ah, yes, the morning mail. Miss Snark has a chew toy

Dear Miss Snark,

I have read a assemblage of material (wtf is an assemblage of material??) about taking the next step in submitting a manuscript. There is much debate about a writer's choice to submit their novel to either a literary agent or directly to the Publishing House. (there is?)

I know you are bias (as you should be) that all writers (new author's in particular) should seek the representation of a professional agent. Common sense tells me that the agent has a holding cell of contacts (yea, that's where I keep all my editors--in a holding cell); is centrally located to the publishing hub; are well versed to the print business.(publishing is NOT printing; two separate industries)

However, there are arguably proactive (and lucrative) reasons why a writer would choose to solicit (by query letter) the publishers direct without literary representation. My questions are: Should a new author attempt this? Is this considered tacky or unprofessional or just plain, greedy? Has this been known to work in the author's benefit?

You seriously expect me to say it works to an author's benefit to send stuff directly? Hell no of course it doesn't. It works to MY benefit. Every looney tune, badly spelled, lame brain query sent to a publisher is one step closer to that publisher no longer taking unagented submissions.

Most big publishing houses simply don't accept unagented material.
Smaller houses do. Have at it. Let me know if anyone escapes my holding cell long enough to reply.


kitty said...

To the E-mailer ...
In addition to Miss Snark's advice, please:
1) Bumper-sticker your message.
2) Learn the basics of English.

Your welcome.

Ken Boy said...

Even I knew the answers to these questions, and I was in exile on Rabbitania last year. Talk about an assemblage of material--I just wish I could forget the smell.

Anonymous said...

Your welcome mat is dusty.
You're welcome.

kitty said...

HA HA HA !!! Touché I should practice what I preach :)

Anonymous said...

Yes, the debate about whether to have an agent or to submit directly to publishers is widespread on internet message boards and other such places where Miss Snark clearly has more sense than to venture. Along with the self-publishing vs. commercial publishing debate, and laments of all kinds.

I prefer it here :).

Anon E. Mouse

That Girl Who Writes Stuff said...

A growing number of small/medium publishing houses are not taking unagented submissions either.

Some not at all (temporarily) because of the sheer volume of submissions they get.

Anonymous said...

Let me know if anyone escapes my holding cell long enough to reply.

Thanks for today's Diet-Coke-through- the-nose moment!

Yasmine Galenorn said...

Yep, there's a huge agent vs. publisher debate on a lot of forums (among mostly the unpublished and self-published).

And then there's the SP faction: the belief that there's a conspiracy by both editors and agents to trample down quality work in order to accept substandard work.

A lot of posts tend to follow the thought that since it's so hard to get a good agent, why bother--go straight to the top. So Miss Snark, at least you don't have to worry about getting queries from that group of underappreciated artistic souls.

~grins~ There are a lot of people out there who don't want to hear the truth that it takes both hard work and talent to break in...they'd rather play the martyred art-eest trying to survive the brutal capitalist society.

(On a side note, not long ago I got a letter from a woman who said she's been working on her GAN saga for 15 years, she finally finished it and she wanted my help to get published because it would shake the literary world...I did not introduce her to my agent).

Problem Child said...


I thought "Your Welcome" was intentional, and you were going for snarcastic today...

kitty said...

HA HA HA !!! No, if only that were true. siiigh Instead, I simply made an ass of myself.

Miss Snark said...

The idea that there's a debate about whether an agent is a good idea is easily solved: take 100 people at random from the message boards. Offer each of them a contract for representation for their novel. See what happens.

I'm guessing close to 100% will see the benefits of representation.

The discussion about whether you need an agent is held exclusively by those who don't have one or can't get one.

Anonymous said...

At most major houses, the only realistic way to get to an editor without having an agent is by meeting the editor in person--at a conference, or by accident--and having the editor invite you to submit.

Yes, the occasional query letter does squeak through. And every so often, someone is hit by ball lightnin' inside their home.

But even if I had an editor begging to buy my unrepresented manuscript, I'd use that as a lever to get an agent. Why? How good are you at contracts? Do you really want to audit your own royalty statements? Do you really think you're better than a publishing professional at negotiating an advance, selling overseas rights, and all of that?

Above all, do you want to spend your time writing, or fiddling with the details of the business end of publishing?

For the services an agent provides, I can't imagine a better deal: the don't charge you a fee for service, but instead take 15% of what they sell for you. Try hiring a secretary or bookkeeper on that kind of basis.

Have I had editors at major houses invite me to submit directly to them? Yes. Do I have an agent? You bet.

Anonymous said...

Get an agent.

I sold my first novel to a major NY publisher in the late '90s without an agent. My editor at the time did NOT suggest that I find an agent to help negotiate the offer, so I signed their boilerplate. I have no legal background and do not speak Legalese. I'm lucky I didn't sign away my soul and that of my first-born child.

Maybe you CAN sell a book without an agent, but that doesn't mean that you SHOULD.

jeanjeanie said...

Before I found this blog I got most of my industry advice from interviews with/blogs of/advice tomes by major authors. You'd be surprised how many of them (Neil Gaiman and Stephen King included) advise shopping your first novel around on your own and then getting an agent later. I believe it's supposed to build character and teach us a lesson or two about the workings of the industry or some-such. Frankly, finishing a novel is enough of a character building experience for me. Once it's done I'm all too happy to hand it off to someone who already knows the industry.

Mark said...

I've gotten a project through to Knopf and Wiley, but had it been accepted I would have done just that: used it to get an agent. It wasn't though so it's moot.

When previous similar entries only sell 5000 copies, others have left obstacles in your path that may be inpossible to overcome. Or not.

Anonymous said...

In children's publishing, it is an actual debate . . . or at least a reasonable question. Some of us published children's authors have agents, and some don't. (I do.) There are pros and cons on both sides.

Just Me said...

Through a combination of weird circumstances and sheer luck, I had a publishing offer before I had an agent. At that point I had three choices:

a) Sign something I didn't understand, giving the publisher all world rights to the book, and getting a much lower advance than an agent could have negotiated

b) Spend months or years learning the ins and outs of everything from Rabbitanian rights sales through audio books, and making contacts in all those areas

c) Get an agent.

I went with C. Call me crazy.

My agent knows every detail of things I haven't a clue about. He is extremely good at things at which I'm terrible. I could no more do his job - even if I wanted to - than I could do Bill Gates's.

As a couple of anonymouses (anonymi?) said, just because it can be done doesn't mean it's a good idea.

Remodeling Repartee said...

Miss Snark says, "The discussion about whether you need an agent is held exclusively by those who don't have one or can't get one."

End of discussion. Now get back to writing.

Martin said...

The writer doesn't need an agent, doesn't need a publisher. . . the writer needs a clue. And will somebody please disable his parentheses keys.

Anonymous said...

1. Agents know what editors are looking for.
2. They can negotiate a contract for you and get you a better deal.

Why wouldn't you want an agent?