The Passive Writer, #3

Agents: Who Needs ‘Em?

The answer, my dear aspiring scribes, is no one. Agents are a vestigial luxury enjoyed by established writers of a higher order, but they are hardly mandatory; don’t let yourself think for a moment that you need one when you are just starting out.

I’m sure you are aghast, and ready to point out to me that every book about writing you’ve consumed so far (and let’s be honest, you’ve read a lot of them) has asserted rather authoritatively that acquiring an agent is an absolute necessity if you intend on selling your novel and/or screenplay.

This, of course, is complete nonsense.

All of those aforementioned books were likely written by authors who themselves had agents, and therefore had to state in the book that agents were essential. Would you throw your agent under a bus by not mentioning her in your book about writing? Of course you wouldn’t. Having said that, it should now be clear to you that they are featured in writing guides merely as a professional courtesy and not as a sine qua non of the publishing world.

Obviously we must now address the question of how to bring your work to the attention of a publisher. The answer is a simple one: direct solicitation. Package the most recent draft of your hush-hush manuscript1  in a large envelope and send it directly to the publishers you would most like to print your novel.

You’re a whip-smart bunch, so I’ve already anticipated your next concern. You’re going to tell me you’ve researched the major publishing houses and noticed they all have a disclaimer on their websites to the effect of “no unsolicited materials accepted”. Of course they need to say this, or else they’re going to be drowning in drafts from every amateur who ever put pen to paper. But they obviously don’t mean anyone reading this column; statements like that are just a wink and a nod to professionals like you who have read a large number of writing guides and have worked feverishly for the better part of three entire months on your manuscript.

It may take some time to receive a response from the publishers – don’t get discouraged! Acquisitions editors have a lot of work to do, and they may not get to your submission for at least a few days after you send it in. If you’re really concerned about time, and you have a little bit of extra money to spend, you might want to consider services like FedEx Overnight, USPS Express Mail, or even UPS Next Day Air. In addition to rapidly getting your manuscript to the publisher’s door, packages that exude a sense of urgency and importance tend to find their way to the top of the editorial pile more quickly than a plain brown envelope.

Hopefully this week’s column has helped clarify why expensive professionals are not necessary to your success as a first-time author. Also, if you have any topics you’d like The Passive Writer to cover in future essays, please send them directly to my agent.

  1. Remembering the advice given in last week’s Passive Writer column, “Your Secret Genius: Why You Should Never Show Your Work to Anyone Before Submitting for Publication”: there is no need to make sure your copy is clean and letter-perfect; once your manuscript gets bought, you will have to go through a long editing process anyway, so why spend the time doing all that work right now?
posted 8/10/09 at 7:48am to Writing · 2 replies · permalink