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Partnering with an Agent by Steena Holmes

Exactly one year ago this month, I made a decision that has literally changed my world.

For years I had sought to be published via the traditional route. I wrote a book, had it edited and then spent two years trying to find an agent who loved my story as much I did.
I don’t need to tell anyone here how hard the decision to stop querying was. I think the majority of us have been in that same spot. Are we doing the right thing? Will this hurt our writing careers? Does it matter anymore to have an agent and to be traditionally published? Will I be successful as a self published author? What does success look like in today’s publishing world?
I found that dipping my toes into the ‘indie’ life wasn’t enough for me. Before I published Finding Emma, I had self pubbed a few other novellas, some under a pen name and some under my own. I was trying to find ‘my voice’. Was I a romance writer? Erotic romance? I wasn’t seeing much success. Sure, I was making enough monthly to be paid by Amazon, but it took me almost 6 months to reach that point.
By the time I released Finding Emma, I had made the decision that this was the path for me that I wanted to take. Finding an agent was off my list, completely. I had a new goal, to find my voice and to write full time within 1-2 years. I quit my job, worked from home part time and knew in my heart that this story – a women’s fiction – was my voice and was the book that could make my dreams come true. If I worked hard enough.
Marketing. Promotion. Getting the word out about my story. That took up my time and energy. And it worked. In my first month alone, I made over $10,000. I remember crying as I watched the numbers on my KDP dashboard rise. I couldn’t believe it. I had done it. I spent time marketing this book. I used Goodreads, did review tours, and built my platform. Reviews started to pour in – both good and bad. My rankings increased and within months I was hitting some great lists.
Then the amazing thing happened. Amazon picked up my book and featured it in one of their programs. I went from a steady ranking of around #3000 to #13 within days. Then the offers started to come in. From publishers, editors and agents.
When the first offer came in I almost hit delete. I had already decided I didn’t want an agent. After hundreds of rejections on this story, why would I want to sign when I’d already proven to myself that I was successful?
Why would an indie author want to work with an agent?
This is a question I know a lot of authors have. What benefit is there to having an agent when I want to continue to self publish? Eventually I signed on with Pamela from The Knight Agency. Even though they had originally rejected my manuscript, I had a relationship with Deidre Knight after meeting her personally and was able to approach her – originally not with the request for an agent – but with questions. She introduced me to Pamela and we instantly connected.
Here are the answers I discovered – for myself. Remember, my journey is different than yours (or maybe it’s quite similar). Every author needs to decide what their plan is, where they see themselves one, five and ten years down the road.
1.  I have a partner.
I have partnered with my agent and her agency. I’m no longer alone on my journey. Just like I partner with my editor(s), cover designer, formatter and publicist. We are partners with the same goal – to make the best product and showcase it in the best way so that when readers stumble upon my book, they immediately buy, read and recommend it to others.
2.  Foreign and movie rights.
This is out of my league. Can Indies learn how to sell their own foreign and movie rights? Sure they can. They could hire a contract lawyer too. But do we have time? Is this an area that I want to familiarize myself with or would I rather have a professional take care of this for me while I continue to do what I do best – write?
3.  Goal setting.
In the past year I’ve realized just how important this is. I now have someone with experience help me look at both my short term and long term goals and decide what the best course of action was for me. It has taken such a huge weight off of my shoulders.
4.  Focus.
At this moment I have thirteen published works available. Everything from a thriller to erotic romance and under multiple names. I was stretching myself thin trying to find my voice and what genre I should focus on. I can’t tell you the number of conversations I’ve had with Pamela about what I should be writing next, what I feel like I have to write and what I want to write. Time and time again she’s said the same thing to me. It just took me some time to listen to her. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust her. It was just a matter of changing my mindset.
5.  Expanding my readership.
We all realize how important this is, but the majority of us have no idea how. We look at other authors who have accomplish this and wonder how. Pamela has worked with me to formulate a plan on exactly that – how to expand my readers. She’s my partner, after all. What benefits me benefits her.
6.  Works with publishers on my behalf.
Really – this should be the first thing on this list. When I had multiple offers on the table, Pamela listened to me, heard my concerns, recognized where I wanted to go with my career and was able to help me forge a path with the right publisher at the right time.
7.  Negotiations and Insight
Finding out that your book is going to auction – it was exciting and stressful at the same time. This was where having Pamela on my side counted – she held my hand through the process, answered the multitude of questions I had, was able to steer me in the right directions and had me focus on what my needs were compared to what was being offered. With my best interests in hand when she negotiated a contract that would work in my favor. During the auction period, when there were multiple offers on the table, Pamela had the knowledge, the experience and the connections to ensure that I benefitted first and foremost. She fought on my behalf, knew what to accept and what not to accept. Again – this became a strength in our partnership.
With her experience, Pamela knew how to answer questions I didn’t even know I had.
Does an indie author need an agent?
It depends on what your goals are.
Do you want that traditional book deal? Are you looking for a foreign rights deal? Do you want to expand your readership and see your book on store shelves? Do you want to partner with someone who understands the industry and can help you navigate the minefields?
Not all agents are equal. Not everyone will work in your best interest. Just because you get an offer doesn’t mean you have to accept it.
You need to decide for yourself what your goals are for your writing career and how best you can accomplish them. For myself, I have chosen to partner with someone who can help me to become successful. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to continue to self publish. Indie publishing will always be my ‘first love’. But it does mean that I am going to focus on making smarter decisions that will benefit me and my goal. Partnering with an agent does that.

Steena Holmes is the bestselling author of Finding Emma, a women's fiction novel that won the 2012 National Indie Excellence Award for Best Fiction. She currently has 11 indie titles published and has sold over 100,000 copies within 2012 alone. She is a multi-genre writer and writes romance under the pen name of Wynne Holmes.
Steena's passion for indie publishing helped her to create The Authors Red Room (www.theauthorsredroom.com)–a site designed to help indie authors find affordable editing, formatting and cover designs.  She is also represented by Pamela Harty and recently landed a book deal with Amazon Publishing for Emma's Secret due to her recent indie success. 


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This Post Has 21 Comments
  1. Can you tell me if Indie authors can be nominated for those big writer’s awards (things like the Goncourt and else)? Or is it just for the ones published through a renown publisher? And, is there international contests or awards for e-books?

    If yes, what is the process?

    Thank you for your blog. Interesting! 🙂

  2. Thanks for your frankness, Steena.

    I’ve had some slight contact with TKA (haven’t yet queried, though) and recently attended a small conference where Deidre Knight outlined her vision of TKA’s future. I’d describe it as a hybrid agency, just as many writers are now hybrid indie-trad.

    I was impressed with her because she successfully combines her small-business background with literary ability and knowledge.

    She’s a good businesswoman. I’ve worked in an agency and know my limitations. I’m not that good a businesswoman and my time on Earth is limited. I’d rather write.

    IMO, you’re wise.

    1. Knowing limitations is crucial! I know for me, I started this journey knowing nothing but willing to learn it all, then thinking I could do it all and now realizing I don’t have the time or energy to do everything I want to do 🙂

  3. I have a similar story, Steena. After not selling my series with my agent, she retired in frustration (wasn’t making a living anymore with the market the way it was!) so i decided to self publish. The Lei Crime Series success attracted my next agent, who is shopping my YA novel–YA being an area where we both still think a trad pub deal gets to more young readers.
    I think “hybrid” may be the wave of the future.
    Toby Neal http://www.tobyneal.net/

    1. Congrat’s Shelli! Jennifer is lovely, isn’t she! I love ALLi – I’ll be heading to London Book Fair in April thanks to them to speak at the Digital Minds Conference 🙂

  4. I believe having an agent can expand your business/publishing potential. However, to gain sales in foreign rights and movie etc you can utilize other professionals in the business besides Literary Agents. You can work with IBPA who has seminars on those resources or even read John Kremer’s book on this biz. Yes, partnering with a good agent that wants to partner with an Indie is the easiest method. But there are other great ways to reach your goals. Thanks for sharing this awesome post!

    I’d like to know – how would an indie go about enticing an agent to work with you if your numbers aren’t in the multi thousands?

    1. Good points! ALLi also has great resources with Foreign Rights etc … there are so many resources available today for indies! I love that we have so many options available to us now.

      As for how to entice … Pamela and I are up next as a chat – she can answer this best from an agent perspective. From an author view – I would show how my platform outmeasures my low sales and provide a strategy on how I plan to increase my sales, readers, platform … I’m sure others would have better insights too.

    2. Thanks! I know several Independents that have been able to pursue these subsidiary sales in unconventional methods but for most, having an agent that knows the biz, has great contacts and believes in your enterprise (yes we Indies have an enterprise) is golden.

  5. Congratulations on the success of your books! I can DEFINITELY see why an indie author would potentially need an agent. Should a publisher suddenly (miraculously!) approach me, I’d have no idea what to do!

    1. Rachel, no doubt you’d do what I did … read your email over and over and over to see if your eyes were playing tricks and then look at the email address to make sure it wasn’t a prank 😉

  6. Thanks for sharing your story, Steena. It gives me hope that going indie is possible and not to be afraid of partnering with an agent, even if you remain independent. It’s so brave of you to put yourself out there like you have and then become successful at it. 🙂

    Questions: How long was it between when you first started self-publishing before you partnered with Pamela? 2 years? 3 years? Most of your answers for partnering with an agent sounds like after the fact perks, but were these things you considered BEFORE you decided to do the partnership?

    1. Thanks Alina. I love being able to still be an indie author – even while partnering with my agent, I’m still able to self pub on my own – so it’s the best of both worlds 🙂

      I self pubbed my first book in June of 2011. I released Finding Emma officially in April and then started my talks with Pamela in August. So in total before Pamela entered the picture, I had been self pubbing for 14 months with 10 titles available.

      Did I consider these before I partnered with her? Yes. But I was also of the mindset that I would be doing this as an indie. So IF I were to explore any foreign rights, I would either need to do it myself or find a FR agent. Contract negotiations – I never considered this to be something I’d have to think about, but I knew that if I had to – finding someone with experience was the only route for me. Goal setting and focus – this is something I have struggled with and relied on my close network of writing friends to help me with – but we were all in the same boat. It’s nice to have someone who can see the distance while I focus on the immediate … it clears things up for me a bit.

      Also, before the offers started to pop up in my inbox, I didn’t know what I didn’t know – make sense? In my initial talks with Pamela (when I wasn’t considering signing, I just needed answers and direction and she was kind enough to be there and offer support thanks to my connection with Deidre) this became really evident to me – I didn’t know what to ask, what to consider, what I really wanted. I knew I wanted to continue to self pub, I knew I wanted to continue to make money and find new readers – but the logistics is where Pamela showed me how the partnership would be beneficial.

      I have no regrets – even now, 6 months after the fact. Amazon is relaunching Finding Emma on Tuesday, my new novel will be out in June and I’m working on my next one. I know where I’m going and how I’m getting there and I’m excited about my indie projects I have planned as well 😉

      Hope that helps!

  7. Good question JP. The Knight Agency has many agents and Pamela had never seen my story when I originally pitched it. In my original conversations with her, I wasn’t looking for an agent, I just had questions and through my connection with Deidre, she was able to answer those questions for me. It was through those talks that I realized that Pamela was someone I was willing to partner with in this path. I was at the point where I realized it wasn’t about this ‘one’ story anymore, but about my career and what steps I wanted to take on this career. I wasn’t looking at the agency that had originally seen my manuscript and declined, I was looking at an agent with experience and the knowledge to help me continue on my path.

  8. I appreciate the fact that you shared your story, but it left me with several questions. Why would you choose to partner with someone who had already rejected your story? They were only interested after they saw the success you had on your own. I am not trying to be cruel, only trying to understand. They had to have said something that pushed you over the edge and made it sound acceptable to you. I look at the partnership and see it similar to a marriage. I am not sure I would want to marry a guy who had absolutely no interest in me until he saw how many other people found me interesting.

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