Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Q: Why would an agent submit a book to independent presses?

Why would an agent submit a book to independent presses? Especially those that will take unagented submissions, like Harlequin, Tule, Kensington... I can hit "send" myself. I'm baffled.
You're grouping one major publisher Harlequin (which is part of Harper), Kensington (a smaller but well-established house) and Tule (a relatively new start up, and primarily digital.)

That you think all three are the same is an indication you don't know what you need to know.

As for why I send submissions to Harlequin or Kensington, the answer is easy. They publish good books, and can get them into bookstores. They both have sales and marketing teams who work on an author's behalf. I know the editors there.

And frankly, they pay on time.

Now, the real question you're asking is why do you need an agent if you can just hit "send" yourself.

I don't answer that question anymore.
I don't try to persuade writers of the value of having an agent.

If you have done your homework, and concluded you don't want or need an agent, that's totally fine with me. I'm not going to track you down and yell at you.

If you've figured out you don't know what you need to know, and want some expertise on your side, well query away.

What you can't do (at least as far as I conduct business) is submit to publishers that do take unagented queries, and then query me. When you winnow down the pool of publishers by submitting on your own, you make my job harder. That's not a plus for me.

Any questions?


Pericula Ludus said...

Hmm, not sure I understand the question. In my opinion the reason stays the same, no matter where a book is submitted — the agent, based on their expertise, thinks it would be a good home for the book.
Sure, I can press send myself. I can also wield scissors, but I still go to the hair dresser. Because that way I might not end up looking like a scarecrow and also because I prefer to have a professional calm me down when the going gets tough / my hair turns pink.

Colin Smith said...

Can't say fairer than that. And if anyone wants to know what an agent can do for them, head on over to the Treasure Chest. There's a page linked called "Gems from Janet's Archives" that contains links to previous articles about agents and what they do.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

On some posts, I wish I could simply post a picture of my pug.

OP, maybe you don't need an agent. Maybe you know contract law as regards to publishing better than most. Maybe you are independently wealthy and have time and know how on how to independently market and advertise your book. Maybe, it's only one book you want to publish. Maybe, it is only a hobby for you. Any of those things make going it alone a legitimate decision.

I need an agent. I really do. I don't care that there are publishers, even big ones, that would let me submit myself (i.e. shoot my career between the eyes). I need the help. I don't know the editors and acquisitions teams. Agents do. I don't know what a good deal looks like. I don't know how to protect myself in a contract or negotiate better terms in a contract. I want a shark standing between me and the publisher to make sure my career pushes forward. I want an agent that looks beyond the first book I sell and thinks about the next ten or twenty. I want a career. I've spent too much time writing, too many sleepless nights working on plot holes and revisions to mess up my career by entering into some contract I don't understand at all. But that's just me.

Aphra Pell said...

Yep, I'm with EM on this one. I'm reasonably well researched on the publishing industry, and what that research tells me is I want someone who is professionally immersed and experienced in it in my corner.

I second trawling the archives to get an understanding of what an agent does beyond hitting send too. If people prefer to go unagented, that's absolutely their call and I'm not going to heckle, but I'd always suggest getting the detailed lowdown first.

The Noise In Space said...

Am I the only one who interpreted OP's question differently? I didn't read it as "why do I need an agent" at all. I read it as "I went through the very long and arduous process of acquiring an agent to help me get traditionally published, and then they submitted to bottom-tier publishers that disappointed me." It sounded more like OP was questioning the validity of his/her agent in particular, not the worth of agents in general.

But maybe I interpreted it wrong.

robinssis said...

Way back in 2013 I made the decision to self-publish. I’d queried three agents. Three! I think I was just trying to avoid the anxiety of dealing with humans. Or maybe I was just really insecure. Yeah, let’s face it, humans are scary. Anyway, I didn’t know a damn thing about publishing; self, traditional, how they do it on Mars… So, I set it up on Amazon, set up a Facebook page and website (a really crappy website, that is), did a reading at the library, and hawked copies at our local arts festival. Sold about 70 that first year. Did a reading at two women’s clubs over the next two years and maybe sold about 20 more. At that point, I already had remorse. But then… Fast forward to 2016…now comes the real remorse! I’m in line at inspection and I get an email from a legitimate talent agency, interested in the film rights to my book. Takes me a few days to convince myself this isn’t some Nigerian prince. A few emails later, I’m on a call with this guy in CA and I’m asking if I can transpose my own work – cause yeah – I know so much about screenwriting. We work together over the summer, and by the fall, I've heard nothing…crickets. Fast forward to 2017, same agency comes back, the guy has moved on, but the person who initially found my work wants this to move forward. “Got a greenlight from the CEO.” A week later, we have a 45 minute conference call with a writer on their staff. I finally start to get excited and bam…crickets once again. All this is to say, might have turned out much differently if I had done things the right way from the beginning. Of all the things I regret, not trying to find an agent is the biggest. I don’t tell this story very often, but I hope it provides some insight to someone, somewhere, thinking they can do it on their own. Maybe you are that rare person who can, but most likely, you need help. I know I did.

P.S. If Amy Johnson is reading comments today, congrats on your grandbaby!

P.S.S. Since I need a win…with regard to yesterday’s blog post - I said “Hmmm” at 1, “What???” at 2, and “Hahahahaha” by 3.

Mister Furkles said...

This is a hint: The most successful authors, whose books sell in the millions, have agents.

They surrender a substantial amount of their revenue to those agencies. When a lot of smart successful people do the same thing, it is nearly always a smart thing to do.

If you understand why they keep their agency business relationships after repeatedly making the NYT best sellers list, then you will also want an agent.

Maybe it is better to ask those authors why an agent is worth so much to them.

DeadSpiderEye said...

If you're seeing this, I passed the hit send test.

Craig F said...

Abraham Lincoln famously said that he who represents himself has a fool for a client.

He was discussing lawyers, but much has changed since then. The adage is still true but the world is more complicated now. We won't get into the gender bias of the statement but contracts have grown into other places. They have also become more complicated, in their own right.

Now, anyplace that has a contract needs to be looked at properly, so the adage must be expanded into places like publishing. A writer who represents herself has a fool for a client. Agents can cure that.

Luanne G. Smith said...

My agent subbed my MS to Kensington and three others. I'm pretty sure it's because of her relationships with those editors that we heard back from all of them within two weeks. You're not going to get that kind of response subbing on your own. Good luck if you hear back in a year.

Kristin Owens said...

Yes, The Noise in Space - you are correct! Thank you.

I want an agent. I crave an agent. And I know exactly the value they offer, which is why I continue querying even though my cuticles are raw.

After two solid years, receiving over 200 rejections, 48 requests for more pages, and 25 full requests, I finally got a bonafide nibble. This particular agent who has been in the biz for a long time has sales to these myriad publishers (Harlequin, Kensington and Tule), and ONLY these which raised the question, what value-added is she able to bring? What I'm seeking from the tank is validation of what I already think.

That's all.

The Noise In Space said...

Kristen - I thought so! I was surprised at Janet's answer, since it didn't seem to fit with your actual question (to me). She spent more time on "the real question you're asking," which wasn't anywhere in your inquiry at all.

Also, DeadSpiderEye--that's exactly what a bot would say.

Amy Johnson said...

Kristin: I hope everything works out well for you and your book.

Robinssis: Thanks for sharing your story. I definitely want to work with an agent, and your story further cemented the cement. And thanks for the congrats about my new grandbaby. Just got home from a "sleepover" with the sweet, sweet girl. Guess what I'm about to do? Good night. :)

smoketree said...

As someone who works for an independent press that takes independent submissions, I will say to this letter writer that most of us read agented submissions more quickly and carefully than unagented ones, particularly when they come from an agent whose judgment we trust. It's generally a sign that the quality of the manuscript will be substantially better. From the other side, wouldn't you also want an agent's insight into which independent presses make sense to approach?

Aphra Pell said...

Kristen - apologies for misreading your letter. I guess the value-added of an agent here is still pretty much the usual - getting things seen outside of the slush-pile, knowledge in contract negotiations etc etc. So if you want an agent for all the normal reasons people do, you want an agent even if your eventual publisher takes unsolicited submissions.

The more important question here (it would be for me anyway) is if this agent has only ever sold to three publishers, are those publishers you'd be comfortable making your career with? I suspect that's going to depend on what you are writing.

KDJames said...

Why *wouldn't* an agent submit to those places? The phrasing doesn't make sense to me and I can see why some of us interpret it to mean "why do I need an agent/this agent, if this is what they're going to do?"

Is the assumption that since these publishers accept unagented submissions, an agent shouldn't bother? Or that you don't "need" an agent with them because they're so . . . generous? nice? You agreed with the comment that called these "bottom-tier" publishers-- is it because you're disdainful of those publishers, and the writers they publish? [insert big red THINK CAREFULLY sign here]

A better question might be, "Why are these publishers willing/eager to negotiate contracts with writers who don't have an agent to look out for their best interests?"

Oh, and the three do have something in common, in that they all publish a similar style/genre of romance novel. If you've written that type of novel, that might be why this agent is interested in you. Maybe it's a style the agent enjoys representing and knows where it will be published well--- ie, find readers and make gobs of money. Maybe her experience will be more valuable to you than whether a publisher requires agent involvement. Maybe not.

I hope you find an agent who is a good fit for you.

AJ Blythe said...

Kristin, I would love to be published with Kensington, but I would also love an agent to sell my ms to them.

An agent is more than just a salesperson. I want someone who'll help negotiate the contract, go in to bat for me when there are stumbling blocks that might trip me up, work with me to establish my writing career (not just that sale) and so on.

But I think you are asking, if the agent is only selling to those companies why would you want that agent? Maybe it's because the authors she reps write genres that fit perfectly into those publishing houses?

Laina said...

Harlequin is seriously not a "bottom-tier" publisher. They're literally the biggest name in romance.

Kristin Owens said...

Every morning, like clock work, I grab a cup of coffee, my Atkins breakfast bar, and read Janet's daily blog. Over the years I've enjoyed reading the questions people have and the camaraderie and helpfulness of those responding. It's always been a treat to see how supportive writers are with each other.

But today was different. I was lucky to have Janet answer a question I posed and learn from her years of wisdom, which I truly value. And if I wasn't clear in my question, I take responsibility. But I honestly wasn't prepared for such a bruhaha of responses.

I never said these publishers were bottom-tier, only that they took unagented submissions. And since I've been on the hamster wheel of querying, wasn't sure how to handle an agent who only worked with these particular imprints. Would I be prematurely/rashly jumping at a chance I've longed for for years? Should I ask more questions? Should I say yes and thank you? I didn't know, so I reached out for help.(BTW-I don't write romance)

For those who gave me objective advice, I thank you for your valuable insight. It's always appreciated. For those that wanted to make themselves feel better by making me feel small or ridiculing my question, feel free to email me at kristinowenswriter@gmail.com and we can discuss civilly there. This blog really isn't the place for it. I'm taking the high road.

Aphra Pell said...

Hi Kristen, I'm sorry if you feel piled on. I don't think it was anyone's intention, but the internet is really tricky for tone, and comment thread structure can inadvertently exacerbate it.

I don't know how helpful my thoughts on will be (as I'm a woodland creature and not an agent, or even agented), but for what its worth, yes, I'd ask more questions - as far as I know it is fine to ask an offering agent what they are envisaging for your book, and having that discussion even in broad terms should help you figure out if you are comfortable.

If she's made an offer, having a chat with a few of her clients might help as well.

It's a stressful moment for any writer, let alone one at the end of a long query process, so you have my best wishes.

KDJames said...

Kristin, I'm not the type of person to scurry off to the privacy of email when I've offended or hurt someone (I'm assuming I was the one who did). When I screw up in a public forum, that public forum is the place I'll apologize.

I'm sorry I made you feel small and ridiculed. That was not my intent, is NEVER my intent with other writers (agents and publishers are sometimes fair game). I did attempt to write my comment in a joking manner -- not to ridicule, but to diffuse my criticism -- which apparently didn't come across well. Again, I'm sorry.

While I regret the tone of what I said, I won't apologize for the content. Had I been my usual tactless self, had I not *tried* to be diplomatic, I would have said it more clearly:

"OP, by saying you're "baffled" about why an agent would submit to a press where an agent isn't required (which is not the same as "agents not allowed"), you're in effect questioning the intelligence of hundreds, maybe thousands of savvy authors whose well-respected agents submit on their behalf to those same publishers all the time. By saying you could just "hit send" yourself, you're dismissing all the hard work those agents do with those same publishers. And by saying it on the blog of another highly-respected hard-working agent, you're dismissing her value as well."

But I DIDN'T say it that way, because I DIDN'T want to beat up on you. Because I'm sure you didn't mean to disparage anyone and any offense was completely inadvertent on your part. Because you're new at this. As Janet said, "You don't know what you need to know."

I will freely admit that I'm not "nice." I despise "nice." But I do try to be kind. You might not believe this, but sometimes the most supportive, kind thing one writer can do for another is to tell them to check themselves and their assumptions, to re-think the way they're approaching an issue and the wording they're using. I know you're hurt and pissed off right now, because I've been on the receiving end. Many times. Probably will be again. Hard lessons, all of them.

I would say I'll try to do better next time, but I know from experience I won't. I'm blunt and honest and tactless. It's one of my greatest strengths and also one of my worst flaws. It's far more likely that, next time, I just won’t say anything at all. :writers everywhere breathe a sigh of relief:

Kristin, I sincerely do wish you all the best of luck finding an agent and getting published. I look forward to you coming back here one day soon and telling us about your successes so we can celebrate.