The question that most writers ask is, should I send my manuscript to a publisher or an agent? It is a little like the old chicken vs. egg dilemma. The best answer anyone can give is it all depends.
You have a better chance of getting a great agent if you have a few sales under your belt. You have a better chance at selling to a great publisher if you have an agent. It is a classic catch 22. Finding an agent might prove as difficult as finding a publisher. For either, it is a case of no one size fits all. Editors and agents are like fingerprints. No two are alike. Just because your best friend sings their praises doesn’t mean that the two of you will be a good fit. And just because that stranger you enjoyed chatting with at that cocktail party doesn’t mean that you should sign without reading the fine print.
There are advantages and disadvantages either way. Without an agent, you have a limited number of houses open to unsolicited manuscripts. Many of the major publishers are agents-only. They do not even allow query letters. A few occasionally put a call for manuscripts on their websites. Editors at regional writers’ conferences will sometimes agree to read one manuscript from the roster list of attendees. If you’re particularly lucky, you might get a one-on-one consult during the conference.
It might take you months to find an agent, if at all. Professional journals like The Writer, and The Writer’s Digest list agents and what genre they specialize in. Check out the website, http://www. aaronline.org/find for a list of Association of Authors’ Representatives, Inc. Its members operate under a canon of ethics and must be professionally active for the two years preceding application for membership and sold at least ten different literary properties in the previous eighteen months. For an agent not listed, find out what they have sold and how long they have been a full-time agent. If they take you on, you might be the sale that qualifies them.
You need to be sure that the two of you are a good fit. I’m not a good example since I’ve had two unsuccessful tries. Of the more than a hundred traditionally published books, I marketed all but one. The first agent I signed with almost cost me the book sale I already made. The second one sold only one manuscript over the years. Severing the “partnership” was traumatic for me, and it took me far too long to accept that we were not a good match. I think we were both relieved.
There are good reasons to have an agent:
They know the editors and what they want.
They know the trends at least two years in the future.
They do the marketing, leaving you to concentrate on writing.
They can get your manuscript to an editor who doesn’t read unsolicited manuscripts.
They get the rejections, which can negatively affect your writing.
They might be your most effective booster in low times.
On the other side, you have relinquished control over your baby. You are not their top priority since they have many clients, and a sale is a sale [except to you]. I heard from one author that her agent withheld other clients’ manuscripts as a bargaining chip to get her a better contract. That may be fine for her, but did the other clients know and approve that they were hostage to someone else’s negotiations? In another incident, the agent wouldn’t withdraw a manuscript or even ask about its status because she didn’t want to bother or offend the editor. Oh really?
Some agents are hands-on in revisions before submitting your manuscript. Others decide which of your manuscripts they will represent and leave the rest to you to place. Some are timid about inquiring about the submission status. Another might be so pushy that editors avoid their calls and considering their submissions.
You have to understand what you agree to give up and weigh the benefits against the losses, so ask questions. Even if you solicited their services, you are not obligated to sign on.
Once you get over the hurdle and sign with an agent, it could take months longer to find a publisher, if at all. There are no guarantees.
You might decide to market your material yourself. The benefits are:
You keep control of your manuscript.
No one will believe in it more than you.
You will develop a more personal relationship with the editor so that she is more willing to work with you on a flawed manuscript.
Publishing houses have personalities that vary from experimental to ultra conservative. Within those houses, the editors want the stories they most enjoy reading for pleasure. Publishers have websites with their submission requirements, and a few websites like http://greatstorybook.com/publishers-accepting-submissions-from-authors-now/ carry updated lists. Publisher’s Weekly carry updates. It’s expensive, but most libraries I’ve been in have them in their magazine section. My experiences with editors are mixed. One couldn’t stop noodling with every sentence simply because it was there. She made me feel as if I was not a writer at all. We were not a good fit. Another editor asked a question and then stepped back to let me work through it. We worked together so well that I had only to make a quick phone call to contract without an outline or full manuscript.
Editors and agents have one thing in common. They want successful manuscripts. Write and revise, and keep at it until you have a super manuscript that appeals to many. Whichever route you take is the right one for you. Write on!