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Field Guide for the Pursuit of the Elusive North American Literary Agent — Part Three

(Part Three — There Really Is No Reason)

Unsurprisingly, after months of apathy from various agents who I have queried, I have decided to suspend the search for litterae procurator americana. I will be the first to admit that I am not the most patient of men, but after six months of nothing — not even a standard form rejection letter — I decided to see how fast I could sell the novel myself to a publisher.

It took me twelve hours.

Twelve. F*cking. Hours.

(Note: that breaks my previous record of four days)

I’d never worked with this publisher before, though we’d met at conventions throughout the years. Never had any sort of working relationship with him or anything, and yet I was able to secure a contract within hours of contacting him. Not only did he write the contract for the novel, but he was also interested in the sequels that follow.

Within days of the contract being signed he had already commissioned a contract and put an editor onto the project. In the publishing world he moves at the speed of light, apparently. Which is great for me, my readers, and those who really, really hate me.

But all this fieldwork has laid bare the root of the question I had originally posed when I came up with this idea six months ago: what use is an agent these days?

I understand that they are supposed to represent the author and help finagle the best contract they can for the most amount of money, but with the advent of indie and the explosive growth of small press publishers, it really makes me wonder why agents continue to function in a strict role that worked in the 60’s and 70’s. An antiquated system designed in a bygone era, and yet they call my friends backwards and old fashioned.


So, without further ado, here is the cover of said novel. Coming soon.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00045]


  1. Congratulations! Neat cover. The armor reminds me of a cross between the armor from Mospeada/Robotech and that from Halo.

    December 2, 2016
  2. C4c

    December 2, 2016
  3. Love the cover!
    And yes, only a Best Seller needs an agent to negotiate the terms of their contracts these days.

    December 2, 2016
    • If you saw the terms of that Seth Grahame guy’s big bestseller contract as revealed in that lawsuit against him, you’d say that agents aren’t much help. But then, you’d also say that the publisher didn’t know what they were doing, either. The contract was disadvantageous and stupid for everyone involved.

      Seth should have got a contract lawyer.

      December 2, 2016
    • Yeah, I love the cover too! Gorgeous work.

      December 3, 2016
  4. Do you think an agent would be more helpful for someone like me who’s never been published (other than my novelette on Amazon)?

    December 2, 2016
    • Banshee asked a pertinent question: what are your goals for writing? If you should get an agent depends on what you are trying to accomplish.

      December 2, 2016
      • Well, right now, my goal is survive college. I’m trying to gather as info before I graduate. I’d love to be a full-time novelist some day (like everyone else), if you want to know the long-term.

        December 3, 2016
      • I want to sell books. I’m not picky about how. That’ll be mostly in the future, though. Right now, though, I’m trying to finish a books. I have one novelette on Amazon. Does that answer the question?

        December 3, 2016
  5. Helpful for what? What is your goal, and why do you need help for it? That’s the first thing to ask, before you hire somebody.

    Also, do you really need an agent, or do you need a lawyer? Or do you not need either of them?

    Are you looking to publish with a publisher, or can you make more money as an indie? Or would you rather do both?

    December 2, 2016
  6. I have to ask, and this is a serious question: What is the value of even having a publisher in today’s market?
    Unless you are with one of the ‘big’ name publishers, (of which I think Baen is the only one I would ever work with) none of the small presses that I see will get you into the only remaining book store out there (B&N). And without the physical media sales, does a publisher bring that much more to the table for you?
    For me, that is a very serious concern. My print sales aren’t that great, however my eBook sales are, and my audiobook sales seem to be improving. I’ve learned by now how to deal with all of the other aspects a publisher handles (covers, sales, editing, etc), so I’m not sure that there is a cost benefit for me with one anymore.
    Unless they can promise me an increase in income to more than cover what I’d effectively be paying them. That’s a pretty serious question and concern for me, what are they bringing to the table that I need?

    December 2, 2016
    • Having a publisher allows me to not worry about cover art or certain other time-consuming aspects of publishing and focus more on the writing. That’s about it though.

      December 2, 2016
    • fynbospress #

      For us, the value of a publisher is as follows:
      1.) Exploitation of rights that would otherwise lay fallow. Namely, audiobook, because I personally don’t care for the medium, and therefore am crippled when it comes to trying to put out a good quality product.

      2.) additional fanbase. Publishers like Baen and Castalia have cultivated a fanbase that is willing to buy a new author based solely on the publisher – and whether you’re a newcomer to the field or trying to expand into a new market, these are additional sales and market penetration above what we can easily reach. (Note; do research on your publisher. Nobody ever says “Oh, boy, I can’t wait for the next Penguin Putnam release!” So the majors are actually less attractive this way.)

      3.) additional marketing efforts. Again, due diligence is required, but if the publisher is willing to commit to pushing your book, that’s more work the author doesn’t have to do. If the press is big enough that your editor has to run this past a marketing department, then it’s critical to get this in the contract.

      4.) Someone else to carry the ball. We’ve had some interesting medical adventures over the last couple years. The ability to hand a manuscript off, and not have to do anything else (even though the publisher did ask us for approval / suggestions on cover and blurb), was the difference between getting Brings the Lightning out or not. And when we’re more concerned with the surgeon saying “Unfortunately, due to shrapnel in his body, we can’t put your husband in the MRI to see if complications X or Y will ensue…” having a publisher who will get a royalty check to us is much nicer than having 70% of nothing.

      Note that these reasons are very individual to us and our circumstances; they do not necessarily apply to all authors.(I certainly hope the rest of you have a much healthier year!)

      December 2, 2016
      • Those are good points, and I understand your situation (I’ve read a number of your books btw and like them, but I haven’t gotten to the latest one yet). I have been thinking about approaching Castalia house, I think eventually they will have a presence in B&N, because I have faith in Mr. Beale.
        But until I am sure that I will see an worthwhile increase in my income, I’m a bit hesitant to try and make that jump. As a full-time author, I’m always concerned about anything that might lower or interrupt my income.

        December 2, 2016
        • It can also depend on the publisher’s style. There’s a small house that I know that is very invested in face-to-face sales. They go to a number of events and work to sell their books. It’s very useful as a secondary means of getting new readers, particularly as some of the events they go to are things like Renn Faires, where the folk may not have been searching for new authors online.

          December 2, 2016
  7. I never got a single response from an agent when I was quarrying my first novel. Not “yes”, not ” no”, not even “I received your manuscript”. Nothing from the 20+ I contacted.

    December 2, 2016
    • I hear this a lot. That alone seems to me a signal from the industry that they don’t want my money.

      December 2, 2016
  8. BobtheRegisterredFool #

    Question: Within days of the contract being signed he had already commissioned a cover and put an editor onto the project?

    December 2, 2016
    • Yes. Chris is fantastic like that

      December 2, 2016
  9. morrigan508 #

    so are you planning on sharing WHO??? for those of us with a prurient interest…

    December 2, 2016
  10. Which houses do you think of as large publishers at B&N, other than Baen?

    Mind you, my one interaction with an agent (it was at a con, and he was behind a vendor’s table, so he had to talk), involved him telling me he could get me a really large advance. Alas for him, this was after I had read discussions about the undesirability of failing to sell out your advance. I am also reminded of the senior editor of a well-known house, this going back to about 2000, who when I asked belligerently denied that SF novels had gotten any longer than had at one time been the case.

    On the other hand, I currently do have a novel at a top line SF publisher. I know it is on the lead editor’s desk being read. Alas, that has been true for closing on five years now

    December 2, 2016
    • Nothing smaller than Baen. Tor, Penguin, Random, DAW, Shuslter and sons, etc. All the big five and their various incarnations. I went to B&N last week and checked just who was on the SF&F shelves, and there wasn’t a press smaller than those anywhere to be found.

      All of the smaller book stores in California (which are primarily second hand book stores) are shutting down, because they can’t survive on the mandatory $15/hr wage they must pay by law. By the end of next year, I doubt there will be a single book store in the state that isn’t B&N (or course I hope to have moved by then).

      December 2, 2016
  11. jon spencer #

    Did you have your attorney look the contract over before you signed?

    December 3, 2016

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