Legacy intermediaries (e.g., middlemen such as traditional publishers, record labels, agents, etc.) are incentivized to make you think that you need them. This belief gives their businesses the best chance of continued survival and better advantages.
The key is: whether you actually need them or not is entirely another matter; they only need you to believe that you do, so that you’ll keep doing business with them.
Shreyas Doshi writes, “High Agency is about finding a way to get what you want, without waiting for conditions to be perfect or otherwise blaming the circumstances.”
Intermediaries are incentivized when their suppliers and customers believe in stories that encourage low agency and behave accordingly. For example, when authors believe that traditional publishing is the only way to get what they want, they will wait for permission, bend over backwards, and even sign disadvantageous terms to work with them.
Today, it’s very likely that you don’t actually need an intermediary to do something. For example, you used to need an agent, and a traditional publisher, to publish a book. Now, you can do it yourself, and it’s extremely convenient; a quick Google search for “print your own book,” or “print on demand,” turns up many technology solutions. (There are even more options for people who are willing to redefine what book means, like ebooks, audiobooks, etc.)
Yet the notion of the brand association and perceived legitimacy that traditional publishers offer still comes to mind. None of this has to do with the work itself, only how you believe people will receive your work. It helps to have the support of an intermediary, if you can pay the cost to actually make it happen.
One of the most constructive elements of choosing to do something yourself—e.g., publish a book without a traditional publisher, selling to a client without an intermediary, etc.—is that you’re practicing your way into a new story.
You know that there are options out there; now you’re exploring them. You’re proving to yourself—and so many others—that it is possible for you to do something without an intermediary, because it is.
Intermediaries can make great partners. However, the fewer of us believe in intermediaries as a necessity—and gatekeepers of all other sorts, like bestseller lists, etc.—the fewer stories we’ll have to lean on as excuses and rob us of our agency.
Don’t wait around for an intermediary’s permission to get started on your work. If you must seek permission and encouragement, look for it somewhere else.