely updated the author on submissions or if submissions were being made at all. It can feel like the process is out of your hands, and if you’re not entirely gelling with your agent, a relationship that seemed like a dream come true can end up leaving you unfulfilled, feeling like your career is being handled by someone you might not have total trust or confidence in.
  • It’s really hard to get one, and the query process can be (okay, let’s just say always is) nerve-wracking, frustrating, and disheartening. Rejection from agent upon agent upon agent can really shake an author’s confidence. An agent I follow on twitter recently shared the following: “I just organized my inbox, so some #querystats! I was open to queries for 9.5 months last year. Here is what that looked like: 3, 615 queries received; 89 fulls requested from queries; 124 fulls (or partials read); 4 clients signed.” I’ll do the math for you — in this case, .01% of her queries resulted in an author being signed. These odds can feel downright debilitating, right? While it’s true that most big-name authors can tell tales of the hundreds of rejection emails they received, it’s extremely hard to take these emails in stride and keep going. If rejection emails shatter a writer, he or she may give up entirely on their dream.

Here’s the bottom line: It is indeed possible to become a published author and advance your writing career without a literary agent. It’s up to you as a writer, upon considering the pluses and minutes of having one, to decide how much time, energy, and angst you want to invest in the query game, to decide if the benefits outweigh the negatives of having an agent working on your behalf.

2018, Here We Come!

Happy New Year! As we look forward to 2018, this month we answer the question: What are your goals for this year (writing/publishing or otherwise)?

Erin Fletcher: One of my goals for 2018 is to read more! For a lot of 2017, I replaced reading with things like my day job, watching YouTube, and scrolling through BuzzFeed. The result? I miss reading! I have a large stack of books (okay, fine, I have a few large stacks of books) just waiting for me, and I can’t wait to dive into them! I think I’ll make my first read of 2018 a book from one of my fellow Sweethearts … leave a comment below if you have a suggestion for a Sweetheart book you’ve loved!

Stephanie Scott: My aim is to finish up two YA manuscripts in progress to pitch to publishers. My goal is to turn them in to my agent in March. I spent part of New Year’s Day setting up my 2018 planner and breaking down the tasks of what needs to be done and by when. I don’t get super detailed, but general deadlines and goals along the way help me a lot. I’m also venturing into romance for adult readers and am planning a self-publish launch as part of a group series. This has a spring timeline too. The second half of 2018 is wide open with possibility!

Linda Budzinski: In December, I started back to work full-time with a new job that is going to require a lot of travel. There are lots of aspects of the job I’m excited about, but travel is NOT one of them. I like being home with my husband and sleeping in my own bed. I tend to see travel as a hassle and a major stress-inducer. So, my goal is to figure out how to turn that around. I want to adjust my attitude and learn to enjoy my work trips. And I NEED to figure out how to keep my writing on schedule while I’m  on the road! (And if anyone has thoughts on how to do that, I’d love to hear them!)

Darcy Woods: For the past few years, I’ve said YES to virtually all the invites and opportunities that have come my way. So when 2018 rolled around, I decided to declare it the Year of NO! That doesn’t mean I’ll say no to everything, or that I regret the years of yeses — not by a long shot! They’ve led to so many unforgettable experiences, expanded horizons, and lasting friendships. I’ve just come to recognize the Yes Years are not infinitely sustainable for me. (Egads, I’m human after all!) Time might be one of the most precious gifts we can give ourselves. And with 2017 being an especially tumultuous year, I intend to do just that!

Robin Constantine: I spent most of last year trying to find the joy in my writing. It took some effort and many stops and starts, but I did find it again. Now I want to keep fanning those creative flames. In the past I’ve always worked on one project, taken a break, then started something new. My goal in 2018 is to always be working on something. I’d also like to write something out of my comfort zone — which may for my eyes only, but who knows, sometimes when the goal is to have fun you find some gems!

Karole Kozzo: I hope to accomplish one of my big personal goals next month in Orlando by completing the Disney Princess Half Marathon, which will be my first half marathon attempted. I’m aiming for a respectable time (that might mean something different to me than to serious runners, I admit!) while still having fun and making sure to stop and smell the Dole Whip and snap pictures with some characters. And I have several writing goals! I’m hoping to sell my fifth YA romance manuscript. I would love to finish a WIP in time for Pitch Wars (but if not this year, then next for sure). I’m hoping to branch out a bit beyond romance, which feels challenging and a bit scary for me, but also exciting. Any story I write will have some romantic elements for sure, but I look forward to pushing myself when it comes to structure and plotting. Happy New Year, everyone!

What are your goals for 2018? Tell us about them in the comments! xoxoxo

Cheyanne Young: Writing A Novel in 30 Days

Happy Holidays! We are super excited this month to welcome Cheyanne Young as our guest author. Cheyanne is the author of … well … a LOT of novels, including her most recent YA romance, THE BREAKUP SUPPORT GROUP. She joins us here to talk about her newest project, THE LAST WISH OF SASHA CADE, which releases from KCP Loft in the fall of 2018 and which involves a glitter-painted coffin; a long-lost brother; a statewide scavenger hunt; a newfound love; and a very, very, very BEST best friend.

What gave you the idea to write this novel?

THE LAST WISH OF SASHA CADE came to me in a very poetic and magical way. I remember it very clearly … I was pacing around the living room trying to think of a new book idea, and I said, “I want to write a book about two best friends who are very close and loyal and don’t have any drama between them.” To which my teenage daughter said, “Knowing you, Mom, you’ll probably kill one of them.” And BAM. An idea was born. (Told you it was magical.) Although Sasha dies in the book, I still kept my main idea of two best friends who were loyal to each other until the end.

What do you hope readers will take away from your story?

While there is a pretty heartwarming gooey mushy love story in SASHA, I think the overall story is about friendship. The real kind, the ride-or-die, BFF, ovaries before brovaries, best friend friendship that you’re only lucky enough to have once or twice in your life. That true love exists within these friendships and that even when someone is gone, they’ll always be with you.

What’s your writing process? Are you a plotter? Pantser? Plotser?

I am 100 percent a plotter. I plot to an obsessive, ridiculous level that probably no one should ever do. But I’m also the person whose clothes are arranged in ROYGBIV color order in my closet, so what can I say? I’m organized. My outlines are very detailed, down to each scene and chapter, and are usually around 8,000 words each. But, I find this is perfect for my writing process because I’ll spend a week or two outlining the novel, working out the plot kinks in my outline, and then everything is so put together I’m simply transcribing the story that’s in my mind.

This is how I famously write all of my novels in 30 days or less, and I love my process. But with that said, I always urge writers do try their own thing. I’ve tried pantsing, I’ve tried plotting, and everything in between. What works for some authors won’t work for others, so keep switching it up until you settle into your groove

Do you have any tips for beginning writers?

Read all the time. Read in every genre (at least once). Read writing craft books, but only take the advice that speaks to you — ignore the rest. Learn basic punctuation and grammar. Then write without expectations. Know it’s going to suck for a while before you get any good.

Also, while you should embrace social media and have fun with it, DON’T LET IT CONTROL YOUR LIFE. Book Twitter and Bookstagram are so much fun and yet so soul crushing. Everywhere you turn, there’s another book deal announcement, a NYT bestseller, an aspiring author signing with your dream agent. Don’t let it get you down. Do your thing, be kind always, and trust in your writing journey.

Tell us about your most memorable fangirl moment. Who did you meet?

OH MAN. I got to meet Sarah Dessen. I almost cried when she walked out. I blabbered like a total idiot when she signed my book, and I told her that she was the author who inspired me to start writing about 10 years ago, that my daughter was named after a character in her book, and that I recently signed my first big book deal. I told her I wanted to thank her, and she said, “I appreciate it so much, but remember that YOU are the one who wrote the book that got a deal. You deserve to the credit, not me.” ISN’T SHE AMAZING? Check out this shot of me being a total fangirl, and my daughter, whose sarcasm inspired my new book.

How many books have you written, and how many have seen the light of day?

Do you have a calculator?

  • 4 self-published books
  • 4 traditionally published books
  • 2 self-published books I unpublished and deleted (because they sucked)
  • 1 more traditional book coming next year (THE LAST WISH OF SASHA CADE)
  • 3 manuscripts I queried then tossed
  • 16 (SIXTEEN!) manuscripts that will never see the light of day
  • 1 manuscript my agent and I decided sucked too much to submit
  • 1 manuscript I just finished writing (and hope will be published!)
  • And countless half-written abandoned stories that will never be resurrected because sometimes you think you’re a good writer and you totally, definitely, aren’t.

Holy wow! That’s impressive. Guess that’s what happens when you figure out how to write a book in a month! Let’s get to the speed round, shall we? You should be really, really good at this!

  • Alpha males vs. sensitive types: Can I have a mixture of both, please?
  • Sweet vs. savory: Savory… no sweet… NO SAVORY!
  • Morning glory vs. night owl: I sleep about five hours a night, so both
  • Tropical island vs. mountain getaway: Give me the mountains!
  • High heels vs. flats: Flats!
  • Ziplining vs. snorkeling: Ziplining
  • Friday night vs. Sunday morning: Friday night

Well, the five hours a night helps explain a lot, too! Thanks so much for popping in, and all the best to you in 2018! Here’s where readers can find Cheyanne:

Website * Twitter * Instagram

Cheyanne Young is a native Texan with a fear of cold weather and a coffee addiction that probably needs an intervention. She loves books, sarcasm, and collecting nail polish. After nearly a decade of working in engineering, Cheyanne now writes books for young adults. She also runs a bookish Etsy shop. Cheyanne lives near the beach with her daughter and husband, one spoiled rotten puppy, and a cat that is most likely plotting to take over the world.

Boy Band Nostalgia

by Erin Fletcher

If there’s one thing that reminds me of my teenage years, it’s boy bands. I’m going to seriously age myself here, but back in the day I was in love with Hanson, Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, and 98º. I listened to their CDs on repeat. I bought magazines that came with posters, which I would hang on my closet door with scotch tape. I went to their concerts. I dreamed of someday running into them on the street, falling in love with one of them (the cutest one, obviously), and marrying him.

As the boy-band scene faded, I grew up and forgot about those crushes. That is, until a few months ago. I was scrolling through my Instagram feed when I saw an advertisement that 98º was doing a Christmas tour and coming to my town. Cue insta-nostalgia and every 98º song stuck in my head. Immediately, I texted my Nick-Lachey-obsessed friend. We decided to not only get tickets, but also meet and greet passes. Carpe diem, right?

1999 vs. 2017. They’ve aged well, haven’t they?!

On the day of the concert, we showed up with the rest of the 30-something-year-old crowd, but it was just like being a teenager again. There was the excitement as we drove by the tour buses on the way in. There was a brand new poster (which I may or may not tape on my closet door). Even after all these years, there were still the obsessed fans. One woman was wearing a sweater with snowmen on it, but on each snowman’s face she had attached a printed picture of one of the guys from 98º. Seriously.

Meeting Nick, Drew, Jeff, and Justin (yes, we’re on a first-name basis now, y’all) was a blast. I was a little nervous that they would disappoint, mostly because I put them on a pretty high pedestal decades ago, but they were even nicer and more down-to-earth than I’d hoped. The concert itself was fantastic, too. The guys put on a great show with their old classics, new Christmas songs, and even a silly rendition of “Let it Go” from Frozen. My teenage crush was 100 percent renewed, and I loved every second of it.

Basically, as corny as it is, I’m glad boy bands were around when I was a young adult. I’m out of touch with the current music scene, but I hope there’s a new crop of boy bands for teens today to listen to (and maybe meet on a reunion tour 10 or 20 years from now).

What boy bands did/do you love? If you could go to a boy band reunion tour, which one would you choose?

P.S. Love boy bands and YA books? (Of course you do!) Check out the Backstage Pass series from Entangled Teen! Each book focuses on a different member of a fictional boy band. Such fun reads!

Give the Gift of ….

The Sweethearts wish all of our readers a very happy holiday season! We hope you embrace the music, the decorations, the food, the fun, the time with family and friends, and of course … the gifts! For this month’s “Ask the Sweethearts,” we’re sharing our thoughts on the question: What holiday gifts do you recommend for someone who loves YA romance?

Darcy Woods: With so many swoontastic YA contemporary romance books on the shelf, it can be difficult to narrow your gift-giving list. But fret not! The Sweethearts are here to make holiday shopping for the bibliophile in your life a little less stress-inducing. And to that end, here’s a handful of my romantic faves (old and new) that have moved me to tears, made me cackle with laughter, and/or caused me to simply marvel at what it is love:
  • WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI by Sandhya Menon
  • MY BEST EVERYTHING by Sarah Tomp
  • WHY I LOATHE STERLING LANE by Ingrid Paulson
  • FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell
And if you reeeeally wanna knock your lit lovers socks off, you’ll add this vintage bouquet of book roses to the mix! Available at Amazon or wherever literary flowers are sold. 🙂
Robin Constantine: I love giving (and receiving!) little luxuries — especially items for pampering!  I love anything from LUSH — like this gift set — their bath bombs and bubble bars are decadent and leave you smelling great!  Another great pampering item is a diffuser with essential oils like lavender to calm or citrus to keep your mind sharp and energized.
Karole Cozzo: Here are mine!
  • Laura Mercier Lip Glace in Babydoll: Makes lips soft and silky for kissing — this is a color everyone can rock and (bonus!) it tastes like birthday cake and marshmallows.
  • LOVE candle lid magnet — This one won’t break the bank (think perfect stocking stuffer) and it makes candles every bit as pretty and romantic when they’re unlit as when they’re burning.
  • Kiss Me! bath bombs — Because it’s hard to think of a better fragrance for relaxing in the tub with your favorite book boyfriend.
  • Magic in the Air sugar scrub — Create a little magic with the scent of almonds and whipped vanilla and end up with skin that’s canoodling-friendly 🙂
  • Paperback book cover with bookmark — Protect the ones you love the most — available in a myriad of patterns for 10$ a pop.
Stephanie Scott: My gift recommendations are my two favorite contemporary young adult romances from 2017: WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI by Sandhya Menon and I BELIEVE IN A THING CALLED LOVE by Maurene Goo. You might want to pair these books with bookish candles from Novelly Yours, a reader-turned-candle-seller with scents like Currently Reading, Book Boyfriend, Romance Trope, and scents named after various book fandoms.

Erin Fletcher: I have three recs:

  • Amazon Gift Card: Picking out a book to give someone else is tough. What if they already read it? What if they’re not interested in it? Save the stress. Go for the gift card! My favorite is this one in the shape of a bookmark.
  • Bookish Candle: There are a ton of book-related candles out there, perfect for reading by candlelight! Check out this one from one of my fav contemporary YA romances, “Anna and the French Kiss.”
  • Book Boyfriend Mug: What’s better than reading a book? Reading a book while sipping coffee, tea, or hot chocolate out of an adorable mug, obvs. I love this one that says “You can never have too many book boyfriends.”

Linda Budzinski: Well, obviously, the perfect gift is a Sweetheart book, along with some swag from the Ripped Bodice, the only book store in the United States devoted exclusively to romance. I especially love their “Smart Girls Read Romance” t-shirt (I wear mine all the time!) and their “I am the heroine of my own story” tank top.

‘Tis better to give than to receive, so have fun giving these sweet and swoony gifts to your friends! And, of course, there’s nothing wrong with gifting something to yourself as well. Go ahead, you know you want to! And leave your gift recs in the comments! xoxoxo