Since I know there’s some overlap between readers here and readers of Justine Larbalestier’s blog, a quick note on her behalf: Her site is currently down because of a dispute she’s having with her ISP. You don’t need to send her e-mail about the site being down; she knows. Also, she’s open to suggestion for a good (new) (different) ISP, so if you have suggestions, by all means let her know. In the comments here would be helpful. Because her site is down, you see.
What you see before you, in no particular order, are the UK contract for Zoe’s Tale, the German contract for Zoe, the Portuguese contract for Old Man’s War, and the Japanese contract for The Last Colony. Combined, these contracts have a value worth slightly more than what I made working at a newspaper the first year I left college. And it’s free money, since I already did the work (i.e., writing the novels for US release).
But more importantly, it’s free money I could not obtain myself, because what I know about foreign markets could barely fill a thimble, and my interest in learning about said markets comprises an even smaller volume. My fiction agent, however, is apparently endlessly fascinated by foreign markets and is equally adept at convincing people in those markets to buy my books, since I’ve sold into fifteen of them so far, many of them more than once. He retrieves free money for me. He takes a bit off the top, to be sure. But considering I would not be getting this free money otherwise, that seems entirely fair.
I mention these contracts not necessarily to brag, but to offer up an object example for the writers I know who have wondered why they need an agent (if they’re new) or (if they’re already established) what an agent could do for them that they could not do for themselves. Well, they do this, for example. Admittedly, it’s theoretically possible that I myself could have chased down a lead for a publisher in, say, Estonia. It’s also theoretically possible that I could pilot myself across the United States in a Piper Cub aircraft, but all things considered it’s easier, cheaper and faster to let someone else fly. Equally, it’s easier, smarter and more convenient to let someone else chase down all these markets, leaving me time to, well, write. Which is what I’m good at.
Getting an agent is, of course, a real pain in the ass, so I entirely sympathize with the desire to skip that step if at all possible. However, I do suggest sticking to the process. The payoff won’t necessarily be immediate. On the other hand, when one day you’re looking at a contract that means within a year someone in Brazil could be enjoying your work in their own language — and you’re getting paid for it — you’ll giggle madly with glee and realize it was worth the trouble.