Agent, Fiction, Marketing, Novel, Publish, Query, Questions, Writing

Can we get together and discuss this?

I know very little about self-publishing or e-publishing—or even small press publishing. I wanted to get that out of the way, so you understand I’m asking for information and discussion today, not stating an opinion from a knowledgeable viewpoint.

I do know that vanity publishing (where the author pays money to the “publisher”) is NOT something I’m interested in. But the longer I travel this agent query road, the more I find myself wondering about other publishing options. I haven’t given up trying to find an agent to represent my novel to a big name publisher (I have queries and partials out) but when I allow myself to read agent statistics, I tend to question whether I ought to face those facts with my head rather than my heart.

Consider this: established agents receive a conservative average of 50 queries a day—that’s almost 20,000 queries a year—but during that time take on maybe 5 new clients! Sobering odds, huh?

If you’ve ever looked up the agent who represented your favorite author, chances are you found that said agent “does not accept unsolicited queries.” The fact is the best way to get an agent to consider your query is by client referral. How many of you know an author offering to put in a good word for you with their agent? Show of hands.

For the most part, I search for new agents trying to build their client lists. They are just as hopeful they’ll discover the next best-selling author as we’re hopeful we are that author.

I know I’m not the only one who’s curious about the other publishing options. Natasha recently wrote a post about this. And super agent Nathan Bransford has written about e-publishing and self-publishing options.

So now, I’d like to know your thoughts. Have you considered (or chosen) one of these options? What do you know about the pros and cons? Do you think what you write should be a consideration? In the end, does it come down to a simple decision of why you write, whether you write just to share a story vs. writing to make money?

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38 thoughts on “Can we get together and discuss this?”

  1. There are so many excellent writers out there slipping under the radar, and an equal number of, dare-I-say, mediocre writers being published all the time. Publication to me is not representative of a writers skill, rather their tenacity and dedication. Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the art of motorcycles was rejected about 120 times before finally being signed. Bryce Courtenay had no joy in the Australian market so took his manuscript to America. Ours is a notoriously hard industry to break in to, but not impossible. No matter which avenue we choose – either representation by an agent or publishing house, or self-publication it’s going to be difficult to break into the market.
    I’m not that keen on e-publishing, but would definitely consider it once I’ve exhausted all other avenues. Self-publishing seems risky and expensive, but again, I’d consider it if I was absolutely certain I had a salable product.


    1. I agree that achieving traditional publication is often a case of persistence not necessarily talent, though the worst of the trad-pub stuff is still far better than the worst of self-pub. Hence the stigma of being self-published, but the times are changing. E-publishing may be the deal-breaker, though percentage wise, the sale of e-books is still far, far below paper at this point. It will be interesting to see what the future of publishing, in all forms, holds.

      And yes, there are many hurdles to leap on the way to becoming a successful author. After the difficulty of writing a novel, it’s then difficult to get an agent, and then difficult for that agent to sell your book to a publisher, and then difficult again to get readers to select your book out of all the books published that week/month/year. But what else can we do? 😉


  2. Comes down to the same thing really, how far are any of us willing to put our futures in someone else’s hands? Agents are mediators and jolly valuable they can be if you have no way of representing yourself. But in the end that’s all they are, you are the one with the product and the person you really need to access is the one who can promote your idea so the decision becomes one of pragmatics.

    Linda, you have said that marketing (and by default, the process that excludes most of the delivery process beyond writing – at least I think that’s what you were saying) is not your forte and so you want to have an expert doing that. That’s one decisional direction. Another might be to cut loose and do as as possible of much of the agent work yourself. It certainly wouldn’t be easy and it might not be successful but we’ve already seen how idiosyncratic the traditional route seems to be so one wonders what there is to lose.
    Someone said earlier – and I apologise for not tracking back to the author – that, once self published, no-one is likely to look at you as an author a second time. I don’t know how far that is true, of course I don’t, but what I do know is that exuberant and intrusive enthusiasm sells to anyone willing to listen, just so long as there’s a quality product. I’ve done this most of my working life and it has paid off. I appreciate the need for mediators and I have used them myself from time to time but always, they might argue in retrospect, with a cynicism that helps me retain my perspective. That perspective, more pertinent perhaps in my day job, is that I know what I’m doing and they may not so I will take a chance and plough my own furrow. Mostly that’s worked but I’ll keep you posted about its success rate in this new environment!


    1. In the good ole days, you could send your novel manuscript directly to publishers and then, if they wanted to buy it, you got an agent to handle the contracts, but nowadays you might as well throw your manuscript in the recycle bin as send it straight to a publisher … in fact, many publishers tell you that’s exactly where your manuscript is headed if you dare mail it to them. Unless you have an “in” with one, editors at publishing companies deal only with agents. (This may not be as true for non-fiction, and small (indie) publishers might still welcome fiction or non-fiction manuscripts.)

      SO, since I’m selling a novel, and I want to reach a big name publisher, I see my only option as to troll for an agent. If you find out otherwise, DO let me know. 🙂

      OH WAIT, there is another option: one of you guys get a book deal and then you can be my in with an editor!!! 😉


      1. Ha! Funny. Wouldn’t it be great if that were to happen for any of us.

        Your blog posts and responses are just a small sample of your skill, but based on what I read I believe you will find representation one day. Just keep at it.

        I’m in much the same mindset as you about choosing the path to traditional publishing. But, I need representation because I’m not the kind of person that can do a large portion of my own pre-publication self promoting. You know, I’m the traditional writer of old. crammed into my small space, comfortable with the silence, and deathly afraid of having to deal with a mass amount of one-on-one with strangers in an attempt to sell myself – I’d prefer to pay someone to do this. I need an agent.

        The electronic moves that publishing has made in regards to querying and corresponding electronically fits my personality well. But, that said, I’m lost with the business end and have far too much to learn before I query anything more than a few poems or short stories. Which also explains why I’ve been so silent in this conversation. I need to listen to what is being said and consider how all of this plays in with my plans. It may turn out that publishing requires more of me than I am willing or capable of giving. My blood is mine and so is my sanity.


        1. True the agent will handle the selling of your novel to an editor at a publishing company, but as Cathryn pointed out, today’s author has to do a lot more self promoting than ever before. I’ve read many times that the big name publishers provide essentially NO budget for marketing debut novels, so there’s no way to get out of “selling” your novel.

          I think we’re a lot alike, the idea of even talking to an agent on the phone makes my heart pound. I know I’m going to have to change … and I know I can do whatever it takes … I’d just prefer not to have to. 🙂

          I had a conversation with my literary son this afternoon, and he says e-publishing is the obvious future for books. He compared it to the music industry, how in just one generation cds have come and gone. He said to ask any teen today how many cds they buy and watch how they look at you like you’re crazy. They all download mp3s straight to their iPods. How long before they read only on e-readers?


  3. There you go – a writers’ cooperative! First one past the finishing post drags the rest of us right in the door! Everyone tie the rope round the waist and make sure the knot is secure..!


  4. I think traditional publishing is in its dotage, while e-publishing is in its infancy. The world of words is transforming before out very eyes. You can lament that fact or embrace it, but I think it’s unwise to rule out any options at this time.

    Just FYI, J.A. Konrath is from the Chicago area and spoke at our writers workshop. He was fascinating and very humble. He spoke of learning as he went and years of rejection, and he generously shares on his blog and Website. I don’t know that he is an example of a freak success, I think he’s an example of someone who is willing to try anything and everything to see what works.


    1. I agree, Susan, and apparently this transitional period is a difficult time to be seeking publication.

      I hope it didn’t seem I was speaking badly of Mr. Konrath. I’m sure he worked very hard for his success. At the same time, I’m skeptical that his success at e-publishing is the norm, although he definitely disagrees with that notion in this post on his blog. But this brings up another one of my questions: should what you write figure in your choice of publication format? In this post he gives a list of writers, without a previous following, who’ve done well in e-pubs, but if you click through you’ll see that they’re all genre writers. So, do you have a better chance at successfully self-publishing your mystery/thriller/horror novel in e-format than you do your literary novel?


  5. In looked into e-publishing a little not too long ago, researching places like Smashwords. Some of them seem like viable options, particularly with inventions like the Kindle and Ipad. Technology is definitely surfacing to support e-publishing. Having said that, it’s still a relatively new way to go and there’s a lot of crap out there. Pretty much anyone could have something e-published (not by a publisher, but just do it) so that does make it more difficult.


    1. I’ve heard of Smashwords, but never investigated it. So that’s self-e-publishing? There is a flood of new e-pub stuff, Amazon has set up (I think) two different ways, so it does seem a daunting task to get your work to stand out from the crowd.


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