Publishing Advice

Are You Ready for an Agent?

Hey, folks!  Next week, I’ll be starting a series about querying authors and what their personal experiences have been.  But today, I want to talk about the realities of getting an agent.

And more specifically, do you actually want one?

This was brought to my attention last week.  A fellow author reached out to me on Twitter about her novel; her exact words were, “My book is dead.”  That was shocking to me–there’s always rewrites, always places to gather advice and learn about the industry and try again.  Writers are a persistent bunch, so it’s rare to hear something like that.  Books are never dead… they’re shelved for later.

Shelved digitally, I mean.

Except the more I talked to this writer, the more I realized she was right.  Her book WAS dead… but only because she’d changed everything she wanted to, and in her mind, it was perfect now.

And here’s the thing: that’s totally fine.  As a writer, your vision of your novel is always right.  If you’re happy with your work, then it IS done.

But that doesn’t mean it’s ready for publication.

I’m blinded by your success!!

Picture this: you did it.  You got an agent, and she loves your story.  She got interest from a Big 5 publisher, too, and they want you to sign a contract.  $100,000 advance, which means your agent will get 15% for her badass negotiation abilities.  You’re sitting in the board room ready to sign, and your publisher says, “We’ve added a stipulation.  We’ll publish your novel, but you have to eliminate [character / story arc] first.”

They’re asking you to change the core of your novel.  Big, impacting changes that will alter your original vision, make it theirs instead.

Would you do it?

Be honest with yourself.  If the answer is “hell no,” guess what?  You’re not ready for an agent.

Publishing is a business.  Agents make a living selling your novels.  That means that the ability to feed their children sits firmly on YOUR ability to make the necessary edits.

Let that sink in.  If your novel is absolutely perfect in its current form, if you’ve called it “your baby,” or if you talk about your characters like they’re your best friends… you might not be ready for traditional publishing.

And again, that’s okay.  But you need to be utterly honest with yourself, because it won’t just be your ego taking a hit when you leave that board room in a huff.  It’s your agent, your business partner, who now can’t make her mortgage payment because of your artistic vision.

(This is an extreme example, and in reality your agent would have worked through the plot details with you much earlier so you’d both be prepared for signing day. But the logic behind it stands; if you won’t sacrifice your vision to make your book more marketable, you’ll have a hard time surviving these big house publishers.)

Bye bye, white picket fence.

So what’s the solution?  Well, it’s easy to be swept into vision of grandeur, but sometimes another route is best.  Traditional publishing isn’t the end-all, be-all.  Now might be the time to look into small-house publishers or self-publishing.

Remember, there’s no wrong way to get your novel into the world.  🙂

Do you plan to publish?  If so, how?  Let me know in the comments below!


  • robakers


    I found your site after searching for publishing topics. I really like what you have going on here and with your permission, I would like to become a follower.

    To answer your question, everything I have is for sale but at the right price. Of course my kids are on the list but I probably wouldn’t sale them because I would have to pay to have someone too much money to take them off my hands. Likewise, my story is for sale too and if someone gave me a large advance and asked for a total re-write. My view is that they are paying the bills so they get what they want.

    But, I am finding it very difficult to even think about finding a agent to represent me. Not because of what they do but because of the system and what it represents. The publishing system is set up against the author. In the end, I believe that there are ten leaches attached to every new author. Everyone gets a cut of the pie until the crumbs are left to the only person who poured their blood, sweat, and tears onto putting words on the page. It isn’t as bad as the recording industry and with the self-publishing option being viable, I feel like I have a choice to explore my own path to success.

    I wish you all the luck in the world and I really hope that you explode into the next big thing.


    • novelarnia

      That’s an excellent point, and I can’t say I disagree with you. But I do think that agents and editors work remarkably hard to get your book where it needs to be. And unfortunately, you’re right. If we want to see our books in bookstores, or get any real commercial success, we have to give many, many people a slice of the pie. :/ For me, it’s more about getting my stories out there; if I was looking to make money, I’d be doing something else. 😛

      But I wish you the best of luck in your ventures, whatever they may be!! <3

  • Katrina Ariel

    Okay. I loved this post because, though it is an extreme example, it’s important to prep for this kind of situation and the pressure that comes when big money is involved.

    After querying several manuscripts (which has been an amazing catalyst for my growth as a writer), I began to get more and more selective on the agents I chose to query. I’m all for the challenge of querying 100 agents, but only if there are that many I’d like to work with. And the longer I queried, the more I thought about going indie.

    I’ve self-published non-fiction in the past, and I know the kind of commitment to marketing it takes to make it. But it takes that kind of commitment from a traditionally published author, too. There may be a bit more help, but not a ton.

    After years of querying, my partner got a layoff at work, and suddenly neither of us had a job. I decided it was time to take one of my books and get it out there, as professionally as possible.

    I’m glad I’m going indie with my debut novel, WILD HORSE HEART. I’m proud of it. AND I’m going to keep writing, and querying, and going after the traditional route as well. Many of today’s most successful authors do both. 🙂 It’s good to explore all the options, and look at the pros and cons very clearly, as you did one aspect of traditional publishing in this post.



    • novelarnia

      That is SUCH a good point about agents you may not want. I realized that same thing at DFWCon last year; just because someone is an “agent” doesn’t mean they’re an agent I would work well with. And querying agents is just as much an interview on your side as theirs. I feel like a lot of authors make the mistake of jumping into the arms of the first agent who says, “Sure, I’ll give you a chance.” But that won’t necessarily get them where they want to go. :/

      I queried SO many agents for the first two novels I tried to get published. They’ve since been shelved, but now I’m much, much pickier with HARBINGER. It’s remarkable how many I skim, then shrug and pass on. I’d rather have 5 queries sent to great agents than 30 sent to mediocre ones.

      All the best with WILD HORSE HEART!! That’s so incredibly exciting for you, and you’re absolutely right! Just because you go indie with this one doesn’t mean you’ll never go traditional with another. 😀

      Thanks for sharing!!

  • DraytonAlan (@Drayton_Alan)

    In addition to my not being ready for an agent, I’m not sure there is an agent ready for me.
    I like to write and I’ve been told I’m good. But my goals in my writing don’t match what an agent needs to make a living. I’m an old techie and I can handle all the technical parts of getting a book ready for market so I have self-published all six of my books on Amazon. My success has not been huge but it has been slowly building and I am doing the part I like, the writing. My readers will find me eventually and I will have a little extra income and that would be fine. There’s always a chance I will hit a “Homerun” and make more and if it happens that’s okay too.

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