Wednesday, January 6, 2010

To Have an Agent or Not to Have an Agent—That is the Question

To Have an Agent or Not to Have an Agent—That is the Question
By Rob Parnell

Probably one of the most frequently asked question I get is how do
I get an agent?

It's like an obsession with new writers—despite the fact that many successful authors don't use agents at all. But still, new writers are convinced that, if only they had an agent, their careers would somehow sky rocket.

First off, the reality is different. Even if you do get an agent, you will still need to do most of the real work—constantly improving as a writer—yourself. Whether having an agent can actually do anything for you is for most writers largely an unknown—even if you're good.

But, but, I hear you cry, I still want to get an agent! Because that's how it's done, right?

Okay, if you're desperate, the easy answer is to buy a copy of
Writers Markets, look up agents relevant to your genre, send off your MSS or query letters to them...and wait.

However, for the novice, this approach rarely leads to success.

Why? Because, simply put, if you don't have publishing credits or a deal in the offing, the agents don't want to know you!

So then, the question becomes how do I get published without an agent?

There are many publishers who say they don't want to see unagented work. So it would seem a Catch 22 situation—you can't get your work seen by the publishers you want and they won't look at anything you write unless you have an agent, and you can't get an agent because, ya di ya di ya, the cycle goes on.

Or so it would seem.

The truth is many authors DO get published without agents—at first in magazines, anthologies, on the Net etc. By winning writing competitions. By networking, self-promotion, self-publishing and,
of course, by sheer luck.

The real reason the big publishers don't want to see new writers work is they don't have the time. They need to know you're a good writer first.

The trick is to keep building your credits - to fatten up your resume. You then use this resume (your reputation for producing quality work) to accompany your submissions to publishers—some of whom will take you seriously if you are unagented if they see that your writing career is solid and looks promising.

Just as in every other profession, you need to show your potential employers (agents and publishers) that you know what you're doing and that you're good at it—BEFORE they'll take a chance on you.

If your work is good, you really don't need an agent when you're starting out. So, the short answer to this oh-so-frequently-asked question is, don't waste your time trying to get one!

Write well and pursue your career persistently and they will come to you.

Rob Parnell is a prolific writer who’s published novels, short stories, and articles in the U.S., U.K., and Australia, and a teacher who’s conducted writing workshops, critique groups, and seminars.

Please visit Mr. Parnell’s Web site at:

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1 comment:

David Weedmark said...

Great article Mike!
I was submitting and being published for many years before I had an agent. Personally, I don't think an agent should be on a writer's list of priorities until their work has a monetary value and, when it does, the agent will find you - directly or through editors and publishers who have gotten to know you and your work.
I recently interviewed Raul Ramos y Sanchez on a similar subject - on whether or not to self-publish - which may be of interest Here
David Weedmark