Do You Really Need a Literary Agent? Go It Alone?

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Q. What do you think about self-agenting and querying directly to publishers? 
- Rose

A. It's an option, Rose, sure.
First of all, let's address the question "Do you need an agent?" To answer that, think about the book you're writing. Is it "small in scope, small in sales"? For example, let's say you want to write a book about the history of Rhode Island's involvement in the Civil War. How many copies is that really going to sell? How much money will really be made? Not many and not much, I would suppose. A small book like this can be shopped straight to an academic publisher or university press. In fact, an agent may not want to take on anything like this because their 15% commission would not be worth the time they put into it. If you're writing nonfiction, I'd say there is about a 40 percent chance you don't need an agent. But with fiction, you need one like 90+ percent of the time. 

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This dude likes to go it alone, too.

Now, if you're making a conscious decision to go it on your own, you will need to be prepared for some things. Publishing house contracts are designed for their benefit, not yours. (Being an editor, I'm not just talking out of my butt here.) So are you knowledgeable in contracts? Can you negotiate without getting angry or emotional? Do you know a good entertainment or contract attorney? Also, know that there are plenty of publishing houses out there (usually bigger ones) that will not deal with unagented writers or unsolicited submissions. But then again, plenty of houses do deal with writers, so you will have options. Just be careful.


Want more on this subject?

  • Confused about formatting? Check out Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript.
  • Read about What Agents Hate: Chapter 1 Pet Peeves.
  • Want the most complete database of agents and what genres they're looking for? Buy the 2011 Guide to Literary Agents today!
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