where do we go from here?

shina_laris commented on 2/16:

I know that you’ve already posted a wonderful post about whether a first time writer should get an agent or not and how to choose a good one, but I was wondering whether it’s easier for a first time writer to approach reputable agents or publishers first. Would they have more chances of getting accepted by a good agent than getting an offer from a publisher? I asked this because new writers are often advised to get an offer from a publisher before approaching good agents because good agents don’t normally agree to represent new writers. However, if the chances of getting a good agent are higher than getting an offer from a publisher, shouldn’t the new writers approach agents first?

You see, here’s the thing… you can’t get a job without experience and you can’t get experience without getting a job, which could also be translated as: you can’t get an agent without being published, you can’t get published without having an agent. True – agents prefer authors with track records. But many of the major publishers these days won’t consider unagented submissions.

The question of whether ’tis harder to get an agent or a publisher has oft been debated. And with no real satisfactory answer. Do I think it benefits authors to have agents? Yes. Admittedly, I’m biased. But I think only motivated by a little self-interest. I want to represent all the best books, of course. But as I think I mentioned somewhere on here recently, agents do a lot more than negotiate advances and can be there for the long haul. Find the right one, and you’ve found a publishing partner. I don’t know who advises new writers that they should get an offer from a publisher prior to approaching good agents. I do know that it might make it easier to get that good agent if you have an offer in hand. But a good agent won’t take you on just for the easy commission anyway. You’ve still got to have a book that engages them. Or at least that’s how it works with me. And even if it might be nice to have a list full of multi-published authors, there’s still nothing that compares with the moment when you tell a first-time author that they’ve just received an offer on their debut novel. Yes, it’s rare for me to take on a first novelist these days (heck, I think it’s nearly as hard for previously published authors to get on a busy agent’s list) — my current clients keep me quite busy. But I don’t think I’ll ever stop looking. Discovery can happen anywhere. Maybe I’m still too idealistic, but if that’s the case, I hope I stay that way.

12 responses to “where do we go from here?

  1. So, basically, a new author should be trying to do both at once?

    • The impression I’ve gotten from hearing folks at Writer’s Weekend give their talks, as well as from professionals who have attended various science fiction conventions, is that there’s no real reason not to try both agents and publishers at once.
      Me, I’m kind of going the route of ‘publishers first’ with the hope of getting that offer which I can then take to an agent. Your mileage may vary. 🙂

      • The only issue I’ve seen with this approach that can be dicey is the factor of burning up the markets before the agent has had a chance to get in the game. Sometimes you can resubmit to the same ones, but not always. So, if an agent is looking at a reduced field, they might think twice about playing.
        Of course, you’d think the offer would come in any case, and that might be true. But many agents these days also give editorial and marketing feedback prior to an editor having seen a project. And that’s another edge that can be gained with having a good agent on your team.

        • This point also got raised at Writer’s Weekend, as I recall. 🙂 Thank you for calling that out.
          Your comparison of “you can’t get published without an agent, and you can’t get an agent without being published” to “you can’t get experience till you have a job, etc.” crossed my own mind, too. Coming into this from the writerly side of things, and thinking about the huge turnaround time involved with getting responses back, I’m a little worried about letting the one book I have that’s ready to be looked at sit idle while I’m querying agents; I’d already sent it to Tor myself by the time I showed up at Writer’s Weekend, so I’d already started making a dent in the available set of publishers with that book.
          When I get my next work in progress into a query-worthy state, perhaps I’ll look for an agent first.
          Thanks for the food for thought!

  2. I just wanted to say thank you for (both this time and earlier) sharing the reasons why you would NOT want to do the publisher first. I’ve heard often enough the “call around as soon as you get an offer” as the solution to getting an agent and it bothered me but I never knew why.
    If you do the call around, how many publishers give you the month-3 months it takes most agents to read a novel? While I’m thinking that, with an offer in hand, the timeline would probably be shortened a bit, still it seems a good way to end up with an agent who doesn’t love your work. I hear a lot of authors talk about unsatisfactory experiences with agents, authors who had agents at the leading agencies, and it makes me wonder how they ended up with folks who didn’t mesh, not once, but multiple times.
    Honestly, I’m still looking for my first agent. I don’t have the option to be too picky (within my “perfect agent for me” list that is) and yet, if I do get a positive from an agent and then find out that we are not compatible, I hope I have it within me to walk away with no hard feelings either way. We’ll have to see I guess :).

    • If you do the call around, how many publishers give you the month-3 months it takes most agents to read a novel? While I’m thinking that, with an offer in hand, the timeline would probably be shortened a bit, still it seems a good way to end up with an agent who doesn’t love your work.
      Let’s have a blunt moment. *g* If a writer were to come to me with a deal on the table, I would have to be brutally honest and say that I would give it serious consideration. And probably read it very quickly (maybe even over-night). It’s been done. I know there is at least one client reading this journal right now who came to me with an offer after I had already rejected their query. And I asked for something to read based on that. And I loved the material. Maybe the query didn’t catch me…. those are hard to write, and I know that. They’re hard to assess, too. I wish I had time to read everyone’s books. I really do.
      I think the most important thing to remember in this sort of scenario is that you, the writer, are in charge of your destiny. If an agent offers to represent you with that offer in place, ask questions about what they think of the book. Listen. You *always* have the option to be picky. It may not feel that way, but it’s true.
      And if you have a relationship with an agent that isn’t working, let them know. Sometimes (and I speak from experience), it’s that they aren’t aware of what you want. And sometimes it’s that you either never were, or are no longer, a good match. It’s taken me a long time to recognize that, but I think it’s a valuable lesson to learn. Just be professional about it. Respect them, and give them the space to respect you.

      • Thanks. Good points both of them. Personally, I’d still prefer to find an agent first than chance undercutting my greatest markets, but if I run down my favored list, I may rethink then.
        On the communication, you’re absolutely right, not just for this but in any circumstances. If the relationship isn’t working, make sure both people are aware of the problem. I’m sorry to hear it happened to you, but it’s comforting to hear that you are open to addressing those types of problems. I think that’s half of why people don’t speak up. They work so hard to get an agent that they don’t want to rock the boat until it’s unbearable and, more to the point, unrepairable. Or at least that’s how it has worked in other professional situations I’ve seen.

  3. Thank you so much for answering my question. 🙂 I often feel much more intimidated at the thought of approaching a good agent than a publisher, although I don’t know why that’s so yet. I’ve always thought that once you’ve gotten an offer from a publisher, it’d be easy to get an agent. However, I see that I was very wrong. If an agent only accepts because of less work, it might turn out that the author and the agent don’t have much in common, and this in turn will affect their future partnership.
    And also thank you for your thoughts on sending the manuscript to both publisher and agents at the same time. I’ve seriously considered doing that, but I reckon I’d be better off querying agents first. As you said, agents are not as willing to work with a manuscript that has been shopped around from publisher to publisher. 🙂
    Thanks again!

    • Getting published is easier [*insert finger-quotes*] through smaller presses — you won’t get as much push, support, or coverage, but you’ll get a book out of it … and with a book, you’ll have an easier time getting the attention of an agent.
      It took me one very bad book deal and two years to land a proper agent and a (MUCH) better book deal (in that order). Many of my writer-type-friends have also gone this route. It seems to take forever to break into the big kids club, but the chances of it happening at all are much improved if you can demonstrate any track record at all.

      • I think the thing you have to remember in this scenario is that the small press and their reputation may have an effect on the agent’s (or publisher’s) perception of your work. A track record is always a good thing. It shows you are serious about your writing. That’s valuable, in and of itself.

  4. A few minor points
    I’ve always heard that it’s easier to get an agent when you’ve already made a sale, but not necessarily that you should try to go this route.
    There are two factors there. One of them is that you represent an easy commission, sure. The other factor is that you are unlikely to be shopping around a book that fails for one of TNH’s first five rejection categories.
    I don’t know what I’ll do when I try to sell a novel for the first time. Probably I’ll go to agents first, not only because of the numbers recently discussed, but also because it opens up markets that don’t accept unagented submissions.
    A final almost non-sequitor: I’ve recently hired two people with almost no industry experience. They did have to ask, though.

  5. While I don’t hold out much hope that I’ll be able to find representation with a wave of my magic wand, I do hope it turns out to be somewhat easier than my worst fears anticipate.
    ~~ James

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