Tuesday, September 02, 2008

why you should never submit unagented to publishing companies

I know I've talked about it before, but I have to repeat it now. I still see people--some of them friends--stumbling through the whole process of book submissions and somehow arriving at the conclusion that, in their case, at least, unagented submissions are a way to go.

They are wrong. All authors seeking publication should work with agents on their projects. Sure, there are exceptions to this rule. But even the exceptions are ill-advised.

I am not conceeding anything on this. Sorry. I'm not posting this to be mean, or contrarian, or pig-headed; I'm posting this because I'm looking out for your interests.

Here are the reasons you want an agent.
-Agents target the editors who are best suited to your work, and thereby more likely to a) not reject it, and b) have the mechanisms in place to publish it well. This is a more complicated task than it sounds like. You may notice if you surf publisher websites that editors often have no profile at all, not even a name mention, never mind a list of what we like and/or acquire. Unlike agents, editors do not have much incentive to disclose these details to the world, since it would get us burdened with slush and spam. But the agent has special magical information and will do all that grub work for you.

-Frankly, editors rely on agents to cull out what's good. We editors simply don't have time to read everything in the world AND do our jobs. (Sorry.) If you have no agent--particularly if you are a fiction author--editors/publishers are going to assume you *couldn't get* an agent. This instantly knocks you to the sludgy, fetid, barnacle-encrusted bottom of the submissions barrel. Does your book deserve to be there?

-Yes, it's true, editors and agents build relationships, and yes, we like to populate our publication lists with projects that our friends or respected acquaintances represent. We only get to publish a limited number of titles each year, so it's nice to make them count in as many respects as possible.

-Editors are wary of the post-acquisition editorial process with an unagented author. Agents exist as a go-between, and as we all know, edits can get taken very, very personally. We really like agents to provide a cool head and some middle ground so we don't tear each other's eyes out as we try to make your book better. Also, unagented authors don't have as much guidance on publishing protocol, and might do something innocent but very, very, very stupid, like, for example, helping a college buddy out by "giving" them an excerpt of your book to print in their church newsletter, not realizing that Time will then have to rescind its offer to serialize part of your book because it has been previously published! Yeah, editors would like to avoid situations like that.

-If you submit to houses now, you will negatively impact your chances of ever finding an agent, ever. If you manage to get an agent somehow later, your poor agent will find his or her work daunting. As discussed above, you'll probably get categorically rejected without an agent, anyway, so now your new agent has to somehow combat the rejections you've already racked up. Most houses do not want to see the same proposal twice, even if it has an agent the second time. So those submissions amount to bridges burned.

-Without an agent, even if you manage to somehow secure a book deal, you will get nickled and dimed to death by your own beloved publishing company. It's not that we're bad people at publishing houses--it's just that we make so little money off books anyway that we go into a contract asking for what we construe as *our* best-case scenario. If you don't know the specific questions to ask and breaks to haggle for, you'll seriously come out of it with nothing. Oh, also, you don't have nearly as much negotiating leverage without an agent behind you, so you can't ask for as much.


So a short FAQ, for those of you who think you might be exceptions.

Q. I don't want to waste 15% of my earnings on an agent, who won't do anything but sit on their thumbs after book publication, anyway. Besides, I bought myself a book on contracts and I'm pretty sure I understand all these clauses and how to protect myself. I'm an exception, right?

A. WRONG. UGH. This is the WORST kind of wrong. Because if you have an agent representing you, I PROMISE you SOLEMNLY that you will absolutely without any question make at least 15% more than you would have without that agent (but, more likely, much, much more than 15%). I promise, categorically, absolutely no exceptions, you will. Now is not the time to be cheap. I'm going to just ignore the rest of your faulty logic, because it's so secondary.

Q. I'm having a lot of trouble finding an agent for my book--it seems everyone's lists are full. I understand that in an ideal situation I would want to work with an agent, but I think I just have to submit myself because I haven't found representation. I'm an exception, right?

A. WRONG. You are exactly the kind of person editors are afraid to find in their slush pile. We editors really rely on agent recommendations (see above), and yet you think you can sidestep that whole process and that we will still take you at all seriously? I know it's hard, but if you're in this situation, you need to step back and ask yourself if your book is ready to be published. If everyone is rejecting you, it's very possible that the answer is no.

Q. I met a publisher/editor at a conference/social function, and that editor solicited my manuscript. I'm an exception, right?

A. WRONG. You should absolutely submit your manuscript to the editor who requested it, but don't think this whole promising situation precludes your need for an agent. The editor reviews the manuscript, but not with any great urgency, since you don't have an agent. After that, this scenario goes one of two ways:
1) you get rejected, possibly in part because you aren't bringing an agent relation to the table, or because editors are almost universally wary of unagented authors (see above).
2) you get offered a book deal, and you get whimsically taken advantage of on the contract negotiations (cf above point re: nickle and diming).

Q. A publisher approached me as an expert and offered me a book deal to write on a certain topic. Since the whole deal is already nailed down, an agent would be taking a commission after I've done all the hard work. I'm an exception, right?

A. WRONG. Please refer back to my earlier point about how the publisher, as much as they love you, will try to nickle and dime you in ways you can't even anticipate. A good agent will earn their commission on the contract negotiation alone. Plus, the author-agent relationship should be nurtured over time, and will hopefully point you in the direction of many other book or article deals. Oh, by the way, since you have a book deal in hand, you're pretty much guaranteed your dream agent, so you might as well aim high.

Are there still any unbelievers?

79 comments:

Brian said...

"helping a college buddy out by "giving" them an excerpt of your book to print in their church newsletter,..."

Um... I've known a few agented authors who've done stuff like this.

moonrat said...

geez, brian. there may be no salvation.

Nathan Bransford said...

Thank you!!!

I think sometimes people are skeptical when agents say why writers need an agent (I mean, of course we'd say that), but to have an editor outline why it's necessary is an extremely helpful thing to have.

KJ said...

Editorial Ass,

You make a compelling argument indeed, not that I didn't believe I needed an agent before I got here. I can really appreciate your site and the content. Well done, I'll visit again. Thanks!

KJ
http://interminablewriter.wordpress.com
http://nanadiaries.wordpress.com

Cheryl said...

Your article is strong and compelling, with many things we writers should listen to. I already had that mindset, but your article reconfirmaed it for me.

And thank you for the publishing wisdom you share with us--it's lovely.

I've nominated your blog for the Brilliante Weblog Premio Award. (I hope you don't mind--it's one of those blog awards.) You can visit my blog for more info if you feel like it.

Kerry said...

I believe.

Kim Kasch said...

Another great post! Thanks, I'm going to put a link on my blog.

Precie said...

Amen, sister!

jeanne said...

I'm assuming your comments are for writers of chapter books and novels. I would love to get an agent, but I write picture books and, as far as I can tell, agents who rep picture book authors are fewer are farther between.

Please correct me if I'm wrong.

moonrat said...

I confess, Jeanne, I know next to nothing about children's publishing, especially in terms of the acquisition process, which I know is a little different.

However, I can only imagine that the same contract negotiation issues come up. Even if picture book publishing is one of those situations where an author submits directly to an editor, I still can't imagine an author without representation would be as well off during contract negotiation processes.

Industry professionals who see this comment, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

jeanne said...

Thanks, Moonrat. I'm not being critical, only curious. I completely agree with everything you wrote even if it doesn't completely apply to us Pb-writers (and, I too hope Nathan and/or other kid lit industry professionals chime in to confirm or deny).

The first thing I will do if (no, when) I sell a ms is to find me an agent. And, based on your comments, I just might seek out an agent while I'm still pretty new to the business.

StingRay said...

I'm curious about something. What's your take on online self-publication? I've started a blog that I hope to use as a sort of online portfolio. All of the creative writing work I've done, I'm putting on this blog. I don't have anything major yet that I want to sell, so I have no need of an agent. Nor, I assume, would an agent have any want of me. Am I hurting myself, though, by doing that?

Eileen said...

I'll chime in. My agent earned her 15% over and over. She sold foreign and film rights. Even if I had sold the manuscript on my own- I never would have made these other deals. A good agent is a business partner and an important part of building a career.

Ruth said...

Thanks for the post... and I suspect I know the answer to this, but: I live in New Zealand, teeny little country with not a lot of publishers; and having done a (brief) search I can only find two reputable literary agencies in all of New Zealand (maybe there's somewhere I'm missing; I don't really know the correct avenues to look down).

I know the negotiating leverage etc is still a valid reason to want an agent, and I'll definitely try to get one: but I guess, with such a small area, and with so few agents that seem to be around, do you think it's likely that NZ publishing houses will have the same attitude to unagented authors?

Also, it's hard to tell whether these agents are any good. I keep an eye on NZ-authored books released, so I looked at their lists of books they've helped sell - and I've never heard of any of them. But that's a completely separate question.

So my main question is just: in such a small country, if there are only two or three literary agencies around, do you think publishing houses are likely to have the same attitude to unagented authors, or they're still absolutely compulsory for every author?

Thanks for all your help in all your blog posts! :)

Katherine said...

Further to what Jeanne said: this makes utter and complete sense for books -- but what about short stories? Okay, most short story publishing opportunities I know about are in magazines (unless you have an anthology to sell, in which case you have a book, in which case you need an agent), but single short stories?

JES said...

Excellent, excellent advice (much though it pains me to agree :).

One more caution about going it alone:

Aspiring Author X imagines a scenario in which an editor calls her on the phone and say, "We'd like to do your book. It's just, well, fantastic. The plot, the characters... I've never seen anything quite like it." (X is nodding, blushing, oblivious to the ever-larger puddle at her feet.)

When the editor eventually says to X, "As an advance, we were thinking of [insert low-four-figures amount]. How's that sound?"

Do you think X will say, "Wait, I can't answer that -- I've got to find an agent to negotiate the advance"?

Naaaaah.

Find the agent first. Don't count on yourself to Do The Right Thing in the heat of excitement, because you almost certainly won't.

clindsay said...

Ruth -

Although there may be a dearth of agents in New Zealand, your neighbors the Australians have plenty of reputable agents and a thriving publishing industry. You may want to consider finding an Australian agent who can then handle your own country as well. It's not unheard of.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree, Moonrat, but there's the little problem of getting an agent. I'm currently in the position of having a contract with a well-known, respected small press and...despite having the offer memo in hand...was not able to obtain representation. After 3 weeks of holding out on accepting the publisher's offer, I finally had to go ahead and accept the deal (after making a counteroffer to the best of my ability.) The agents ALL said "congratulations on your deal. Unfortunately, we don't feel we're able to contribute much to the offer," or "we're busy right now, but thanks for thinking of us," or "you don't need representation for boilerplate contracts," (?!!) or "I don't think I'm the right agent for you" (this after I researched agents with Agent Query and with dedication thank yous in books similar to mine.) I have come to the conclusion that for some of us, it's actually easier to get a publisher than an agent.

Jen-GreenInkEdits said...

Hear, hear! What an informative post - thanks for all of the great advice.

Bernita said...

A good agent is worth every penny.

Conduit said...

On the point about an agent earning you more than the commission they'll take - yes, yes, a thousand times yes!

Setting aside the simple truth that I most likely wouldn't have got a deal at all without my agent, the advance from the first (and very early) foreign rights deal, which I absolutely could not have done on my own, more or less reimburses me for the commission on the first domestic sale. Throw in even a couple more foreign deals as things shake out, and I'll be well in profit.

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of what you say...however, there are definitely exceptions. The exception I am facing right now....having a book that has editor interest, that was requested through an emailed query to said editor...but not a one agent who will even LOOK at the material.

So I am faced with the problem of going it on my own and waiting to see what the editor thinks of my book and then trying to find an agent if the book gets picked up for publication.

What really hurts is knowing I could probably get a quicker response from the editor if I had agent representation.

So, sometimes you do have to go it alone in order to be published.

**p.s. two writing friends have also gone this route recently and ended up with contracts in hand.

Anonymous said...

And in response to Jes, yes, that is how it is done. You get the offer, you tell the editor I need to find an agent to represent me, and I'll get back to you ASAP.

It is not unusual or unprofessional to do so.

My two writer friends whom I mentioned in my earlier comment did just this when they received offers.

Carolyn said...

This is a great post! I should add that I have personally seen the contract differences between a good agent and a bad one. What a good agent will negotiate for you is worth every penny they make. Every. Penny.

Julie Weathers said...

I was already a believer before, but it's nice to have you put it in black and white.

Another plus I find with having an agent is they will often make those final, valuable suggestions on how to improve the work.

writtenwyrdd said...

Wonderful information, Moonrat!

By the way, I'm having a contest on my blog to celebrate my 2nd blogoversary. Hope you don't mind me mentioning it?

writtenwyrdd said...

By the way, a Question:

My understanding is that an excerpt in the form of a short draft snippet on your blog is not the same thing as a chapter of your novel on your blog in terms of the church newsletter example.

Is this the case? Or is it better to never publish your writing on your blog?

moonrat said...

Writtenwyrdd: Yes, there's a difference. Because a couple of questions have come up, I'm going to do a separate post on internet and blog serializing, etc.

Publicity via a blog is good, and there are precautions you can take to make sure your blog publication isn't problematic to your writing career.

cindy said...

moonie for president!

moonie for president! =DDD

i absolutely think agent bill
earns his deserved 15% and then
some!

i do admit to *considering* hitting the slush piles if all 200 legit agents i could find rejected me. haha! *hides*

Jill Myles said...

Man, the agent thing always comes up at the most appropriate times.

Great advice, as always, Moonie. :)

Ruth said...

Clindsay - thanks for your advice, what a good idea! I didn't consider the neighbours. Is it normal for agents to represent overseas authors overseas? I'll definitely look into that. :)

ChrisEldin said...

So.... suppose somebody gave their English neighbor in Dubai a copy of their ms to forward to their English drinking buddy in London who happens to be CFO of a publishing company. And this drinking buddy will pass it along. But this certain somebody has no idea what English publisher this is. Is this a bad thing? A friend of mine wants to know.
:-O

Andromeda Romano-Lax said...

Hi NZ author, I live in Alaska where (as far as I know) we don't have any big-time agents. My agent happens to be based in London and has been particularly adept at foreign (i.e. European + Chinese) sales. Go global, I say.

I should add, not to disagree with Moonrat's post (which I liked so much I added a link to it from my blog) that while I use my London agent for fiction sales, I didn't use any agent at all for nonfiction work with small regional publishers in California, Seattle WA and Alaska. Those are smaller projects with a definite niche audience and I already had personal relations with the editors at those very small houses. But that is a rare exception, perhaps. I wouldn't have tried to submit a novel of any kind or a national nonfiction work without an agent.

Kate Lord Brown said...

Really good advice. This is why I've been holding out for a particular agent for months. It would save everyone a lot of heartache if they read this post.

Mommy C said...

I want to believe, Moonrat, I really do. I'm just like a few others, here. I've been working with a publisher (on a PB) for a few months now. The house isn't huge, but highly reputable- they publish very high quality books, and every parent would be able to name a few. I've sent off queries like mad, and still, I can't find an agent. What's a gal to do? I'm not sure what is going wrong here. Should I just wait until a contract is on the table, or should I keep sending off queries, with the possibility that I can resubmit, if a contract ever comes? Are editors ok with waiting for writers to search for an agent after the deal has been offered? What if I'm still turned down. Tell me there's a light at the end of this tunnel.

Jill Corcoran said...

Great post. Thanks!

Ruth said...

Thanks for your help, Alaskan author, I appreciate it ;)

It is good to hear from someone who does the same with their agent, though, so thanks. And your agent must have done well with foreign rights, cos your book's in New Zealand - not a place many books reach! :) I'm just waiting for it to come out in paperback....

Meg McKinlay said...

With regard to Australia, conventional wisdom here seems to be that it can be tougher to get an agent than it is a publisher. I was unable to find an agent to express any interest in my work (in fact, I got a much warmer reception from the handful of US agents I submitted to), so I went ahead and sold via the slush pile (currently at three books and counting). I have a friend who, as the respected, award-winning author of four books, was still unable to interest an agent. She's now gone on to sell seven, all via direct relationships with publishers. This is in children's literature, so your mileage may vary, but Australia is a relatively small pool and although we certainly have agents, I'm not sure the word 'plenty' really applies. Given that New Zealand is an even smaller pool, clindsay is right that it's probably worth giving it a shot over here, though. What have you got to lose?

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

I'm wondering if this is something that varies from country to country. In the UK many editors will still take on unagented authors - especially in children's literature and there seems to be a very divided view as to what extent agents are necessary. In South Africa there are no such things as agents - editors simply won't work with them - mostly because of the nickle and diming thing. In Australia it's considered unnecessary to have an agent, likewise in New Zealand.

That's not to say I don't agree with what you're saying, I do, but it strikes me that you're speaking particularly to and of the US market?

Sarah Miller said...

Jeanne --

Picture book authors should absolutely have agents!

Have you Visited Verla Kay's online community for children's authors?

http://www.verlakay.com/boards/index.php?

You'll find plenty of information there about children's lit agents, their response times, and client loads.

JES said...

Anon @10:33 -- I salute the self-assurance of anyone who knows in advance that if the moment comes, common sense will trump excitement. So your two writer friends, more power to 'em.

Their experience isn't the norm, I'd wager, but I was wrong to suggest that everyone's cool-headed resolve would buckle under pressure. Thanks for the correction.

Anonymous said...

This is an off point comment, but didn't see where to post a question...this concerns how to handle the recounting of an academic (classroom) discussion in a novel, specifically back and forth between a professor and a student. The discussion includes ideas from academia, but how do avoid plagiarism? They are being presented as the student's thoughts, but they are of course actually a compliation of things the author has read. Can you only do this if the character's thoughts are actually uniquely the author's thoughts? Is it plagiarism to present ideas gained from various scholarly articles as a fictional student's? Would you have to have the student say, well so and so argues blah blah blah? Also what if the "student's thoughts" are a complication of different things, where you couldn't necessarily pin it on one source?

Kristin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

To follow up on my last question-which is basically to avoid a Cassie Edwards situation, when is an academic idea fair use in fiction. Clearly you can't use the academic source's words, but what about the underlying ideas of the theory?

Anonymous said...

I have two picture books under contract (via slushpiles) and don't have an agent. I wish I did. I've tried, but the advances are so low from my two respected, award-winning independent children's publishers that I can see why agents aren't interested. The problem remains that taking the next step to larger publishers w/out an agent is very difficult. Meanwhile I have used the SCBWI sample contract, Author's Guild guidelines, and other freebie resources to negotiate my contracts.

Julie Weathers said...

"Do you think X will say, "Wait, I can't answer that -- I've got to find an agent to negotiate the advance"?

Naaaaah.

Find the agent first. Don't count on yourself to Do The Right Thing in the heat of excitement, because you almost certainly won't."

When the agent who repped my children's book called to say she was interested in it, I was convinced it was a friend playing a practical joke and hung up on her. Fortunately for me she did call back and convince me who she was. She even waited while I screamed and danced a bit.

I doubt I would have the fortitude to tell the publisher to wait while I find an agent.

Colorado Writer said...

Thanks for talking me off the ledge, Moonie.

Jolie said...

1. Loved this post. Read it, linked to it, loved it!

2. I'd be VERY interested to hear your take on this article, about how the role of editors has changed and whether we should believe critics who say editors are no longer necessary.

JES said...

Jolie -- I'd be interested in Moonie's take on the article too. But I just noticed its copyright date: 1990. Like, whoa: he thought things were different then...

Anonymous said...

Julie, the problem is there are agents who won't even LOOK at your material...but there are some editors who will. So are you trying to say that projects sold without an agent aren't worth it?

I'm saying to those out there who have been trounced by a zillion agents that it doesn't end there. You *can* sell things yourself and find an agent after the fact.

Not that this is the best route to go, but as in the case of the anonymous poster who spoke about her picture book sales...the advance is low, no agent will touch her. But yet she has contracts from editors and is still succeeding.

There comes a time when *some* projects must be sent directly to editors.

You know what is most frustrating? Seeing writers get picked up by agents who don't sell for years and years...and then being an author with a contract in hand with no agent interest. Just makes no sense to me.

Erastes said...

I agree with your points, but when you can't GET an agent because what you write (gay historical fiction) isn't covered by any agent in the universe and they don't think it will sell and you've tried for years one gets very discouraged. So you struggle along with small publishers because the big publishers won't take unagent submisions - Then a big publisher comes along and wants your book,what's a girl to do?

Linnea said...

While I agree in principle, in practice I got stalled at your very first point.
"Agents target editors who are best suited to your work."
Not always. I worked with a reputable agent for a year and was frustrated to learn he'd been targeting the WRONG publishers. As green as I was I knew perfectly well my novel was no romance novel yet he continued to hammer away at that market. We parted ways, I became cynical and sold directly to a publisher.

Karen Duvall said...

I think there needs to be a distinction between small publishers (epubs) and the big NY publishing houses. You don't need an agent to represent you to small presses like epubs. There's nothing to negotiate and the income from ebooks is too small to interest an agent. So if you just want to have a published book and get your 40% royalty (usually based on net and not retail...grr), knock yourself out.

I have two published books, one with a traditional small press and one with an epublisher. No agent for either. How much did I make on those books? Maybe a thousand bucks on each. What agent would want to waste their time repping such books for a measley 15%.

I feel like I've graduated from small press-dom now that I have an excellent literary agent to rep my current and future projects. I'll never turn back to small press again. I'll trunk my manuscripts before I go that route.

Thanks, Moonrat, for this great blog post. I'm sending out the link to all my friends who think they don't need an agent to land the lucrative deal.

Anonymous said...

Hello. But from what I'm seeing, agents want memoirs to all read the same way. They don't want the writing style to be different from what is out there, even if the partial submitted was nominated for a Pushcart, they want a certain style. They won't take a chance. I've just read three memoirs and they are all the same. Same style, same subject.

So, if you can't get an agent, then what?

Anonymous said...

Drat, just this morning, before reading this, I delivered a query to a top editor at a top house because of a personal connection that we have. How could I not take advantage of this? Now I'm home, reading the latest book that she edited, and I'm trying not to fall asleep. Like the memoirs mentioned above, a lot of lit fiction reads the same way. Boring! Will she request my novel? Maybe. Will she make an offer? Well, if she does, I'd certainly get an agent fast. I'd go to one of the agents considering the ms now. But how could I sit around and wait when there's such a good potential contact out there? I know we're "not supposed" to submit to top editors on our own, but I figure, I've got to take advantage of any opportunity I have in this crazy business. But I would definitely want an agent if I get an offer.

Anonymous said...

I'll remain anonymous so as not to burn bridges, but re this statement:

I PROMISE you SOLEMNLY that you will absolutely without any question make at least 15% more than you would have without that agent (but, more likely, much, much more than 15%). I promise, categorically, absolutely no exceptions, you will.

There is an exception to every rule, and I am that exception. This assumes the agent is any good and that the publishers are reputable and actually gives a damn that you have an agent.

I had an agent. My first few books with the publisher who shall remain anonymous were unagented and I got nickled and dimed, like you say. My next two books with the same publisher were agented, and he/she was unable to negotiate a better deal than I got from them on my own, AND they nickled and dimed me even worse than before.

Even so, I am currently seeking professional representation for my new novels, because everything else you say is dead on. Just make sure you get an agent with the time and inclination to chase those nickles and dimes.

Bethanne said...

is it possible to get this blog on a subscription basis? I know, like you don't have anything better to do... Just a thought. :) There was a point in time when I started leaning toward getting my fiction out there through an epub. And I liked the fact that the agent part of that equation wasn't necessary.

I'm glad to say that I didn't go that route, that I had more faith in my writing and in my story. I'm going all the way with this thing.

Lynn Price said...

I've blogged about this and said the same exact things. Bless you!

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Having sold my first book without an agent (my YA debut coming out in October) and the rest of mine with an agent, I have to say YES. A good agent is worth his/ her weight in gold.

I think you can have a book published without an agent, but you can't have a career without one.

Snarky Writer said...

Thanks for the post; I'm finishing up a (hopefully final) revision of my novel before tackling the agent list (again!), and was actually considering that if the rejection letters continued to come in, I might want to try myself. But I really didn't want to, and you managed to completely talk me out of it. :)

jwhit said...

Clindsay and Ruth,
Uh, as an Australian, I can tell you getting an agent here is nearly impossible. Of the 14 or so agencies, only very few are taking on new authors. So that's no solution.

As for going direct to publishers, there seems to be a difference between small, medium and the big NY houses in terms of unagented submissions. In a workshop here a couple years ago, it was advised that agents are the way to go IF you can get one, but if not, submit directly, get interest and a contract offer, THEN an agent will gladly sign you on. Heck, the sale is made!

Don't sign the contract until you either engage an agent to do the negotiation for you OR engage a LITERARY solicitor [lawyer] to review the terms and represent your interests. Our Arts Council has access to such people. If the publisher is legit and your work is good, they won't balk. Act professional. Tell them to send the contract, that you need to see their offer in writing along with the conditions. That's not an unreasonable request. Of course, thank them for their interest in your work. :-)

Shelli Stevens said...

I submitted on my own and was offered a two book deal without an agent. Then I went out and signed with one I felt would represent me well.

I think you have some great points... but I can't help but think about how I sat across from an editor at a conference and we were discussing submissions. I asked her if having an agent meant you got read quicker in the pile, and she said no. Maybe if your agent was _____. And named a pretty big romance agent.

That stunned me...

jeanne said...

@Sarah Miller:
Yes, I am an active member of Verla Kay's Blue Board. It is a wonderful source of information and support. But, I still am under the impression that agents who rep PBs are extremely hard to come by.

melissa c said...

So how do I find an agent? I am new to this and want to be successful. The book I am writing is almost finished.

Could you please let me know?

Cliff Burns said...

I'm not usually a big fan of Do's and Don'ts (they tend to be pretty general and unhelpful) but your advice is sage. I spent WEEKS negotiating a film contract based on one of my novellas and that was a hell I don't want to endure again. I had to basically educate myself: I was assisted by a sample contract from the Writers Guild of America and a stubborn willfulness--I demanded each clause be explained or clarified fully before I went on to the next. But that was a long time I spent away from my keyboard and a major project lay dormant in the meantime.

But the strange and interesting thing is, when I approached agents with a done deal, a contract offer from a major studio, NO ONE offered to step in and represent me...and certainly didn't proffer any advice, free or otherwise. What better circumstances can an agent ask for?

Catherine Rankovic said...

Thank you for your honesty. To help spread the word in the agentless Midwest I have posted a link from my own blog to your blog entry.

David said...

As a writer who has had nothing but bad luck with agents for more than 30 years, I totally disagree. I've been trying to find a good one for 35 years and have been totally unsuccessful. With 5 published ebooks and 6 published books in the adult fiction market to my credit, I do not intend to wait for an agent to start my career. Life is much too short, and the mixed messages they keep sending are enough to drive the most patient person to the brink of insanity.

Barry Hickey said...

What about a Hollywood Lit agent? Would they be a reasonable agent to submit my materials to publishers? Besides, they also know the motion picture companies tied to publishers. I can't get anywhere with agents working strictly in book publishing. I even self-published my first novel just to see what my work looks like bound with a cover. It's getting great reviews on Amazon and Barnes & Noble but I don't have the means to generate traffic without having wads of dough for ancillaries such as printing my books and getting them to reviewers and getting reviewers to review. I have attacked book clubs but they all want to read books by well-known authors... I'm sitting on two more finished novels trying to figure out how this all works. Should I send a finished book out to agents with a query and propsal for my second novel?

Anonymous said...

Yes, Virginia, agents are good when you can get them. You should try to get them. But if you can't snag one there's absolutely nothing wrong with submitting the work yourself so long as the house is open to that. Many houses are, particularly some of the smaller publishers. Do Your Homework.

It won't damage your career in any way, despite what some people think. And it's stupid to limit yourself in any way in this business. Use all the opportunities open to you. Remember, perseverance is often the key to success in writing.

Good luck!

Kenneth Mark Hoover
Allen, TX

Linnea said...

I've continued to follow this thread with interest and have to say my opinion remains unchanged. After reading about the average royalties earned by debut authors through big publishing houses, I realize I've earned more with my small publisher. With regard to the difficulty of finding an agent for my second book, (assuming it's any good) an industry recognized top agent told me I'd have no problem. Selling my first novel directly to a small publisher would not hinder my chances of getting an agent for my second.

Magaly Guerrero said...

I know that I'm a little late, but I needed to tell you that this post was super informative, and that I'm still laughing my butt off!

You are a funny creature, thanks for sharing.

writtenwyrdd said...

Super post, Moonrat! Thanks!

Sir Slush said...

Very helpful! Not that I imagine I'll be leaving the Order of the Slush any time soon. What Order? See

sirslush.blogspot.com/

Sarah said...

Greetings from another recovering editorial assistant (I lasted three months with an infamous editor whose initials shall remain JR). A piece of info for Canadians - turns out that in Canada, authors have a MUCH better chance by submitting (to Canadian pubs) unagented. Weird, I know, but this comes from a managing editor at a top Canadian house. I'm not sure of the rationale, but it probably has something to do with Canada having 1/10th the population (and book budgets) of the US.

moonrat said...

Sarah--THE jr?!?

Anonymous said...

I feel like getting an agent all of a sudden for my same small traditional publisher who did pay me a decent advance for my first novel, would say "I don't completely trust you poeple, and now I don't want you to contact me, but contact this impartial 3rd party instead. And maybe then ny next deal won't be on good terms with them anymore, and my deals won't be as good as if I had kept my humble self-representation shtick.

Steve said...

The following is a quote from A. C. Crsipin whose bio blurb reads:

"A.C. Crispin is chair of the SFWA Committee on Writing Scams, Science
Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
She can be found on the World Wide Web at http://www.accrispin.com"

She says:

"If you can’t find a reputable agent to submit your manuscript, go ahead and submit it yourself.
Most sf and fantasy publishers will still read unagented manuscripts these days. Check out the market reports in the SFWA Bulletin or Speculations. Even the ones who say they won’t may still read manuscripts from writers who impress them with a well-crafted, dynamic
query letter."

She seems to be a reputable industry insider. What do you know that she doesn't?

-Steve

SAVanVleck said...

I had planned on looking for an agent first, but you brought up some points that I never thought of.

Thank you for a great post

Anonymous said...

Completely missing the point, but if an agent takes 15% then the contract has to be for about 17.6% more than you could get without them for it to be worth it. Your assertion probably still holds!