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Do you really need an agent?

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Steerpike, Nov 19, 2013.

  1. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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  2. GeekDavid

    GeekDavid Auror

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    I absolutely adore DWS and his crusade to drive stakes through the hearts of as many bloodsuckers in the publishing world as he can (no offense to good-aligned bloodsuckers like you, Steerpike).

    Especially close to my heart is #1 of his Top Ten Sacred Cows: There Is Only One Right Way To Do It.

    And...

    And then later...

    Remember, this is a man who has worked as author, editor, and publisher, and has more than one bestseller to his credit. If anyone knows about writing it's him. He not only talks the talk, he's walked the walk.
     
  3. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    Perhaps we could start new threads to discuss the other "Sacred Cows." This could be a good series of threads to discuss.

    I'd like to pinpoint the original article and some thoughts I have about it.

    Growing up, I'd always had this image of how my writing career would end up. I'd write a book in my twenties (too late for that now), polish it, shopping it around to agents, get rejected dozens of times, and then find the right one to represent my book. It would find a home at Tor my favorite publisher in the world. I would go on to not necessarily be a wealthy writer, but be able to make my living as a professional writer. Story ends.

    I still like this idea. And there are still many others who do as well. Of course, later I found out Tor doesn't require an agent, but several other big publishers still do. This makes have an agent still a viable practice for those of us that want to go the traditional route.

    I love that people can go the indie route now if they want to and find their own way through the maze so to speak. But I didn't really get into writing to be a publisher. I want to write. Making the decision to self-publish isn't always the liberating feeling that some make it to be. For some, it represents a whole new series of problems to deal with. What I'm getting at is saying "You don't need an agent" shouldn't really come as a sigh of relief for some people. It should come as "Oh, crap, I have to do everything now."

    So while I understand that writers have to take the bull by the horns and get out there and promote their work and all, having an agent can certainly help you navigate some problems a new author may initially have. And I wouldn't say they're all bad people (as the OP says). Like any career, there are bad people that do it and there are good people. Finding the right one can be difficult.

    For me, I want to experience trying to get an agent myself. If I find the whole process to be soul-crushing and disenfranchising, then that will just be something I've learned about myself and the process.

    So while maybe you don't need an agent anymore, some people still want one. Like me.

    Some points he mentions:

    Michael J. Sullivan is obviously an example of this success story. I believe this is definitely a viable route. But I don't suspect this road is always easy either.

    This is also a viable way. However, some traditional publishers still require agents. What about those publishers who you want to get deals with who won't take unsolicited authors? I'd still like to submit to them. I'm sure some editors will accept something from you if you meet them face to face, but some may still follow the same protocol. I'm just saying what I figure, he obviously has more experience at these kind of things than I do.

    Overall, I like his advice. It is good for those people who don't think they have a snowball's chance in hell of getting published due to so many factors. However, I always like to look at the other side of the coin. There are still viable reasons to get an agent in my mind.

    1. Get access to certain publishers
    2. Have someone help sell your work to a publisher for you
    3. Hopefully have one that can look over legal contracts

    I'm sure there are other benefits. Just want to throw that out there. I obviously agree with many of his views, I'm just thinking of other alternatives to what he is suggesting.

    Edit: I actually just realized this is the same author who suggested to write a short story every week for a year. I actually got quite inspired by that and was doing pretty well for a while. Not sure how many I wrote before NaNoWriMo crashed me out.
     
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2013
  4. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Phil,

    The article stated that the "requirement" that you have an agent is just so much bunk. His suggestion was to go to writer's conferences or other places where you can meet the editor personally and pitch your book.

    I didn't get that from the article either. His POV was that you should sell the book to a publisher and then use a lawyer to negotiate the contract. He did suggest, and rightfully so from my perspective, that you keep pretty close track of payments yourself.

    Nothing wrong with that.

    Were I you, however, I'd keep what the article says in mind. The concerns the author expressed certainly seemed reasonable. Better to walk into the situation with your eyes open.

    You, sir, have a gift for understatement. :)

    Again, what I get from the article was that the author believes that the "requirement" isn't really a requirement. I have no way, obviously, of knowing if that is the truth, but that's what he seemed to say.
     
  5. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Honestly, that sounds like it's more likely to get you blacklisted than a book deal. I'm all for approaching people, but you need a reputation that precedes you before you can expect to get anybody's attention.
     
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  6. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    For me specifically, at least as things stand now, going to writer's conferences isn't feasible since I live in another country. Plus, I agree with Devor in some instances that approaching editors directly is a pretty delicate situation. Sure, you may hit a home run and get lucky, but you may also offend a very important editor by soliciting them directly. To me it kind of feels like the "put a demo tape in the pocket of the record executive" move. Just knowing the right moment and channels to do such things is important I think.

    While I don't begrudge people who follow alternative routes and the time of agents may be fading, traditional publishing is called such for a reason. It's traditional. I believe Mr. Smith's advice tends to lean more towards indie authors who may be disgruntled from thinking there has to be one singular way to get published. He's offering alternatives that may be viable, but for me, I'd be wary of approaching an editor if I think it could ruin my career before I get started. Editors are people with long memories.
     
  7. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Can anyone here cite to an instance of someone getting blacklisted or ruining their career merely due to approaching an editor at a conference. I've never heard of such a thing. I have heard of a number of instances where that tactic was successful, though in the majority of cases I suspect it is not.
     
  8. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I have absolutely no experience with editors or publishers.

    The author of the piece, however, claims expertise in the matter. If he is to be believed, this tactic can be effective.

    From a logical perspective, it makes sense. Obviously, it's crucially important to be professional and to understand the proper forum for such an approach, but editors are just people. If you think you have what they want to buy, there's no harm in trying to sell it to them.
     
  9. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Admittedly, you'd have to make an ass of yourself before anybody would care, but I'm sure it happens - that kind of thing happens everywhere. I can't imagine that professional editors like to be accosted by newbs with a weak manuscript everywhere they go.

    The success stories you're aware of - do you know anything about their careers prior to approaching the editor? I was only suggesting that you need a "success" to speak of to get their attention before you randomly pitch to people.
     
  10. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Here's what I got out of the article:

    There's a belief out there that editors/publishers exist in an ivory tower , and mere mortals (authors) can't directly talk to them without going through priests (agents).

    What he's saying is that this belief developed for a specific reason: publishers were being innundated by submissions and they could no longer afford to evaluate them all. They did their best to sluff off this part of their job to someone else and succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

    I have no doubt that an editor will be resistant to changing this state of affairs.

    Understanding, however, the reason for the rule, you can see how to go around it. If you can make it worth the editor's time to view your book, he'll do so. It's not that he's adverse to looking at your book; he's adverse to being innundated with books.

    Anyway, that's just the way I read it.

    That seems contrary to what you got out of the piece.
     
  11. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I only know of one instance that was related to me directly (i.e. I was talking to the author herself). In her case, she was a practicing bankruptcy attorney with no prior publishing credits. She met the editor at a hotel pool at a writing conference, somehow they struck up a conversation and hit it off, and she ended up mentioning she had an unpublished manuscript. The editor told her to send it along, and she ended up with a three-book traditional publishing deal. I believe she did fairly well with it. In any event, I saw the books at Barnes & Noble, which is pretty cool.

    Other instances just come from author interviews where authors talk about how they got their break. I wouldn't say it is common (I don't know if it is or not) but it happens. Also, I've seen plenty of author panels on writing where the advice to go to writing conferences and get to know editors is thrown out.

    I think BWFoster is right in that Smith is just trying to dispel a myth. The guy does have a lot of experience in publishing (though he's giving a perspective; you don't have to subscribe to it just because he's experienced). Combining what he says with what I've heard said by editors and authors in interviews and on panels, and in the one case where I know the author, my guess is this kind of thing happens a lot more frequently than people who aren't already in the industry might expect.

    I go to conferences for law, and also for some of the industries I work in. A lot of business gets done at those conferences. Why should writing be different?

    Editors probably expect a certain amount of business to be conducted at those events. On the other hand, if the editor is just out one evening for dinner with her husband and you've tailed her to the restaurant and show up at her table with your manuscript, I expect that wouldn't go over very well at all.
     
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  12. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I do think it's good advice, I'm just not sure how to go about approaching editors directly. One reason I think some publishers prefer agented work is so they don't have slush piles to deal with and it increases the quality of work. If every writer at a conference is coming up to editors trying to give them books, that is still inundating them, just in a different way. Anyway, I get what he's saying. But in most cases, I'd say approaching small press publishers sounds more doable than coming up to the editor of Del Rey and trying to sell them your manuscript.
     
  13. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Fair enough. I've never been to a writing conference and am probably missing the vibe editors have in that setting towards new writers. Still, I would appreciate the advice more if it came with examples of the icebreakers used to start those conversations, as I'm sure the editors in question have a lot of manuscripts thrust upon them.
     
  14. GeekDavid

    GeekDavid Auror

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    Allow me to highlight what I see as the key here.

    Note the following points:

    1. The author didn't open with a pitch, according to my reading of your story. The conversation appears to have started with something else (the weather, the hotel, where's a good place for dinner?) and then got onto manuscripts.
    2. The author mentioned in passing that she had a manuscript, she wasn't inserting it at every possible opportunity.
    3. The author waited until the editor requested a copy.
    In other words, the scenario the honored Feline Overlord is describing here is the polar opposite of the idea of cornering some poor editor in the elevator and shoving a manuscript into his hands with "read this, it's the greatest book in the history of EVAR!"

    In short, the author let the editor get to know her at least a little bit as a person, and then waited for him to express interest. I can see where you might have some success doing it that way. Just prowling conferences and passing out manuscripts, on the other hand, seems like it will end with most of them in the round file.
     
  15. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    @GeekDavid - in this case, I'm not even sure the author knew the person was an editor when they started talking. In fact, I'm pretty sure she did not. So it wasn't an approach with an intent to sell a book. But it does demonstrate that these personal connections at conferences can work. I know other people take a more hard-sell approach than some, but when I go to conferences I never strike up a conversation with someone with the clear intent to strike up some kind of business arrangement. I'm not a good salesman, for one thing. And I don't like to do it. The times I've had contacts from conferences actually turn into business have been instances where we're all just sitting around talking, and the conversation kind of naturally moves toward what we do for work and it turns out there is business potential.

    If you're a very good salesman, maybe you can start with the hard-sell approach and make it work. I can't.
     
  16. GeekDavid

    GeekDavid Auror

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    I think most people can detect a hard-sell, and it seems to me to be the sort of thing that would turn editors off.

    Another point. It's one thing to bypass the established procedures for submission (whatever they are) when the editor asks you to do it. It's quite another thing to do it on your own, sans invitation. It's like if someone bends the rules here with the approval of a moderator... they're likely to get away with it. If someone bends the rules without said approval, they're probably going to get a PM about it at the very least.

    So going to conferences with the established intent of bypassing the procedures seems likely to get you far more rejections than acceptances.
     
  17. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I think it's worth noting that an experienced salesman can more or less replicate the conversation Steerpike described above. It's not all hard-sales.
     
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  18. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Yep. A good salesman can do it. I can't - the only time I have any luck is if the whole thing really does come into being organically, just as a natural interaction between people. So it is a good thing I'm not in sales.
     
  19. GeekDavid

    GeekDavid Auror

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    I daresay if people had a talent for sales, they'd be in sales, and not an author.

    In other words, they'd be an agent. That seems to be the niche for salesmen in the writing-publishing world.
     
  20. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Still, it's probably worth an article or a discussion on "What do you do if you have a manuscript and find yourself standing next to an editor." There is a path, but I don't think "Just pitch it" does it justice.
     
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