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?Some of what he says I agree with.
The post is here, if you're curious.
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.