Skip to main content

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

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. 

Image placeholder title

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!
Your Story Writing Prompts

94 Your Story Writing Prompts

Due to popular demand, we've assembled all the Your Story writing prompts on WritersDigest.com in one post. Click the link to find each prompt, the winners, and more.

How Inspiration and Research Shape a Novel

How Inspiration and Research Shape a Novel

Historical fiction relies on research to help a story’s authenticity—but it can also lead to developments in the story itself. Here, author Lora Davies discusses how inspiration and research helped shape her new novel, The Widow’s Last Secret.

Poetic Forms

Saraband: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the saraband, a septet (or seven-line) form based on a forbidden dance.

Karen Hamilton: On Cause and Effect

Karen Hamilton: On Cause and Effect

International bestselling author Karen Hamilton discusses the “then and now” format of her new domestic thriller, The Ex-Husband.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: The Ultimatum

Plot Twist Story Prompts: The Ultimatum

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character give or face an ultimatum.

6 Things Every Writer Should Know About Sylvia Beach and Shakespeare and Company

6 Things Every Writer Should Know About Sylvia Beach and Shakespeare and Company

Sylvia Beach was friend to many writers who wrote what we consider classics today. Here, author Kerri Maher shares six things everyone should know about her and Shakespeare and Company.

How Writers Can Apply Business Tools to Their Writing

How Writers Can Apply Business Tools to Their Writing

Author Katherine Quevedo takes an analytical look at the creative process in hopes to help other writers find writing success.

Nick Petrie: On Following the Most Compelling Story

Nick Petrie: On Following the Most Compelling Story

Award-winning author Nick Petrie discusses how he listened to the story that wanted to be told in his new Peter Ash thriller novel, The Runaway.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 596

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a punishment poem.