Most writers today see an agent as an absolute necessity for getting their manuscripts considered by literary fiction houses. To what extent is that really the case?
There are always exceptions, especially today when a self-published book or blog can attract a publisher's attention and lead to an offer. But the rule is pretty much that you have to have an agent. Publishers have vacated the responsibility for discovering new talent and left it to the agents. Most trade book publishers will not consider a solicitation that does not come from an agent.
Nonfiction publishers have been on an "author platform" kick for years, seeking authors who can sell their own books. Have fiction publishers gotten the platform bug? Is it easier to get a novel published if you have a popular blog, newspaper column or MySpace page?
If a publisher has to ask "Who's that?" when an agent pitches a novelist, the game is half lost before it begins. If an author doesn't have a platform, he/she or the agent must create one that will at least give the illusion of familiarity when an editor reviews the author's work. At the very least an author must have a website.
Do agents typically lend value to manuscripts by creating a marketing plan and an irrefutable proposal, or does it come down to knowing what particular publishers are looking for and maintaining personal relationships with the editors and executives?
Agents have an advantage in that they can get in the door by relying on their relationships with editors. But once they're there, it still comes down to a good book. Marketing plans don't usually help sell the book, but, once sold, a good marketing plan will be welcome by the publisher.
What has been the greatest change to the title acquisition process of publishers you've seen in your 30+ years as a literary agent? Was it a turn for the better or the worse?
It used to be that if an editor liked a flawed manuscript, he or she would say, "I'll buy it and we'll fix it." Now editors say, "Fix it and we'll see." That's bad enough, but usually when the author fixes it, the editor rejects it anyway.
Richard Curtis Associates, Inc, is a leading literary agency representing over 100 authors.