Ask the Agent: Query Publisher or Agent?
Chatty Kelly asked a common question on Friday:
Why would you query an agent over a publisher? What are the pros & cons?
Okay, in the first place, fewer and fewer publishers are accepting unagented submissions. So if you want to get published, it’s becoming less viable to do it without an agent. Agents are the accepted gatekeepers in the industry. One of our jobs is to cull through the thousands of submissions and bring the publishers the ones we think are the best. It’s the way the industry works now. So most writers are better off with an agent.
However, most publishers are still taking submissions from writers they’ve met in person at a conference. That’s still an option. Many writers are still getting their first book deal without an agent. But you might meet five editors in a year, while an agent has contact with dozens. So the conference option is still a longer-shot.
The reason to query agents over publishers is because you want an agent. Now, deciding whether you want an agent or not is a different question. I’ve addressed it before, many other blogs have addressed it, and I’m sure I’ll address it again. You decide if you want an agent based on whether you want all the services an agent provides (more than just selling your book to a publisher) and you’re willing to pay 15% of your earnings for it. The important thing is to try and make an intentional decision as you’re working on launching your writing career. Either, “yes, I think I’d like to try and get an agent from the get-go” or “no, I think I’d like to avoid agents like the plague.” (Maybe not that extreme but you know what I mean.)
If you want an agent, the best strategy is to query only agents, although you’ll make exceptions if you’re at a conference and end up talking to editors. Here’s the rationale: Let’s say you query lots of agents and editors at once. Most of them pass. But one agent likes your writing enough to take you on. They’re going to ask you: Who has seen this project? Who have you queried? If they find out that ten publishers have seen it and passed, they may not want to represent you after all. You’ve hamstrung the agent by taking away their market. That’s why it’s important to try and decide before querying… agent or not? Best to query either agents or editors, not both at one time.
As we’ve discussed here before, your agent might help you make your project more saleable before submitting it to publishers. It’s a bummer if you’ve already sent it out to publishers, gotten rejections, and then you get an agent who may have been able to help you avoid those rejections in the first place.
I know I’ve written about this before and I apologize for the redundancy! One of these days I’m going to create an FAQ’s page so that I can easily point you toward answers to these questions that are repeatedly asked.
Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent affiliated with WordServe Literary Group in Colorado.