Home Forums Writer’s FAQ Literary agent or straight to publisher?

This topic contains 3 replies, has 2 voices, and was last updated by  Peter M. Ball 2 years, 11 months ago.

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  • #19553

    Sue McKerlie
    Participant

    Hey everyone, I just wondered what the best way to go would be when aiming to get my book published – use a literary agent or just send my own manuscript package out to the publishers myself?

    Thanks heaps :)
    Sue

    #19558

    Peter M. Ball
    Keymaster

    Hi Sue,

    Really, with this one, there’s no straight answer – a lot will depend on where you’re submitting, what genre you’re working in, and where you’re currently based.

    Let’s start with this, though: Australia doesn’t have a large number of literary agents. In fact, if every writer currently being published in Australia suddenly decided they’d like an agent, there wouldn’t be enough agents to go around. This is a function of having a very small market, in publishing terms, and changes within the industry that are re-shaping the way publishers, agents, and writers interact.

    The reason you’ll often hear advice to get an agent is this: the slush pile is the least efficient way of getting discovered as a writer. It’s why sending your manuscript off blind can be a frustrating experience, since you’re part of an unfiltered mass that the editor/agent is trying to sift through between other parts of their job. In that respect, Agents are useful, but they’re not the only way of connecting with publishers. Programs like Hachette’s Manuscript Development Programs, various new manuscript awards, and pitching programs at festivals and conferences are all ways of bypassing the slush pile and connecting with agents/publishers.

    And while agents will likely prefer to see a manuscript that hasn’t been submitted to publishers yet – it’s hard to pitch a manuscript that’s already been rejected – you may be able to generate interest from an agent by letting them know that there’s been an offer.

    So why get an agent? Pay attention to the three things that makes them valuable:

    One: They Understand Publishing Contracts – this is the big one. Publishing contracts can be full of clauses that are easy to overlook, but may have a huge impact on the long-term profitability of your work. Having someone who understands the contact and knows what to look for is huge. If you don’t have an agent and sell a manuscript to a publishing house, I strongly recommend getting a professional familiar with publishing, copyright, and intellectual property to look at the contract; this will cost money in the short-term, but the copyright on your book lasts a long time after your dead – getting this right early is important. If you’re not sure where to start, try getting in contact with Arts Law Australia, the Australian Society of Authors, or your local State Writers Centre to see if they can steer you towards someone.

    Two: They Know The Industry – a good agent will be networked within the industry and know how publishing works. They know how to negotiate a better deal on your advance and whether it’s a good idea to sign over movie or foreign rights to your publisher. They can look at the manuscript that you could have sworn was a fantasy story, and let you know that it’s a better fit in the Supernatural Romance genre and more likely to find a home there. They know the editors tastes and what needs to be pitched where, what’s hot and what’s not, and what publishers are looking for.

    This is one of the reasons you’ll frequently hear the advice no agent is better than a bad fit. For example, I’m a sci-fi writer when I’m not here at AWM, so an agent specialising in a genre like romance or literary fiction would probably have a network that wasn’t a great fit for selling my work. Many established writers get by without agents because they have the same networks – they’re going to conferences and festivals, meeting with publishers, getting to know other people within the industry – and within Australia it’s possible to meet with everyone.

    Three: They’re Paid to Negotiate For You – Let’s be honest about this: writers are not great about valuing their own work, particularly at the start of their career. Often, by the time a publishers says yes, we’ve experienced so many people saying No that we’re just relieved that our book will finally see print. This is a bad mindset to go have when you’re negotiating with a publisher about how much your book is worth, particularly with all the subsidiary rights that can be turned into income over time. A good agent will take a percentage of your income from a book, but they’ll earn that money by attempting to negotiate a better advance.

    There are other reasons to get an agent on top of these three – some will have a great editorial eye and can tell you when a manuscript isn’t working, or they’ll be able to advise you on the long-term direction of your career – but your primarily paying them their percentage of writing income for the three traits mentioned above. If you commit to learning how the writing and publishing industry works, develop a professional network, and take ownership of your career, and hire someone with experience to look over your contracts, you can cover a lot of ground yourself in Australia (overseas is harder, but not impossible).

    #19559

    Sue McKerlie
    Participant

    Peter, thank you so much for that information, that is really helpful.

    I’m attending a writing workshop with QWC at the moment. I have felt for a few years that there is a book in me but have felt that no-one would want to read what I have written. Attending the course has given me the confidence to get the hundreds of pages of notes and thoughts I have down into a book. I’m now super excited but confused about where to begin with the process of getting it out there.

    I have so many more questions. Is this a good place to ask?
    Thanks again
    Sue

    #19560

    Peter M. Ball
    Keymaster

    Sure, although I’d also recommend the QWC Writers Guides series if you’re just starting out. They cover a lot of the initial questions about the how and why of publishing.

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