Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

Monday, January 25, 2010

Need Agent-- yes or no?

I know nothing about the agenting process since I got published quite by accident through a small, start-up press.

Agents scare me. It's the gatekeeper before an editor will even talk to you. Gatekeepers scare me-- they're meant to keep people away, not welcome them in. (Okay, a lot of stuff scares me, but that's another story.)

However, it is possible to get published without an agent. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Small, regional or niche presses will often accept nonagented submissions. I know, I researched enough of them. Course you have to do your homework. You've got to "meet their needs," "fit their niche," and all that. You have to be able to take rejection....argh!! But that goes without saying. If you can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen. (I'm glad blogging wasn't around when I was first trying to get published, or I would've just done this and forgotten about submitting, thus avoiding rejection.)

Remember Marty's dad in Back to the Future? He wrote sci fi stories and when Marty told him they were good enough to get published, he cringed and said, "I don't think I could take that kind of rejection." That's why I always avoided agents-- because I couldn't take that kind of rejection. I used to check publisher guidelines and only submit to those with "nonagented submissions okay." I didn't want to get turned down by an agent before I even made it to the editor-- way too much rejection for my fragile psyche!

Now that I'm older, and published, my skin is a bit tougher. I'm not afraid of publishers anymore, or editors, or bookstore owners. I got the best compliment last week from a bookseller, who said that reading Uncut Diamonds was like talking to someone over the back fence. I like that, because it's how I intended the novel to be, shows she gets it. I wanted it to be like someone dropping in on this family and being part of their lives for a time. ANYHOO, so I'm no longer afraid of any of them because I've gotten to know them and to understand they're just people doing a job. And yes, the compliments do help!

Except for agents. I'm still afraid of them. Who are you most afraid of in the publishing industry? Agents, editors, publishing CEOs, booksellers, readers, reviewers? Or is fear not even part of your vocabulary?


  1. I'm scared of everyone. It's a wonder I can speak!!

    But I tried to find an agent for a while. About 50 rejections can really hurt a psyche.

  2. Karen, what a compliment on Uncut Diamonds!

    The process is what scares me -- so many do's and don'ts. I was led to believe agents were scary until I met some at a pitch slam. They aren't scary at all -- in fact they are nicer than most of the people I met in my first career. They are largely introverted and don't want to hurt anyone's feelings.

  3. M, 50 rejections? Are you kidding me? But now you're published, so la de da! Take that, rejecting people.

    Colette, "largely introverted and don't want to hurt anyone's feelings" that sounds familiar, maybe I should have been an agent? Thanks for this comment, it is very reassuring! Actually, a few of the editors I know are very much the same, although many editor blogs come across as aggressive and ornery, not introverted and kind. But I think that's a front for the shyness.

  4. Hi KarenG

    From WiDo publishing site under your book "Farm Girl"

    "Most publishing companies launch a book, Farm Girl launched a publishing company."

    Agents should be scared of YOU and not the other way round!


    I cannot wait for my copy to arrive all the way from the US of A!


    Take care


  5. What a fun comment, Kitty, that made my day! Oh, I hope you aren't disappointed in that little book. I'm kinda nervous to have a Brit read it! It's so American history/American farm life/and little American farm girl- ish.

  6. Hey Karen,

    I think agents are just a factor in the publishing business, depending on how you want to get published. If you want a small, niche press, you don't need one. If you want Random House or HarperCollin, you need one. I don't think they are scary. Rejections hurt, but they are just another factor.

    And Mary, 50 is not that high! I'm shooting for 100 rejections on my next novel before I consider the game over!

  7. Hi Karen

    I haven't had any experience of agents yet (that's a long way off for me I think!) but try doing with Agents what you did with the Editors, Publishers and Bookstore owners..."I'm no longer afraid of any of them because I've gotten to know them and to understand they're just people doing a job."

    For me the fear would come in the shape of the readers. These are the ones who buy the books and a good percentage will then go on to review it on sites like Amazon etc or mention it to friends and colleagues.

    Whenever I'm on the lookout for a new book, I always check the comments left by readers on sites like Amazon. Some readers aren't afraid of sharing their views and they are more likely to vent about a bad book than they are about a good one. So, yeah readers would scare the hell out of me!

    ...gosh long comment, sorry!

    Katie x

  8. Yeah, Katie you're right. Be very afraid of readers. My publisher sent out free review copies of Uncut Diamonds to women in book clubs in hopes of getting good reviews and start a buzz. Ha! One put up a terrible review on Amazon and I don't think they sold a single copy since, even though there were several good reviews as well. Fortunately, it's in other bookstores. If it was just up to Amazon, that would have killed it for sure.

    Tamara, are you even afraid of anything?

  9. Phew! I'm another one who's done it without an agent. Three cheers for independent publishers!

  10. I'm terrified of business and contracts. Bring me that agent already! :P

  11. My only fear is that Cadburys will stop making chocolate.

    Fear in publishing? Nothing!

  12. M., despite those 50 rejections your book will be a bestseller.

    And like Karen with Uncut Diamonds and Farm Girl, your book will be in stores long after HarperCollins has remaindered their up and coming new authors who aren't selling.

    Publishing with an indie has its perks.

  13. Nothing about publishing or the process scares me. I have thick elephant skin. What's the worse that can happen - someone tells you 'no, thanks.' Now spiders . . . they scare me.

  14. Publishing with an indie definitely has its perks, L.A. I think of my author friend from MN who had a bestseller with a national publisher; his second novel was in editing for 4 years, then put out and flopped. There are no guarantees whatsoever. One of the Utah publishers, a big fish in a small pond, said their titles have a 3 month shelf life. Whereas Farm Girl has been out 2 years and still on bookshelves.

  15. Interesting to see the varied responses and attitudes about agents, from "bring 'em on" (Tamara & Amanda) to "glad I didn't have to bother." (ChrisH and myself)

    Although I'm not afraid of spiders, I am afraid of running out of chocolate-- the really dark kind, no nuts. In fact I'm out right now which is very disconcerting.

    Kristine, always nice to have you breeze in from Minnesota and make your spicy comments.

  16. Great post. Can't really think of anything I'm afraid of. Sometimes I get worried about my editor's opinion when it differs from mine. I don't want to be difficult but I don't want to be a push-over either. These things unnerve me. I want my book to go blockbuster and sometimes am afraid it won't. But those things are silly. The more conferences I go to, the more I realize that people are just people and I pretty much like them all.

  17. I'm afraid of everyone...I think my own shadow ranks among them. HeyHo! Must look for you book and have a read!

  18. I'm with Katie. Readers scare me.

  19. Fear isn't a huge part of my publishing vocabulary. I know I'm gonna get rejected, and I'm not going to like it, but I try to let it just roll off my back.

  20. Melissa, you have nothing to fear because you're in very capable hands with your editor who of all people has the vision to turn your book into a blockbuster! I agree with you on the conferences. I wish I had done that kind of thing back in the day, I know it would have helped a lot. When I met you and other authors at the LUW conference, I had a lot of respect for you guys, because I knew that if I had been in your shoes, I would never have been able to sit there in a one on one with a publisher rep, editor, what have you. I'd have been quivering in my boots.

    Ann, you sound like a woman after my own heart. But I'm not afraid of spiders, tornadoes, earthquakes (of which I've been in a few.) I'm mostly afraid of people. Authority figures to be exact. Gatekeepers.

    Kate, so glad to see you off your blogging break and making your pithy comments. I'm not afraid of readers but I guess I should be, huh?

    Dominique, you and Tamara should be friends.


Comments are welcome!