I love success stories such as Amanda Hocking's, who took the Kindle bestseller list by storm--part serendipity, part timing, but most of it built on hard, persistent work. But now at 26 she is at a huge crossroads of entering the traditional realm or sticking with the independent vision that brought her success. I wrote this on her blog comments as the advice of one guy who has been there and watching this writing business closely (and I see it as a "writing business," not a "publishing business," because publishing has no defined meaning anymore):
This is a beautiful, beautiful story and one I want my daughter to read. Just this morning I was talking to her about how other fifth graders might need a "How to Survive Fifth Grade" ebook and she said, "No, it should be 'How I Survive Fifth Grade." A brilliant distinction.
Amanda, I've followed you career a good bit since even BEFORE you were cool. And be careful when you open yourself to advice because you will get a lot of it. Well meaning, maybe, but from personal perspectives and agendas.
Here's my perspective based on six books in NY and now a handful of indie books (though I am nowhere in the same league as you):
Last year, it may have made sense to do what Boyd Morrison did and sign with an agent, because he had a dream of getting published in NY and seeing his books in stores. Sounds like you had that dream. Is it still your dream? Your primary dream? Or is it to connect with readers, which you can so easily do now?
Would you really want an agent now after they wouldn't take you before? It's sort of like the girl who takes off her glasses and gets the makeover and THEN the star quarterback notices her and asks her out. That's what I call a lazy agent. I've worked with five or six agents on different things, and they can be useful if you trust them. But make no mistake, they will always do what's best for them instead of what's best for you. That's just human nature. And they have other clients, friends in the industry to please, and ego and standing to consider--things that likely will be more important than you.
From a practical perspective, the minute you sign with an agent, here's what you get: someone who is likely to get you an advance and MAYBE a movie deal if you are lucky (though most deals are options that will pay you about what you look to be earning this year and you'll probably lose the whole series).
You will probably get a really good advance and be a full-time writer--for the near future. I know several people who got snazzy deals, but by Book Two the publisher dumped them and their careers were dead. One nice check, a couple of years to write, then back to Walmart or Burger King or house painting, and worst of all they'd lost rights to their own books. They didn't even own the one thing that was truly theirs (though it used to be you could eventually get your rights back). Your career is living and thriving now.
With a publisher: You will get 25 percent royalty, with luck, on your ebook sales, instead of the 70 percent you now get. It's possible and maybe even likely that your paper sales will far more than offset that, but only in the short term. Modern publishing clauses basically keep the rights forever, so you will be losing MORE per sale than you are getting, possibly as long as the book is in copyright, past your own life and into the life of your heirs. Hard to think about when you are 26, but you are in a good position to think long term.
If you sell to a publisher, it's likely you will have to take your books down from Amazon and then have a year or 18 months of waiting for a book to come out from a publisher. That's lost sales and lost readers--forever.
What exactly is a publisher going to bring you at this point that you can't already get? Only one thing--your books in stores. And I believe bookstores are going to be dying as fast as video stores have done in the last five years. It's like jumping off your own sound boat that you built yourself and climbing aboard a sinking boat that has someone else at the helm and they tell you to sit in the back and shut up.
Amanda, your industry is Amanda, not the publishing industry. Are you willing to give up control and vision of My Blood Approves to people who will never care as much as you do, no matter how hard they try and how much they say they do?
This is all heavy stuff, and things I've been mulling all year. A publisher may promote you if you are already a bestseller or they invest a lot of money. An agent may get you some foreign, audio, and maybe even a film deal, but people are getting that kind of interest without having agents. (At that point you'd probably need an agent or lawyer to handle a specific negotiation, but if they want to control everything, then you need to ask them all these hard questions. Many agents are in total denial about what's happening--clearly the ebook era is growing rapidly and clearly publishers are no longer necessary for success, as you and others have proven.)
I'm not one of these people gleeful about the "demise of the publishing industry." I think it will survive and find its own way, but with painful changes like any other business. You're already finding your way, and you did it your way, believing in yourself. How much do you want to turn that over to another person now? You can find editing, graphic design, formatting, and other services independently, people without any agenda except making your work the best.
I'd suggest you talk to some people in your genre who have agents, and talk to several agents. Don't forget (though many agents have), the agent works for you and you are basically hiring an employee, though it's also a bit like a marriage and hopefully a friendship, too.
Good luck, and most of all, enjoy it!