Chances are that, if you’ve never been in a commission job, you think of paying commission as a rip off. You don’t get that the commission is the only pay they get for dealing with you. That the service profession is investing their time, risking future income, on the possibility that working with you will pay off. It’s in their best interest to represent you fully because if you’re not happy, you’ll go elsewhere. A commission earner doesn’t get paid if there is no sale – so they work their butt off to make it happen.
I hear the most awful stories of clients taking up hours and hours of agent time and resources, only to casually call a number on a sign and make that sale happen outside the scope of the person representing them. The client thinks they got a better deal, but don’t realize they’re just paying someone else’s commission instead of the person who earned it. I’ve seen this sort of thing happen in retail and insurance, but my primary source of my frustration here is in real estate.
I hear so many horror stories about an agent investing their time with a client, even finding the property that the client wants, only for that client to then go organize the deal through someone else so a friend gets the commission. Or they start the deal, back out, then go back for it with someone else. Is it because they were unhappy with the service from their agent? No, it’s usually because they think they’re getting a better deal. My faith in humanity makes me think that the clients just must not realize the impact, or down-right dickishness, of their behavior – but occasionally it happens on purpose and then my rage is unquenchable. I don’t know how my husband deals with it.
I’ve seen agents get treated like this by friends and family who just don’t understand the process. Law suits are always an option, but frequently not worth the time or bad blood they create. I could never work in a job like that, where you waste your time and effort over and over again only to be screwed by the people you were trying to help and, in some cases, had developed a real rapport.
Maybe this is why I see a literary agent as an integral part of the publishing process. Yes, you pay them, but in return they’re representing your interests. They’re not successful if you’re not successful. There has to be trust that the agent is going to put the work in, but the agent is also trusting that their client is going to follow through with their promises/potential. It goes both ways. You wouldn’t hire an agent you didn’t think could do the job; they won’t take on a client that may be a waste of time.
In a world where self-publishing opportunities are overwhelmingly abundant, having an agent is proof of a quality product. Yes, many of the self-published books are less expensive, but my experience with them has been spotty at best. I’m much more likely to buy an unknown author from a well known publishing house because that is a guarantee of quality control. There may be options to circumvent paying an agent, but I would rather have the peace of mind in knowing I had an industry professional on my side. The commissions exist because people are willing to pay for the service.
Long story short (too late): I still want an agent.
If you are in a position where commission is involved, understand you’re paying for a service. Don’t be a dick.