A literary agent can serve many useful roles as you seek a publisher. Two of the most valuable:
An experienced agent knows the publishing industry. He or she can help you:
● know which publishing houses may be a good fit for your book
● navigate the process of negotiating and contracting with a publisher
● learn how to market your book
An experienced agent has relationships in the industry that can open doors for you. He or she will:
● make the initial contact with publishers
● pitch the full proposal to the acquisitions editor
● negotiate with the publisher
Having an experienced agent in your corner can be a huge benefit. But for many first-time authors, securing an agent can be as challenging as finding a publisher. This leads many to wonder if it’s really necessary.
The answer depends on your goals. Many people will tell you that having an agent is essential to getting published—because many publishing houses accept proposals only through agents. For these houses, the agent serves as a gatekeeper to ensure they review only the best proposals.
Yet there are a few other pathways:
This has become easier and less expensive. And because more sophisticated self-publishing options have emerged, the stigma it endured in its early years has been reduced.
Authors who succeed in selling a self-published book will merit a closer look by a traditional publisher for their next book. But there are two caveats:
● If the self-published book does not sell well, it will be more of a negative than a positive.
● It’s highly unusual for a traditional publisher to republish a self-published book. Most often a self-published title will always remain one.
If you go this route, you won’t need an agent. But know what you’re getting into—and make sure you’re equipped to do your own marketing.
Some smaller houses (such as where I work) still accept unagented manuscripts. Before you submit, review their submission guidelines and publishing interests. Make sure your proposal fits what they seek so you don’t waste your time and theirs.
Contacts at Conferences
Some writers conferences offer opportunities to meet acquisitions editors from larger publishers. This is the one time they will review a proposal from an author who doesn’t have an agent.
If you ultimately decide to secure an agent, do your due diligence. Also, remember that your agent works for you. While they have experience and connections, it’s your book—and writing career. Your agent can give you great advice, but the important decisions are always yours.
Kevin Scott serves as acquisitions editor at Wesleyan Publishing House, where he coaches first-time and experienced authors through the acquisitions and editorial process. Kevin also writes essays about sustainable Christianity at www.kevinscottwrites.com.