Should I find an agent or continue with small presses?
July 16, 2014 8:16 AM   Subscribe

I've had some success this past year in publishing through small presses. I'm seeking direction in my literary career. A lot more details inside.

I've been writing for a number of years now, mostly accumulating trunk novels. After years of failure in trying to find an agent or big publisher, (I'm estimating about 400 queries between various projects) about a year and a half ago, I decided to take my most recent efforts and send them to small publishers. My top three projects were fairly quickly accepted by three different publishers with one novel now in print, a novella coming in August and a novel set for June of next year. An anthology collection which I assembled is also due out in September. In the past year I've finished another novel and another novella (middle grade fiction).

The experience with the small publishers has been good/bad to different degrees. Two of the publishers provided a reasonable edit (the other edit is pending). One publisher has not been very communicative or professional and I imagine I will be mostly on my own for publicity when the work comes out. One has been very professional and the June 2015 publishing date is due to working out proper publicity in advance.

Which leaves the one other publisher. I've enjoyed my experience with the third publisher. They put out my novel, A Predatory Mind, last October. They are really nice people. They performed a fine edit, but the publicity was fairly lacking. I know, I should mostly expect that from a small press, but by those standards, I thought it was less than expected. I've written a sequel to A Predatory Mind and sent it to them in February. Due to internal politics, they hadn't offered me a contract until this past week.

Should I put this offer on hold and look for an agent? Maybe because I've spent so much time agent-hunting in the past, that feels like a black hole. One problem regarding finding an agent is that I jump around in genres between books. Are agents generally unimpressed by people who publish in small presses? My total income for my literary career right now stands around $3000. Not that wonderful, but I suppose there are a lot worse.

Or is it better to keep with small presses, work on the publicity and build a presence? Or is that guaranteeing that my efforts will remain unseen (and disrespected by agents)?

I generally haven't made the writer's conference scene. Haven't had the money. A number of agents say that is where they hunt. Should I try a writer's conference?
posted by dances_with_sneetches to Writing & Language (5 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I am also a writer who is struggling to build a career out of writing and feel your pain. I don't write novels and I don't have an agent (though I came close to landing one back when I thought I had a novel) so grain of salt and all that.

I think it's still worth pursuing the agent route if you are strategic about it. The best fits I found for agents was by finding out who represented authors I liked and querying them specifically mentioning why I chose them. I would think most agents would see it as an asset that you have published at all and be glad for that. I would also think that there would be agents who would love genre-hopping if it is done well.

While I did not land an agent, I got a lot of requests for partial manuscripts and a lot of compliments on my query letter. When you have one ready, message me and I will be happy to take a look at it if you like. I of course don't know everything about the biz, but I will share what I do know.

I am guessing your writing is more commercial than mine. (Which is not a bad thing; I am just speculating based on what I write and the context you gave in your post.) A forum like the one on could be helpful for you. I don't always get a ton of help there because I mostly publish in lit mags and such and folks there are indeed more commercial, but it can be a good resource.

Go to a conference if you want to. I would advise trying other things before spending all that money.
posted by mermaidcafe at 9:00 AM on July 16, 2014

Depending on where you are, you might want to look around for a smaller conference that might be more feasible. My small city hosts a conference yearly that's 1/4-1/3 of the cost of a larger writer's conference 3-4 hours away. The scale is a bit smaller, but it has had well-known agents attend in the past. It's also good for giving people an idea about how they'd like to go about proceeding and providing good networking opportunities.

So I'd suggest looking into a smaller starter-type writer's conference, possibly hosted in conjunction with a local university or area writer's group.
posted by PearlRose at 9:11 AM on July 16, 2014

I've linked to Chip MacGregor's site before. He's a literary agent who writes quite a bit about the questions you've asked. Do I need an agent (and he doesn't always say yes)? When should I get an agent? Questions about marketing.

One thing he says frequently is that the big publishers do little or no marketing for the majority of their authors. That money is usually reserved for a few big names or what they expect to be a break out. Most authors are left to do their own marketing and trying to figure out how to get their book in front of an audience.
posted by lharmon at 10:23 AM on July 16, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for the feedback. Being in Puerto Rico, there are not conferences just around the corner. I'm also a bit reluctant to get into a writer's conference because, other than the contacts, I don't think that I need the sort of beginners advice that comes with them.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 3:41 PM on July 16, 2014

I agree with the poster above who says "big publishers do little or no marketing for the majority of their authors..." Have you looked into publishing on Amazon's indie platform? I have many friends who are making a successful career and some good income publishing that way.
posted by theelf2020 at 4:46 PM on November 1, 2014

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