Thursday, March 22, 2012

March Madness: Querying Agents and Small Pubs

Agents expect writers to submit to multiple agents at the same time. Unless otherwise stated on our agent sites, we allow for multiple submission.

But what about submitting to both agents and small/e-publishers at the same time?

There are so many conflicting opinions on this. I asked a couple agent friends and they all had a slightly different perspective.

Agents and small/e-pubs are apples and oranges. Agents will sub you to the bigger publishers, generally more money and more exposure, plus you get an agent advocate helping with contracts and helping guide your career. Small/e-pubs are generally less money and less exposure, but it can be a more intimate experience with editors working directly with you and they may have more time to concentrate on your career. Many authors are happier with small/e-pubs than they ever would have been with bigger pubs. But many authors aspire to the big pubs, seeing the smaller/e-pubs as a last resort. Some writers may not know what they want, just for someone to recognize them and tell them "yes" amid all the "no."

I, personally, suggest that all writers decide what they really want, the big press, or the small/e-pubs, and concentrate in that area. Imagine you get offers from both an agent and a small/e-pub at the same time. Now you have to decide what you really want--a chance at the "big time" or the sure thing and immediate publication? If your answer is "I'd take the agent offer," then concentrate on subbing to agents. If your answer is "I'd take the small/e-pub," then concentrate on those.

I understand the other side of the fence too. As a writer, you need to explore as many avenues as possible, and life is too short to spend so much time on only one opportunity.

So to sum up? I'm not personally of the opinion that you should submit to both, but I will not discriminate against you and the decision is wholly up to you (and many writers, agents, editors will encourage you to do both). My advice is merely to know what you want out of this business. There are so many options for you in this day and age, you need to educate yourself on all of the avenues and go after what you want--otherwise you're likely to get trampled in all the noise.

Has anyone had personal experience with this? What is your advice to other writers?

Happy writing!

13 comments:

caitpeterson said...

Funny this should come up now, since I just had an experience with it!

Traditional publishing has always been my goal, and to that end, I've queried agents, and left the indie press/e-pubs alone. But there's an online community I'm involved with that allows its members to work on their submissions, and once vetted, submit them to a panel. The panel includes a number of agents - but also a handful of indie presses.

I'd never worried about it, just focused on the agents that were part of the panel. Until I submitted, and got requests from 3 of the indies, 1 of which turned into an offer.

Talk about shock. Here I was with 4 agents who had all or part of my mss, and an indie offering me a contract! All the homework I'd done for traditional publishing meant nothing at this moment, because I'd never taken this scenario into account. I'd never even have considered subbing to an indie, because traditional was what I wanted. But it was an offer on the table.

I spent a very uncomfortable week trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I had an offer. An OFFER. But it wasn't really what I wanted, and in the end, I declined. For me, I had to take the chance on traditional publishing.

My best advice - really make sure you know what you want. Research all the options. There's a lot more out there than there were even 5 years ago. DO YOUR HOMEWORK. But most of all, make sure you know what you want.

Thanks for posting about this, Vickie!

EnchantingEditor said...

Thanks for giving advice on this subject! I've seen a lot of small press hatred in the agenting world lately. Small presses are definitely no substitute for an agent with connections to the big 6 houses; but, they're a great option for the writer whose work isn't cutting it with agents. This is especially true in the case of writers with subversive ideas--where the writing quality is there but agents/big publishers are turned off by the content.

Jamie Wyman said...

Actually just dealt with this myself a few months ago. While querying agents I received an opportunity to submit to a small press and get my manuscript under the eyes of an editor I respect. I took the chance and subbed to her. It turned into an offer of publication. The same day she offered, I received very positive feedback/requests from agents.

Ultimately, I passed on the offer. A few people close to me were a bit surprised. "Isn't that what you were working for this whole time? Getting published?"

No. I want a career. And I have goals for where I want that career to go. While the opportunity with the small press was a good one, I knew that if I signed that deal I would be pigeon-holing not just one book but likely the rest of the series and limiting my exposure.

The fact that I got the requests from agents the same day solidified my decision. This project has legs and can walk the path I want it to.

As you said, it's a question of what you want in the long run and what's going to help you reach those goals. My advice to other writers would be to sit down and really think about what you want, not just what you *hope* for. Think about what you're able to do as far as protecting yourself, navigating rights management, marketing/promotion, distribution. Evaluate what you need help with and find a way to connect that with your ultimate goals. Keep your eyes on the goal and don't settle for less.

But that's just me. :)

Xan said...

I read some advice a little while ago on an agent's blog that suggested submitting to smaller publishers could be a positive thing. If you got an offer you could then approach the agents with that to indicate someone wanted your work. I guess every agent will have their own opinion about this though and it's up to us writers to do the background research on our preferred agents and really take the time to think about what we want before playing these kind of games, which might end up not working in our favour.

Emily R. King said...

My experience submitting to publishers and agents simultaneously was very positive. In fact, I even took a stab at two of the big publishers who accept unsolicited queries and received requests.

That being said, if submitting to both is a no-no for some agents, I suggest querying writers do thorough research on the agents they query for their opinion on the matter. Try for the agent first (as is their taste) and approach small publishers if the agent passes.

Thank you for the clarification, Vickie. Varying opinions among agents on subjects such as this can confuse and discourage querying writers. It's helpful to be informed.

Colin Smith said...

I admit, I have never considered subbing to a small/indie press. I presume they are not all created equal. Is there a list somewhere of "recommended" small/indie presses to get me started should I decide to research this option?

caitpeterson said...

Colin - Predators & Editors is a good place to check, as well as Writer Beware. There are a lot of new presses out there, so they're tough to stay on top of, but checking with P&E and WB will keep you away from the worst of them.

Crystal said...

After querying hundreds of agents, I decided to try my luck with a select group of small presses to see if I could generate any interest. My top choice press offered me a contract and I was able to take that to my top choice agent and sign with both of them within the month. While this may limit sales for my first book, it does give me some experience and some great connections and I wouldn't dissuade other writers from going this route. I'm happy with my publisher, happy with my editor and happy with my agent. And it is certainly true that not all small presses are created equal. Be sure to do your homework before submitting to them and before signing with them. There is such a thing as "too indie."

Martha Ramirez said...

Thank you for sharing your story. Good advice.

Martha Ramirez said...

Awesome post! Very good advice.

Martha Ramirez said...

Very interesting story! Thank you for sharing.

Susan Fields said...

This is something I'd really never considered before - thanks for the post and to all the commenters who shared their experiences. There's definitely a lot to think about here, and it's so true that there are so many options available now and a writer really needs to do his/her research.

Aisyah Putri Setiawan said...


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