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I Have a Publishing Deal But I Still Want an Agent. Here's Why...

The publisher itself was never an issue—Dragon Moon Press was on my list of publishers with great reputations and good books. The need to reflect was personal: Did I want to publish my first novel with no agent? Could I do all the work that is inherent in being an author with a small press? Guest column by J.M. Frey, author of Triptych (April 2011, Dragon Moon Press), a science fiction YA novel that Publishers Weekly called "a deeply satisfying debut."

Yay! I got a publishing deal! … but I have no agent. Crap. "But JM," you say, "You have a book deal. Why do you want an agent?" Well, I really like sleeping, for one. But let me back up a bit...

JM is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you've won before. (Update: Alyssa won.)

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Guest column by J.M. Frey, author of Triptych (April
2011, Dragon Moon Press), a science fiction YA novel that
Publishers Weekly called "a deeply satisfying debut."
She is active in the Toronto geek community,
presenting
at awards ceremonies,

appearing on TV, radio, podcasts, live
panels and documentaries to discuss all things

fandom. She also has addictions to scarves, Doctor
Who, and tea, all of which may or may not be related.
Visit her website here.

When I began to shop Triptych, I sent queries to both agencies and presses, scattershot. Every rejection I got, I would learn something useful that would help improve my manuscript. Wherever the book ended up, it would be a step into the publishing world, and I could devise my strategy from there. I assumed that I would get the agent first, because I’d heard publishing houses were hard to get interested.

And then I got an offer from a small publisher.

I had to really think about it. The publisher itself was never an issue—Dragon Moon Press was on my list of publishers with great reputations and good books. The need to reflect was personal: Did I want to publish my first novel with no agent? Could I do all the work that is inherent in being an author with a small press?

HERE ARE THE REASONS I SAID YES TO THE DEAL:

  • I have more ability to offer input, even if I don't get final veto.
  • I could drive the marketing.
  • I keep all my profits. (Hey, I was a poor grad student...)
  • I could work more intimately with my editor and publisher than with a larger press, and I'm not lost among a sea of projects the agent/editor/publishing house is working on. 
  • No one else was banging down my door for the book (30 rejections at that point).
  • My editor, Gabrielle Harbowy, had a strong vision for the book, and it matched mine.

I don't regret the choice. Dragon Moon Press has been incredible to me, and they have done everything within their power to push my book. I am grateful for the amazing opportunity, and humbled by their pride in me.

So, why do I still want an agent? I want to have time to write.

Book marketing is a lot more work than I thought it would be, and ongoing to boot—an average of 20 hours/ week. Combine that with a 40 hour job, and 5-10 hours for fanthropology, and … yeah. And everything has to be paid for by someone, done by someone, distributed by someone. In this case, it’s me. And DMP have a publishing company they have to run, and very little budget to share with me. It wouldn't be fair to the other writers if they spent all their time and money on me.

Additionally, if I want to have any momentum and gravitas in my career as a writer, I need to have another book out within the next three years or so. That means I need another deal soonish. So: back to slushing. So, now on top of everything, I'm also querying and revising other manuscripts.
Egads.

I wouldn't be opposed to working with DMP again (in fact, I have a short story in their anthology "When the Hero Comes Home", August 2011).
But. Would I do it without an agent? No.

HERE'S WHY I NOW WANT AN AGENT:

  1. I need help to understand my contracts. DMP does plain-language contracts, so they're not scary. But if I place my new manuscripts elsewhere, who knows what I'm in for next time. An agent can explain everything, and they can negotiate a better deal for me than I could for myself.
  • I need an advocate with connections with publishers, publicists, industry press, and mainstream press. For everything I can do marketing myself, I don’t have the connections required to ensure that my book passes through the hands of people who can help sweep it into Best-Seller or Movie-Deal Land.
  • An agent would be trying to sell my next manuscript right now; I could be simply enjoying the results of Triptych, doing a bit of marketing, and editing. And sleeping.
  • I am swiftly becoming an emotional wreck. I am thrilled about the book but I worry constantly. I’m an established author, but must query as if I wasn’t. I’m very proud of my accomplishments, but am filled with doubt about what I could be doing better. I’ve had some incredible reviews, but still get rejection letters. I get invited to do radio interviews, podcasts, and guest blogs, and fear to open my credit card bill after I buy marketing materials. I don’t feel that I’m owed an agent now (what disgusting gall if I did! Uhg!), but then a small voice inside whimpers: But I have a book out. Aren’t I good enough, yet?
  • As I have no agent, some people have insinuated that I’m not good enough for a "real" publisher. Infuriating, because DMP is a real publisher, and I’ve worked just as hard as any other author.
  • An agent can work with the stores to ensure my book is on their shelves, and better yet, gets a lot of promotion. The big stores can sometimes do something for small-press authors (like have you come in and sign the stock, or move it to the "local author" shelf), but not anything like national release parties, huge marketing campaigns, or features on their websites.
  • An agent is also a partner who works with you and guides your career—I enjoyed the editing relationship I had on Triptych, and look forward to another.


After having tried to do everything an agent does and be a writer at the same time, let me tell you, I am willing to start sharing my royalties, now! That little percentage they take seems like a blessing from this side of lack of sleep.

So … any agents reading this looking for a slightly Type A science fiction/ YA writer? I promise, I already come housebroken.

JM is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week;
winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you've won before. (Update: Alyssa won.)

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Writing fiction? Agent extraordinaire Donald
Maass's guide, The Fire in Fiction, is a must-have
for those who wish to compose a dynamite
novel and nab an agent.

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