Lots of people have been asking about this lately, especially with the suddenly-rampant myth that you must have a book deal or an offer in order to find an agent (for the record, again: this is not true at all).
So I thought I’d tackle the topic of submitting to editors without an agent. And I’ll start by saying something you might not expect to hear from an agent: submitting to editors without an agent isn’t always a bad thing!
But first, and most importantly: there some serious perils involved that you should be aware of if you’re considering submitting to editors directly. The biggest: If you query a lot of editors simultaneously with your agent search you may be inadvertently killing the submission process if you eventually find an agent. This is because most agents I know won’t resubmit to a publisher who has already considered a project, even if it was sent to the publisher unagented, and even if it subsequently undergoes a revision (unless the editor specifically asks).
If you are hoping to find an agent: submitting to editors widely is not the way to go. An agent will be less likely to take on your project if you have already sent your manuscript to the major publishers.
That said, while bearing mind the above, there are some instances where submitting directly to editors makes sense. They are:
1) You met an editor at a writer’s conference, made a personal connection, and they offered to consider your work.
Sure! You have their attention. Go ahead and send it to them.
If you are in the process of trying to find an agent, though, I’d mention that to the editor when you send your manuscript, just so they aren’t caught unaware if you find one.
2) You are working in a genre that is unlikely to attract an agent because it is a niche market, experimental, or otherwise is customary for editors and authors to deal with each other directly.
There are many wonderful small presses who do not usually work with agents because it’s simply not viable for agents to take the time to represent authors for niche projects that will translate to very small advances and sales. I can’t provide a rundown of every genre where this applies, but do your research and find out what is customary.
3) You tried querying agents, you came up empty, and you want to try with editors directly.
Queried 50-100 agents and couldn’t get a bite? Reached the end of your list? Why not try with editors who are open to unsolicited submissions?
And then, if they are interested and you get an offer, it can definitely help land you an agent. Again though, I would recommend that you keep the editor posted that you are searching for representation so they are not caught unaware if your new agent shows up to negotiate the deal. Many editors would actually prefer to work with agents because it streamlines the process and usually means less work for them.
And trust me – even if you do get an offer without an agent, having an agent to negotiate the contract alone is worth 15%. Even if you’re a lawyer or have one handy, there are terms and customs that are particular to the industry, and having someone to manage the process and look out for your bigger career is worth its weight in commission.
So yes – there are times when it makes sense to send your manuscript to editors and yes, there are authors who got their first deal(s) without an agent. However, that doesn’t then mean that your best chances of success will come from sending to editors without an agent.