The Industry

Agents and Publishers: Who Comes First?

Do you need a publisher to find an agent? Or Vice-versa?You have just typed out those satisfying two words “The End” and hit that all-important save key. Your novel is ready for the next step. In some respects the easy part is over. Now comes the daunting process of finding a publisher. The temptation is to print out a few hundred copies and send them to every publishing company from A to Z; however the reality is that it pays to be more circumspect.

Beware of the slush pile

Many publishers actively discourage authors from submitting manuscripts directly. Those who do not rule it out operate a system known as the “slush pile”: a heap of manuscripts that can be ignored for months or only given cursory attention.

Authors who have spent years lovingly honing their novel might be alarmed to learn that the job of vetting unsolicited manuscripts is often allocated to an unpaid intern. There are examples of successful authors who have been rescued from the pile, but they are rare.

Most publishers prefer the direct approach from literary agents. A professional agent will have a clear understanding of what sells, and which publishing company is most likely to appreciate your work. An agent will work with an author to improve the work and to produce a clear and intriguing synopsis to stimulate a publisher’s interest. Agents know which editors to approach, and, importantly, know the companies that are prepared to give advances to new writers.

Finding an agent

The downside is that finding literary agents can be almost as difficult as finding a publisher. Look for agents that specialise in your genre area or who work with writers you admire. The Writers and Artists Yearbook offers a useful listing of agencies, with details of their submission guidelines.

An agent will discuss the best ways of preparing your work and submitting the manuscript to publishers. Invariably this will involve approaching two or three editors at different companies initially. If they pass, the process continues at other imprints. Be prepared for a lengthy process and getting used to rejection. From manuscript to bookshop shelf can be an arduous and exhausting route.

Picture: Aaron Amat – Fotolia

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