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Method in the Madness: Finding a Good Agent or Publisher
Author: Gary Kessler
Once you have written (and polished) your book or article, you are struck with the question of how you can share this work with others. If you wish to share it beyond your immediate circle of friends and family, you will want to publish it.
To do so, you need to know:
The first consideration in manuscript submission is whether or not you need a literary agent to seek and represent the sale of your work.
You Don't Always Need an Agent
Agents arent required for all approaches to publishers. Agents will only become involved when there is enough money in a publication deal to make their time and effort worthwhile. This means they operate almost exclusively in the realm of major trade publishing houses.
You do not need - and, in fact, probably will not be able to engage - an agent:
For these types of manuscripts, you can submit directly to publishers.
What an Agent Will/May Do For You
A good literary agent will:
Literary agents work through networking. They network with publishers and other agents to determine what is on demand - and at what general price. They usually make their offers of representation based on this knowledge. They also network to determine what publishers will fit best with the clients they are representing.
What Do You Pay an Agent?
Reputable agents will charge a standard commission on the advance and royalties from all uses of rights.
All agent fees and commission should be collected out of book sale proceeds as they comes in from the publisher(s). Publishing receipts generally come through the agent to the author, so the agents usually take their cut out as it passes through their hands.
A large number of businesses pose as serious literary agents. They use the publishing hopes of neophyte book authors to prey on them. Thoroughly check out prospective agents by the methods outlined in this article.
Watch out for:
Submitting Directly to Publishers
You can directly submit to any publisher that will accept unagented submissions. Whether or not they do is usually noted in the submissions guidelines they post on their websites and list in the various guides on agents and publishers.
Small and medium-sized publishers and academic publishers normally deal in unagented works (but pay no or low advances). Agents come into play where theres a big enough advance in the offing to provide them a good commission (usually from the big New York publishing houses).
The Right Agent or Publisher
You can use the same basic research method to find both reputable agents and publishers.
Do careful research up front and target only those agents and publishers who will help you produce a high-quality book. Agents and agents you target should be able to point to previous success in profitably selling books similar to yours.
This means you need to zero in on agents and publishers that would represent your work in the best light, give you the best benefit, and be the most reputable available. Unfortunately, unless you dont mind making no money or taking a loss on a book youve spent considerable time writing, the ability to sell books like yours should be the bottom line in your evaluation of your agent and publisher options.
How to Find the Right Agent or Publisher
There are several ways to find out what agents and publishers are available and to zero in on the best fits for your book. All of these ways can be employed to obtain a master list of possibilities:
When you have a list of appropriate agents or publishers, you can start focusing on the most desirable of these.
Managing Your Agent of Publisher Hunt
Set up a record-keeping system to keep track of the status of your submissions. At minimum, you should include check-in categories of where you sent queries and follow-up material (with specific names and contact information), dates of submissions, and dates and content of responses.
When you send queries out with self-addressed stamped envelopes (SASEs), remember to use the individual addressee as the return address so you can identify who is sending a response to you. (Agents/publishers sometimes send short form letters that dont identify themselves.)
I Have My List and System Now What?
You are now ready to review all of the information you have gathered on your master list and categorize. Arrange listed agents/publishers from those most attractive (offer good benefits and services and represent/produce books close to the content and style of your book) to the least desirable.
Concentrate on the top three or four categories (but save the categorized master list--you may eventually have to consider querying agents/publishers in the lower categories). Find out all you can about the reputations of these agents and publishers on the following publishing industry watchdogs:
[And, of course, see what the buzz about a particular agent is in the WritersNet Literary Agents forum. You will more than likely find someone with first hand experience of dealing with the agent you are considering. Ed.]
This process of determining who will actually deal with you honestly will have weeded out a high percentage of the agents and publishers you had on your master list.
Dont mourn over how short your vetted list now appears. Take heart that the time and money you are now going to put into querying agents and publishers has a higher probability of success. Think of all those aspiring writers who didnt vet their choices first, who are now engaging in unproductive and ultimately expensive and disheartening discussion with unsuitable and/or disreputable agents and publishers.
Copyright 2003 Gary Kessler. All rights reserved.
Gary Kessler, a frequent contributor to the WritersNet discussion board, is a novelist and freelance book editor who has edited more than eighty-five published books for some twenty traditional publishers since 1997. He has worked inside both trade and academic publishing houses and has released books of his own in traditional publishing, POD-production, and electronic publishing forms. He is the editor of the two-volume WritersNet Anthology of Prose, which was released in 2002. Garys previous career was with the U.S. Governments foreign media news agency, for which he served in embassies in East Asia and the Mediterranean and also served as the news agencys managing editor. He provides writing and publishing tips for authors on his professional website at www.editsbooks.com.
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