Thanks to author-editor Katherine Pickett for stopping by and sharing some information about agents. Enjoy! (In case you didn’t see it, last Monday, Katherine stopped by with a guest post about writers and writing communities. Not to be missed!)
To Sign or Not to Sign with an Agent – Excerpt from Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Industry Like a Pro by Katherine Pickett
“’Do I need an agent?’ I hear this question frequently from aspiring authors, many times with a tinge of fear in their voices that I might say yes. Agents mean having an expert on your side to get you noticed and to assist with negotiations. But they also mean adding one more gatekeeper to the mix. Can’t you get your book published without one? That depends on which publishing route you choose, which genre you write in, and which publisher you approach. Nonfiction writers have a slightly easier time getting a publisher without an agent than fiction writers; if you are writing fiction, you will almost certainly need an agent if you want to go through a publishing house.
While some university presses and small publishing houses are open to unagented manuscripts, they are becoming fewer and farther between. The so-called Big Five publishing houses—which include Hachette, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, Macmillan, and Simon and Schuster—don’t accept anything without an agent. Each of these companies owns a dozen or more imprints that have their pick of books to pursue, and agents serve as a filter for the thousands of books that are submitted to them.
But what if you don’t want to work with an agent? You’re determined to find that small press that is willing to work with you as an individual. You don’t want to add the six months or a year that it can take to find an agent before you even reach a publisher, and you don’t know what the point of an agent is anyway. You are going to approach publishers directly. This is a viable option, and one that has worked well for many authors. But before you rule out agents entirely, you should know what signing with an agent means for you.
‘Generally speaking, an agented project will be picked up or rejected by most publishers within two to three weeks of submission,’ write Susan Rabiner and Alfred Fortunato, authors of Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction—and Get It Published. That’s compared to six months for a response for unagented works. Agents get your book noticed, and they get personalized responses. This kind of attention can speed up the acquisitions process considerably. There are many other pros and cons as well, as shown in the following list.
You should know that agents:
-Have established contacts within the industry
-Know best practices for preparing a proposal
-Are likely to get you a larger advance than you could get on your own
-Can negotiate terms of the contract that you may not entirely understand (e.g., foreign rights, subsidiary rights, royalty structure)
-Track your royalties and ensure you get paid
-Act as your advocate if problems arise between you and the publishing house
-Are another layer of gatekeeping
-Can add six months to a year to the process
-Take 15 to 20 percent of your advance
Beyond the cons listed here, fear of rejection seems to be one of the biggest holdups for aspiring authors. For whatever reason, it is less scary for many authors to skip the agent and go straight to the source. The decision is yours to make, but I have always felt, what is the harm in testing the waters? Your ultimate goal is getting your high-quality, highly marketable book in front of readers, and an agent may be able to help.
Pinpoint the agents most likely to be interested in your work and see what happens. Maybe agents aren’t interested in what you have to offer. But you might be surprised. If agents respond to you, you can decide from there whether you want to pursue the professional relationship. If no one responds, then you have more information about the amount of work you need to do to self-publish or to find another route. And while you are doing that, you can continue writing and polishing your manuscript.
I must note, however, that it is false to think that any agent is better than no agent. There are predatory agents out there. Protect yourself by educating yourself and working only with people you trust. You should not sign with someone who wants money up front, whether he or she calls it a reading fee, an evaluation fee, or any other name. Reputable agents do not get paid until they sell your manuscript. The article “How to Find a (Real!) Literary Agent” by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America advises that good agents will list recent book placements on their website; are accessible by means other than just e-mail; and won’t try to sell you on other services. Membership in the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) , the trade group for US literary agents, is also a plus. AAR has a searchable database that you can use to determine if your prospective agent is a member.”
Katherine Pickett is the owner of POP Editorial Services, and the author of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro from www.HopOnPublishing.com Since 1999 she has edited more than 300 books in a wide range of topics and genres. She is an active member of the Editorial Freelancers Association and the St. Louis Publishers Association, and is president of the Montgomery County chapter of the Maryland Writers’ Association.
And you can purchase Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro on Amazon.
Thanks again to Katherine Pickett for her informative guest post. Make sure to check out last Monday’s post on writing from Katherine. Watch Whimsical Words for more guests, Quotable Wednesdays, Saturday Owl posts, blogs from me, and more. Have a great day! – Vonnie