May 29, 2010

On the Hunt for an Agent

People interested in writing often ask me if it’s necessary to have an agent to get published. The answer is: yes and no.

In the past, writers could submit their work directly to a main stream publishing house and if the company liked it, they’d recommend an agent. The offer wasn’t benevolent. Negotiating book terms with an agent was easier than with an artist who was emotionally attached to his/her prose.

Today the doors of main stream publishing are closed to writers who represent themselves.  Today, you need an agent.  But don’t look to them for nurturing.  They are the gatekeepers. Publishers rely on agents to screen submissions and in return, the agents get access.

Of late, the gatekeepers are getting more and more selective.  Some no longer accept unsolicited queries.  Your work is reviewed only if it is submitted with the recommendation of one of their clients or through another agent. In sum, you may need an agent to get an agent.  

But take heart. Smaller publishers remain approachable. A beginning writer might look there first.  

Finally, lots of advice exists on the web and in books on how to find an agent.   Some sources are reasonably reliable because they do a cursory check on the agency’s track record. I’ve given three sources on my link. But the field is fluid. A scam agent who is unmasked today can assume a new name and show up on a listing tomorrow. Let me repeat the obvious: do your homework.