Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Submitting to Editors Without an Agent

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.






99 comments:

Davin Malasarn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mira said...

Yes, I appreciate this post alot. I think the more options an author has, the better. It's good to be able to look at things from different sides.

Anonymous said...

Nathan,

Great post but have a question about this statement:

"Queried 50-100 agents and couldn't get a bite? Reached the end of your list?"

Should you try 50-100 agents before giving up? I realize you may put have this range out there willy nilly but is the norm?

Thanks!

Joanne

Misssy M said...

I'm heartened to see this post. My former agent wouldn't submit to niche publishers for the reasons you explain (not much chance of an advance)even though I asked her to and thought my book would be best suited to smaller publishers. She only tried the big guns with no success.

We parted ways, so now I'm approaching these smaller guys direct. I'd still like a decent agent though when the time comes.

Nathan Bransford said...

joanne-

I think the precise number varies depending on what genre you're working in and how precise the search is. But yes - I just threw the numbers out, they're not based on anything scientific.

Dawn said...

Thanks for this one, Nathan. My book will be published because I submitted to an editor (in a niche market) directly.

Anonymous said...

The venerable Miss Snark said you shouldn't give up the agent search until you've queried 100 agents. So, that 50-100 number sounds right. You can't argue with Miss Snark.

Margaret Yang

beckylevine said...

I went through this process with my book for Writer's Digest--had the chance to pitch an idea directly to Jane Friedman, even mentioned the idea of getting an agent--basically, her response was, that's part of the process. Then approached Jessica Faust (who was already agenting a friend) and she definitely made up for the 15%. Great post.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, Margaret,

This is incredibly insightful. I really would have thought that trying 10-20 agents as the maximum.

Once again, I come here and find myself enlightened.

Zen-fully yours,

Joanne

D. G. Hudson said...

Thanks for the information on the intricacies of acquiring an agent and how it fits into the process of publishing.

Most newbies are more comfortable with an agent, if they can acquire one. I've noticed that most of the articles or blog posts which say an agent is not needed, are written by authors with a few books to their credit, or by the few who have legal training themselves. Debut authors are not in the same category.

One observation I read in Donald Maass' book, 'The Fire in Fiction' was that in his experience, writers are either status seekers or storytellers. The storytellers will work on the novel until it's the best it can be, where the status seeker wants to know what will make it good enough to sell (so they can acquire the status they seek). I would suspect the status seekers are the ones who seek the editors and bypass the agents. IMO, of course. It all comes down to whatever works for the individual who is trying to sell their book.

Thermocline said...

Nathan,

You've mentioned many reasons here and yesterday about the great things an agent can do for you but I'm curious about your opinions on the editor side of working with an agent.

Does it make an editor's life any easier to work with an agent if an offer has already been extended to an author? Sure there is a benefit to the author, but what about the editor?

Ink said...

Joanne,

Why not try all the agents who represent you sort of story? You have nothing to lose.

It's good to do it smartly, of course. If you submit to 10 or 20 and can't get a request for a partial, well, look at that query again. Make changes, get some feedback on it. Try again. Keep going. Try to get some partial requests, get some feedback. If you get full requests you'll probably get feedback. Analyze that feedback - will it help your story? Revise, continue submitting. Keep at it. You never know if the right agent is out there if you don't try them. There are lots of stories out there about endless rejection... and then sudden success.

scott g.f.bailey said...

This is a bit off-topic, but I wonder, of Nathan's readers who do have agents, how many agents they queried before getting representation. I also wonder if there is any correlation between number of queries before finding an agent and genre. Maybe Nathan has some idea, or he could do a poll? In the interests of science.

Ink said...

Nathan,

I have a couple offhand questions about story collections. Since there's not a big market for them, what's typical? Is that a good time for an author to hit up small presses on their own? Or, if they already have an agent, would the agent do that? Or still the author? I know there's not a huge market for short fiction collections (unless you're Jhumpa Lahiri) so I was kind of curious about the process (though I'm guessing it's one of those things that varies a huge amount between individual writers and agents).

Joanne Sher said...

Thanks SO much, Nathan. I'm not at the querying stage yet, but am getting there - and this is one of the questions I was asking myself (agent or publisher??) - this is JUST the information I was looking for! (though I hadn't gone looking yet LOL)

Nathan Bransford said...

thermocline-

I can't speak for all editors, but some I have spoken to prefer to work with agents (or at least reputable agents) because they can expect a higher level of professionalism since agents do this for a living, the agency and publisher probably already has a boilerplate so the contract process is easier, the agent can serve as mediator and primary contact, the author asks the agent questions instead of the editor, and presumably the agent is working with the author to come up with good ideas for future projects.

Mira said...
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Livia said...

Hi Nathan. I've read articles by Stephen King and Orson Scott Card recommending that writers dont' go to agents. They recommend going to editors directly and then finding an agent afterwards, which seems to be very different from advice I see in other places. I wonder if that's because the market was different back when when they were getting started, or because they are such big names now that they get plenty of attention from publishes without an agent. Do you have any thoughts on this?

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

I also went w/ a small, niche press without an agent. I've had great success getting a contract and I appreciate knowing that agents are aware of the different circumstances.

Emily White said...

Nathan,

Thanks for the information.

Question: Do you think that authors run the risk of losing a deal should they get an offer from an editor only to then say that they want to take the time to find an agent to do the negotiating?

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Nathan,

If you made a connection with an editor who requested your manuscript, but your agent already sent it to another editor at that same large house, then it got rejected, can your agent then resubmit it to the first editor?

Thanks.

Nathan Bransford said...

ink-

I think the best strategy for short story collections is to first work on placing those short stories with as prestigious journals/magazines as possible.

While there are exceptions many/most of the most successful short story collections had already made splashes in this fashion prior to publication.

Otherwise, if the strategy is to try with small presses, often an author can try with them directly.

Nathan Bransford said...

emily white-

Not usually, but that's why I recommend giving the editor a heads-up ahead of time. If the editor doesn't want to work with an agent the author has a decision to make.

Mira said...

Oh for crying out loud. I need to stop posting until I stop being freaked out by this school thing. I can't think clearly.

This is what I want to say:

Nathan, I love how you take the high road. Consistently.

Thermocline said...

Mira,

One of my dogs said you can query him as long as you're not a vegetarian. He wants 15% cut of any sirloin you bring in.

Nathan Bransford said...

livia-

I can't speak for them, but my understanding is that editors used to be much more open to unsolicited material than they are now. Most major publishers are almost completely closed to them.

I just can't see how this is good advice. An unagented debut author has, let's say, five publishers they can submit to. An agented debut author has thirty or forty places and will get more attention because they have an agent.

The difference in odds is self-evident.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon@11:48-

Probably not, but you can ask your agent, and the agent might get special dispensation to submit, or they might not feel it's appropriate. But your agent will know.

SM Blooding said...

This was very helpful. Sometimes the--Nope. Scratch that. Nearly all the time, the submission process is very frustrating. ACK!!!

I haven't exhausted all of my agent contacts yet. I've still got awhile, but at the same time, I just want to pull out my frelling hair and scream to the sky. GAH! LOL!

Amber Hamilton said...

Please excuse the interruption here, but I'd like to request another blog topic: what is the official Curtis Brown acceptance policy? Is it strictly up to individual agents or do you submit to a committee/"higher power" before offering representation?

Honestly, I've just submitted a pb for consideration with another C.B. agent, but I thought this might make a good blog topic, and I am curious about the answer.

Kelly Moran said...

great post.

Laura Martone said...

I'm so bloody excited! In reading this and yesterday's post, I realize how much I've already learned from you, Nathan, as well as your "followers"! Nothing in this post surprised me. I love it when it seems as though the information has finally sunk in.

Now, back to my book proposal. ;-)

Ink said...

Thanks, Nathan.

I'll work out a plan once the New Yorker gets back to me...

Neil Nyren said...

On the question of whether it makes the editor's life easier to work with an agent, the answer is unquestionably yes, for all the reasons Nathan mentioned.

Lisa Schroeder said...

I get asked that question a lot as a published author, and I 100% agree there are instances when it makes sense to try an editor, and you nailed them. I'm glad to have this post to point people to when asked the question.

Thanks, Nathan!

Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks for weighing in, Neil!

ryan field said...

Good post.

Tracey said...

From yesterday's and today's posts I have a question...
My agent was shopping my last book unsuccessfully so I decided to rewrite it. She was enthusiastic about my working on it some more. I asked for, but did not get any specific direction from her. After the rewrite, she told me that she does not like the new ms and has to pass.

I'd prefer a more hands-on approach. Is it usual not to give your author some direction? I mean, I love her, but I wonder if I should seek another agent.

Kristi said...

While I do have a PB out on submission to two editors - one being someone I met at a conference - there is no way I'm submitting my YA ms to an editor without having an agent. For all of the reasons Nathan gave yesterday, plus some, I'm a huge believer in the benefit of an agent. As soon as my ms is polished, my focus will be on the agent part. BTW, the Querytracker site is a fabulous resource for those who at the query stage.

Robert McGuire said...

One other circumstance in which we should consider submitting directly occurs to me -- if you're interested working with a small/indie publisher. I've noticed that most of them seem open to and even expect submissions directly from authors. And as we discussed a few months ago, while Nathan said he'll submit to those presses on behalf of his clients, many agents don't feel its worth their while.

Susan Quinn said...

This blog has amazing timeliness for me!

I'm going to attend a conference soon, hoping to have my MS polished by then. Problem: lots of editors, but only one agent, at the conference and I won't have had time to start querying agents yet. Good to know that it's okay to approach the editors, if there's an opening. Trying hard not to seem stalkerish though.

Thanks for your evenhandedness, Nathan!

Linda Godfrey said...

This post really answered and clarified my question from yesterday about whether agents are needed for niche markets that don't have large advances, so thanks very much for that.

I'm just finishing my 11th book in six years contracted in that way. Although the advances aren't large, I make many media and speaking appearances and hand-sell a lot of books. Because I have a passion for my genre, it works.

But I still want an agent for non-niche projects! What I've learned it is doesn't matter how well-published you are in areas other than what you are pitching. All anyone cares about, in the end, is the quality of what you've just set on the table.

I'm now busy polishing the silver.

Joseph L. Selby said...

That was an interesting wording. I have always heard it's smart to have a lawyer whether you have an agent or not. Are you suggesting that the agent's knowhow fills this capacity? Would having a lawyer review your agent-negotiated contract be redundant in your opinion?

Nathan Bransford said...

joseph-

That's up to the author, but there are certain clauses and customs unique to publishing contracts that non-publishing lawyers may not be familiar with. Since agents have so much familiarity with contracts they have a better sense of what's possible and impossible when it comes to negotiation.

Alena Thomas said...

Nathan,

I love the way you explain in great detail the different components of the literary world. Everything from queries to agents and publishers, but with also explaining the specific details of each facet. Your comprehensive information is priceless. Truly, you are an invaluable ally to writers. Thanks!

Rachel Fenton said...

I am sending short fiction direct to editors of small press publishing houses but am seeking an agent for my novels so this advice is really spot on for me - that it's ok to send some stuff out whilst still seeking representation. Thank you.

Lydia Sharp said...

Good post. :)

clindsay said...
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clindsay said...

And remember to research your publishers the same way you do agents. A lot of publishers are very specific about not taking unagented submissions. I used to work for one. Despite the very clear submission guidelines, they routinely received about 10k to 15k manuscripts a year...manuscripts that were dropped right into the nearest dumpster.

So, do your homework, please!

Mira said...

Thermocline - well, I don't know about steak - that's sort of expensive. How about some plastic toys and a good scratch behind the ears?

I'll throw in a game of tag if he can get me entertainment rights.

J.J. Bennett said...

50 maybe ...but 100? Yikes! I hope by then I'd chalk it up as something I wasn't ment to do.

Mira said...

JJ - Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected 140 times and was dropped by their first agent. Food for thought.

Or for the soul. Ha.

Anonymous said...

I've done #3 a few times now, and I currently have a two different books with editors -- the wait can be longer (or not, during the current times) without an agent, but it's still do-able.

Terry said...

Another informative post. Thanks.

D.G.Hudson, I read that Donald Maass observation recently online and I think he missed a third category. Those who write for money and don't care about status and all the problems associated with it. They may still love storytelling though.

Elaine 'still writing' Smith said...

There are more agents than editors, so statistically speaking fishing for an agent must be the way forward.
Pilot whale rather than barracuda, obviously.

Karen Schwabach said...

I made my first, second and third deals without an agent-- found it *much* easier to find an editor who liked my work than an agent. The main difference in the search process: most agents will read simultaneous submissions, most editors will not, so the agentless process can be a bit slower.

(Especially if you submit to the growing number of editors who "only respond if interested".)

Anonymous said...

Here's the key:

"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."

Thanks for that.

~The Anonymizer

Anonymous said...

My first book, a thriller, will be published by a small, traditional press whom I sold to directly.

They expressed interested in more books, though, and if they offer a contract on another, I will seek an agent.

Anonymous said...

Even if you sell to a house directly, I owuld think you still wnt an agent because who's going to sell your sub-rights for you (unless the publisher is going to be trying to sell them because they own part of the rights, maybe, but otherwise--you need an agent for that).

~The Anonymizer

Anonymous said...

"I would suspect the status seekers are the ones who seek the editors and bypass the agents."

I think it's the opposite. Status-seekers are the ones who like to go around saying, "Talk to my agent." Storytellers just want to get their stories told, so they go right to the publisher--maybe even taking in less $ as a result of repping themselves.

~The Anonymizer

Anonymous said...

I already sold a novel to a small, traditional press for a mid-four figure advance, and I am on very good terms with this publisher, who says they want more books from me, which I am prepared to deliver.

I worry that by getting an agent it would be a sign of mistrust, or somehow saying that I don't like dealing with them and so now "don't talk to me, talk to this third party."

The other thing is, they already have right of 1st refusal on my next work anyway, and I'm not allowed to sell competing works (those with the same characters) to other pubs, so I'm not sure what an agent could do for me. Sell sub-rights, I guess. But the pub owns a % of those, too.

~The Anonypus

Nathan Bransford said...

anonypus-

If you want an agent and the publisher wants to do by right by you they'd be more than happy to work with an agent.

And if they don't want to do right by you do you really want to stay with them?

Anonymous said...

Let's say you the writer submitted a novel to an editor, who either rejected it or never responded.

A year or so later, you the writer finds an agent. If the agent looks at the editor's name and saus, "I'd have submitted it to so and so instead, who loves this kind of thing," what would prevent the editor from submitting it to this other editor?

Isn't it possible you the writer or maybe even a previous agent could have simply submitted the book to the wrong editors?

Anonymous said...

In my second paragraph, of course I meant to write "what would prevent the agent from submitting it to this other editor."

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Even if the author or a previous agent submitted to the wrong editors I wouldn't then be able to submit to the same house. A response (or no response) from a publishing house is considered a response from all the editors there.

Anonymous said...

I guess I will have to get an agent then.

It's just a matter of the timing of it--seek an agent now, for the already sold book?! Or when I submit the 2nd book to the pub, or before I submit #2 to the pub, mentioning that #1 has already been sold...

How long is too long to make the pub wait for my response to their 2nd contract offer while a take my contract around to different agents to see who might want to rep me?

Thanks, Nathan.

Anonypus

Nathan Bransford said...

anonypus-

A few weeks.

Anonymous said...

Thanks again, nathan.

Anonypus

Vegas Linda Lou said...

No kidding about getting an agent to negotiate your contract! I met a woman last weekend whose book has been out of print for a few years and it’s been in no man’s land because she can’t get the rights back. Why? Because she negotiated her own contract with a publisher.

I could sense her looking down on me when I mentioned I’m self-publishing, and she totally dismissed my involvement in a writers’ group. “Those people are amateurs,” she said. Well, guess what, chickie? If you were in a damn writers’ group, you’d have learned that you never negotiate your own contract!

And P.S., in a couple of weeks, I’ll be selling my book, and where will yours be, again? Oh, in LIMBO! Hahahahaha…..

Sean Craven said...

Thank you, Nathan. This sounds like solid advice. Until I hear differently, I'll only contact publishers a) if I have a referral or b) if they approach me.

Man, this stuff is hard. Why can't I just write and get a subsistence check? Ah, well.

jwacker said...

Thanks for the insight.

P.A.Brown said...

I've already compiled a list of about 120 agents. I haven't started subbing yet because I want to polish the ms as much as I can, but I do have a question for you Nathan. I have several books already published, with small pubs. My sales aren't huge as you can imagine -- is that going to affect the way an agent looks at me? This project I'm finishing up is, in my opinion, worthy of a bigger publisher, but I need to know going in if I'm going to be hurt by previous books that weren't best sellers. How do agents look at those kinds of things?

Angeliss said...

You've touched on letting the editors know if you're actively seeking an agent- but what about the flip side? Say you've got the editor hooked, and you're querying- this would be the kind of thing to let the agent know in the query letter, am I mistaken?

Amber Hamilton said...

Angeliss,

Yes, just as you'd want to let them know who your ms has been to so far. An agent will want to know this.

Anonymous said...

Nathan:

Not exactly on topic, but if an agent asks for a full manuscript, how long is the usual wait to hear something? It's been about 2 1/2 months, and no response to my brief, friendly "so how's it going" inquiry. Hmm.

D. G. Hudson said...

Terry said...
"D.G.Hudson, I read that Donald Maass observation recently online and I think he missed a third category. Those who write for money and don't care about status and all the problems associated with it. They may still love storytelling though."

Terry, that category would cover a lot of people. I don't think D. Maass was necessarily associating the status seekers with money, but in how and why they write.

Don't most writers want to make money? IMO, the storyteller wants to know that others like what they write, but they, like the status seekers, have to eat and pay rent.

J.J. Bennett said...

Mira,

I'd need some chicken soup too after all that! I'd heard the comment before. I'm just saying there's no way I could deal with that much rejection and still want to continue. I'm sure there's many people who have gone through that. I'm just hoping I won't be one of them.

J.J. Bennett said...

Mira... I forgot! I'd love it if you'd stop by and enter my little contest. Laura needs someone to give her a "run for her money"...

Darin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steph Damore said...

I agree with Kristi in being a big believer in the power of an agent. Right now I don't have any desire to submit directly to an editor (although none of my manuscripts fall under Nathan's guidelines either). However, I might change my mind if my current MS is shot down by 100 agents!

Mira - hope schools going great for you. How do you find the time to blog??? I'm so jealous.

Steph Damore said...

Nathan - thanks for answering Ink's story collect question; I've been wondering the same thing.

Darin said...

So, I was recently at a writer's convention, had the great fortune of talking to the chief editor of a major publisher in my genre. I discussed with him the concept of my book and let him look at my query letter. He said it was interesting and something he would like to hear more about, but that he was not accepting unagented manuscripts at this time. He was kind enough to give me a referral to an agent that he felt was appropriate for my manuscript. I submitted to them 3 weeks ago and mentioned the referral, and now the agent's website now says they are temporarily not accepting queries. What do I do at this point? I don't want to contact the agent and irritate them by seeming impatient, but neither do I wish to sit and wait if they aren't planning to get back to me anytime soon because of the temporary suspension of accepting new queries. How long should I wait before contacting the agent by e-mail just to get status? Also, would I be correct in assuming that "no unagented queries" from the editor means what he says? (The second question is more rhetorical...)

Mira said...

J.J. - I hope that doesn't happen to you, too! But people talk about luck in getting published - I think that may be true to some extent - but persistance makes a huge difference too.

I wish I could join in your contest! I hope other people do - that is very cool of you. But I'm in my first week of grad school, and I'm having (what I'm told is) the normal and ordinary complete and utter freak-out. I need all my energy to either not a. jump off a tall building; b. jump off a short building; or c. sue the school for not accomodating my preferred cultural choice of jumping off a medium-sized building. See? Don't I sound like a Social Worker already?

Anyway, good luck with the contest! And don't give up until you hit 140. Not if you think it's good. William Saroyan had 6000 rejections letters - I think he holds the record.

Terry said...

Thanks for getting back D.G.

I see what you're saying, but I respectfully, don't agree. Status is not necesarily bound up in money. It means position, rank, prestige.

Some people buy status with money, but money and status are separate. Yes, we all need to pay the bills and provide for our families. That's different from status seeking.

Maybe I should have said, some of us want to make a living at writing. Not all of us want prestige. Some of us want to simply provide for ourselves and our families, the best way we know how.

wendy said...

Thanks for this really interesting post, Nathan.
Through an email query (well, just a 'can I submit directly to you?') I got the go-ahead to snail mail a proposal to Pan McMillan here in Australia. But they want so much information other than just the synopsis and chapters that I've not got around to doing it yet. I like writng, but not working out marketing info and writing resumes, etc.

Rachel Starr Thomson said...

My goal is 80-100 agents before I move on to the next thing, and yes, I think I picked that expectation up from Miss Snark. (Sigh -- how I miss her!) This is a good reminder that "the next thing" may be pitching an editor directly (though I've already been playing with the small press idea).

Linda Godfrey said...

Mira, please stay away from the tall buildings, I'd miss your comments! You will get in that grad school groove, I guarantee. Super good luck with that!

Jo said...

I sold my first book to a publisher while I was between agents and I would definitely agree that you need a professional (either a lawyer or an agent) to help with the contractual process. That is not something a writer should try to figure out on their own.

suzie said...

Great post!

One more thing for writers without an agent to keep in mind - if they get an offer, it might be worth it to hire a literary lawyer to look over the contract and make sure everything looks good.

Niki Schoenfeldt said...

Nathan, I have been a subscriber to your blog for many months now, and this particular article caught my eye. It was intersting to see your take on it. I am primarily a PB writer. I have one published with a small press and have some magazine credits under my belt. I have been searching for an agent for my newest creation for months. There are not a lot of agents who are willing to take on PB's right now and of those I submitted to, I'm not getting any bites. Just lots of form letters. Yet, it has been my experience that most editors respond kindly to my queries. This has opened numerous doors for me and although I haven't received another contract yet, I have begun a relationship in places that might otherwise be closed to me. As of today, 3 different PB's have passed the slush and are under consideration at different houses. I often wonder why I am garnering more interest from the editors than agents? Any thoughts?

Mira said...

Linda - thank you!!! :) Right now especially it's really nice to hear things like that - I appreciate it. :)

You know, reading Niki's post made me wonder about something. Maybe the economy is creating a situation where it's more difficult to find an agent. Agent's are conservative because they are find it hard to anticipate what will sell. On the other hand, if an editor knows what he wants, like a PB, then he'll take a look at direct submissions. I don't know if that makes sense. I have heard that PBs are the hardest thing to sell, so agents are probably very reluctant to take them on. This is all just a guess, of course....

Nathan Bransford said...

It's easier to find editors at small presses than an agent because while publishers can make money publishing books for niche audiences, agents can't really make a living off of these types of projects.

The math is pretty daunting. Let's say it takes fifty hours of work on a project to read it, work with the author on revisions, prep submissions, etc. And then that book sells for $1,000 to a small press. That's 50 hours of work for $150 (15% of $1,000), or about three dollars an hour.

Now, maybe an agent will send a project to small presses if they think it's going to help the author's career in the long run. But you can see why agents really tend to focus on projects they can sell to the major publishers.

Niki Schoenfeldt said...

Nathan,

I was talking about big publishers. Just because my first foray into the publishing world was with a small press doesn't mean I want to stay there. Like most authors my goal is to make a name with a big publishing house. I don't want to be a one hit wonder. I see my work as part of the trade market. Those holding my m/s are big pubs. Therefore, I still wonder why I can garner interst there, but not from an agent? Personally, I think it is simply the way the PB market is. Had I been at this stage in my career during the boom of the 90's I think I would have fared well. Why do agents shy away from PB's? According to an editor I just saw at a conference, the PB market is NOT dead. What do you think?

Jeanette Harvey said...

"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."

Hi Nathan,

Just wondering if this also applies to "first novel" contests held by publishing houses. If I submit my novel to a contest and it's reviewed, but doesn't place would that discourage editors from considering the manuscript again when I'm agented?

Thank you for your time and for providing this wonderful resource for aspiring authors!

Nathan Bransford said...

niki-

I couldn't tell you - every project is different. I certainly don't think agents are shying away from all authors who are aiming for the pb market, but without knowing the specifics I don't know that I would be able to really speculate.

Linnea said...

While I would have loved to work with an agent, the agent I worked with got nowhere so after a year, like Missy M, we parted ways and I approached publishers directly. I sold my manuscript to a small publishing house and am very happy with the results.
With one published novel under my belt I'll likely approach agents again with my second novel. Why? Despite having had a wonderful time with my editor and publisher, I still believe working with an agent is the best way to sustain a successful career as a novelist.

Mystery Girl said...

Interesting post Nathan. I have been shopping a debut mystery for the last few months and never even thought of approaching smaller presses direct.

Dana Fredsti said...

I've gotten published without an agent and all I can say is I really wish I'd had an agent to negotiate for me.

WOrd verification: nests

No explanation needed.

Anonymous said...

Darin asked: "So, I was recently at a writer's convention, had the great fortune of talking to the chief editor of a major publisher in my genre. I discussed with him the concept of my book and let him look at my query letter. He said it was interesting and something he would like to hear more about, but that he was not accepting unagented manuscripts at this time. He was kind enough to give me a referral to an agent that he felt was appropriate for my manuscript. I submitted to them 3 weeks ago and mentioned the referral, and now the agent's website now says they are temporarily not accepting queries. What do I do at this point? I don't want to contact the agent and irritate them by seeming impatient, but neither do I wish to sit and wait if they aren't planning to get back to me anytime soon because of the temporary suspension of accepting new queries. How long should I wait before contacting the agent by e-mail just to get status? Also, would I be correct in assuming that "no unagented queries" from the editor means what he says? (The second question is more rhetorical...)"

Have you ever received any confirmation that your submission to them was received? If you submitted via email, then email them at the one month mark and just ask for a confirmation. Mention the editor's name again so they can place you.

Meanwhile, you really should be submitting to other agents. Even though you have a referral to this one, the fact that she has suspended queries means she's overloaded. Better to do some googling and see what other agents handle books in your genre. Simultaneous submissions are fine. Just alert the others if you have been offered representation and give them a chance to compete.

Why are you asking a rhetorical question here? Yes, the editor really meant he only wanted your ms to come in through an agent.

Darin said...

Just wanted to say thanks to Nathan for such an insightful, and for me, timely post. The no unsolicited queries at publishers seems to be more the rule than the exception these days. Also, to whoever gave the anonymous advice above, thanks!!! I'll wait to see if I hear something by the one month mark, then e-mail for confirmation. Oh, and the rhetorical question at the end was just me talking myself out of doing something that was "less than smart". Very interesting discussion everyone!

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