Author Topic: Literary agent or straight to publishers?  (Read 1814 times)  

Offline Frank the author

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Literary agent or straight to publishers?
« on: November 18, 2020, 04:25:18 am »
I have exactly one short story collection on amazon (Hope From Loss: stories by Frank Zubek https://www.amazon.com/Hope-Loss-stories-Frank-Zubek-ebook/dp/B07FLJ1FQB/ ) and a few flash fiction pieces online I was paid for. There's a comment section under each story and I have gotten many favorable reviews.
I was also published in a few anthologies that are, sadly, out of print.

With that resume, arguably, I'm both an author and a nobody of note.

Still, I know there is opportunity to be had with the multiple streaming outlets available.  Netflix alone is a good place to sell a story or two to be made into a film or limited series ( even for a small fry fish like myself at the very bottom of the literary food chain)
So, I have been working on five proposals and figuring to submit them.

I figure if I make a package of a few chapters of a novel and the outline I can submit it to a publisher and if I am lucky they might send me a small advance asking for the complete book. (And down the road MAYBE it will be considered for streaming)
If I submit the same package to a literary agent, I stand about the same chance. The problem with that scenario is a literary agent would probably want me to have a few note worthy sales under my belt so they can go to a publisher armed with some sense of potential. (And again, my ultimate goal is is that the stories be considered for streaming potential)

Despite the odds, I know this dream comes true for others in similar situations. And the number of these writers who DO get published are a very, very small handful compared to not only the hundreds of thousands of other hopeful writers who HAVE a degree of sales to their credit but also the handful of "name" writers.
My question is should I pursue ONLY literary agents? Or go for the brass ring and submit to publishers ( both large and small)?

And to be clear-- I am well aware of the odds. But miracles, as rare as they might be, DO HAPPEN, and the hope that it might happen for me helps me get out of bed and sit at the keyboard every day.
« Last Edit: November 18, 2020, 04:31:39 am by Frank the author »

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    Offline Simon Haynes

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    Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
    « Reply #1 on: November 18, 2020, 06:23:21 am »
    Hi - speaking as someone who's had two agents in the distant past.  These are just my thoughts, and I'm sure someone else will chime in with theirs.

    It's not about any sales you've had in the past, or whether you've made a name for yourself. That's non-fiction territory.

    What matters is whether they think the novel you've submitted will appeal to the editors they know at various publishers. And whether they believe you have a career in you, as in the ability to keep writing to a more-or-less reasonable schedule.

    Also, don't approach anyone until your manuscript is finished and polished. Submitting a sample means sending the first part of a finished novel, not chapters of a novel you intend to write. Most novels never get finished, probably because planning and starting a novel is the easy bit.


    About publishers:

    The bit about the advance and a request for the rest of the novel - it doesn't work like that. If they accept the (completed) novel, you sign a contract and they pay an advance on royalties. Usually this is split between 1/3 on signing, 1/3 when the manuscript is finally ready to go (after their editor and proofreader has worked with you) and 1/3 on publication.

    I went through this process with four novels for a traditional publisher.


    Re Netflix and streaming outlets - if they're anything like movie studios, they're on the lookout for popular, published novels with a built-in audience.


    Hope that helps.
     

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    Offline markpauloleksiw

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    Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
    « Reply #2 on: November 18, 2020, 06:28:03 am »
    Having gone through the process of looking for an agent my realization was that I wanted to control my own destiny than rely on someone else. Literary agents are overwhelmed and backlogged from what I have been recently told...so getting someone's attention while not impossible will require creativity.

    For what you seem to want to do, which is to sell rights to something, unless you have some expertise in that area, you will probably need an agent.

    There is a sit (Publishers Marketplace) you may want to explore about listing your "works" there. There is a section called "Rights Postings"...from what I remember agents post there so not sure if that is a requirement.

    Mark

    Offline jb1111

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    Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
    « Reply #3 on: November 18, 2020, 07:11:33 am »
    Everything I've read concerning getting a deal with a trad pubber they generally say have an agent, and no unsolicited manuscripts.

    Unless that's changed, I am not so sure how trying to sell a novel directly to a trad firm would work out.

    Best of luck either way.

    Offline spacedin

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    Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
    « Reply #4 on: November 18, 2020, 07:34:40 am »
    There are still publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts. Kensington comes immediately to mind--check out their website. But we're talking entire books here, not a few chapters and an outline. When you see info about someone who sold a novel to a trad publisher based on a few chapters and an outline, you're seeing a story about someone who has already proven they can write an entire marketable book. I know someone who did this recently, but they are an established author with many bestsellers, and they have had an agent for years.

    There's nothing stopping you from submitting your work to both publishers and literary agents. There's no law or rule or tradition that says you have to do one or the other. And there are many resources online where literary agents, their contact info, and what they're looking for are listed.

    One thing is pretty clear to me: in order to attract an agent or publisher, your story has to have a very very strong hook and a knock-'em-dead elevator pitch to back it up.

    But I'm talking about novels here. Do you write only short stories? That's a market I'm unfamiliar with. Maybe someone else will come forth with info.

    Offline ImaWriter

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    Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
    « Reply #5 on: November 18, 2020, 07:36:09 am »
    Submitting to publishers is going to be a giant waste of your time, and your submissions will likely go straight to the garbage.

    I don't know if this site is still available, so you will have to use any Google Fu you might have to find it, but when I started writing in 2006 there was a resource that was kept updated as to which publishers accepted unsolicited manuscripts directly from writers. And as the years passed, the number who did significantly dwindled until the only publishers on the list were mostly vanity or just plain sketchy publishers.

    Having said that, I do know of small publishing houses--and these should be carefully vetted--and a few romance publishers that accept submissions. But the sheer number of submissions these places get mean the chances of your work ever even making it out of the slush pile are extremely small.

    However, I'm not saying you shouldn't try.
    « Last Edit: November 18, 2020, 07:39:33 am by ImaWriter »

    Offline J. Tanner

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    Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
    « Reply #6 on: November 18, 2020, 08:28:43 am »
    A few of the larger houses have started considering unsolicited manuscripts again in recent years.  But you need to follow the rules. Do the research into every publisher. Submit to the correct editor, at the accepted time (if they have submission windows) with a proposal exactly to their requirements. (Then prepare to wait a year or more for an answer, if one comes at all.)

    A literary agent saves you from having to do the research, for a price, (which may be too high.)

    And, as others have said, for a first novel, you have to have it done in either case. Partial proposals are for established authors only.
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    Offline A past poster

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    Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
    « Reply #7 on: November 18, 2020, 11:19:40 am »
    Submitting to publishers is going to be a giant waste of your time, and your submissions will likely go straight to the garbage.


    This^^^

    I've had two agents so I'm familiar with this subject. Publishers don't spend time on manuscripts that aren't submitted by agents; unsolicited manuscripts go directly into the slush pile.

    Before the pandemic, writers' conferences made money by charging writers an extra fee to have the opportunity to pitch their books to agents. Most of those books ended up in slush piles as well.  It isn't easy to tell someone to their face that you aren't interested in their book.

    Keep writing your novel. The result could be amazing and luck might be on your side.

    Offline markpauloleksiw

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    Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
    « Reply #8 on: November 18, 2020, 12:39:02 pm »
    Bold prediction.

    The days of literary agents are numbered in the old sense. Publishing houses will either wake up and start taking direct pitches. Why? Because it is more cost-effective than getting into a bidding war created by an agent...

    The reliance on agents was created by a crazily inefficient review process so publishers decided to have agents do the initial screening. 

    Self-publishers have learned how to market over the last 5 years...they will eventually master how to represent themselves in deals.

    Mark

    Offline ShawnaReads

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    Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
    « Reply #9 on: November 18, 2020, 02:26:55 pm »
    I talked to a traditionally published author once who'd gotten in on the early wave of urban fantasy. Apparently (IIRC) she'd only done short stories before and pitched an outline and some chapters and got a book deal with a major publisher based on that (which turned into a whole series). That was probably in the early 2000's. The time when that kind of thing can happen has, I think, long since passed. (Even she is self-publishing all her newer stuff, after probably more than a dozen trad pub books, which I think is telling in itself.)

    Offline Simon Haynes

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    Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
    « Reply #10 on: November 18, 2020, 02:27:18 pm »
    The fact is, maybe 1 manuscript in 1000 is picked up by a trad publisher. There's just no room for all the novels being written. They won't hire people to scan 1000 manuscripts to maybe find one they can use - that's where agents came in.

    Back in 2001 I met a big five editor who was excited about the idea of having AI reading her slush pile, discarding those 999 manuscripts automatically. That'll work until people figure out how to please the AI somehow, whether the book is publishable or not.

    This is off topic, but if you can write and market then it makes sense to at least consider the indie side of things. I was trad-pubbed for 4 novels, and now have 26 more written and published as an indie author.

    Trad pub was fun, but now I'm indie I live off my writing. It's long, hard slog though. Nobody ought to sugar-coat it.


     

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    Offline chrisstevenson

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    Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
    « Reply #11 on: November 18, 2020, 04:23:58 pm »
    On my third agent since 1987, and my latest agent has spent seven years with me. I've never had a problem snagging rep. That's never been the problem. Besides some very early successes, I haven't hit one of the very large trad Big-5 houses in the past 15 years. My agents have (miraculously) pulled advances and worked great contracts with small and medium presses. But I'm sure I could have sold to these same smaller houses myself. However, I would not have gotten such beneficial contract deals, as mediocre as they were considering the circumstances.

    Even with an A-list agent, I can't, and haven't,  broken into the big trad guys. Things have radically changed, be it over a period of years, but the Big-5 houses are what I call "ambulance chasers" and have gone after those authors with huge platforms, large reader fan bases and breakout sales. Andy Weir, Hugh Howey, Amanda Hocking, James, Meyer you can go on down the line and see which of the Indies came out and garnered huge interest from the publishing industry and film studios. Of course, agents were after-the-fact in these cases. The other authors of the Big-5 are what I would consider "house" authors who are brand names and celebrity authors who have been with them for ages and furnish book after book, or continuing series. I firmly believe that right now, especially, Big publishing is primarily a closed house.

    The forecasts for going Indie are much more favorable than that of trad publishing. Not only at this time, but it's been this way for maybe a decade, wot? And that's the confession of a hybrid who hasn't gone full Indie yet. Don't go agent and small press like me--You will suffer for it.     
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    Offline Frank the author

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    Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
    « Reply #12 on: November 18, 2020, 05:18:36 pm »
    Simon, Mark, JB, Space, IMA, Tamer Poster, Shawna, Chriss,  Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and opinions.
    I appreciate your time
    I actually have two finished novels and I can see I need to hammer out two other book ideas I have in mind for next year

    Again- THANKS so much for taking a moment to comment-

    Offline Carol (was Dara)

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    Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
    « Reply #13 on: November 18, 2020, 05:28:53 pm »
    As someone who spent several years trying to sell to the major publishers, here's how that usually goes:

    * First, write your book. Selling on proposal is more a thing for non-fiction or for authors with a proven track record. Generally speaking, a new author is expected to have a finished manuscript before you begin shopping it. I've heard of exceptions, but they're rare.
    * Write up a query letter, opening with a paragraph pitching your book and following with any brief, relevant info about you/your experience.
    * Check out the websites of the agents you want to query and follow their submission guidelines. Some allow you to paste 5 sample pages of your manuscript into your query email.
    * 9 out of 10 will send you a form rejection, usually within a week or two. Maybe they're faster nowadays. It's been a few years since I did this process.
    * Once in awhile, one will like your query/sample pages enough to ask to see a synopsis and 3 sample chapters.
    * Most of those will send you a rejection within a month or so.
    * The handful that remain (if you ever hear from them again) will request the full manuscript.
    * It may take 3+ months (if ever) for you to receive the eventual rejections from the agents who requested the full.
    * Once in awhile, you may get a nibble, an agent wanting to set up a phone call with you.
    * If an agent is interested in representing you, yay! You've passed the first hurdle. But realize that most agents have large client lists, many of whom have been sitting there for years, waiting for the agent to sell their book to a major publisher. Some eventually sell to a small publisher, instead. Sales from that will generally be comparable to self-publishing (speaking as someone who sold a few books to small presses) and it tends to be a slower process. But small presses aren't a terrible place to start, if you're wanting to see what the experience is like and don't want to invest starting costs in self-publishing. You don't really even need an agent to submit to some of them.

    As for whether you need an agent at all, you can skip the agent part and go straight to submitting to publishers, but most of the big publishers won't accept unagented submissions, so you'd be narrowing your pool of places to submit.

    On the subject of advances, they don't work at all the way you envision, so you'll have to research that.

    Similar story with getting a TV deal. You're putting the cart a little before the horse there.

    Still, there's nothing wrong with aiming high, as long as you know your odds and won't be crushed by the first few dozen rejections. Maybe someday you'll get through, or maybe you won't and will find self-publishing is the better thing for you. Either way, good luck to you! You'll need lots of persistence and a very marketable idea at just the time that an editor is looking for exactly that thing. Following agent or editor blogs and social media can sometimes give you a heads up on what kind of manuscripts they're currently looking for. 

    Offline Jena H

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    Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
    « Reply #14 on: November 18, 2020, 05:41:46 pm »
    Submitting to agent or publisher...

    It's been probably a decade since I've done either, but here's what I learned over the course of a number of years:
    1)  Submitting successfully to a publisher is very risky* and, unless you're VERY lucky, with little chance of any success.  Very few publishers still accept unsolicited manuscripts, and the few who do may take up to 6 months to reply.

    After having no luck (or patience) with the search for a publisher, I decided to look for an agent to 'sell' my book for me. I then learned:

    2) Getting an agent is almost as difficult as getting a publisher.  There are many more agents than there are 'big' publishing companies, but all the agents I looked into back in the day were looking for specific types of books... IF they were even accepting new clients.

    *The risky part of the search for a publisher is that many of the submission guidelines say "no multiple submissions."  in other words, you can't submit a query letter or sample to more than one publisher at a time.  And if it takes up to six months to hear back from each publishing company (IF you hear back at all), then in the course of the year you may only get to submit to one or two publishers.  It could take years--literally--to make the rounds of four or five publishing companies.  In that time you could easily self-publish three, four, or more books.
    « Last Edit: November 18, 2020, 06:08:57 pm by Jena H »
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    Offline ShawnaReads

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    Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
    « Reply #15 on: November 18, 2020, 06:56:54 pm »
    *The risky part of the search for a publisher is that many of the submission guidelines say "no multiple submissions."  in other words, you can't submit a query letter or sample to more than one publisher at a time.  And if it takes up to six months to hear back from each publishing company (IF you hear back at all), then in the course of the year you may only get to submit to one or two publishers.  It could take years--literally--to make the rounds of four or five publishing companies.  In that time you could easily self-publish three, four, or more books.

    Back when I was still querying, there were agents saying to ignore it if anyone asked for 'no multiple submissions', pointing out that they're basically wanting you to give them exclusivity without giving anything in return, which is unreasonable. It very much is an unreasonable request. If I were still querying, I would ignore those directions entirely. On the off chance multiple publishers were interested in my book at the same time, I'd deal with it then, but I wouldn't give away months of my life like that just because they said they wanted it. And if a publisher really will blacklist an author because they didn't comply with that unreasonable request, then that seems like a good red flag that they might not be a publisher the author wants to be in business with.

    Offline Simon Haynes

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    Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
    « Reply #16 on: November 18, 2020, 09:46:37 pm »
    Well, when you read about publishers bidding on a book... that's never going to happen if you submit to one at a time. Hence the agent, who CAN submit simultaneously.

    I always obeyed the rules, but it hurt like hell to wait months and months. The last one I submitted to was --- in 2001 and I'm still waiting for a reply. They did accept unsolicited subs, and I included return postage to Australia, in US stamps I bought specially.  I still have the other 17 US$1 stamps sitting in a drawer all these years later.

     

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    Offline J. Tanner

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    Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
    « Reply #17 on: November 18, 2020, 11:03:56 pm »
    I always obeyed the rules, but it hurt like hell to wait months and months. The last one I submitted to was --- in 2001 and I'm still waiting for a reply. They did accept unsolicited subs, and I included return postage to Australia, in US stamps I bought specially.  I still have the other 17 US$1 stamps sitting in a drawer all these years later.

    You should totally query them on it.  :P
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    Offline Simon Haynes

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    Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
    « Reply #18 on: November 19, 2020, 01:27:46 am »
    Well, on the plus side their tardiness convinced me self-publishing was the way to go back in 2001.

    If not, I might still have been sending out query letters for my first novel instead of sitting here getting number 30 ready for preorder.

     

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    Offline unkownwriter

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    Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
    « Reply #19 on: November 19, 2020, 05:08:28 am »
    Quote
    Kensington comes immediately to mind--check out their website.

    Don't.

    As to getting scripts bought, you'll need an agent that handles that sort of thing. I feel it's too "dangerous" to just send scripts to people, or even material so they could do a script. They likely wouldn't even take it, but return it to prove they didn't somehow "steal" your idea/plot/etc. It's amazing how many people you see who are positive some movie company stole their work and then produced it without having to pay. Most people are leery of even having this stuff come in.

    Offline markpauloleksiw

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    Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
    « Reply #20 on: November 19, 2020, 11:49:39 am »
    What some don't realize is getting an agent is just the beginning. You then have to totally depend on them...and if it doesn't work out, you find yourself 18 months later back at square one. 

    Writers Beware is a good place to go for info on the agents to run from and publishers as well.

    Mark

    Offline jb1111

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    Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
    « Reply #21 on: November 19, 2020, 02:46:30 pm »
    About a year ago a KBoarder here mentioned, on a thread about trad vs. indie, that literary agents were having rough times and there were less of them than maybe five years previous. Whether that info still stands I wouldn't know. When I sent query letters to agents in 2013 or so I learned quickly that it was a vain proposition, and I self-published and never looked back.

    I wonder how the field looks now. I'm sure that the corona-economy must have affected that sector of the trad industry.

    Offline markpauloleksiw

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    Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
    « Reply #22 on: November 20, 2020, 07:03:04 am »
    I follow quite a few agents on Twitter just to keep up with what is going on in their world. I can confirm there has been an upheaval and a few agencies have cut agents and some/few are in legal disputes over who actually "owns" the author...the agent or agency...etc...

    There are more "agents" trying to find creative ways to get reading fees for manuscripts...(which is a no-no)

    Mark


    Offline Frank the author

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    Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
    « Reply #23 on: November 21, 2020, 03:46:44 am »
    To everyone
    thanks once again for the thoughtful and helpful comments. When I wrote my post I was in kind of a down mood. This thread helped. It in fact DOES make more sense to continue to roll the dice without a big self funded marketing fund and try to self publish.
    It does make sense to (and I imagine the odds are better) be waiting for a 30 day countdown to publishing date on kindle than to be waiting MONTHS for a reply from a publisher in New York
    I still have the dream, but its better at this point to be practical.

    Offline chrisstevenson

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    Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
    « Reply #24 on: November 21, 2020, 08:53:44 am »
    I just know from contact with my agent, which is frequently, that sales to the largest houses have declined dramatically, generally over the past five years. The past year has been very tight. She is pretty much a one-woman show, with occasional readers and family members pitching in, but she does manage to get by with a certain amount of lucrative deals per year. She has 99 clients.
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      Offline Wayne Stinnett

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      Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
      « Reply #25 on: November 21, 2020, 01:16:14 pm »
      The chances of being picked up by a publishing house are very slim
      The chances of self-publishing it are 100%.
      The royalty you'll get on the slim chance will be 20% of 70% at best.
      The royalty you'll get on the 100% chance will be 100% of 70% at worst.
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      Offline Decon

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      Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
      « Reply #26 on: November 21, 2020, 05:41:11 pm »
      I wouldn't bother with either, especially now with bookstores 30% down on sales. I would think agents would be finding it difficult just now finding publishers in this climate, as would going direct yourself as an unknown

      On the 1% chance you'd get picked up by either, it would probably take 1 year at least to get it published add to that how long it would take to find someone to push your book forward and it'll probably end up at 2 years for that 1% of submissions that are accepted. Even then it's a big if with 99% rejected. Think how many books you could write and publish  in that time on your own.

      Just think of the stress in hanging about waiting for replies and the dispondency when it's rejection letter after rejection letter. Go for it if you must, but I personally wouldn't unless they came to me, and that'll never happen cause I'm not an indie bestseller.
      « Last Edit: November 21, 2020, 05:47:12 pm by Decon »


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      Offline Simon Haynes

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      Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
      « Reply #27 on: November 21, 2020, 06:55:40 pm »
      Also, many (most?) trad pubbed books don't make back the advance. So you lose the rights pretty much forever, unless you manage to get a reversion. (Good luck, with POD and ebooks never going out of print.)

      That means you won't see any royalties after the initial advance.

      I had the experience of seeing my trad-pubbed books vanishing from stores, never to be restocked. It was like a burst of enthusiasm followed by what's next. Self-pub is more like a bunch of kindling that might build into a decent, everlasting fire.
       

      Also yWriter, free novel-writing software for Windows PCs. (Mac version in progress).

      Offline jb1111

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      Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
      « Reply #28 on: November 21, 2020, 09:55:49 pm »
      Just think of the stress in hanging about waiting for replies and the dispondency when it's rejection letter after rejection letter. Go for it if you must, but I personally wouldn't unless they came to me, and that'll never happen cause I'm not an indie bestseller.

      Or, you don't hear back from them at all. I sent out numerous query letters that were completely unanswered, to this day, several years after the fact. The one rejection letter I got was at least an acknowledgment that they received the correspondence.

      Offline ShawnaReads

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      Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
      « Reply #29 on: November 22, 2020, 08:35:17 am »
      Or, you don't hear back from them at all. I sent out numerous query letters that were completely unanswered, to this day, several years after the fact. The one rejection letter I got was at least an acknowledgment that they received the correspondence.

      Same. I had an editor in Scholastic interested in reading a partial of a book I'd pitched to her. I sent it and never heard back. I eventually followed up to ask if she'd received it, she told me to send it again, which I did, and I never heard back.

      Offline markpauloleksiw

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      Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
      « Reply #30 on: Yesterday at 07:29:39 am »
      I was total newbie 5 years ago when I started looking for an agent.  Totally shocked me how convoluted and wasteful the process is. By the time you get an agent and deal you could easily have 2-3 novels in the marketplace.

      The query letter process is archaic.

      Mark

      Offline chrisstevenson

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      Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
      « Reply #31 on: Yesterday at 10:11:08 am »
      I was total newbie 5 years ago when I started looking for an agent.  Totally shocked me how convoluted and wasteful the process is. By the time you get an agent and deal you could easily have 2-3 novels in the marketplace.

      The query letter process is archaic.

      Mark

      That's if you get a deal at all. I've made most of my deals. My agent has stepped in to garner advances and improve the contracts. I'm the more aggressive.
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      Offline Frank the author

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      Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
      « Reply #32 on: Yesterday at 02:07:26 pm »
      Once again- THANKS AGAIN for the comments and opinions.
      I'll focus on self publishing

      Offline jb1111

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      Re: Literary agent or straight to publishers?
      « Reply #33 on: Yesterday at 05:50:57 pm »
      I was total newbie 5 years ago when I started looking for an agent.  Totally shocked me how convoluted and wasteful the process is. By the time you get an agent and deal you could easily have 2-3 novels in the marketplace.

      The query letter process is archaic.

      Mark

      Yes, I think it dates back to the years when dinosaurs still walked the earth. One would think that with the advent of email they could at least have sent correspondence saying "thank you for your query letter.... we'll get back to you..." but even before corona they seemed, from appearances, to be living in the 1950s, as if everything was typed on a Smith-Corona and they'd run out of ink ribbons.

      Yeah, I'm probably exaggerating... but not that much.

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