A question that frequently comes up for writers is whether to get an agent or pitch a book directly to editors and publishers. If you have a commercial nonfiction or fiction a course in miracles, it’s ideal to get an agent – and an agent will want to represent you. In this ideal scenario, a good agent will have the connections and can place your book faster with a bigger and better publisher. Plus the agent can negotiate a bigger advance and better terms.
So how do you get to that agent? If you already have a high-profile, are involved in a big news event, are a popular speaker or a frequent guest for media, you can usually quickly connect up with an agent and even choose among eager agents.
Common Problems in Finding a Good Agent
Then there’s everyone else – which is most writers with a book. Without that big name or big story connection, it is often difficult to find a good agent who is well connected in the industry and regularly making deals. You want to avoid an agent who charges fees other than out-of-pocket costs for copying and extra shipping, such as for foreign postage and messages.
One problem in finding representation is that good agents are often busy with other clients, are selective in taking on new clients, and may take weeks or months to respond. Then, too, some agents will only consider new clients by referral. So expect to encounter some of these common barriers to finding an agent, even if your book is one that an agent will be eager to represent.
Even after you get an agent, some common problems for many writers are these:
– the agent isn’t doing enough;
– the agent has submitted the book to some editors, who have turned it down, and the agent isn’t sure where to go next;
– an agent may be initially hot on a book, but after a few turn-downs, loses interest;
– an agent usually cultivates a select circle of editors – perhaps two or three dozen. But if those editors aren’t interested, the agent has limited contacts or lacks an interest in pursuing your project outside the circle.
In such cases, getting or staying with an agent may not be the best approach. You may do better on your own.
Another consideration is whether your book is suited to a particular agent – or to agents, generally. While most agents handle general commercial nonfiction, many emphasize certain specialties or only handle certain types of books, such as fiction, children’s book, self-help, health, and business books. Also, agents commonly submit most books to their circle of editors. So target your book to agents who handle your type of book.
Deciding If Your Book Is Better Suited to an Agent, Direct Pitching, or Both
While having a good agent is often the best approach, consider whether your book is best suited for an agent. Often, you will do better in pitching certain types of books yourself. In general, agents are best for books which have the potential for large sales, whether commercial nonfiction or fiction, or for special markets that have a big sales potential (such as popular psychology, self-help, and business books). In such cases, where big sales are possible, agents are ideal if you can find a good one, because they mostly focus on working with the bigger publishers who handle such books.
Conversely, if your book appeals to a specialty market or has limited sales potential, you might do better pitching your book directly to editors and publishers – or even think about self-publishing to launch your book. But only go the self-publishing route if you have the interest and ability to distribute books to your target market (such as if you are a speaker and can sell books in the back of the room). You need that commitment to distribution if you self-publish, because distribution is the hardest and most time-consuming part of self-publishing. The advantage of self-publishing, if suitable for you, is that once you establish a sales track record, you are in a stronger position to successfully pitch your book to a larger publisher.