Publishing 101: Agents

Welcome back to the second instalment in a new series here on Raincity Librarian that I have rather grandly called Publishing 101. Publishing 101 will be an opportunity for me to answer some of the questions I’ve been most commonly asked about my publishing journey. I am a debut picture book author publishing with a small, independent Canadian publishing house, and my experiences might be very different from another author’s!

In the previous post we talked about how long it takes to make a picture book. Today we’ll be looking at agents – no, they’re not just for film stars and athletes!

There are several ways to get manuscripts published, including self-publishing, but two of the most popular conventional routes include:

  1. Submission via an agent, or
  2. Submission via an unsolicited submission

Essentially what this means is that you (as an author) can submit a manuscript directly to a publisher, or an agent can submit it on your behalf.

Now, the majority of the big publishing houses will only accept submissions that come through an agent. Agents are expected to act as quality control enforcers – they typically only agree to represent the manuscripts they think are the most likely to be publishing, and only accepting manuscripts through agents theoretically winnows incoming submissions down to a manageable number of true contenders. Literary agents work on commission, so they’re unlikely to want to waste precious time on manuscripts they don’t believe have real promise.

Smaller publishing houses like mine are often more willing to look at “unsolicited manuscripts”, meaning those that are submitted for consideration directly by authors. These houses are also typically more willing to take risks on unpublished authors and illustrators that the bigger houses might be unwilling to consider.

If you want your manuscript to be considered by one of the heavy hitters of the publishing world like Scholastic, you’re going to need an agent. The process of getting an agent is often not that dissimilar from the manuscript submission process itself. To get an agent you typically need to “query”, which can often feel very much like applying for a job – you need to submit a cover letter along with your manuscript to prospective agents, who will review your work and decide whether or not its worth their time and effort. As agents work on commission, it’s in their best interest to be choosy when it comes to the authors and manuscripts they take on.

An agent really can open doors for your manuscript, and can increase your reach as an author. They can make valuable suggestions about your manuscript (though they should not be confused with editors), and can identify the best possible publishing fits. They can also help you negotiate and interpret complex publishing contracts (you can also seek the advice of a lawyer when negotiating contracts). Like real estate agents, literary agents do work on commission, and depending on your contract, the extra cost might not make having an agent cost effective.  If you’re unsure whether or not to seek a literary agent, there are a number of great online resources that can provide you with more information before you make a decision.

Whether or not you decide to have an agent can be influenced by your writing genre, your publishing goals, and your location – roughly “70 per cent of the books published in Canada do not have an agent-assisted contract“, as a number of Canadian publishers accept unsolicited submissions.

I personally decided not to pursue an agent because I had found several Canadian publishing houses that accepted unsolicited manuscripts. If in the future I want to pursue publication with one of the larger American publishing houses, I might consider looking into an agent, but at present I’m happy with my current situation.

Hopefully this was somewhat interesting – and helpful! If you’re a fellow author, I’d love to learn about your experiences!  Do you have agent, or have you represented yourself?

If you have any other questions that you’d like me to tackle, please let me know in the comments below!

As always, good luck on your writing and publishing journey!

 

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