Do textbook authors need an agent?

Recently, Donald M. Murray, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for the Boston Globe, successful textbook author and a client, answered the question of whether or not college textbook authors need an agent.

Donald M. Murray wrote:

Here are my reasons for having an agent:

1. I think an agent is essential for a textbook author. I am both a textbook author and a trade book author and I have suffered when I have not had an agent for my textbooks. Most academics do not like the idea that the textbook business is a business and not a pure intellectual, socially progressive affair. But it is a business, it is a business, it is a business. The editor knows this and if the author doesn't, the author is at an extreme disadvantage.

2. I do not like to sell myself. An agent can sell me by professionally pointing out my credentials, strengths, and marketing value while I modestly scuff my feet in the dirt and say, "aw, shucks."

3. I do not want to keep up with the constant changes in the publishing business. Publishing is a business, a constantly evolving and highly technical business. I do not want to spend my time on the business of writing, but on writing.

4. My agent sees market possibilities where I do not. My energy goes into exploring my subject matter and developing my writing skills. I like the result of good marketing, but I am uncomfortable looking at my work in that way. With an agent, I am free to do the best job on my books without worrying about marketing.

5. Publishers have a very limited view of the marketing possibilities for each book; my agent has a very broad view. He earns his money by selling my books in many markets.

6. The agent deals with the financial matters that can contaminate my relationship with the editor. With an agent, I can evaluate editorial decisions with an unbiased eye.

7. I would not want an editor who did not want me to have an agent. In almost more than four decades of publishing I have never had an editor who objected to my having an agent. Just the opposite. The editor can deal with a professional on the financial and marketing aspects of the book, and deal with the writer on the editorial matters.

8. The contract terms are better. I make more than I pay my agent, when I have an agented contract.

9. My agent not only has my present book proposal under consideration, but she is also concerned with my career. Agents are not for one book; they are for many books--and articles, subsidiary rights, foreign and other sales, Internet and speaking possibilities, TV and film opportunities. Book publishing is only one part of a radically changing world and my agent sees this book in the context of my career, future books, and new technologies.

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