Tuesday, March 23, 2010

To Boldly Give Advice No Man Has Given Before

I recently ran across a very strong "submit straight to editors" blog post. In the post, the writer argued that you should always submit to editors first and get an agent after you have a contract in hand. He argues that none of the agents who take writers without a contract are good, and in the comments he says that writers should submit to publishing houses directly even if they have a clearly stated "no unagented submissions" policy. As an editor, what is your take on that?
The post is here, if you're curious.
http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=357
Some of what he says I agree with.
Can you get published without an agent? Yes, certainly.

And some of it I do not.
Is an agent a crutch for weenies who want someone to take care of them? No. Agents don't like weenies any more than the rest of us do.

Do real (ie, non-scam) agents read slush? Hell yes, they do. I know some of the best agents around and they read queries from unknowns and take on writers who have never been published before.

Finding the right agent for your expectations and workstyle is important. Having no agent can be better than having the wrong agent. But if you can find an agent that's right for you, he/she can open up all kinds of doors for you and make your career. I've seen it happen.

To comment on his points in order:

1. Wrong. An agent is not your employee. He/she is a service vendor, and you are his/her client. In the same way you can be a client of a law firm, you are a client of an agency. The agents are employed by the agency, not by you.
An agent's job IS to sell books. Whether or not the agent's job is to help you rewrite is up to individual agents; it is a job in which there is much latitude for self-definition.

2. Correct. Anyone asking for money up front is screwing with you.

3. Editors do need new books. But no, if they don't read a slush submission that turns out to be the next Dan Brown or if they read it and reject it, they will not be fired. At the houses that do not take unagented submissions, there is no pressure to read unagented submissions. NONE.

4. This is true. And another thing a form rejection can mean is "We said we're not taking unagented submissions, and call us crazy, but WE MEANT IT. We didn't even glance at this submission before rejecting it."

5. Certainly there are crap agents out there, but there are also fantastic agents who take on new clients who have never published and never submitted to publishers. Agents I know; agents whose clients are among the best-known and the least-known writers.

6. Yes, books do sell themselves. No matter how much I like an agent and respect his/her taste, I won't acquire something I don't think I can shape for the market and that my publisher can sell. But an agent I know and respect can get me to take a quicker and a more thoughtful look at something that might otherwise have sat around for months before I glanced at the first page and rejected it.

7. It's true that we don't really know what we want until we see it, but good agents have an idea of our personal tastes and can make a hell of a better-educated guess about the best editor for your book than you can.

8. HA HA HA. I suppose he feels the same way about me, an editor who blogs. Here's what I've seen: the publishing professionals who take time out of their days to share their time and experience in an open (or semi-open) forum like a blog are the hardcore-- committed to their jobs, committed to the community of book professionals. We are the ones in the office on the weekends; the ones that go the extra mile for our authors as well as for the strangers we interact with on our blogs. My coworkers think I work too much, and they're working damn hard themselves.

9. Sure. But see #4.

10. See #5.

11. Which is why you probably shouldn't go with a new agent unless that agent can tell you how they know what contracts should be like from an author's perspective, or is backed up by a larger agency that understands contracts and can tutor him/her.

I do admire that with a simple click (visa, mastercard, amex, discover) he's found a way to profit from this profitless advice.

But don't listen to me: Clearly I spend all my time blogging rather than doing my job. And clearly a "bestselling" writer of TV novelizations knows more about agents and the book business than I would.

I can only tell you that if I ever decided to write short stories about Smallville or Roswell or Star Trek the Next Generation, I agree: I certainly would not show them to an agent.

54 comments:

Sofie Bird said...

Thankyou for this. There seems to be a band of established authors waving the Agents Are Evil! flag, and between them and the hundred-thousand agent blogs of various personalities and stories, it's difficult for the inexperienced to discern genuine insight from personal belief.

Great to have an editor's view on the topic.

Agency said...

He's got three boyfrie^H^H^H agents? What would the Rejectionist say?

Jan said...

Actually I have seen this advice before -- many times. It comes from folks who got into the business BEFORE the ship became quite so swamped and more houses looked at manuscripts. And now these writers are established in their genre. So they assume everyone can do it like they did it. And they have these students who get into the houses who accept submissions because the folks have learned how to write before jumping into the submission river - so the guys can crow that no writer needs an agent because a few of their better students got into open houses without one.

I also know a lot of writers who got deals without agents -- and some even at closed houses (because they went to conferences and made the connection with an editor via a workshop). Those writers learned to WRITE really well before they started submitting and they didn't break though by sending slush to people who flatly don't take slush. Being anti-agent *IS* going to keep a lot of doors closed for a writer...but not all of them, just some of the ones you wanted most.

But the reality is that the agent is here to stay unless we see some tremendous changes at the AUTHOR side of the system (namely people waiting until they know their craft before they start submitting, and we know how likely THAT is to happen.) What's cracking and crumbling is the "publishers who will look at any slush at all" system. As writers, we're drowning them with crap and there is so very little incentive to read it.

But the day of an editor nurturing a really good IDEA until it becomes a decent BOOK...is probably long long passed. But some agents will still do that and resisting the change from good idea to good book because some guy said not to listen to your agent...well, that's a great way to keep your good idea all the way to the self-publishing trap.

Jack Roberts, Annabelle's scribe said...

LOL
Good advice EA.

Adventures in Children's Publishing said...

Love this post. Thanks for making me smile this morning!

Anonymous said...

Loud know-it-all type #36b. (Him not you.) On his #9, "What a publisher is publishing is frighteningly easy to figure out these days by either simply walking into a bookstore..."

Well, it's easy (not sure it's frightening, I must be tougher than I thought) to figure out what they were buying two years ago, anyway.

Thomas Taylor said...

Fascinating! And it just goes to show that published authors are not really the best people to give advice about the book business. In the end, they're only really experts in their own experiences.

Anonymous said...

Thomas Taylor @9:18 said: "... published authors are not really the best people to give advice about the book business. In the end, they're only really experts in their own experiences..."

Man, that is so true. And trying to model your path after someone else's usually makes you miserable.

There's a NYT bestselling YA author on a different form who doesn't stop to consider that her experience isn't everyone's experience. She chimes into discussions with advice like, "Just write the best book you can, it's not that difficult... You'll have your choice of agents... Query letters are easy... My agent always gets back to me in ten minutes... When my book went to auction... Of course B&N will have huge displays, they really are in service of you... I had them reshoot the cover, because I just wasn't happy... It'll only take a month to earn out your advance and then you'll make a ton of royalties, why wouldn't you?"

It's that attitude of: "I'm rich and this is easy and fun, and did I mention for the hundredth time -- on a form filled with unpublished, struggling writers -- that I'm on the NTY best seller list!"

Makes me gag every single time. You can't blame the girl for being psychotically happy, but nor can you take anything she says as relevent, either. Unless you are also a NYT best-seller, I guess. But that's a pretty small club.

Debbie Barr said...

I like what you said, Thomas. I went to a writing conference a few years ago, and all the authors explained how they got published. Each story was different! Authors really can't say the BEST way to get published, they can only explain the way THEY got published.

Ivan said...

If I looked like that I wouldn't look like that!

Amy said...

It's really too bad he twisted things the way he did. As EA pointed out, a lot of what he said there has some truth in it. He says he's trying to help new people, and instead, he's making them run from some of the most helpful people in the business. Showing new authors how to differentiate scam agents from real ones would be helpful. Discussing the kinds of things agents do and urging authors to evaluate their own skills would be helpful. He says he'd never negotiate a contract without an agent. Why not let an agent help you with the rest of your career if you need them for contract negotiation anyhow? I've never seen anything that suggests an agent will take less money if they didn't sell the book. If he can negotiate that, and with his years of law school, I don't know why he needs help negotiating his book contract.

But it is hard to take anything he says seriously when he keeps repeating that an agent is a writer's employee. That is so blatantly wrong.

Yat-Yee said...

Wow, and you took time to respond to the list in a civilized manner, shame on you. Where are your priorities? Why aren't you reading slush to find the new Dan Brown lest you get fired?

Quite a talent to be able to hide and distort the few tiny bits of truth by all that rhetoric and condescension and unjustified conclusions.

I thought he was just a cranky, arrogant man who was doing it for what he thinks is a service to new writers until I came to that button that takes but one click....

Livia said...

Thanks EA! And what are you doing blogging? Get back to work!

CKHB said...

Wow, it gets even more misguided in the comments. WOW.

Thomas Taylor said...

Some published authors are very helpful and sympathetic though. I recommend Nicola Morgan's blog as a reliable source of information guidance, laughs and cautionary tales (from a UK perspective):

http://helpineedapublisher.blogspot.com/2010/03/be-careful-what-you-wish-for.html

KFran said...

Do you think the agent would care if the book's already on an editor's desk? I mean, would they still offer representation even if the editor became interested in the book before the author secured the agent?

I ask because a long time ago I applied for a job directly to a company, then went to a recruiter. The recruiter said because I already applied directly myself, they wouldn't work with me.

I'm stuck deciding if I should still seek an agent - I've tried a few queries to agents with no results.

tomaq said...

Thanks for this. I'd been intrigued by Dean's posts but glad to hear a different point of view as well. As Jan suggests, it might be a matter of one's own perspective & experience.

As everybody who's been writing and submitting for more than 5 minutes knows, it's a long and frustrating process. The system is highly imperfect. Write as well as you can, send it out, and get to work on the next thing.

Now I'll go take my own brilliant advice...:)

Anna Bowles said...

As someone who variously edits in-house, writes tie-ins professionally, and has been in some frustrating discussions with agents for her original projects I can see where all sides are coming from here. It looks to me as if Dean Wesley Smith is addressing a reading audience that is likely to consist largely of original fiction authors who are outside the business and have stand-alone MSS to sell, but treating them as if they were writers-for-hire.

On the other hand, EA, your swipe at tie-ins in your last paragraph isn’t particularly helpful. Certainly submitting Next Generation fanfic to publishers is unlikely to result in a contract, but there’s more than that to the tie-in market.

Smith’s point about the irrelevance of agents is not entirely unfounded re the kids’ tie-in market – I dealt with no agented authors at all while doing a recent stint on tie-ins in-house at HarperCollins. But will I be seeking an agent for my picture book manuscripts (currently on the back burner but due for revision and sending out)? Hell yes.

This post has got me to thinking that ‘What makes a good tie-in’ would make a worthwhile post, so anyone who’s interested should be able to find it up on my blog in the next 24 hours or so.

The Rejectionist said...

All of those commenters are MORE THAN WELCOME to eschew agents IN FACT PLEASE DO. Hee, hee.

Veronica said...

Seems like sending things to editors that say they don't want unagented submissions is a good way to end up on someone's internal list of Whackadoos that Can't Read.

Adam Rex said...

This guy need to read about the kitchen of slush. Most of his argument seems to be predicated on the belief that all editors secretly read everything they're sent and that it doesn't matter too much how it comes to them.

I've been reading his comments, though– particularly the later, more critical ones–and I expect even his regular readers are staring to notice that he doesn't so much answer criticism as he simply calls the critic a myth-spouting naif. Or make condescending comments about their "interesting belief system."

Ebony McKenna. said...

I am so glad I have an agent, but that's just me.

I'd rather get 85% of something than 100% of nothing.

Michelle said...

Well, I wrote out a longish response to the original post, then I realized it would only be disregarded by the author and his adoring fans. So I'll post it here instead for those looking for more accurate information. If you're visiting Editorial Anonymous, you're looking in the right places.

———

As a former editor at a respected publishing house ("former" because I've shifted gears toward opening a bookstore), I know exactly what you are trying to say. You're trying to tell people not to trust anyone in the publishing industry but themselves. Don't listen to editors when they say they don't want to read something. Don't listen to agents when they show you how to refine and perfect your writing so it is ready to be published. Oh, and while they're not listening to publishing professionals, listen to you because you've written numerous books based on others' ideas. And they should make sure to pay you for telling them what they want to hear, even though it's not really the truth.

On the topic of publishing myths, a big fallacy you perpetuate is that most manuscripts that hit an editor's desk are diamonds ready to be polished with a touch of minor tweaking by the editor, then set upon the bookshelves a few weeks later. Have you worked as an editor? Have you seen the good ideas that need extreme amounts of editing before they are ready for publication? If so, you'd know that agents are an invaluable tool in selecting manuscripts that have great potential, but who then point out where the writer needs to improve their work.

A truth you fail to mention is that sometimes people are not good writers, no matter how much they want to be. Most of the people I know—both professionally and personally—want to write books and have their masterpieces published. The sad fact is that not everyone is talented, qualified, or hard-working enough to become a published writer. Nor should they. I encourage everyone to write, to see if it's something that they do well, but when evidence and rejections stack against them, they should take an in-depth look at whether their writing is a fine hobby, or whether they can really make it as a professional writer. Their writing must be excellent; good or good enough doesn't cut it.

The fact that you're charging new writers for inaccurate information frightens me, because young writers don't know who to trust yet. You've offered enough half-truths that what you say sounds like it could be true, but on further investigation proves the opposite.

I hope writers looking for solid information go to good sources like those listed by Jackie Kessler. If they dig a little, they'll find plenty of great information that will help them improve both their writing and their chances at publication.

———

Why yes, self-purported gurus do frustrate me when they act as though they are the one true fount of publishing knowledge. If that were so, I'd think he'd be more of a household name. Someone who knows everything about publishing must be on the NYT bestseller list in perpetuity, right?

I did try to cut out most of the snarky, but it looks like I failed. Ah, well.

/rant

Dean Wesley Smith said...

Hi, interesting comments from an editor afraid to put her own name on her blog. And wow, do I now really understand why my mystery and thriller editors don't want my pen names attached to my media name. I had forgotten that problem until your nasty comments about my 50 some media books. I haven't worked in media for over six years and the last media project I did was five years ago when I was editing for Pocket Books. I only write original novels now, the last out that I can claim from Random House under D.W. Smith name.

I am not anti-agent in any way. I am pro writers using common sense business. I have done a number of chapters in this book I am writing about writing myths, and I teach young professional writers, not beginners. I flat tell them they need a good agent. Of course, over the last two years, writers who have come to my classes have sold 21 first novels. 18 were without agents on the sale, all but three retained an agent after the offer. I have had less than 65 writers attend in the last two years. A pretty good track record, since many who come are already published novelists as well.

Jim Hines just did a wonderful writer survey of a lot of writers, over two hundred, asking about some of these myths. 55% sold their first novel with an agent, 45% sold their first novel without an agent. So I stand by my statement, you do not need an agent to sell a book. An agent might help, she might not.

As you pointed out, I went to law school, but still always used an agent on all of my contracts. Top agents from Writer's House and Trident and Sandford Greenberger. All are still my friends and if I need them, I call them.

My goal is to punch some holes in the myths, many of which you sprouted. Your attitude about media tells me you are very closed minded and that's sad, since new writers will listen to you, even though you hide your real name.

Agents are employees. No other way around it. They are hired by writers to do a service, that is true. But if you would read the rest of the agent chapters and comments after each chapter, I'm sure you will see that I am pro agent, but I am also pro smart business. I know agents don't care about writers first, but care about relationships with editors first. That's why writers hire them. Duh.

But agents are employees, even under tax law. Just as hiring a lawn service to do your lawn is your employee. Just as hiring an attorney to help with a legal matter is your employee. My goal in stating that over and over is helping writers learn that they are in control of their own career. No writing career is the same. No advice is good for every writer.

But sound business practices need to come back to publishing. It's fine to have an agent. Just remember that the writer is in control. If writers came to understand that, a lot of the problems would fade away.

Good luck to you and everyone who listens here.

Best, Dean Wesley Smith (old media whore by this editors belief system)

Bethany said...

For anyone who didn't visit the original post, I thought it was rather telling the way he responded to every single commenter who didn't agree. "You're dumb. You'll get it eventually." I don't know. That doesn't rub me as a concerned do-gooder because it simply alienates the very people you claim to protect.

No one's mad at Dean Wesley Smith for how he conducts his own career, but lemme put it this way. I've never seen a donate button on an agent's blog. Why exactly should we have immediately trusted the wisdom of your "myth-busting"? The elements of truth in his diatribe would have been much easier to contemplate if he weren't so Dean Wesley Smith.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Ok, I'll admit the crack about DWS's TV tie-ins wasn't my finest hour.

Apologies.

Anna Bowles said...

Apologies accepted, EA. My blog post about what makes a good tie-in is go, in case anyone reads this far down the comments and is interested.

TK Roxborogh said...

It reminds me of the skinny dietician who said that all people had to do was to eat less and excercise more. In our country we have a well know beer ad called the Tui Ads. They always have billboard statments with a 'Yeah, Right!' after them.

I read his blog and felt a tui ad coming on.

Dean Wesley Smith said...

I noticed a couple people had problems with a donate button at the bottom of my chapters. I am a professional writer. I make my living by writing fiction. This is the first nonfiction book I have done in a long time and decided to try the donate button to see if an income stream could be made before the book went the standard publishing route. Interestingly enough, it has. Fun new methods for writers to make a living.

But the objections to a professional writer getting paid for his work is very interesting coming from writers who want to be professional writers. Haven't heard that much before here, to be honest.

By the way, a ton of editors I know who are top editors both teach and do a little blogging right out in the open to plug their books and their authors and to help authors. I have no problem with editors blogging and if I slipped and said I did somewhere or another, I am sorry. My problem is with agents blogging.

So how come you don't put your name here so I know who is attacking me and also to blog the books you publish? As my wife, Kristine Kathryn Rusch (also former editor and bestselling writer) said when I mentioned this, it could be an agent or just another writer blogging. No way of knowing.

Apology accepted on the wfh comments, but actually you helped me. I will pull the focus of those books way back on my site now that it's been so long since I have been away from them. The prejudice is real which is why I write under hidden pen names most of the time, and I needed to be reminded of that. No issue, I do understand where the Dean Wesley Smith name sits in publishing.

And please do, if you have a moment check out my other chapters. I know most editors don't have the time. Editors are the most overworked and underpaid group in all of publishing, that's for sure. I remember well from my editing days and it's even worse when you take the publisher's chair. Writing for a living is a ton more fun.

Thanks for allowing me to defend myself on your blog. Very much appreciated. But do come out into the open and push your author's books. Your advice and opinions will mean so much more.

Dean Wesley Smith
Recovered editor and full time fiction writer.

Anonymous said...

@Dean Wesley Smith, I was going to poke holes in all your arguments but I've honestly got better things to do than shovel the crap. I'm not sure if you bothered to read all of EA's post because, look:

"Can you get published without an agent? Yes, certainly."

She's not denying anything.

And, yes, I have also decided to be anonymous like EA. Got a problem?

Anonymous said...

DWS's QUOTE: "... I went to law school, but still always used an agent on all of my contracts. Top agents from Writer's House and Trident and Sandford Greenberger. All are still my friends and if I need them, I call them..."


Yes, well, top agents from Writer's House, Trident, and Sandford and Greenburger are not available to "take the calls" of other writers who aren't their clients. That's why writers need agents.

Um, duh.

And EA is anonymous because if she weren't she'd have thousands of unagented writers pounding down her door -- agentless writers who don't have Writer's House on speed dial -- who would beg her to look at their crappy, unpolished work. The fact that she has to be anonymous proves her point about the value of agents.

(Before anyone can accuse me of hiding behind Anon -- I don't blog so I go by Anon, deal with it)

Anonymous said...

It is clear to anyone who is a regular reader of EA that she is an actual editor who knows her stuff. She is also extremely helpful and giving of her time to all of us unpublished/underpublished writers.

And, none us regular and not-so-regular readers give a crap if she chooses to stay anonymous. We all understand her motivations to do so.

I'd rather have her anonymous and imparting her valuable tidbits and humor than reveal her true identity and stop blogging.

Anonymous said...

Another QUOTE, this from the original blog post of DWS site -- "... A form rejection these days says simply “We do not take unagented submissions.” It means exactly what every other form rejection in the history of publishing has meant: Nothing. It means that the manuscript, for one reason or another, didn’t fit their line. Maybe your manuscript sucked, or maybe it was brilliant but didn’t fit..."

This isn't true. WE DO NOT TAKE UNAGENTED SUBMISSIONS means quite a lot. It means they didn't read it. At all. It means they don't know if it sucked or was brilliant. Because it means it WASN'T READ. It means you just wasted ink, paper, and mailing costs looking like an ass who doesn't follow query guidlines. It means, the unpaid, overworked, college-aged intern (whose job it is to sort out the mail) just carted your unagented, unread mss to the shredder, and then sent you a form reject. During which, she was more than likely rolling her eyes and/or laughing at you.

DWS's original blog post would've carried more weight if he'd bestowed some magic formula of HOW exactly to get editors to read your unagented book. You, know, as opposed to reading subs from those agents with whom they've cultivated business relationships with for years and years.

cynjay said...

Not going to get into this except to say that if you wait until you get an editor offer to approach an agent, you will be getting the agent who has the time/inclination to drop everything they're doing and read your MS in a day in order to offer representation. Are they the best agent for you? Did you choose them after months of research into what they've sold, their editorial style and if you would partner well together?

All you know for sure is that they weren't all that busy.

Anonymous said...

Oh, dear. Abrasive much, Mr. Smith? I think I'm glad EA remains anonymous. If she just her blog to flog her authors' books, it would just be another boring PR site...and I think her opinions and advice would feel as if they meant less, not more.

-Another defiantly anonymous

Jimmer said...

DWSmith,
Good to hear your side of things. Bear in mind that we appreciate EA's anonymity as it allows her to say exactly what she thinks, how she feels about children's publishing. She may be blogging her authors elsewhere, but that's not the purpose of this blog.

EA, glad you're back, and grateful for the time you take to keep us informed--and entertained...

Dean Wesley Smith said...

By the way, here is a survey done by a young adult writer about needing an agent to sell a first book. I know, numbers and statistics are the enemy of myth, but alas, I might as well put it here just for the hope someone will read the numbers.

The survey was done by Megan Crewe.

And by the way, I've published about 12 young adult novels under varied names, non media. Obviously none with this editor.

The survey results are on Crewe’s blog at:
http://megancrewe.livejournal.com/251212.html

By the way, I do not know Megan Crewe.

Best, Dean Wesley Smith

Emma Darwin said...

On the 'No unsolicited manuscripts' hurdle, there's an excellent post at Help! I Need A Publisher here (sorry, haven't time to make it a link):

http://helpineedapublisher.blogspot.com/2010/01/no-unsolicited-manuscripts-ok.html

and yes, it does discuss ignoring that diktat.

On the anonymity thing, EA isn't only protecting herself from slush, she's also protecting the authors she edits. If either my UK or my US editor blogged, or my agent did, I would want them to be being honest and helpful about the realities of getting and staying published. But I also wouldn't want to be wondering if they's talking about me, when they're talking about how to handle writerly insecurity/idiocy/incompetence or anything else. And I DEFINITELY wouldn't want to read it knowing that readers/students/fellow writers were having fun trying to work out which of my editors' authors were being talked about this time. So Clare, Charlotte and Jen - if you're blogging already, and maybe you are... please don't tell me.

Livia said...

DWS,

Thanks for the survey links. Always good to look at numbers. I think the kind of data we really need, though is not what percentage of *all* authors writing now sold their first book without an agent,because many people have argued here that it was easier in the past to sell without an agent. Rather, we want to look at authors who made their debut recently and see the proportions there. I don't know about a good scientific poll for this. The only info I could find was a survey of the "tenners", a group (82 of them) of 2010 debut authors who are working together to promote their books. The proportions there are different. 82% sold their books with an agent, while 18% did not. The info is here:
http://community.livejournal.com/10_ers/377542.html

Granted, it's not a scientific survey -- they may be sampling biases and whatnot, but it's the best information I could find.

Anonymous said...

"It means, the unpaid, overworked, college-aged intern (whose job it is to sort out the mail) just carted your unagented, unread mss to the shredder, and then sent you a form reject. During which, she was more than likely rolling her eyes and/or laughing at you."

Are you spying on me? Also, not entirely true. Shredding takes too long. I just toss the recyclables in the recycling bin.

P.S. To all those sending an unsolicited ms: please don't send it spiral bound. I'm big on recycling, and I have to cut each stupid spiral off before I can recycle your pages. I've cut up my hands countless times doing that. So please, just don't.

Anonymous said...

Livia, I wouldn't use the Tenners as a representative sample of first time authors, because the criteria for being included in that group are very strict. Excluded are small press published debut authors and many debut authors with medium sized publishers that aren't members of the Children's Book Council. Agents tend not to work with small presses because there's no money in it, and the medium sized publishers are more likely to deal directly with authors than the Big Six are.

Livia said...

New post on writer beware with more data! Here's a quote:


- Just over half of the respondents sold their first novels through agents. (Me too.) That means just under 50% sold directly to their publishers. Does this contradict the idea that an agent is essential for a first novel sale to an advance-paying publisher?

Not really. The results look different if you consider the decade in which the books were sold. Author Steven Saus's more detailed analysis of Jim's data reveals that, while direct-to-publisher sales outnumbered agented sales 55% to 45% in the 1980's, by the 2000's direct-to-publisher sales had dropped to 27%, and agented sales had jumped to 67%. This reflects the one of the major shifts in publishing that has occurred over the past 30 years, with agents taking on the gatekeeping function that was formerly carried out by editors.


And the complete article is here

nathan said...

All my editorial contacts (and sales) have come from cold query. If the editor isn't reading your submission do this:
A] write a better query
B] write a better pitch
C] write a better sample
D] write a better book

DWS comment that he isn't talking to writers but rather to young *professionals* is the heart of the matter.

If an editor reads an open paragraph listing pro credits and doesn't bother then reading a tight, succinct pitch then the editor isn't doing their job. If the editor reads the pitch and doesn't feel compelled to read further--the writer didn't do their job.

Too many writers are writing too many books for too many houses that are selling copies without agents for DWS' advice to be dismissed out of hand. Too many pros are speaking about too many bad agent experiences for his advice to be dismissed out of hand in adherence to a belief system that fails as many writers as it helps. Emancipate yourself writers.

Anon's attitude is valid in so much as it sits for her, at her house.
The totality of experience would make it seem unwise to dismiss an experienced writer/editor like DWS however.

Think about a balance between acceptance and dismisal. Read all the agent posts. Read the comments. Then ask yourself--if DWS is correct, would there then be a segment (large or small) who would have a vested interest in keeping the status quo a status quo?

In the intrest of full disclosure my 20+ books have been in one form or another, media fiction.

I pay my morgage with my writing. This was my dream--to be a pro writer. I'm not understanding the lit-crit nose in the air attitude. It seems ad homien.

Anonymous said...

The agented/unagented/other split (67/27/6) seems more likely than the 82/18 of the Tenners, though I wonder how the other 6% of debut authors sold their books. Referrals from the publisher's other authors, maybe? (Link didn't work.)

There's also a huge disparity in access to the market, depending on whether one is published by a major house or a small press, as exemplified by the exclusion of small press published authors from marketing efforts like the Tenners. So if you choose not to use an agent--or you can't get an agent--and end up with a small press, you may find yourself spending a lot of time explaining to reviewers, bookstore owners, and book buyers that you're not self-published and hardly better off than if you were.

Livia said...

Hmm, let me try the link again:

http://accrispin.blogspot.com/2010/03/first-novel-sales-data.html

Livia said...

There's also a great analysis of the same data here. If you look at the first chart, you see that direct to publisher sales was 100% in the 1970's. In the 1980's, it drops to about 55%, and decreases by about 10% ever decade after that. Meanwhile, sales by agents increase.

Anonymous said...

"[Agents] are hired by writers to do a service"

This is the phrase I have most problem with.
However, I plan to resolve it by sending out a series of letters in lieu of a Query/Submission, to all my target agencies, asking their top Agents to come for an interview, and then go with the best quote for their services.
Lets see what happens.

;-)

Brad R. Torgersen said...

I think the thrust of Dean's argument has been grossly mischaracterized. He's not an agent hater nor does he even advise to not get an agent. He merely proposes that writers need to a) pay attention to what their agents are doing and b) not make any assumptions that a total stranger is going to make 100% excellent decisions that are always in the writers' best interests. How or why this advice has inflamed passions, is a bit of a mystery to me.

What's so terrible and obscene about advising writers to look out for their own best interests and not let an interlocutor make questionable decisions?

Nathan said...

You have conflicting opinions here.

The easiest way to make a decision is to compare and contrast the sources you are receiving information from.

Take a look at DWS's on-going career as writer/editor/publisher.

Consider what he's saying and why he thinks it. Everything you need to know about DWS is right there for you to research--except NDA driven pen names.

Either give weight to his experience or don't--but be honest (at least to yourself) about why you don't, if you don't

Now contrast.

Take a look at, say, Ed-Anon's work history, career path, time in service, books moved etc. etc.

Wait.

This won't work. It won't work because, objectively, we can assume Ed Anon is who they say they are OR they could be anything else.

If you are a writer read the Killing Sacred Cows series. It's going to help you.

If you have a vested emotional interest in the semi-divinity of agents and their relationship with the providers of income (the writer) then click fast to get DWS's site.

That doesn't mean you'll never use an agent. Just that you'll leap with eyes wide open--something most young professionals are not doing these days.

Nathan Meyer--meyernate@aol.com

Rob said...

Yeah, it seems to me those folks here spewing vitriol at Dean's advice are missing the point. I have plenty of personal, anecdotal proof that at least some of what he says is true (i.e. you CAN get an editor at a house that claims not to read unagented material to actually READ your unagented material--and, no, you do not have to have ever even met them in person.)

And of the huge majority posting here that are certain he is wrong, not too many of you are professionals, near as I can tell. So how would you know what works and what doesn't? Because a book from Writer's Digest or some anonymous blogger said so?

Dean's just trying to get you to think past conventional wisdom, because conventional wisdom is so often wrong. Or are you all telling me you would rather not publish at all than publish without an agent?

Laura said...

I have made about 28 books sales. In only 7 of those cases did I give material to an agent who sent it out and sold it. In all the other cases, I sold the book myself--and then I either negotiated the deal myself; or I hired a literary lawyer to negotiate it; or I brought in an agent to negotiate it. In retrospect, each time I involved a literary agent in a sale I had made myself, it was an expensive mistake—I spent much more money on a 15% commission than I've ever spent on a 2-10 hours of a literary lawyer's time, and the contractual clauses weren't negotiated as thoroughly or skillfully, since lawyers are more expert in contract language than literary agents are.

Moreover, I made most of those book sales myself precisely because either every agent whom I queried told me a book was unsaleable, or else an agent representing at the time (I've had four) delcared it unsaleable and refused to handle it (or declined to keep sending it out after 1-4 rejections). My work has repeatedly proved to be marketable after as many as a dozen agents have declared otherwise about a given project. I've also gotten better money for projects on my own than agents got me or told me I'd be able to get.

So my own longterm professional experience has taught me that the "expertise" of agents is unreliable.

After four bad agent experiences in a row (all of whom were respected professionals, and three of whom were high profile), as well as a lot of genuinely weird experiences with people I queried (all of whom were recommended by other professional writers), I decided that my problem was, overall, with the agent-author business model itself. And so I ceased working with agents.

This was perhaps more realistic for me than for some writers, because I had (due to being unable to find an agent willing to represent me) made my first 9 book sales without an agent and (due to being unable even to get my own agents to send out my work most of the time) also made so many of my book sales myself even after becoming an agented author.

Nonetheless, the fact that I AND OTHER WRITERS do work steadily without an agent (and, in many cases, sell more books now that we're not wasting so much time trying to –convince- someone to send out our books and make better advances now that we're not losing negotiating ground by having our deals negotiated by unenthusiastic representatives); and many of us (including me) did so at the start of our careers, too.

So working without an agent is indeed a realistic business model. It's not for everyone; but the conventional agent-author business model is also NOT for everyone—and that is the point of the discussions on Dean Wesley Smith's blog.

Laura Resnick
http://www.lauraresnick.com/

Laura said...

I have made about 28 books sales. In only 7 of those cases did I give material to an agent who sent it out and sold it. In all the other cases, I sold the book myself--and then I either negotiated the deal myself; or I hired a literary lawyer to negotiate it; or I brought in an agent to negotiate it. In retrospect, each time I involved a literary agent in a sale I had made myself, it was an expensive mistake—I spent much more money on a 15% commission than I've ever spent on a literary lawyer's fee, and the contractual clauses weren't negotiated as thoroughly or skillfully, since lawyers are more expert in contract language than literary agents are.

Moreover, I made most of those book sales myself precisely because either every agent whom I queried told me a book was unsaleable, or else an agent representing at the time (I've had four) delcared it unsaleable and refused to handle it (or declined to keep sending it out after 1-4 rejections). My work has repeatedly proved to be marketable after as many as a dozen agents have declared otherwise about a given project. I've also gotten better money for projects on my own than agents got me or told me I'd be able to get.

So my own longterm professional experience has taught me that the "expertise" of agents is unreliable.

After four bad agent experiences in a row (all of whom were respected professionals, and three of whom were high profile), as well as a lot of genuinely weird experiences with people I queried (all of whom were recommended by other professional writers), I decided that my problem was, overall, with the agent-author business model itself. And so I ceased working with agents.

This was perhaps more realistic for me than for some writers, because I had (due to being unable to find an agent willing to represent me) made my first 9 book sales without an agent and (due to being unable even to get my own agents to send out my work most of the time) also made so many of my book sales myself even after becoming an agented author.

Nonetheless, I AND OTHER WRITERS do work steadily without an agent (and, in many cases, sell more books now that we're not wasting so much time trying to –convince- someone to send out our books and make better advances now that we're not losing negotiating ground by having our deals negotiated by unenthusiastic representatives); and many of us (including me) did so at the start of our careers, too.

So working without an agent is indeed a realistic business model. No, of course it's not the right choice for everyone. (And the primary reason for that is =not= because of submission policies, but rather because self-represention requires the writer to understand the business and handle it well; not all writers do--and, in particular, many aspiring writers do not.) But the conventional agent-author business model is also NOT for everyone—and that is the point of the discussions on Dean Wesley Smith's blog.

Laura Resnick
http://www.lauraresnick.com/

Editorial Anonymous said...

Laura: re: double-posting

No problem. :) I've deleted the duplication. Thanks for commenting!

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