One of the main reasons why having a good literary agent is so important is that the agent works on behalf of the author. And the agent's biggest concern is making sure the author gets a fair deal in all situations. That's as simple as it gets when it comes to this part of the agent/author relationship. And I want to keep this post simple to get my point across. There are other aspects that include editing, shopping books, and helping authors to get published. But the most important duty an agent will ever perform is making sure the author gets the best deal.
This goes for the real estate industry as well. And when it comes to the bottom line, no one can ever dispute the importance of having a professional advocate on your side...someone you can trust completely...who always has your best interests in mind.
But not all authors have the opportunity to work directly with literary agents. Some, like me, deal with publishers alone. I've mentioned before that I have a very good friend who is an agent. But he's not my agent and the best I can to is ask for basic advice every now and then. And even then I feel as though I'm infringing on our friendship. And I've never spent much time querying agents because I'm not fond of the query process. I'd love an agent. It would make life so much easier sometimes. But the query process always seemed futile at best to me.
However, when you are working with publishers and you don't have an agent, I think it's extremely important to always keep in mind that it's a business situation and you have to keep it professional at all times. Don't get me wrong. I love each and every single publisher I work with now, and almost every publisher I've worked with in the past. There's only one small publisher with whom I've had a problem, a print publisher, which goes back several years now. And from what I see and hear, I'm not the only author who had a problem with this particular publisher. But like I said, that goes back a few years, and I was objective enough to break away from that publisher without looking back, and, most important, without feeling a single ounce of remorse.
My point in this post isn't about looking back or having regrets. I'm writing this post hoping that authors will read it so they don't wind up with any regrets. If you don't have an agent to represent your best interests, you have to think and work like a business person at all times. I love all the publishers I work with now. I think if I didn't work with them we could be very good friends on a personal level. I know two in particular would be great friends...if they weren't my publishers.
But I always keep that invisible line drawn at all times, because the only one who is looking out for my best interest is me. I've seen authors cross the invisible line and become too friendly with publishers. I've seen publishers cross the invisible line and become too friendly with authors (it goes both ways). And it never works out in the end. When you become emotionally attached to anyone in a business situation where money is involved, you can't view a situation with an objective eye.
In a perfect world, all authors would have agents and they wouldn't have to worry about any of this. But the world's not perfect, and these days a lot of well known authors are working without agents...for many reasons I won't get into in this post. The most important thing to remember is that you can love your publisher, you can get along well with your publisher, but I wouldn't recommend making your publisher your new BFF. Because one day down the road, and you never know when that day might come, you're going to have to make a professional career decision as an author that works in your best interest, and the publisher is going to have to make a decision that works in their best interest. And it's so much easier...and friendlier...to keep it professional.