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A Guide to Agents

Five Reasons Why You Don't Need to Get an Agent

In the twenty years or so I've been working in children's publishing, agents have become far more common. They have become so common that in discussions at conferences and online forums, I've noticed many writers assume that an agent is the one thing they need in order to get published. This isn't necessarily true!

Here are my top five reasons why you don't need an agent, or at least don't need an agent yet.

5. You have done your research, volunteered at conferences, networked assiduously, and built up contacts at publishers without an agent. You feel comfortable with negotiating contracts. Why should you get an agent? This is not a common circumstance, but I do know people in this situation--authors of different kinds of books who found a publisher or publishers without an agent, and have now published one or dozens of books without ever acquiring one.

4. You write picture books. Picture book authors have to share their royalties and advances with illustrators, and advances in this area just aren't as high as they are for novelists. Few agents, if any, specialize in picture books, though some do represent picture book authors and others handle picture books for their authors who write both novels and picture books. Through querying and networking, it's possible to get your manuscript in the door at just about all publishers, one way or another, so many picture book authors don't start out with an agent, and quite a few never get one.

3. You write nonfiction. Except for "commercial" high-concept nonfiction, there's not a lot of money in nonfiction. If you work in nonfiction for the library market, not only don't need an agent but even if successful may have a hard time finding one. Nonfiction publishers are generally open to unsolicited submissions as a result, though you do have to follow their guidelines.

2. You write manuscripts that are quirky, niche-y, not clearly "commercial." I'm thinking here of a variety of kinds of writing: books with religious themes, regional topics, esoteric approaches, "topic" books (books about particular problems). Agents have to live off of 15% of your earnings, so most aren't going to be able to take on writers with low earnings potential. That means you. Chasing after an agent if you are in this situation will only be a waste of your time and energy.

1. You aren't ready for an agent. This is the most common reason--most of the manuscripts agents receive are not of publishable quality--and a tough one to deal with. How do you assess if your writing is ready to be sent out? You, your family, and your close friends are not going to be good judges, so look elsewhere. Join a critique group, get your manuscript assessed at a conference, or get a professional opinion. Over time, if you cultivate the ability to judge your own work, you'll have a sense of when something is ready to go out or not, but when you are just getting started, get the opinions of others.

Copyright © Harold D. Underdown. May not be reproduced in any form without prior permission. Terms of use

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