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While I tend to agree with the writer & publishing guru, Dean Wesley Smith, that agents are usually a liability and that it is wrong for writers to hand over their royalties to them, I am not sure about the part where he says they are totally unnecessary for submitting your work to publishers. Because it seems to me that that is the one thing that agents are actually useful for: acting as filters or slush-readers for the publishers.

According to him, writers can actually ignore the injunction on the big publishers' websites that says 'no unagented submissions' and simply submit their queries anyway, and they often do with good results. In other words, in spite of what they say on their websites, the big publishers actually DO read queries and take work from unknown writers directly.

I'd like to know if this is really true. Any insiders here that can confirm this? Dean has many years of insider experience in the publishing industry and seems to know what he's talking about. But I am still unsure as to just how true it is that editors in these big publishing houses actually read and respond to queries directly from writers in spite of what they say on their websites.

7

This isn't something I have done, so I cannot comment on whether ignoring the submission guidelines on a publisher's website can be successful, but it isn't something I would risk doing.

You will find just as many authors advising that ignoring submission guidelines on any website - agent or publisher - is a sure-fire route to the trash pile. Some smaller houses do accept unsolicited submissions, but if you're looking for a big six deal, you need an agent.

Agents don't just filter the slush pile.

If you secure a good agent, they will have many contacts in the industry and know the commissioning editors personally. They will know the right fit for your manuscript and target appropriately.

How will you submit unsolicited?

Take Penguin Random House as an example. They explicitly state that they do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. They give no submission guidelines, so how will you even know what to submit as a professional query? Also, they list their management staff but not their commissioning editors. So, how will you know who to target your manuscript at, which editor is looking for your type of book? What will you do? Send it with no recipient to the house and hope the receptionist finds a commissioning editor for you?

Securing a deal.

Also, agents also have the capacity to handle multiple submissions at one time, multiple offers (should that happen), bidding wars, and the sale of international and film rights. They are there to secure the best possible deal for you and ensure that the contract you sign protects the rights that you wish to retain.

Getting you ready.

A good agent will also help you hone your manuscript so that it's ready for submission.

Bear in mind that Dean Wesley Smith is nearly 70 years old. The industry was a very different place when he was submitting as an unknown author and in a very specific genre.

I'd be interested if anyone suggests you should take this route. Personally, I wouldn't recommend it.

Good luck!

5

The one book I placed with a big-name publisher is one I sold directly, without an agent. So yes, it can be done. And in fact, I've found publishers to be more responsive than agents --although that's just one person's anecdotal experience, of course. I think that's especially true for less commercial or more niche books. The right publisher might do one as a passion project, but there just isn't the margin there for the agent to bite. An agent is going to prefer a good, commercially viable, mass-audience book.

However, as the years have gone by, I've come to understand the value of an agent by virtue of not having one. It can be helpful to have someone who knows the publishing business well, and who has time to have brunch with editors, and who has a financial stake in making sure your book does well. A lot of it depends on your own personality, but if you don't WANT to be your own agent, 15% is not too much to pay to outsource a lot of those things. I feel like a lot more could have been done just with my one book --translations, animated adaptations, anniversary editions, or even just getting my rights back --if I'd had the right person in my corner.

For those reasons, I'm targeting agents, not publishers, for my current projects. It's worth noting, however, that it's possible to get the publisher first, and then the agent. Just ask the publisher to recommend a good agent that they like working with to represent you, after they've already accepted your manuscript. Most agents won't turn down a guaranteed sale like that, and you'll be getting someone whom you know has a good connection to at least one publisher.

3

My agent at Wordwise Media found a publisher (Writer's Digest Books) for my book The Editor's Companion and was confident enough to request a substantial advance. I thought we would never cover the advance, and I didn't want the publisher to lose money on my book. But my agent knew what he was doing, and the book covered the advance and is still paying royalties about five years later. I could have tried to find a publisher myself, but I don't know whether the book would even have gotten published without my agent, so to me a good agent is well worth the money.

  • I was trying to be specific and hope I did not violate the policy about self-promotion. If I did, I'll be happy to delete the names of the book, publisher, and agent. – Literalman Feb 4 at 22:12

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