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Do You Need an Agent to Submit to Publishers? Do You Need an Agent to Submit to Publishers?

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In the latest edition of Writing World, Moira Allen has an article answering the following questions:

  • Is it mandatory to go through an agent before submitting to a publisher?
  • Are there free agents?
  • Do most publishers want the author to put money down up front?
  • I don't know what genre I write in. I don't know what I like to read. Why are writers and readers so caught up with genres and labels?

Because I get a lot of similar questions - and I don't know the answers because this isn't my area of expertise - I asked Moira if I could publish her answers for all to see. 

But before I do that, here's some info about Ms. Allen.  She has been writing and editing professionally for more than 20 years. A columnist for The Writer, she is also the author of Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer; The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals (now available as an e-book); and Creative Internet Strategies to Advance Your Writing Career. For more details, visit:

Now for those answers from her copyrighted article:

Last question first: Readers and writers aren't caught up with genres and labels; publishers and booksellers are. It makes it easier to put a book on the right "shelf." That's why even a so-called "crossover" novel (e.g., "science fiction/romance") will generally be placed on one shelf (most likely "romance") rather than in both genres.

Next question: REPUTABLE agents do not charge money up front. They make their money by selling books. Of course, that makes it harder to get an agent, because they won't TAKE your book unless they are absolutely certain they can sell it to a publisher. But do not, repeat, DO NOT use an agent who asks for money from you up front, such as a "reading fee" or something of that nature. Of course you'll be able to "get" an agent who charges the writer money -- because such an agent doesn't care if your book is any good or not! He or she is making money anyway, off YOU, whether the book can be sold. Reputable agents take a commission off sales (15%), and if your book doesn't sell, you don't owe them any money.

Another scam to watch out for is one that, sadly, is still going on: The agent who says that your book is ALMOST ready for publication, and they might consider taking you on if you get a professional editing job -- and they then refer you to an editor/book doctor they just happen to know who can handle this.*

I've just heard of a new variation on this scheme: An agency that requires a person submitting a manuscript to include a "critique" with the submission.  The writer asked a friend to provide this, but the agent "rejected" the friend's critique and then recommended that the writer pay a "professional" $100 to provide it instead. 

Needless to say, the "professional" was an editor/book doctor whose job was to convince the writer that her  manuscript needed professional editing.*

Now to the first question: Is it mandatory? No. Some publishers do not require submissions to be agented." Others do. It's simply a matter of looking at the publisher's guidelines. If a publisher accepts unsolicited or unagented submissions, you can go to them directly. If they say "no unagented submissions," then you'd have to have an agent to reach that publisher.

However, having an agent does more than just getting your book in the door. An agent will help negotiate a contract that is more in your favor, and help sell subsidiary rights to your book -- perhaps even get a movie deal if it's the right kind of book. So an agent can do a lot more for you than you can do for yourself, particularly if you're not familiar with the book-publishing industry.

But the first thing to do is get the book written. Agents and publishers will usually NOT look at a proposal from a first-time (i.e., unpublished) author who hasn't finished the book. That's simply because there are so many authors who THINK they are going to write a book, but never actually get it done. So if the book isn't finished, get the book written, then worry about agents and publishers!


* Note: I am not and never will be in any agent's pocket.  I.e., I'm not an editor/doctor in cahoots with an agent to rip off unsuspecting (usually first-time) authors. 

That said, most authors do need to get their writing professionally edited before submitting it to an agent or publisher.  It's not the agent's job to clean up the author's writing, and by getting their manuscript professionally edited, authors show that they know how to make a good impression.  This bodes well for marketing of the published book, as authors must attend book-signings and do other promotions to make their books sell.  A sloppy manuscript could mean that the author would also be sloppy in their commitment to marketing (read: making the agent, and the author, some money!).


Monday, November 28, 2005  |  Permalink |  Comments (0)
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