Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Can Publishers be Easier than Agents?

I have been on your newsletter list for a year or so, and I enjoy reading your sometimes agent-wisdom, and sometimes agent-chiding to absentminded writers.

Which brings me to my point. I have for some time now been wanting to tell an agent my story, having been trying for about 4 years to find an agent having written queries, proposals, et al up the wazzoo. I finally got tired a few years ago, and started querying publishers. I had my book on Costa Rica picked up and published hardcover. (That publisher's query was the same as to the agents.)

So then I tried 15 agents on a fine biography by a famous sculptor who wrote of his travels in the west in the 1870.s - Indians, grizzlys and a lot more - but no agent was interested. I sent the same query (adjusted by the word "publisher" instead of "agent") to 5 publishers. HarperCollins, and a major University Press asked to read the ms.

Yesterday a publisher picked up my 3rd book after trying to get an agent for 6 months. I solicited interest from 8 publishers.

My question for you is "Why did every single agent of all stripes and sizes have no interest when publishers were prompt to ask for "more". The three books are narrative non-fiction. And yes, I did my homework, and solicited only agents who had the specific subject matter as a primary interest. If anyone were to ask me I'd say "Query publishers, agents are too tough to interest."

My kindest personal regards,
Alfred Stites

Dear Mr. Stites:

Agents are usually looking for fairly low common denominators or at least books that will appeal to a wide number of editors and readers and, ideally, elicit very large offers or at least offers that will pay the bills. Not knowing more about your books, I can't say why agents weren't interested and publishers were, but I'd guess that the agents you queried simply didn't see the market or thought the potential market was too small and that the offers they might get wouldn't justify the time and effort required to find a publisher for the works.

After all, agents are in this as a business and to make money. I regularly turn down perfectly fine material or just don't request material because my feeling is that the number of hours I would have to spend trying to sell the book would not warrant the return I would receive. And plenty of books that I thought would be "easy" sells turned out to take years.

I guess there's no good answer to your question, because if I had one, I'd only take on books that were easy sells, just like every publisher would only take on books that would be best-sellers.


1 comment:

HemlockMan said...

I've had similar experiences. I submitted a novel to agent after agent. None were interested. Finally landed an agent who gave up trying to sell the book after a few months. Agent then dropped me.

Several months passed. I sold the novel on my own. Tried again to get an agent for my subsequent projects and to get one to try to sell movie rights on the first one. No agent was interested.

Several more months passed (not many), and I got an offer for the movie rights to the novel from a major studio.

At that point I dropped the offer into the lap of an agent who had actually shown some interest in my work but who hadn't yet signed me. A favor to a decent gent, I reckon.

Since then, I've realized that just because you have an agent doesn't mean that this gives you an excuse to become lazy. Don't expect an agent to go about beating all of the bushes for you. While he's working, do the same. Keep your eyes open. Ask around. Talk to editors.

An agent is not a miracle worker.

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