I’ve now sold two books, one with an agent and one without. Before I had ever sold one, I read many opinions on which was “better.” I’ve decided that it really depends on YOU.
Do you want to be in control at all times? An agent may not be for you. You aren’t the one out there deciding where to send the book or even when to send it. My agent had to wait for a few months until she felt she had the time to devote to my book. I didn’t know what the publishers were saying unless I asked. Whereas without the agent, I was the one submitting, and I got the responses of yes or no.
Are you really busy? An agent might be the way to go. Like most of us, I have a full time job. Researching markets, approaching publishers…ain’t nobody got time for that. Or maybe, you do.
Do you have a relative who is a lawyer? While I am happy with the way my first book went, I didn’t know anything about negotiating. I sold all my rights, and didn’t get an advance. To date I have yet to make any money on this book. This wasn’t my goal, really, but you have to think of your writing as a business. Shouldn’t you have some compensation? (Advances are tricky though. You don’t want t a big one, because if the book doesn’t sell well, you have to PAY IT BACK). If you have someone who knows about book contracts, that is a plus in your corner.
Do you care if your book gets into the big publishers? Only agents can send mss to most of these. And even if you are submitting to the open ones, your ms will go into a slush pile. Whereas with an agent, they have a working relationship and experience with those publishers. Plus, it is someone who thinks your book is worth publishing–not just you.
Are you a helicopter writer? This was a hard lesson to learn, but agents are busy. They don’t have time to check in with you every week (if you have one of these, be grateful). You absolutely can’t nag agents. If you can let it go and work on something else, you will do better than fretting over the lack of emails.
I’d go with an agent again. I am not a fan of not being in control of my destiny, but my agent worked really hard to sell my book. I’d probably be still out there in the query trenches or have given up. When I told her I had sold all of my rights for the last one, she sighed. “Well, don’t do that again,” she said. Granted, I am not sure if Singapore is ever going to knock on my door wanting translation rights for Geography, and until Meryl Streep reads the book she won’t be making a movie of it (Hi, Meryl! Read the book!), so chances are selling all the rights doesn’t really matter. My first publisher has been really responsive, and that’s what matters. Like dating (or at least what I remember of those Dark Ages), you have to decide what you want to commit to. It’s really up to what your goals are.