Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The great debate

I have four polished manuscripts, and I'm debating which route to take – submit directly to publishers or try to retain an agent.

This debate has been building in my brain for months, leading to a state of overwhelmed Inertia (note the capital I). Recently, I mustered up enough energy to sweep Inertia aside and take a step toward actually making a decision.

I compared the two routes and am sharing my notes with you.

Submit directly to publishers
Retain an agent
It's possible, but it's difficult.

It's possible, but it's difficult.

Many unpublished writers are first published this way. 

Some agents are open to unpublished writers, but many are not. In fact, many agents don't represent picture book authors at all.

Some publishers accept picture book manuscripts directly from writers. Some publishers (especially the larger and more well-known publishing houses) only accept manuscripts that are submitted through an agent. However, it may be possible to submit a query directly, depending on the house's submission policies.

With an agent, you gain access to the publishers that don't normally accept manuscripts directly from writers.

You will find greater success if you tailor your submission to the right publishing house and editor. The information you'll need is available, BUT it is scattered across books, blogs, forums, and writers' web sites, and it is time-consuming to gather. In addition, the publishing industry is dynamic -- people are on the move, getting promoted, etc., which means it may be difficult to stay current.  

It's an agent's business to know the publishing industry including the types of stories that compliment specific publishers' catalogs, editor preferences, what kinds of manuscripts are getting sold and what will be a harder sell, which publishers are downsizing and which are acquiring books, etc. This can be a time-savings.

You save on commission, BUT you will need to negotiate your own contract and deal with any business concerns that come up. Sometimes, this makes it difficult to maintain a good rapport with your editor. You may choose to hire a literary lawyer to review your contract. 

You will pay commission on earnings of your book (provided it gets sold). But, this money may be well spent as agents open doors to bigger, well-known publishers, may negotiate better contracts, handle all the business issues that could overshadow your relationship with the editor, etc. In addition, some agents are editorial and will help you refine your manuscript. BUT, not all agents are great, and they may end up being more of hindrance than a help.
You will need to be your own advocate should your manuscript get held up or potentially killed at the publishing house. This may be hard to do for someone with little to no knowledge of how publishing houses operate and no insider connections/information.

Agents can advocate for your book to help ensure it makes it through the publishing process.

Editors may take several months to respond to your queries. If they are passing, you may never hear back.

Agents can often get faster responses from editors. BUT, you have to retain an agent first and there is likely to be the same lengthy waiting period or non-response on your queries to agents.

You are your own career, publication, and marketing guide. If you need guidance, resources do exist to help -- you just have to find them.

A great agent will help guide your career, your path to publication, your marketing efforts, etc. BUT, agents have several clients and you may not get the attention you want.

Sigh. There is so much to consider. It's enough to make me run screaming into the night. I have to continuously remind myself, "There is no one right answer. There is no one right answer."  

And, there are always other options -- like self-publishing. But that is a whole 'nother blog post.


  1. Hi Margaret! Welcome to the world of blogging. So what did you decide?
    Saw your pitch on Susanna's site, glad to see you will be submitting the PB story.
    See you on Thursday!

  2. Thanks Darshana. I'm still deciding. I may submit to a few of on my "star" agent list, but then submit direct to publishers if those don't work out.

  3. Hi Margaret. I also write picture books. So far I have only been submitting my manuscripts to publishers. So far, nothing. But I am not giving up, I feel I have some really good picture books if I could just get them into the right hands. Good luck! I tried publishing my comment under open ID, but it wouldn't work, so I will try commenting as Google. I have two blogs, be sure to visit my writing blog at http://creativewritingintheblackberrypatch.blogspot.com

  4. Hi Janet! Good luck on your picture book subs!