1. Abraxas
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    Abraxas Member

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    New member, with a brief question

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Abraxas, Jan 5, 2011.

    Hello. I recently joined this forum with the hopes of bouncing ideas off of individuals who share my interests, and my aspirations. I figured that asking a forum directly would be far more fruitful than betting on a Google query, so here I am.

    My question is this: To those of you who have been published (especially in the science fiction genre), in what order did you approch the writing/publishing of your first novel?

    I ask because I've noticed many dissenting voices in regards to this topic, especially in regards to whether or not an unpublished author should hire an agent first or simply deal directly with small publishers.

    One camp states that publishers will refuse to consider your proposal without the backing of a reputable agent. The other camp states that agents will not even give you a chance unless you're already published. This all seems like a vicious cycle to me, and I'm sure the truth lies somewhere in-between these two camps.

    In truth, I've also heard that it is ill-advised to even begin a novel without having first secured an agent or publisher's interest. Is the process of securing this backing something an aspiring writer should undertake before the writing has begun, or should one simply finish their project and then proceed to figure out the finer points of publishing?

    ...

    My apologies - it would seem my question wasn't exactly "brief". Let me boil it all down and ask this: A) Should I write the novel before finding an agent, and B) Should I find an agent for my first novel, or shop amongst small publishers directly?

    Many thanks for your consideration. I plan on learning a lot here.
     
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  2. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    I don't know about the agent vs. small publisher question; however, I do know that you do NOT have to wait for approval before writing. Write, then see who wants it.

    If you query an agent with your pitch, and he/she is interested and asks for a manuscript, and you don't have one...he/she will be PO'd.
     
  3. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    I'll just answer A for ya' xD
    Definitely write the novel first! No point looking for a agent if you can't show them the novel.
     
  4. Ellipse
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    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

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    A) You need to finish your novel before even seeking an agent. Agents want to know that you can actually finish a novel before investing their time in you.

    B) It is possible to get published without an agent, but having the agent just makes things easier since they understand the entire process.
     
  5. Abraxas
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    Abraxas Member

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    Yes, thank you. That's my personal stance, as well, but I've heard it said that one "should not waste time writing a book no one will ever read", or something to that effect. It seems a bit negative, but I wondered if it wasn't a wise strategy in its own right.
     
  6. Ellipse
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    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

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    Whoever said that probably wasn't a writer, and didn't even like writing. Personally, I would say (s)he was a delusional fool that wanted people to buy his crap just so he could make money.
     
  7. Abraxas
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    Abraxas Member

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    Or horribly disillusioned by the industry. Who knows.

    So it's your experience that agents will accept a previously unpublished client? I have faith in my idea, and I believe it has legs, but I'm curious to know how many agents are willing to give unproven talent an opportunity to prove themselves.
     
  8. Ellipse
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    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

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    You just have to look around. There are agent databases on the net that show whether an agent is willing to accept querries from unpublished authors or not. Or you can go to your local library and look up the books that have agent listings.

    It's like anything else in life. Unless you try, it won't happen. Even well known authors started off as nobodies struggling to get published.
     
  9. Abraxas
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    Abraxas Member

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    Sage advice - I'll keep it in mind.

    Thanks for your help!
     
  10. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    First finish your novel.
    Agents earn 10-15 per cent of the authors income from the novel, therefore they are all on the look out for the next J.K. Rowling.
    As to whether to go though an agent or deal direct with the publisher - A good agent Knows his/her stuff and will get you the best deal from a publisher. A good agent is well worth his 10 per cent.
    Finish the novel and get it out there.
    p.s. I wish I could follow my own advice.:(
     
  11. MsLee123
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    MsLee123 Member

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    Finish the novel first, then send it to an agent. Never, ever contact an agent without the manuscript ready.

    As for getting published...all published writers were unpublished at some point. Some writers may never get published, but write because you love it, then you'll always be satisfied.
     
  12. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    You shouldn't have to 'hire' an agent. The way it should work is that your manuscript is something the agent believes they can sell, so take a chance on selling it. When/if they do is when they get paid. So it's more of a partnership than 'hiring' an agent.


    I've never heard anyone reputable say either of these things. That said, it's much harder to get published directly through a publisher without an agent. What an agent does, by job description, is basically act as the bridge as they know how to work with publishers and have contacts, etc. But it's not impossible by any means to get published directly through the publisher.

    I would say it's not advisable, though. If your work is good, an agent will pick it up. Plain and simple. Sure, sometimes writers need a break or some luck, but an agents job is to find new talent with work they can sell. Most agents will not only give a new writer a chance, but are looking for exactly that. If you're already published and successful, you probably already have an agent, and if you don't you probably already have enough ties to know an agent you want. So agents rarely go trolling for established talent (though don't refuse it if an opportunity comes up through connections and networking, etc).

    Here's your basic path, and imo the best chance at success:

    Polish a manuscript until the point it's really good. Query agents. If it really is good enough, you'll catch an agents interest and they'll do their job finding a market/publishers for your work.

    Likewise, if you submit something really great to a publisher directly (and most still do take direct submissions), eventually it will get noticed. It usually takes longer, with a smaller chance of opportunity than with an agent since good agents get manuscripts on desks, not in slush piles.

    The most important thing is having a high-quality, highly polished manuscript. The 'wisdom' that you've apparently been hearing was most likely from people who's manuscripts simply weren't that good, and instead of admitting that and working on the writing more, they simply formed the opinion it was 'impossible' to get published in this day and age, yadda yadda. But look around, new authors are getting published all the time, so they're doing it somehow (that somehow being through their writing).

    And don't underestimate the power of short stories. Many agents will mine journals and magazines for new talent. Get a story published in a reputable magazine will often lead to agents querying YOU as to whether you've got an agent and a novel in the works. They all still want novels, as it's what sells, but short stories are a great way to convince them you're worth the risk.

    But, no matter what, you aren't going to get the support/attention of a novel until you have something complete to show them. Short stories can catch their interest through journals, and you can get an agent to work with you even if you haven't started/finished a novel that way, but as some people are saying don't ever (EVER) query an agent with a novel until you have an actual novel. :p
     
  13. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    If you can show them an actual manuscript that is good, then you aren't unproven, as you just proved yourself. That's why having the actual manuscript completed and polished is so important. :)
     
  14. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you do not have a publishing track record, it would be most unusual (understatement in the extreme) to garner the interest any legitimate publisher without having a completed manuscript in hand. Once you have one, it will be difficult enough--even with a really good one. The competition is pretty stiff.

    I have a fantasy novel published with a small publisher (Gryphonwood Press). I also have a SF novel that has climbed its way out of the slush pile, past another editor and is now with the managing editor, awaiting a decision--and has been for some time. But in either case, my idea for a novel and suggesting that I'd write it if they were open to the idea, or hooked on it, or would offer me a contract (or an agent--offering to represent based on an idea), wouldn't have floated. I had to have the completed novel ready for them to read and then decide.

    Someone already indicated that you don't 'hire' an agent, and discussed more that they take a % of sales for their connections (submitting it to editors/publishers likely to be interested in what you wrote) and for negotiating the contract.

    Best to focus on writing the best novel you can and then moving forward from there.

    Good luck.

    Terry
     
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  15. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sound advice - I'd take it.
     
  16. Fiona
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    Fiona Member

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    I have to really back up everybody here and say I agree: continue with writing your book. Put your focused time and energy into your work and try to make it as good as it can be - then try and plan what to do next. Without a book ready and finished you can't proceed - I know I wouldn't have been offered a contract without a finished novel for the editor to read and work with. I think that type of thing only works if you are already a very established and popular writer - say Stephen King for example - where the publisher/agent knows that signing on a novel isn't a risk.

    There are several routes you can go down in regards to seeing your book in print.
    Many vouch for self-publishing. Some hunt down an agent until one takes them on (that may or may not happen). Then there are smaller publishers. All of these options are good, solid options. Each have their pros and cons. I guess you need to research that when the time comes.


    Good luck :)
     
  17. Angharad Denby-Ashe
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    Angharad Denby-Ashe Member

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    There are also books on the subject you can pick up with whole chapters comparing self publishing, direct to the publisher and agents. I wouldn't say one approach fits every work or writer.
     
  18. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto all the sage advice above in re 'write it first, then try to get an agent to rep it'...

    only bestselling authors can 'sell' a novel they haven't written yet... till/unless you get to that pinnacle of success, no agent/publisher will bother with you if you don't have a completed, polished, professional quality ms to offer them...
     
  19. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    First, write and finish the book. Something like 40% of the adult population of the U.S. admits in polls that they'd like to write a book at some point. Only a tiny fraction of that 40% will actually finish a book. So in order to be taken seriously, you need to write the book first, before you contact editors, publishers, or agents.

    Now. As for agents. Haldeman told me and his other students that you can either get an agent before you get published -- this is harder -- or after an editor has accepted your book. And science fiction writers Kris Rusch, DW Smith and Laura Resnick caution newbie writers not to think having an agent is the end-all-be-all. So you probably don't want to go haring off to an agent as soon as your book is finished. Do some research first.

    For science fiction, there are a number of publishers who make it clear they are fine with unagented manuscripts, and there are several others who have "no unagented submissions" on their site, which effectively translates to "If you can put the thing into manuscript format with a decent cover letter, we're interested." Sadly, there are in fact a number of agents who don't know how to put cover letters together themselves, but they're hard to spot. Usually you find out your agent is incompetent after you've wasted a year or more. So if you can prepare a professional looking manuscript and cover letter, many publishers will at least glance at your work. If a strange name is on the package, it could be a just-opened-for-business agent, after all; and editors do not turn away a good query package just because they don't know your name.

    And agents are often more interested in a writer whose work has already sold. (After all, agents like to make money with less work on their part, and then you have someone more willing to negotiate your contract.)

    Just saying this because there are a lot of people who think "MUST GET AN AGENT" when they really ought to be thinking about 1) writing and 2) getting the manuscript in front of an editor. For YA writing, sure, agents are needed. For fantasy and science fiction, agents are as optional as sidefins or training wheels on a minivan. If they make you feel more secure, fine. But don't ever think an agent is necessary for a SF/F writer.

    *Waits for the other people on this forum to gasp in shock. What blasphemy is this, they ask. Clearly, the bad experiences so many pro writers have had with agents are exceptional. It's not like agents are totally unregulated so you can't tell which ones are honest before forking over your money... oh. Wait.*

    Tor and Baen might be the best starting points; both accept unagented submissions, though Pyr is also officially accepting unagented manuscripts in certain subgenres. Carina is ebook only, but they too accept science fiction manuscripts, and ebooks are growing all the time.

    You might find some of the following short articles helpful. They were written by a pro science fiction writer who realized there were a handful of writing myths keeping new authors down.

    Myth: You need an agent to sell your book. http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=357
    Myth: Agents know markets better than you do. http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=720
    Myth: Writers need agents to take care of them, their money, and their work. http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=1520

    Hope you find these useful.
     
  20. flanneryohello
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    flanneryohello Member

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    Just wanted to echo that agents are not necessary in every instance. It really depends on the type of publisher you're interested in pursuing. I don't write science-fiction so I'm not extremely familiar with the major publishers in that arena. However, I am published by what I would term a mid-sized publisher, and I submitted to them directly.

    Like others, I have an extremely difficult time imagining the agent or editor who would take on an unpublished author with an unfinished manuscript. A pitch alone won't sell your book if nobody has evidence you can actually write it, no matter how compelling your idea may be.

    That said, starting with my fourth novel I began submitting proposals to my publisher prior to writing a book. I am contracted to write the book based on the proposal alone. However, this is only because I have a track record with my publisher and have proven that I can write and sell books.

    In this case, you're honestly putting the cart way ahead of the horse. Before you even think about publishing, agents, and all that good stuff, you need to actually write a novel. At this point, frankly, you don't even know whether you'll be able to do it. And first novels pretty much always require plenty of editing and revision, so I'd guess you're a ways off from really having to worry about querying or submitting. Just focus on strengthening your craft, completing your project, and getting your manuscript into impeccable, publishable shape. Then worry about the next step.
     
  21. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    and are not a major celebrity
     
  22. Abraxas
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    Abraxas Member

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    Everyone, your advice has been invaluable. You've given me the confidence to simply bite the bullet and write, as opposed to worrying about the future.
     

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