A lot of people think it’s a chicken-or-egg question: Do I pitch to agents or editors first? But it’s really not that hard. The truth is, if you want to sell your book to a commercial royalty-paying publisher, you’re going to need either an agent, or some kind of personal contact with editors. Since it’s difficult to have that personal contact, an agent is usually necessary.
You can get personal contact with editors by going to conferences. They may like your pitch and request a partial, in which case you should send it. This is definitely a good way to get started.
However, at those same conferences, you’ll want to meet with agents too, because it will be to your advantage to have an agent before you start submitting your work to publishers. Here’s why:
1. An agent has contact with many different publishers, not just the two or three you’ll be able to meet with at a conference. They’ll be able to shop your project wide; and they’ll be able to hand-pick the specific editors most likely to want your book.
2. Once you’re close to getting an agent, that agent will want to know which editors have already seen your book. If you’ve already sent it to a whole bunch of editors, and they’ve passed, the agent may not want your book after all. The more rejections you have from publishers, the more difficult it will be to interest an agent (unless you’ve been sending it to all the wrong editors).
3. If you’re working with an agent, the agent may be able to help you get the manuscript and proposal into better shape before sending it out. So with your improved submission, along with the fact that it’s coming from an agent, you have a better chance at an editor giving it a good, serious look and possibly liking it.
I’m not saying all writers must have agents—it’s a personal decision. Make that decision for yourself before you go to any conferences or start sending out any queries. If you’ve decided you do want an agent, then concentrate your efforts on meeting and querying agents rather than editors.
What if you have editors already interested in your work, but you want to get an agent before sending your partial? Many writers find themselves in this position. You can go ahead and query agents, and be sure to say in your letter, “At the XYZ conference, editors from A, B, and C publishers requested my partial, but I haven’t sent it to them yet because I’d rather work with an agent.”
What if you already have an offer from a publisher? Should you still get an agent? Again, if you decide you’d prefer to go through this publishing journey partnered with an agent, then yes. Query the agents of your choice, letting them know you have a firm offer from ABC publisher. This won’t guarantee an agent will be interested, but it might help. And in this case, you want to put off signing a contract until you have an agent look at it.
Some might ask, “Why get an agent if you’ve already sold your book to a publisher?” Well, good agents do far more than simply sell the book, as I think you can tell from this blog and all the other agent blogs. A good agent is a valuable business partner throughout your writing career. But let me put the question back on you:
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