At the outset, I have to say I’d love an agent. But I don’t have one, even though my second crime novel is being published soon. I’d tried several agencies before securing my own contract with Ringwood, a non-profit company showcasing new authors. Sadly, a rare breed. As I work on my third, I am pondering whether to try again for an agent? Are they necessary in this day and age of self-publishing? It probably depends on several things: your need for widespread recognition and exposure or desire for elusive royalty riches, for example. Whatever, submitting certainly needs stamina, persistence, and resilience to withstand rejection- or that deathly silence.
Times have changed. There are now many very successful, un-agented, self-published authors. Putting a book out there on Amazon, whether electronically or for ‘print on-demand,’ allows authors to reap rewards far in excess of normal publishers’ royalties. I was shocked to discover how little authors make from their toils- barely 10% of retail cost, less if sold through large retailers, as little as 75p per book. As agents make their living by commission on royalties, the sales numbers required to make it worth their while, is vast. Their fees range from 10% to 20% depending on home or foreign sales. Since foreign sales may involve third parties, the agent’s rate for them is even higher. Agents receive thousands of submissions each year. It must be difficult deciding what might be the next best thing, but it’s also difficult for new authors to understand how they work or to whom it’s best to submit- and I’m not talking purely about genres.
I suppose everyone imagines a dealmaker, someone good at novel selling, securing a lucrative contract, marketing, promoting and hyping authors on social media. Some folk do not realise agents may push for editing changes before acceptance. Their aim, I’m told, is to develop life-long writing careers. Like in marriage, lack of rapport is not unknown. Even JK Rowling famously left Christopher Little after 16 years.
Choosing an agent for submission is time-consuming. Online lists or the good old Writers and Artists Yearbook (shows 90) give agent preferences for genre. Their social media presence on FB and Twitter may give insight into their personalities, although some are reticent chameleons. Requirements in submissions vary, but largely they want to know what you are offering, why you’ve chosen them, a quick pitch, who the book is aimed at, your qualifications for writing it and why it is different. Just like the few publishers accepting direct applications, they may wish 3 chapters or 50 pages of the novel plus a synopsis of anything from 200 words to 2 pages. Multiple simultaneous submissions are fine it seems, as long as you say so. Some promise reply within a certain time, others only if interested. The jury is out on chasing folk. With some agents getting 50 MS per day, not sure if it is worth it.
There are millions of online suggestions on how to hook an agent. Think I’ve wasted several days of my life on them- and collating the questions authors need to ask themselves. Does your prospective agent share your sense of humour? Do they have a large list already or are they building up a new one? Would you get more attention from a small agency? Or would a larger agency have a greater throbbing network of contacts to put to use for your benefit? Might they be able to exploit a career beyond mere publishing e.g. into TV or films or for yourself, personally, if that’s your bag? One thing I wonder about: is it worth submitting to someone representing books similar to yours? Or wouldn’t they consider you competition for their existing author? Basically, advice points to giving agents a ‘grabbing’ title and a mass-appeal book full of atmosphere, intrigue and empathy, sympathetic with the current zeitgeist- and to be an author capable of producing a long series of best-sellers. Approaching 70, the latter is unlikely to be me, but I harbour the delusion that my current Work In Progress might achieve one of the other three!
Glasgow born Anne Pettigrew was a Greenock GP for 31 years and a light-hearted medical columnist in The Herald and medical press. A Glasgow graduate of 1974, she also has an Anthropology Masters from Oxford.