Rants, Raves, & Random Thoughts

Shameless self-promotion of my writing skills or lack there of.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Agent Vs. Publisher

Ok, there are two definitive camps when it comes to road to getting published by a major house. 1) The easiest way to get published is get an agent. 2) The easiest way to get an agent is to get an offer. It poses a bit of a dilemma, doesn’t it?

I have had the wonderful fortune to spend some time with Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden about a year or so ago. We talked about everything from Civil War memorials to scam agents. Teresa even invited me to speak on a panel with them on the last day of the conference to help spread the word that anyone is vulnerable to such scoundrels.

Sadly, I had just days before realized how truly awful my writing was at that point in my writing life, so I tried to steer clear of the topic of the manuscript I had submitted to them. Though it hadn’t made it through the slushkiller process yet, I knew my first rendition of Darkness on the Plains was a lost cause.

I can almost hear some of you now, “What you had the opportunity to pick the minds of two editors from a major house and you squandered it?”
I think one of the reasons it was such a wonderful time was the fact that I didn’t inundate them with the same questions I’m sure they get at 90% of the functions they attend.

One of the things I did take away from them was the idea that nothing makes you more attractive to an agent than having a deal in hand.

I’ve read accounts at Storytellers Unplugged that support both camps.

I have several writer friends that swear the only way to advance your career is to get an agent. “Even most of the small presses are closing to open submissions. If you don’t already have a track record, your only hope is to get an agent.”

Of course, even if you do get an agent, you’re not guaranteed to get published. David Niall Wilson wrote a very informative post about having a good agent. He makes a good closing argument of, “Don’t obsess over getting an agent. Obsess over your writing,”

Getting published doesn’t automatically land you an agent either. As I’m sure most of you know, I have a book coming out at the end of the year. I started the agent query process for my latest book The Dance and I must admit, my rejection rate is starting to climb. Now granted, my publisher for Drums of the Nunne’hi is a very small press, but it is still a publishing credit, is it not? But then…one sale doesn’t exactly constitute a track record, does it?

Have I queried far and wide? Not yet, I started out with a small list and add to it with every rejection. Perhaps, I should quit trying so hard to find an agent and seek out a publisher. I hate to do both, as I’m sure Miss Snark can attest, agents hate to take on a project only to find out it’s already been shopped to death.

So, which camp do you follow?

Feel free to toss out other options if you don’t feel like you side with either of the above.


At 4:17 AM, Blogger Bernita said...

James, I've dithered so much over this that I permanently revolve.
All I can say is The Dance has a great plot.

At 5:08 AM, Blogger Breazy said...

I just wish you luck with all of it ! :)

At 9:43 AM, Blogger James Goodman said...

Bernita, as you can see I'm in the same boat. It's far too early for me to be taking a handful of rejections as a sign of a rough road, but boy are my cheeks starting to tire from forcing this grin every time I open my mailbox. lol Thanks for the compliment about the plot...

Thanks, Breazy. I still can contend that you can be the greatest writer in the world, but it will still require a certain amount of luck to get your masterpiece in front of the right person at the right time.

At 10:04 AM, Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...


I don't think you squandered the opportunity. Probably made a better impression on them in the end for knowing where you were at.

Both camps have advantages and disadvantages. I had stuff out to both. It is said getting an offer helps you get an agent - not in my case. When I told the agents considering my work I had offers, they wished me luck, and didn't even try talking to me. In both cases, despite having assured me by X date (approaching soon) that they'd have a decision on my manuscript, correspondence showed they hadn't read it. And neither felt inclined to bump it to the top of the pile even with the offer on the table.

There's no one right way. You just follow your path and see where it leads you. Will I sign with an agent down the road? Anyone's guess.

But it won't likely be either of those two agents. One thing you want is an agent that LOVES your work, that doesn't ask for money and that is motivated and excited by what you're doing. That's advice I had given to me by a good friend and I stand by it as well - if you don't hear that from an agent, hear it from a publisher. But don't have someone sign you who's lazy and not serious, because there are people who get agents who NEVER get book deals.

And there are people who don't get agents who do.


At 10:24 AM, Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

PS - bear in mind only small presses usually take unagented manuscripts anyways, so it doesn't shoot you in the foot with an agency, because agencies only like to shop to bigger presses that pay nice advances and sign nice big contracts.

There's no one right way for everyone - I mean, if you only want to be published if you're signing a six-figure deal and having your name splashed everywhere, then it's clear what road you should follow.

But if your goal is to be published and build up the career- maybe use a smaller venue as a stepping stone - then it isn't all bad.

The ONLY people to tell me a small press is a waste of my time are people who are unpublished and have never had a publication offer, for what it's worth. I haven't heard that from any of my mainstream (Penguin, HarperCollins, Mysterious Press, Hodder Headline) published friends.

At 10:29 AM, Blogger James Goodman said...

Yes, I'm actually a fan of several small presses. Some have even been none to take better care of relatively new writer as far as promotion and backing. I guess it's because they have more of a vested intrest in seeing everything they publish succeed to its biggest potential.

At 3:08 PM, Blogger S. R. Hatcher said...

There's nothing wrong with some of the small presses. However, for some reason, I feel I have to give it my best go querying agents first. A friend emailed me an except from her published author friend yesterday. The author found her agent with her 68th query letter. Yes, sixty-eight. The author posed the question "What if I had quit after Query #67?" Makes you think.

It's a tough business and I'm stilly trying to toughen my crocodile exterior. Rejections ain't easy. But we keep going anyway and learn from the process as we go along.

At 3:16 PM, Blogger James Goodman said...

Sweet! That's actually quite encouraging. I'm no where near #67. Thanks, Sharon.

At 4:44 AM, Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

Miss Snark always says you can't give up until you have 100 rejection letters.

I know of a very successful author who got even more than that, and believe me, JA Konrath is dead on with his little saying about "there's a word for writers that don't quit: published" thing on his blog.

At 7:39 AM, Blogger M. G. Tarquini said...

Okay, I'm going to depart from the question and echo David Niall Wilson's comment. The writing is what comes first. If the writing is good enough and marketable enough eventually a door will crack open.

Here's my take: you write and write and write and you wonder, 'hmmm...is it ready to query?' At some point it will occur that you really can't make the damned thing any better. That's when to send the queries.

Any idea how much 100 rejections is. That's a LOT. I'll bet you're nowhere near 100 rejections yet.

In fact, I think I'll blog about that.

At 7:55 AM, Blogger James Goodman said...

Sandra, I am far from giving up and far from a hundred, lol. I'm just considering which direction I want to take from here.

Mindy, absolutely. It's all about the writing. Ok, not all about the writing, there is at least a little luck factor involved, but I know what you mean.

I've only stacked up about 14 rejections so far. I know...I know, "What are you whining about? Get a move on!" Lol.

At 10:03 AM, Blogger E. Ann Bardawill said...

How about hedging your bets.

One project you shop to the publishers and another you send to agents.

Worth a shot.

At 10:06 AM, Blogger James Goodman said...

That's a good idea. I actually sent Darkness on the Plains to Baen, but that is the only submission I've made with it so far. It ended up in the neighborhood of 109,000 words and Baen is not comfortable with stories under 100,000 words so I thought I would give them a first dibs.

That may be the best solution...

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