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I am a first-time author, and a few months ago I completed a picture book manuscript. After completing the manuscript, I had it professionally edited. I also completed a query letter, which was professionally reviewed/edited as well.

My original plan was to send my query letter and manuscript to various agents, but then I got cold feet and decided to send my manuscript to a few publishing companies instead (who accept unsolicited submissions). I did this for different reasons, but one of them being that I question whether an agent will actually want to work with me as I’m not pursuing or working on other manuscripts at this time - nor do I necessarily plan to. So I decided to go straight to a publisher instead, although I know this is highly competitive and response time can be ~6 months (if at all). I have a graduate degree and work in the medical field, and I don’t plan to make a career out of writing.

So my questions, if anyone can answer, are:

  1. Would agents even want to work with someone such as myself, who may have a manuscript that is appealing to them but I don’t necessarily have intentions to write another?

  2. If I do decide to submit my manuscript to agents, should I tell them in my query letter that I already submitted to a few publishers? Or could I be more vague and simply mention that it’s a simultaneous submission?

I don’t plan to pursue additional publishers on my own. And perhaps this decision already decreased my chances with agents. But I suppose it doesn’t hurt to try.

I’m learning more and more as I go, and I would love some feedback about whether most agents expect their clients to work on new projects/books.

  • Amelia, before answering this question, can I ask what you want to get out of this? Do you just want to hold a copy in your hands and feel proud? Sell a few to friends and family? Ore you hoping to garner a large reader base and sell thousands of copies? Is your aim to make money? The route you take to publishing very much depends on your goals for the book. – GGx - Reinstate Monica Cellio Jun 5 at 8:22
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Agents and publishers usually publish guidelines for how to reach out to them with a manuscript. Most reputable publishers will only work through agents, because agents filter out a lot of the really terrible manuscripts that come in. (Google "slush pile" for some interesting history.)

That said, given your background, you are probably better off working through an agent, because publishing contracts are complex legal documents that you don't want to sign without having someone else review them. That is an agent's job—to negotiate the best deal for you, and to ensure you're not signing away your rights to your book.

I would reach out to agents, and I would definitely let them know that you've sent it to a few publishing houses that don't require agented submissions. Yes, agents like it when you have another manuscript in the pipeline, but what they are really looking for in the present is whether your current manuscript is saleable. Reputable agents will look at your work and give you an idea of whether any publishers will be interested in publishing it. More importantly, reputable agents will not charge a fee. Never work with agents who charge a reading fee. They make their money off of reading fees, not off of actually selling manuscripts.

Best of luck to you.

  • This is generally good advice, but the "most reputable publishers..." line is a common myth. Many publishers accept at least some unagented manuscripts, and and there are some genres or niches --picture books being one --that agents rarely cover. I happen to think that agents are typically well worth the money, but that doesn't mean that seeking an agent first is always the best way to go. – Chris Sunami Jun 7 at 16:09
  • I meant "most reputable publishers" to steer OP away from vanity presses who charge for reading. Bigger publishers will not accept unagented or unsolicited manuscripts is what I think I meant. Also, if the OP doesn't really have a background in publishing (and doesn't intend to develop one) an agent will be aware of a lot more opportunities than OP will be aware of. (There are actually a number of agents looking for picture books, though.) – Kenneth Odle Jun 8 at 19:55
  • "Bigger publishers will not accept unagented manuscripts" is not true. As I mentioned in my answer, I sold my picture book to Simon & Schuster by myself, without an agent. And I can tell you from experience that relatively few agents rep picture books (not none, just not a lot). Do you have better sources than mine from your information? – Chris Sunami Jun 10 at 11:42
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If you are planning on submitting to agents, submit to them first! No agent is going to want to go around behind you, submitting to publishers that have already turned you down. With that said, in my experience, you're probably better off submitting directly if you're specifically doing a picture book. Not that many agents cover them, and those that do are usually looking for authors who can carry a franchise. In addition, since they typically don't have much text, it's easier and quicker to review them, so the additional vetting process of the agent isn't as useful to the publisher. Once you have an offer on the table, THEN ask your publisher to recommend an agent who can represent you in the negotiations. It will be MUCH easier to get the agent at that point, and he or she will still be worth the money in terms of representing your interests.

My policy is to not start in with publishers until I've exhausted the possiblities for agents. Therefore, given that you've already started querying publishers, I'd keep on with it at this point. But you'll need a radical change to your attitude if you actually do want to be published. For one thing, almost no one is published who submits only to a handful of publishers. When I sold my picture book, I queried 50 publishers, got three reads, and sold to one (largely because --although I didn't know it at the time --an old classmate who was interning there pulled my manuscript out of the slush pile). And those are actually TERRIFIC stats for a first-time writer with only one book. You'll also need to be more confident and less apologetic about what you're pitching. (And if you have one generic, non-customized query letter that you're sending to everyone, agents and publishers alike, you're probably doing it wrong).

If you're looking to do both text and illustrations, you may do best breaking into the field first as an illustrator and then branching out. Picture books are most definitely an illustration-driven world. Superstar picture book writers who don't also illustrate are rare (and usually very prolific).

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