Friday, December 12, 2014

Decoding Pub-Speak: Agented Submissions Only?

Have you written a book? If you’re like most people, you will probably testify that it was a long and grueling process. But eventually you reach the end, and rejoice. And then you seek to show off your work to publishers, and quickly realize that the writing was the easy part.


Back in the 1990s, American publishers fired hundreds of editors and readers. They figured out that they could get those same services for free through literary agents, because agents only send them material that’s already pre-screened and edited. Agented authors don’t need as much coaching and hand-holding, and the reps themselves don’t get a salary or a desk or a pension.

What this means for you, is that the publishers just don’t have enough staff or resources to handle thousands of unsolicited submissions. They won’t answer your calls and letters; the firewall seems impenetrable, and the situation hopeless. But do you really need an agent to pierce that wall? In an absolute sense, the answer is no. That is, if you know what you’re doing.

Often, editors seek out new authors at writers’ conferences. Typically, at such events, they will teach a workshop and take appointments with the authors in attendance. Bring your elevator pitch.

Many publishers exhibit their products at book fairs, and sometimes their editors show up to staff the booth. Strike up a conversation.

Some houses declare an open-submissions period for certain genres, for a short time each year. Subscribe to Writer’s Digest, and you’ll be in the know.


Now, what about those publishers that allow you to submit your work directly? Is the process any easier, or are your chances any better? Not necessarily. Just because they accept un-repped submissions, does NOT necessarily mean that they’re publishing un-repped books. This process might just mean that they want a broad range of candidates to choose from. But they still know that agents still make their jobs much easier.

I’ve had a few strange discussions with writers who were unimpressed with my portfolio. Some of those deals didn’t require an agent, so I did nothing that the author couldn’t have done on her own; so I shouldn’t collect a commission for it.

What they don’t know (because they didn’t ask), is that I almost always start my submissions with the Big Five. And when I do, I always score a few reads. At that point, I'm no longer in the room. It's just you and the editor, and either your story is good or it isn't. I brought you to the party, but now it's up to you to deliver.

You might get a deal without an agent. But then what? Do you know how to negotiate that contract? Do you know what royalty to expect? Advance? Reserve? Which rights should you grant, and which should you hold on to? Or should you accept the offer at all? When you charge ahead unrepresented, in a field where you have no experience, these issues are sure to multiply.

Get an agent if you like, don't if you don't. But educate yourself and make an informed decision.


  1. YEP! Agreed. Glad I have my agent. ;)

  2. This is one of the reasons why people should seriously consider self-publishing.