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Do I Need A Book Agent Or Nah?
Welcome to an advice column by me, Sara Benincasa, a person with many opinions. This column will not diagnose or “cure” anything. Hopefully, reading it will entertain and perhaps comfort you. Think of it as a high-five from a chill ghost who is your friend. Send questions to email@example.com. If I use your question, I’ll keep you anonymous. Please note: This particular column includes mention of eating disorders.
I wrote and self published a book a couple years ago. Don’t worry. I’m not asking you to read it. But I would like to know if you’d be interested in sharing some of your knowledge vis a vis finding an agent and the publishing industry in general?
— Person Who Digs Books
Congratulations on completing your first book! These days, many authors find self-publication to be vastly superior to going through the stress and strain of a more traditional publishing route. There are benefits to both options, and first I’ll tell you my own experience. You, PWDB, are already going to know some of this stuff, but your question is so useful to many folks that I’m going to go over some things you personally probably already understand.
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I’ve published four books through the usual methods and also done one self-published book collaboration with my talented friend Robert Hack (IDW's Doctor Who series, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina for Archie Comics, and more). I encourage you to check out his work via Instagram. (We also worked together on this sweet, sad but also happy contemporary sci-fi short story, “The Only Goat Girl.” As you’ll see, Robert is GREAT at drawing goat-human baby hybrid creatures!) You can get my books via Bookshop.org or at Amazon. (That last link gives Wonkette a small commission.)
I’m just one author, so other folks obviously feel free as usual to add your helpful two cents in the comments. If you’ve had an excellent self-publishing journey, or a shitty one, feel free to add some coaching. Same with conventional publishing, of course.
The benefits of self-publishing are many: getting to do exactly what you want, how you want, when you want, with your story; making pure profit once you clear your overhead with the self-publishing company or service; presumably retaining all the intellectual property rights with the option to sell to a bigger company one day if you wish (please always check the details of your agreement with the self-publishing service, though).
The downsides are as follows: not having the visibility a publicity department at a small, midsize or major publisher can provide; having to do all the dang work yourself; having to cover all the costs yourself; no advance; reduced chances of your book being optioned for film or television or a podcast series; reduced chances of online book stores stocking and/or featuring your work; reduced chances of book reviews in the major literary review publications.
Some self-published authors end up getting picked up by the big companies and making tons of money. But those stories are the minority. The reality is most of us authors, self-published or otherwise, continue to have paycheck jobs/gratitude jobs/day jobs.
Here are some benefits of going the more traditional route (getting an agent, then selling your book to a publishing company through that agent): The agent can provide excellent advice; some agents will even help you shape your book; other agents take the hands-off approach, which you may prefer; the agent can get you the best deal possible and make sure you retain as much of the IP as possible; your publishing company may put some nice advertising and marketing muscle behind your book; it is far likelier that your book will be stocked in shops.
Here are some downsides: You gotta give up ten to fifteen percent of your advance; publicists at book companies often have ten titles to promote each month, meaning you probably aren’t going to get a ton of individual attention because they are so busy; you will have less control over the final manuscript, although of course you will approve every change as is your right; you may experience a lot of rejection and that may or may not be good for your brain/ego/creative soul.
If you do want to get an agent, I think it’s a great idea. If you’re writing fiction, you may wish to send a novel outline with a couple sample chapters to an agent. You can look up different forms of query letters to see how that feels. You can include the outline and sample chapters as a pdf and also copy and paste below the query email. Some agents are understandably wary of opening attachments.
Probably the agent’s assistant will read it first and decide if it sounds like something their boss would like. Be prepared to send the entire novel if they request it.
If you write nonfiction, you don’t have to write the whole book first. But you do need a great book proposal. You’ll follow a similar process to what I outlined above, but you’ll send a query letter, book proposal, and two sample chapters as opposed to the whole book.
To find an agent, you can always do a Google. You can also go to a bookshop and look at the books that will be stocked in the same section as your future book. Specifically look for titles published within the past ten years. Read the acknowledgements to see if they thank their agent. If they do, find out if that agent is still working today. That may be the person to whom you’ll want to send your query.
You may end up querying dozens of agents over time. If you don’t hear from an agent, circle back politely in two weeks. If you don’t hear in future, don’t reach out again. The ones who want you will respond — remember, you represent potential dollar signs to them. This is, ideally, a mutually beneficial, contractual relationship. Nobody is doing you a favor by taking you on as a client.
I hope that helps. I’m excited for the next step in your journey!
I have a very dear longtime friend who has an extreme form of ARFID — Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. It’s an eating disorder and it’s so much more complex than just picky eating.
I try to be a very good friend. But I worry that my embarrassment with the situation (leaving a restaurant because there are no safe foods) comes off as frustration with my friend, which is absolutely not the case. Mainly, I just feel like a jerk for dragging them to a restaurant that isn’t friendly to their diet.
What would be the best way for me to approach this with my friend? Would it be rude to ask for an official list of safe foods? I don’t want to come off as judgmental, nor do I want to be a busybody. I just want to make sure that everyone is fed and happy and not feeling stigmatized in any way.
— Trying Not To Struggle With This Whole Thing
You are a beautiful friend. We should all be so lucky as to have a pal like you. I will admit I am not well-versed in this specific arena, but clearly you are compassionate and loving. And let me say first that if this story resonates with anyone and you are looking for resources, check out the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).
I say absolutely ask if there are ways you can best support and accommodate them. I don’t drink alcohol, and being around people who drink booze doesn’t usually bother me. But sometimes, a new friend will ask, “Are you comfortable meeting up at a bar, or would you prefer a coffee shop?” I always find it to be courteous, not condescending or rude.
How wonderful to know there are people in the world who care about the mental and physical health of their friends! It can be a delicate dance to negotiate the difference between trying to help someone and being controlling or overbearing. But as long as you come from a place of sweet, loving kindness, I think you will do great.
Thanks for being an inspiring friend.
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