February 9, 2013

Agent or Publisher?

Having decided on pursuing traditional publication, a writer must decide whether to seek the representation of a literary agent or to pitch directly to publishing houses.

Agents have become de facto "gatekeepers" for the publishing industry. Many publishing houses will not accept unsolicited manuscripts that come from authors without representation, simply because it has become accepted that agents will weed out the unsuitable manuscripts and select ones that could make great books and, most importantly, sell. Already, this means that, if an author chooses to move forward without representation, the options are severely limited. Good agents also serve many other purposes, not least of which is the manipulation of their carefully cultivated industry connections.
Like most who write on the topic, I feel pressed to include the aside that NO legitimate agent will ever ask for money up-front from an author—and the same goes for a publishing house. Agent’s make ~15% of the money an author earns from publishing, and publishing houses make money from the sale of the books/e-books. In neither case should a writer be paying the entity directly—with the exception of vanity presses. If an agent or publishing house asks you for money, it is a scam.

At first, I had planned on submitting my manuscript to Avon—a publisher which doesn't require that an author have representation. Avon was the first publishing house which I researched, because they are the publisher of one of my favorite authors in my genre, and it was sheer coincidence that they happen not to require representation. They do, however—like all publishing houses and agents—require a query letter.

My search for tips on writing great query letters prompted me to consider the practicality of my plan.  Some writers will submit to 10 agents, or multiple publishers, at once, wait the allotted time, and re-craft their queries based on any advice or simply on a lack of response. Certain writers on the NaNoWriMo forums have posted that they’ve received 50+ rejections—not counting de facto rejections which are assumed when one simply doesn’t hear back.

In order to submit to multiple publishers and/or agents, I first have to choose ones who are likely to be interested in my manuscript. I frankly had no idea how to begin narrowing down the list of agents from those who represent my genre, but thank goodness for the internet. AgentQuery, for instance, allows for advanced searches and provides information on hundreds (thousands?) of agents. Eventually, I decided to search for the agent of the same author whose books had led me to Avon—and I found him.

Amazingly, it turned out he represented at least 4 authors whose books line my shelves, which means that, if I choose to submit to agents, he is definitely on the list. Best of all, he is accepting queries. Unfortunately, this also means that I cannot use a similar tactic to find more agents, since three of those authors are my favorites in my sub genre.

With one potential agent and one potential publisher found, the question of which route to go remains undecided. In answering it, there are some other logistical considerations:
  • Agents and publishing houses both take up to 3 months to respond (if it all) to a query. As I mentioned, occasionally the way writers know the answer is "No" is that 3 months pass and we have heard nothing.
  • Agents interested in a manuscript may reconsider if it turns out that manuscript has already been rejected by multiple publishing houses, since that limits their ability to sell the work. 
Technically, I could submit to Avon first, wait three months, and then, if rejected, submit to a round of agents. On the plus side, this would give me time to compile a full list of potential agents, their respective requirements, etc. If I do this, all I technically lose is time, as I would have submitted to only one publisher, so presumably, if I found an interested agent, this would not limit his/her options too much.

At the same time, agents have connections to bigger publishing houses, ones which don't accepted manuscripts without representation—which could mean a larger distribution and possibly a larger advance. Agents also handle negotiating contracts, keeping track of rights, and theoretically managing book tours (probably not a concern for a first book), etc. Additionally, being represented by the experienced and respected agent whom I would like to query would be a weighty vote of confidence in my manuscript, which could open many doors. This, however, seems extremely unlikely.

So, should I submit to Avon? to this agent? to both, and hope that the timing of their responses doesn't create another conundrum? Or, should I stop pinning my hopes on long-shots and instead create a reasonable list of agents to whom I should submit simultaneously, if I truly want to stand a chance of receiving an offer? 

As of yet, I am not sure. So, for now, I am trying to focus on completing my manuscript and then perfecting my pitch, and leaving this question to my subconscious—though I would, of course, welcome any input in the comments!

1 comment

  1. I'm a writer and I know how difficult to find a good publishing house. Usually, I try not to ask an agent and contact to publisher by myself. But it's so hard and stressed for me. By the way, now I write about The Nature of Stress.