The role of agents
ONLINE COLUMN: Writing for Children
Published: November 10, 2008
|Do I REALLY need an agent?|
Everyone complains that it's impossible to get a children's book published these days because every publisher requires agented submissions. This simply is not true. Even the big houses send acquisitions editors to conferences where they will pick up your manuscript if they find merit in it. There are also numerous smaller houses that take unagented submissions. In fact, some publishers prefer NOT to work with an agent. These publishers are usually known as "smaller" publishers because they produce fewer titles each year, have a smaller editorial staff, and publish a lower print run. They may not be able to pay fees that cover an agent's expense.
It's actually good experience to go through the process of landing a contract at least once by yourself to know what an agent is supposed to do. It also puts you one step ahead of the pack. At one point, agent Rachelle Gardner posted on her blog at www.cba-ramblings.blogspot.com that she had over 200 submissions she was considering, most of them from unpublished authors.
It's to your advantage to earn publishing credits before you contact an agent. How? Search your market guide. Look for publishers who say 50 percent or more of their product list is with first-time authors. These publishers probably won't be the huge mega-corporations every writer dreams of landing. Many publishers that work with a high percentage of first-time authors are smaller, or they focus on filling a specific niche in the publishing world. Nonetheless, these publishers usually offer standard contracts. And the nice surprise is that they're often eager to hear from you.
Once you experience some publishing success and know how signing a contract works, you can certainly try to acquire an agent. There are many benefits to having one, such as representation, constructive feedback, and legal advice. Meet with various agents—look for conferences that offer private appointments—or get to know them better by reading their blogs.
As you're sending out simultaneous submissions to publishers for your manuscript, include several agents in your mailing list as well. An agent won't just want someone who can write. Agents are on the lookout for writers who also have a platform. They know that it's one thing to get a book published, another thing to get it to sell. So while you're looking for an agent, also start building up your platform. Teach writer workshops, build a blog, and schedule book signings for the books you've already had published. Make an agent want you as much as you want an agent.
As you're searching for an agent, ask yourself what exactly it is that you want from your writing at this point in your life. Do you want representation at the top houses but want to manage your own career? If so, look for an agent who will represent your book, not your career. If you want someone who will give advice on how to shape a more successful career, look for an agent who offers to spend time helping you develop long-term goals.
In addition, take an honest look at your strengths and weaknesses. Are you interested in writing for the educational market and do you have many ideas for titles in this genre? If so, you probably don't need an agent to follow your dreams. Have you experienced solid success in the work-for-hire nonfiction market and love the fast, frenzied pace and tight structure of nonstop assignments? An agent in the loop might slow down your pace--and your income. If, however, you feel you have the skills to write picture books with pizzazz or sweep-'em-off-their-feet YA novels, then acquiring an agent will probably be to your advantage in landing lucrative contracts with top publishing houses on a continuing basis.
--Posted Nov. 10, 2008
Nancy I. Sanders is the author of over 75 books, including A Kid's Guide to African American History (Chicago Review Press). Web: www.nancyisanders.com.