You're a writer. You want to sell your work, preferably to a mass market. So the big question is: Do you need to have an agent?
The title of Richard Curtis' book "How To Be Your Own Literary Agent: An Insider's Guide to Getting Your Book Published" seems to suggest that the answer is, "No". But by page 11 he is unabashedly making the case for getting an agent, reasoning that (and he has the numbers to back it up), "…an editor will read the most dismal piece of junk faster and maybe even more attentively than he will a good book that comes in on the slush pile." Curtis himself is a literary agent, and has been for over forty years. He's also an author, with more than fifty books to his credit. So what gives?
His purpose in writing this book is really to help authors understand the publishing business and how it works, so as to have a relationship with their agent and their publisher that will be a well-informed one. That can only be a good thing.
With chapters like "Negotiation", "The Basic Deal", "Termination and Reversion of Rights", "Royalty Statements", "Movie and Television Deals" and many more, he walks the reader through the whole process, from seeking an agent to well past publication, and he does it with many contract samples and other excellent illustrative examples. His writing is always accessible, often self-deprecating, and frequently entertaining, so the chore of slogging through this vast legal 'briar patch' isn't as daunting as you would think.
Curtis also recognizes the paradox we authors face, namely that, "You can't get published without an agent, and you can't get an agent until you've been published." He even offers a possible solution, but for that you'll have to get the book -- there's no room to get into it here!
This is not a book you can read and retain. There's just too much information. You'll need to get a copy and keep it as a resource. Parts of it you'll want to re-read with each new work you try to sell. If you can't find it at Chapters or other bookstores, you can order it (new or used) from Amazon.com, and it's not very expensive. The direct link can be found on Curtis' website at http://www.curtisagency.com/about.html .
Personally, I consider this book a 'must-have' for the author who is serious about being published for large markets. It teaches us about the 'dark side' of our beloved work: that it is a business! We don't have to embrace that, but we do have to know enough to get over our squeamishness. This is a book with the right mix of medicine and mirth to make that pill a little less bitter to swallow.
"How To Be Your Own Literary Agent: An Insider's Guide to Getting Your Book Published" by Richard Curtis. Published by Houghton Mifflin 2003