Look, a book!

So I wrote a book last year. It’s a Lovecraftian post-apocalyptic dystopia with dinosaurs and problematic kissing. Y’know, the standard spec fiction stuff.

Now I get to try to sell it.

First step, decision time. Who do I want to start swinging this 97000 word brick-bat at first, agents or publishers?


Publishers are the ones who would actually be doing the buying. I’m going to need one eventually, so why not go there first and cut out the middleman? (Self-publishing is a whole different rabbit hole, and I’ll break my leg in that one some other day)

With an offer from a publisher, I’d also have a better shot at getting that dreamboat agent that I really want. You know, the one with the great smile and the fancy car that’ll make all my friends so jealous.

Only problem with that strategy is actually getting the publishers to look at my manuscript in the first place. A lot of publishers got sick of losing interns in the slush pile– either because they were buried in a slushalanche, or failed their sanity checks when they opened a manila envelope and came face-to-face with the Necronomisutra. So now they won’t even look at a manuscript unless it is carried to them by an agent.

I believe a little velvet pillow is involved.

The publishers that do still have open slush piles generally don’t  allow simultaneous submissions. Which means if I send my book to them it can only go to them, and I have to leave it just with them until they tell me whether or not they’re interested. Which can take… lets just say that the word year, with an s on it, is often involved.

It’s entirely possible then for me to lose 5-10 years just bouncing this book from publisher to publisher, collecting photocopied form rejects. Of course, there are people out there who just shrug and simultaneously submit to every publisher at once, including the ones that don’t take unagented submissions. Usually this fails spectacularly, but occasionally they get away with it. I, however, lean too much towards lawful on my character sheet to try such shenanigans.

That’s the main difference with agents. I can send out simultaneous submissions to them. Which means I can harvest a whole wagon of rejections in the time it would take me to get one from a publisher.

That’s good, I guess.

Having an agent also means I’m more likely to sell the book, and with a better deal. An agent’s job after all is to convince the publishers that I am the unholy union of Harper Lee and Stephen King. And that if they don’t buy my manuscript, they’ll surely spend the rest of their lives huddled beneath their desks, sobbing.

So, I’m going for an agent first. Is that the right decision? Who knows. There are a lot of different ways to approach this business, and there are more appearing all the time. But this is my approach.

At least for now.


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4 responses to “Look, a book!

  1. Agent-first makes sense to me, as long as you only query agents that you’d actually want to have. (A first agent who turns out to be a dud can be way worse than a first publisher that turns out to be a dud.)

    If the agents all reject you, you can still go on marketing the book to publishers—and if you get an offer, then it becomes very easy to get an agent. Even an agent who declined to represent you as an unpublished writer will probably take you on if you’ve sold your novel.

  2. Yep, approaching the agents first doesn’t generally preclude going to the publishers later. Also, agents are not going to be nearly as interested in a book that’s already been rejected by half the publishers.

    And you’re right about the bad agent thing- I’ve known a few people who have had to switch agents, and it did not sound fun. My post next week is going to be about how I’m trying to avoid a dud.

  3. I used to hear a lot of people recommend sending a book to one publisher and many agents. But it’s been a few years since I’ve been paying attention so things might have changed.

    • That’s a way to split the difference, I suppose. The chances of being pulled out of the slush at a publisher are pretty brutal though. Agents can help tip those odds, and I’d hate to take a publisher out of play before they had a crack at them.

      That said, given how long slush takes, if an agent is interested you could probably have them signed up before the publisher has even looked at your submission.

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