And no, it’s not an agent’s job to shop everything you write

After posting about my fantasy novel and my current efforts to get it situated for publishing myself, I realized folks may have been wondering if my agent actually shopped it around or not. The answer to that is no. But, you say, she is your agent. Doesn’t she have to? Again, the answer is no. For some out there, this might come across as odd or just plain wrong. Shouldn’t she at least try? I am her client after all. However, an agent is under no contractual obligation to try and sell my books.

My agent’s sole purpose is not to fling whatever I may write out to every publishing house out there. I did not seek out an agent for this purpose. I sought an agent because I’m interested in a career as a writer. I want to sell books on an ongoing basis. My goal is to get to a point that I can be a full-time writer.  To do so, I need to write marketable books. This is more true than self-publishing because I am seeking publishers that are willing to invest their time, money, and energy in selling my book. They have to be selective, and have no choice really. There are far more books out there than they have room to deal with. This is another reason self-publishing is a good thing. It provides more room for writers.

So, I gave my agent the fantasy novel, and asked her to read it. Tell me what you think. Is this marketable? Are there editors out there who might be interested in it? Her feedback: while good, it’s not unique enough, too derivative relative to what’s out there now, and the major houses all have ongoing epic fantasies on the market. So, basically, nobody would be interested in it. This was not unexpected. While not the hoped for answer, I am fine with it. Knowing where it stands, and I trust my agent’s opinion on it’s marketability, I’m good taking this book out there on my own. Agents get paid based on selling books. If they don’t believe it will, it serves no purpose other than to waste time and resources, and we can focus on other things, like the next contract for my Deadworld series or other UF stories my publisher might be interested in.

I’m positive there are other authors out there who are simultaneously publishing in both arenas. It’s not due to a fail or disconnect with the agent and/or publisher. It’s just the way the business works, and I’m fine with that. Happy reading/writing everyone!

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3 responses to “And no, it’s not an agent’s job to shop everything you write

  1. First of all, congratulations on your self publishing endeavor. It is certainly a viable option, and you may even end up making more money with this direction than a traditional deal. So I’m not saying that you should be submitting your fantasy book to a traditional publisher even, but I just wanted to raise some points about your post, which you may or may not have already considered.

    1. Your agent has the most to lose from submitting an unsellable book, because he puts the most time into that portion of the process. You put very little time into it.

    2. On the other hand, if the book is in fact sellable, you have more to lose from not submitting the novel. You have already invested hundreds of hours in the writing novel, and the majority of the royalties would be going to you. Your agent didn’t invest any time in writing the novel, and would only be losing out on 15% of royalties from one book among many. Likewise, failing to publish a book that’s already been written sets your career back a noticeable amount, while it doesn’t set your agent’s career back by much at all.

    3. Points one and two suggest that in a borderline case, an agent may have a hard time being objective and acting in your best interest.

    4. While agents spend a lot of time in the market, they are often wrong about what they can sell and what can’t. Consider that every debut novel has probably been rejected by several agents who believed the book to be unsellable. Likewise, consider that every agent has taken on books that he has not been able to sell.

    5. In the end, it is you who are responsible for your career, and not your agent.

    I’m not suggesting that your agent is definitely wrong, or that you should leave your agent. Just that writers should think through things carefully.

    • All good points. Subjective as this business is, it can be very difficult to determine if a story is indeed marketable to the legacy pubs. Good agents though have their pulse on what editors out there are looking for and what houses are buying. While certainly not 100%, they can get a pretty good feel for whether or not a book is worth investing the resources in to try and sell it. I believe my agent is pretty savvy and trust her knowledge in this area. Otherwise I guess there’s no point in being in business with her.

      Also, I happened to be on the fence with this project, between shopping it around and self-publishing it. I’ve grown more interested in the possibilities of pursuing things on my own with some projects, and all the better if I can make both work. One will help bolster the other, or at least that is my hope.

      Regardless, I think my point is still a good one. It’s important to know and trust your agent. It’s an interesting world now however, with self-publishing involved, where as before, if an agent felt it unsellable, the project was relegated to the drawer and likely never heard from again. Now the playing field has expanded, and the option to take it out on your own is viable. Interesting times indeed.

  2. I think you bring up some good points. It is a waste of your agent’s time to try to push a book that traditional publishers won’t pick up because of the market. Of course this is where self publishing can be helpful. The publishers might not think the book is marketable but if the books is ready, you could still self pub it and the readers might be buy it up. Or you can keep sitting on it and see if the market changes if you want to stay within the safety net traditional publishing can provide.
    Great post. =)