Friday, February 15, 2008

More on the Agent Submission Process

Do agents submit a manuscript to the acquisitions editor at each imprint (meaning, if the house accepts unagented manuscripts, it goes through the same editor whether you have an agent or not) or do agents somehow bypass the acquisitions editor and send their queries directly to any editor working at the imprint that might be interested in the manuscript? I've read one agent blog that seems to say the first option and another agent blog that implies the second option.

I hope I am understanding your question correctly, and if I am, the answer is a little of both—yes and no. All editors who buy books for a publishing house are essentially acquisitions editors. Their jobs are to acquire books for the publishing house to publish. However, if what you’re asking is whether or not agents simply send your material to publishers and direct it to “acquisitions editor,” then no. At least not a good, reputable agent. All agents should have a list of editors they work with, know, and sell to. Most important, though, all agents should know what the personal tastes are of those editors, and that goes beyond just knowing who loves fantasy versus romance or contemporaries versus historicals. In addition to knowing generally what editors want, I should also have a sense of the style of writing they like and gravitate toward.

The advantage of an agent is more than just getting your book in the door, it’s also about how it’s treated when it gets there. When unagented authors send unsolicited material to an editor, it is often passed on to a freelance reader to be read. When an agent sends material, it is usually read by the editor herself or, at the very least, the editor’s assistant. Agented material also has an edge in that it’s been screened first. When an agent sends out a book to an editor who knows and respects the agent’s opinion, she will read it as quickly as she can. When an editor receives unsolicited material, she’ll usually sit on it until she’s cleaned up everything else.

Now, there are exceptions to this rule. Harlequin/Silhouette, for example, is a house that actively seeks out unagented authors, and often I will recommend authors submit directly to them rather than work with an agent. Many epublishers are the same way. As are university and small presses.

An agent’s success is based largely on reputation, and it’s that reputation you are piggy-backing on to get your book read, read quickly, and to facilitate an offer or two.



Mark Terry said...

I just love this. Everybody's sitting at home wondering who won the contest and not commenting on today's blog. Gives me the giggles.

So is it true? Agenting is all about the 2 R's: reputation and Rolodex?

Are there agents who make a living but who editors don't like to work with for a variety of reasons, even though some of their authors are pretty good and successful?

Anonymous said...

It did get awfully quiet all of the sudden, didn't it?

Reputation and contacts are definitely two very important agent qualities, but I think there's a lot more that goes into it. Career planning, editorial skills (although some agents are more "hands on" than others), negotiation tactics....

It's hard for me to answer your last question. Editors don't usually dump on agents in front of their competition. From my editorial experience, I can tell you that publishing is like any other business. Personalities can sometimes clash. It's largely a subjective thing from one editor to the next. If an agent's not "feeling the love" with one editor, then they'll probably take the hint and establish a relationship with another editor in the same imprint. Bu if the agent has had some really successful projects, then most editors will probably suck it up, put their personal feelings aside and try to maintain a relationship with that agent.

Hope that's helpful.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the slush pile (unsolicited pile) from a former reader and someone who used to work on the other side of the desk in publishing: fewer houses now hire in the freelance readers anymore. Very often, interested people in the office double as in-house readers, and sign out manuscripts in their "free time" -- which is weekends, vacations, etc.

There's also a high burnout factor in reading. You hope you fall in love with every piece that lands on the desk; it doesn't always happen. And, if you don't find a really good piece after months, it gets discouraging and frustrating, especially when you see the same trends/mistakes over and over.

But one of the things I find encouraging as a writer now is that there are still many people who felt the way I did as a reader, and really WANT to fall in love with what comes in.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I was sent to this blog by a sweet friend (Hey, Erin!**waving**). And I am so grateful. Very interesting, reading help and suggestions made by agents in the know. I think I might be a regular lurker!

Keri Ford said...

"anti-Valentine...Valentine, oh yeah, the contest! Who's the winner! When's the women's fiction one coming up!

Oops, getting a little off track..."


I know! even though they said it'll be a few days I kept thinking they might get randy all of a sudden, quit working on probably really important stuff, and post the results!

Anonymous said...

It always amazing me that writers attempt to go it alone. If you put the time and effort into query letters and finding an agent, your chances of being published and getting PAID for it increase exponentially.

I'm a licensed attorney and extremely experienced in contract drafting and the art of negotiating, but frankly, I don't have the networking contacts or the inside scoop on editors and would never attempt to navigate the murky publishing waters without my agent...

Anonymous said...

Ghost Writer

The snow had begun softly falling and Hannah stared out her window. Only two more typed pages to go and her editorial would be finished again for this month. She couldn’t have asked for a better job in the world. She had worked four years at “Country Lives” magazine as their antique researcher. The job afforded her the opportunity to travel all over the United States in search of genuine antique items that had been made in this country. She had met so many interesting people and had heard so many stories about the antiques she had researched.

Anonymous said...

I'm intrigued that you recommend authors submit directly to Harlequin/Silhouette instead of working with an agent. Could you elaborate on the reasons why?

I'm also very interested in your thoughts on category romance in general. This came up in Pitch Critiques Round 23, and I'd love a post on it.

Thanks for a great blog!


Anonymous said...

Anon 8:31 -- People go it alone without an agent, because sometimes getting an editor on your own is easier than finding an agent.

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

Thanks for the comments on selling to Harlequin without an agent and for your reasoning Anon 10:18. Actually I don't believe it's easier to get an editor than an agent, but I will address Harlequin/Silhouette and category in another post.


Aimlesswriter said...

All I know is agenting seems like a very tough job. I think it takes a special kind of person. It seems like you have to have a very large network to get it all done.