Once upon a time Literary Agents used to be just that, Literary Agents. They would scout for new talent then coax the best manuscript they could from their new writer before setting off to pitch it to publishers.
Things have changed now. Today’s agents are more interested in persuading their existing big names to produce another novel or enter into a marketing deal with a toy manufacturer than finding new talent. And who can blame them? They are in business to make a profit and like any business they will maximise their resources. On a time/dollar equation, it is more profitable to negotiate a better deal with a publisher for their million seller author than to try to spot a potential good novel in a massive slush pile.
Very few agents are taking on new writers these days, preferring instead to concentrate on their existing stable. Agents have become mere contract negotiators. Once you have a publishing offer agents will fall over themselves to sign you up and negotiate on your behalf but they’re no longer much help in securing the publishing deal in the first place. Publishers very rarely take on new writers, especially unknown authors without an agent.
So as a new writer should you spend your time and resources trailing through the lists of agents, sending your manuscript out and waiting the obligatory three months before moving on to the next one? At the end of the day, it’s your novel and only you can make that decision but you might find your time is better spent querying some of the new ‘Indie’ publishing houses who seem to be carving a great swathe through the traditional cartel arrangements of publisher/agent. But take care; although the vast majority of these Indie publishers are doing a fantastic job, there are a few rogues out there. Check out our article on ‘How To Spot A Scammer’