Tips from an Industry Insider | Getting your foot in the door: Agent, or publisher?

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For aspiring writers, finding a publisher can be a confusing process. Do you approach an agent or a publisher first? Should you self-publish? The who, what, where, when and how of the business can be as clear as a nice cold glass of Guinness.

Traditionally, an author needed an agent to get a publisher. This has changed with the rise of digital-only or digital-first publishers and imprints. An imprint is a division of publishing house, for example, Escape is Harlequin Australia’s digital-only imprint whereas titles published under their Mira imprint appear in both paperback and ebook. Many publishers now accept submissions direct from authors.

It takes just as much time, research and preparation to approach either an agent or a publisher:

  • Start with shelf research in a bookshop or on your ebook reader.
  • Look on the imprint page to find out who the publisher is.
  • Visit their website and read their submission guidelines.
  • Read the acknowledgements page. Many authors thank their editors, publishers and agents in the acknowledgements.
  • Follow the submission process. Make every submission individual. You can approach more than one publisher or agent at a time, but don’t email them together. Nothing says ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, and I have not researched your needs’ like a group email. They all have different requirements, for example, some want the first three chapters; others only want to see the first five pages.
  • Some publishers have author-only newsletters. Sign up for these.
  • Keep a database of publisher information.

Agents

The trick when approaching an agent is to understand their business model. They only make money if you make money, charging you a percentage of the advance and royalties you earn. Royalties are the money you make when your book sells, usually a percentage of the retail price as agreed with the publisher. An advance against royalties is money you are given on signature of contract or finalisation of manuscript. Agents naturally favour publishers who pay an advance.

VERY IMPORTANT: If an agent wants money from you, they are not an agent in the true sense of the word. They may offer literary services along with agenting. That’s fine, so long as they are clear about the differences.

If you want to try the agent route, do it before approaching a publisher. Publishers have excellent memories. If your agent approaches them with a book you’ve already pitched and they’ve rejected, they’ll remember. This will embarrass your agent – not good for your relationship.

Publishers

It can take as long to get an agent as a publisher, and only once you have signed exclusivity will they start the process of approaching publishers on your behalf. Starting to see the appeal behind approaching a publisher direct?

Digital-only only imprints usually don’t pay advances. However, they often give authors a larger percentage royalty and pay faster than traditional imprints, who can make an author wait anywhere from three to nine months for payment. The fact that there is no upfront money means agents leave the easiest break-in point for a new author, digital-only, until last on their shopping list. Again, this can be good or bad. However, for an author, the advantages of getting that first book published can outweigh financial incentives. These include establishing an audience and a track record.

Additional strategies for finding a publisher include:

  • Enter writing competitions judged by editors or publishers. Even if you don’t win, you may make a valuable contact.
  • Attend conferences and take part in speed-dating pitch sessions where you get to meet editors.
  • Network. Go to the cocktail parties.
  • Expand your horizons – look locally and internationally.
  • Read books they publish. Will your book fit their profile? Do they appeal to you?

VERY IMPORTANT: A publisher who charges to publish is not a publisher. They may be a legitimate co-operative or they may be a fraud, but they are not a publisher. If you are asked for money to publish, hear the alarm bells and take a step back. Ask questions of them and your community. One of the clearest signals of fraud is that they are not interested in ebooks, only paperback, as they make their money printing for you. Another is very vague marketing and sales plans.

Stay tuned for more industry tips

Coming up in forthcoming posts: pros and cons of large vs small publishers vs self-publishing; publishers interested in romance; learning from a rejection; why you need a brand, and more.


Laura Boon Russell

Laura is a bookaholic and tennis tragic. She became entangled in publishing after reading Georgette Heyer’s These Old Shades and ‘stealing’ The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss from her father’s bookshelves as a teenager. She has worked as a bookseller, sales rep, publicist and freelance editor. In 2006, Frontrunner Publishing released her DIY guide to publicity for small business, Make the Media Work for You. However, she is forever indebted to the RWA for giving her the courage and the tools to write the stories she wants to tell. The Wild Rose Press will publish her first romance in 2018.

Visit Laura’s website, follow her on Twitter or Instagram, or find her on Facebook and Goodreads.

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