Sunday, January 25, 2009

I Don't Know Why I Love You Like I Do

Why won't publishing houses treat published authors (by that I mean published by top houses such as Penguin Putnam, Harper Collins, Houghton Mifflin, etc.) different than slush?
Have you ever read something by a very well-known and well-respected author and thought, "How did that get published? Sheesh, some of his/her books have been great, but this is tripe"?

Aha. That's nothing compared to the ones that aren't getting published.

One of the most surprising discoveries young publishing professionals make upon finding a chair on this side of the desk is how many well-known, well-respected authors are totally incapable of telling when they've written something good and marketable, and when they really, really haven't. I have personally rejected dozens of manuscripts from an author I thought the world of when I was a young reader. Now I know how many ideas he/she goes through to find one that works.

That's why.
Should a published author try to get an agent even if they would rather do the submitting themselves?
Ah... maybe? One of the best things an agent can offer you is his/her contacts within the industry, which is why he/she does the submitting. But maybe you have contacts. In that case, an agent also offers you an insider's understanding of how the industry works, what to look for in contracts, and can be an intermediary when you and your editor disagree strongly. If you can find an agent whose personal style suits you, an agent can be a tremendous blessing.
Is it foolish for someone like me to still be submitting through the slush pile and resisting getting an agent? I have heard things about agents that make me wary.
Not foolish, no. But my advice would be to look hard for an agent-- one who suits you and your needs. You should be wary--there are some agents who are No Good. And there are other agents who are Fabulous, but who would be No Good for you.


DarcKnyt said...

You know, I've wondered about this for a long time, and have lamented about published authors turning out junk like somehow the rules they had to live by to get published in the first place went out the window.

And as bad as some of these efforts are, learning worse ones do, in fact, get rejected, is a relief. Sorta.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Another plus of agents is that they do a lot of the annoying work of submitting and researching editors so that YOU can spend time WRITING.

That's why I want an agent. I want more time to write. If I can find someone else to take over the annoying business aspects, it would be a HUGE help! =)

Google word = kingst. What is that? The angst of a ruler?

Anonymous said...

Hi Editorial Anonymous,

It appears that agents are a major attempt on the publishers' part to to separate the wheat from the tares! So it seems to have become a tightly "closed shop" for any new writer trying to break into the business on their own.
Publishers want serious writers to have an agent more and more becuase it seemingly adds to their screening process. Seeing the "shooting stars"/flash in the pans with an agent still slip through the cracks and are set up with publishing deals are very discouraging. I just a book by an author who has a package deal with a publisher and I don't know how they got it with them. Sorry to say, politics is alive and well also in the publishing world.
-An Inspiring Writer
check out

PurpleClover said...

So even published authors sometimes can't get other manuscripts published huh?


How encouraging! ;)

Verification word: glose

Anonymous said...


Just to clarify the comment about the respected author whom you rejected dozens of times ... is it bad that said author submitted the works in the first place?

Sometimes I feel like it's the editor who can truly say whether something is marketable or not (aside from obvious examples, such as if you're submitting stories about a pigeon who wants to drive a bus or a cat who wears a hat).

How did this affect your relationship with the author? And what are the expectations of a published author in an editor's eyes in terms of productivity/submissions?

In my case, I feel pressure to keep the manuscripts coming (my editor frequently asks what I'm working on) but then it's frustrating when they're rejected. (Although I've had a couple of "almosts," so I know they're not TOTAL crap.)



Nancy Coffelt said...


I couldn't decide whether to laugh or to cry after reading your comment, so I did both.

When I started out I had 4 books out in 4 years by a big name publisher. And then I went through 9 years of rejections before I saw another book come out - a book, I may add that went nowhere.

I've had a little better luck lately and I have to thank my agent for that. My "bad" now gets weeded out before it's sent out.

Anonymous said...

Additional reasons you might want an agent:
More and more houses are closing to unagented submissions.
Agents can bring much more experience and leverage to contract negotiations than most authors can.
Agents handle subsidiary rights. Do you know how to sell your own foreign rights, film options, audio rights?
The agent is always looking out for your rights and your interests, and making sure you get paid when you're supposed to.

Anonymous said...


Thank you so much for sharing your experience! I know someone else who went through a dry spell for several years after selling a few books quickly. It certainly wasn't for lack of talent; this author's books were well reviewed and received a regional award or two. More a matter of just not finding the right manuscript to "stick." The acquisition of an agent helped in this case, too.

A humble reminder, I guess, that just because you get in the door doesn't mean you automatically stay in! It's also one of those realities of the business that doesn't get discussed much. I'm glad you brought it up!

acpaul said...

"I have heard things about agents that make me wary."

If you're worried about finding an agent you can trust, there are resources out there that can help.

1. Preditors & Editors at anotherealm dot com

2. Writers Beware at sfwa dot org

I'm sure there are more than these two, but they're the ones I've heard of the most and use myself.

I am not associated with either site.

PurpleClover said...


I'm sorry I made you cry, glad I made you laugh!

But you raise a perfect point as to why an agent can be beneficial. I honestly don't see myself ever wanting to do that to myself without having someone on my side that can be honest and say, "This sucks. Fix it first."

Of course I'm still waiting for agent to say, "This is good. Can I represent you?" Sigh...all in good time.

Anonymous said...

I'm certain that a few high-class publishing credits in the cover letter lead to a more careful reading by the initial screeners. More, say, than the handwritten manuscript by the incarcerated felon.

I always thought the main function of an agent was to serve as a filter of those who ought not to be submitting in the first place. A prior publication in a major house ought to serve the same function, I would think. It would hardly cause an exponential rise in the number of submissions if closed houses opened up to published authors as well as agented authors.

Not every published author is able to get an agent. A picture book author, for example, who isn't particularly productive, but who may produce a new book every year or two or three, would not easily find an agent. But the occasional new book by such a person may be well worth the notice of editors.

In other words, sometimes an author who is not attractive to an agent may well be attractive to an editor, whose needs are different.

Anonymous said...

Better rejected as incarcerated than rejected and set free!!

The one thing about being incacerated is you have all the time in the world to write...but you don't have access to any resources in which to enlighten and aid you in your pursuits. Altho all of your missives have to be scrutinized...they are not being scrutinized by the right people.

Above anon...I'll bet those pb authors whose books did really well and/or reivented themselves (over and over again) would find a worthy agent.

Anonymous said...

Interesting points, Anon 4:32. I've noticed that many agents also do not want to rep picture book writers, period. They might do an author-illustrator or two but not someone who just writes and I'm assuming even if that writer is productive.

Anonymous said...

Is there an accepted definition of "productive" out there?

Anonymous said...

But ae, the pb writer with a track record of books that do really well and reinvent themselves, etc., doesn't need an agent to step in and collect 15%.

I know of many pb writers whose books did pretty well, but agents figure 15% of half royalties (the illustrator gets the other half) means the book did poorly as far as they're concerned. PB writers start off at a disadvantage with agents because they need to sell twice as many books for the agent to break even. This is not a problem for the publisher, though, since the publisher earns the same amount whether the royalties are split between the writer and illustrator or paid to just one person.

Anonymous said...

I am an illustrator/writer.

I guess I think a lot about the exploitation of rights and licensing whether they exist or not. And better contracts. And career guidance.

I am sorry I wasn't clear.

Anonymous said...

Darcknyt, sad to say I think the really bad ones still get through, if one is big enough...

What I want to know EA: where were you, or some other discriminating editor when "Arlene Sardine" got published?

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