“Why do you need an agent?” my mum asked. She was genuinely curious, being interested in writing her own novel.
That’s a really good question. A commonly asked question. But there is no easy answer. No right or wrong. Except the classic sit-on-the-fence answer: “It depends.”
If you’ve written something that has commercial value and you want to get into a major publishing house, it helps to have an agent. But at least two of Australia’s major publishers (Hachette, Allen & Unwin, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins and Pan Macmillan) are accepting unsolicited manuscripts as I write this post. So, you can try your chances when these doorways are open and who knows, you might get picked from the slush pile.
If you’re writing for a niche market, you may not need an agent. Small presses and indie publishers are often open to direct submissions – you just need to do your research.
Do you need an agent? That’s something you have to decide based on what you’ve written. And how savvy you are when it comes to negotiating contracts – you can do it alone. My manuscript Wherever You Go potentially has very good commercial value (so I’ve been told) and that’s one of the things I need to consider when taking the next steps.
The next question my mum asked was: “Why do you want an agent?”
Another good question. Easier to answer, too.
I’m not alone in wanting one of Australia’s major publishing houses to say “Yes please” to my manuscript. While I could take my chances on the slush piles (and I know a number of authors who’ve made it that way, which is fantastic), I would rather have an agent on my side who has the contacts and expertise to get my manuscript in front of the right person at the bigger publishing houses. And, if I am offered a contract, I’d like someone to negotiate for me, to get the best possible deal for me. I’d like someone who can help my writing journey progress further, if indeed that’s what’s in store for me.
“How do you find an agent,” mum wanted to know next. That was the easiest question to answer. One word: Research.
The right agent for some of my author friends is not necessarily the right agent for me. They might need any more clients. It’s up to me to find one who is:
a) open for submissions
b) represents the genre of work I have written.
In my case, Wherever You Go is contemporary fiction. My beta readers have said it straddles commercial and literary fiction. I pitched to an agent some months ago at a writers’ convention who said she’d like to read the manuscript when it was finished. The trouble is, she doesn’t generally represent contemporary fiction.
I’ve decided to try another agent first, one who was recommended to me by one of Australia’s bestselling contemporary fiction authors. Of course, my fingers are crossed that this agent will want to represent me, but if not, I have prepared a list of other agents to approach.
If you’re like me, and looking, research literary agents and find the ones who represent the type of work you have written. There’s some excellent advice in this article.
So, agent found (for now). This agent’s website requested a short synopsis and biography accompany the full manuscript (some only want the first three chapters or a pitch letter, so be sure to check that).
I worked on a short one-page synopsis earlier this week. I’ve been getting up early to proofread, and tweak the manuscript, based on feedback from my generous beta readers. Last night I prepared a query letter … and then …
I sat in front of the computer and pressed SEND.
This morning, I received a short email which included the words “I’d be delighted to read your ms.”
I think that’s good. I hope it is. Maybe it’s polite. Jane Friedman says responses are often one of the following:
- No response at all, which means it’s a rejection. Don’t sweat it—this is normal. Move on.
- A request for a partial manuscript and possibly a synopsis.
- A request for the full manuscript.
In that case, I’m going to chill and wait to see what happens next. Maybe start the next book.