Do you, struggling novelist, need an agent to get a novel published? Will a publisher bother to read your novel if you’re not represented by an agent? It’s the chicken/egg catch 22 that so many writers are just crazy about. Sure, there are stories about how some lucky writers sent their unsolicited manuscripts to unsuspecting publishers who, on a slow day with nothing better to do, started reading the unsolicited novels and found chunks of gold ‘over the transom.’
How often does this happen? Not often. The publishing landscape gets direr by the day. Layoffs. Acquisition freezes. Bookstore closings. How can an unpublished novelist break through this awful environment and get noticed? You really do need an agent. Case in point: One of my fellow novelists from Ms. X's class found out on the last day of our summer session that one of the novels she workshopped with us got picked up for publication. She has an agent. This didn’t just help my classmate get the book noticed, but assured that her novel sold for six figures to a major publisher.
What did an agent do for my classmate? Sent her manuscript to the right publisher at the right moment, generating enough buzz for the publisher to make a preemptive offer. Heat still continues as the agent is selling foreign rights close to a dozen countries. Without an agent, would my classmate have landed all these foreign rights? Or tasty advance? Doubtful.
I’ve been sending out queries for my novel A Little Disappeared for over a year. Intermittently. Certainly I could be pushing myself more to land a big agent fish. But I’m doing other things as well. Such as writing and sending out stories. Thinking of how to proceed with my current novel. And possibly doing some revision to A Little Disappeared. Contacting agents is a separate job, beyond writing (and your day job). It takes a different mindset. It also takes research. You have match up your type of book (novel/genre, non-fiction/memoir/whatever) with the right agency. Which means you have to know what kind of work agents want to see. And strictly follow their guidelines when you do find some to approach.
There are a limited number of agents. What do you do after reach the end of the list? Start over? You can hit the writing conference circuit and sign up for critiques where an agent or editor will read the first 20 pages of your manuscript. Then sit down with you during the conference and tell you what she thinks. You can contact friends and family, scour your BFFs to see if anybody knows an agent that might be interested in entertaining out a referral.
If you can’t find an agent, try sending your manuscript directly to mid and small-size publishers. Many smaller presses don’t deal with agents. Or necessarily need to. But, you won’t get the hefty advances, press run, or advertising budget that one of the big houses can land you you. So. Anyway. If I can’t land an agent with A Little Disappeared, I will probably query smaller publishers. And if that doesn’t work, then I move on to the next novel.
Are you a writer seeking representation? What are your experiences with agents? Good. Bad. Let me know. Do you have an agent? Do tell: what’s it like?