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To get or not to get...an agent?

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As a PB writer, do you think it is reasonable in the current climate to be subbing directly to editors, or do you think my goal should be to get an agent?

The reason I ask is because I went to an SCBWI conference and had a critique by an editor. It was pretty favorable, and she asked my if I had sent the manuscript out to agents. I was sort of taken aback by the question, and it has made me start to rethink my strategy.

My impression was that one really couldn't get an agent as an unpublished PB author, and that the best course was to try to get at least one book published first, then look for an agent; or write in another genre (MG for example) and get an agent that way, with the PBs being an "extra." Also, since I'm sort of a slow writer, I only have a couple of manuscripts that I consider complete, and my belief was that I'd need 4-5 good, well polished manuscripts before subbing to agents.

Of course, this is all making some huge assumptions the quality, marketability etc.etc. of the manuscripts I have. But still I'm wondering, should I change my focus? What "getting published" strategies do you have as PB authors?

Cheers...

Carrie
#1 - August 19, 2011, 02:04 PM
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Very few agents are looking for pb writers who don't also illustrate.  There are some, but not many. 

It's absolutely possible to sell mss. without an agent.  I've done it many times.  Agents are handy when negotiating a contract, and sometimes they do indeed get you much better terms than you can get on your own.  But there are lots of online resources to help you with that also.

Whether you have an agent or not--the pb market is quite slow right now.  Having an agent can't guarantee you'll get your foot in the door.

I'm sure other people will have other opinions about this.

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#2 - August 19, 2011, 05:20 PM
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Well, I'm neither published nor agented, so take my words with a grain of salt or whatever.  BUT, in my search for an agent over the past year, which I began because I believed it was the prudent thing to do, I have found that agents want either author/illustrators OR a PB writer with multiple polished, marketable projects that the agent loves in order to sign the author.  And, as you already know, there are not that many agents who rep PBs at all.  As Ellen mentioned, the PB market is so very, very slow right now that few agents are actually taking on new clients without the WOW factor or the multiple manuscripts.  That being said, there are exceptions -- I know of one writer who signed with her agent based on one immediately marketable PB in addition to some sample writing in other genres. And there are others who have signed for whatever reasons. 

SO....as Ellen said -- and as Harold Underdown has said -- for PB writers, having an agent to *get* the deal is not necessary by any means.  Sure, an agent can get you into otherwise closed houses -- and of course, an agent is invaluable when it comes to contracts, etc. -- but absolutely necessary to get published?  Not. At. All.

(Full disclosure -- I am still in the process of seeking representation for my PB writing, so it is something that *I* would like.  But again, necessary to get published?  Not entirely.)
#3 - August 19, 2011, 05:55 PM

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Jenna's right. I went searching a few months ago, and all the agents who were interested (which were quite a few--at least ten!) wanted to see three or more polished pb's. Luckily, I had other work which helped me snag an agent.

I would like to say you do need an agent in this market if you want to get your foot in the door at a closed house. I subbed a ms through a conference and got a standard personal rejection via email. Since the ed was nice, and I had a few published pb's under my belt, I asked if she might like to see my newest pb. She responded over two months later, saying that it wouldn't be fair to the other conference attendees if she saw another ms from me (the unagented author.) By then, I'd acquired an agent, so I told her. Ten minutes later, she said she'd like to see it and thanked me for thinking of her.

What had changed?

My agented status.

So, I do believe you need an agent. Sounds like you have two ms's. You only need one more! This business is not for the speedy or impatient. If you really wanted to publish something soon, going to open houses is your best alternative, trying to get published without an agent. I wouldn't advise getting an agent once you get the contract and allowing them to negotiate the deal because then you might not have an agent who is enthusiastic about all your work. It's best to find someone without that publishing contract.
#4 - August 20, 2011, 07:22 AM
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My impression was that one really couldn't get an agent as an unpublished PB author, and that the best course was to try to get at least one book published first, then look for an agent; or write in another genre (MG for example) and get an agent that way, with the PBs being an "extra." Also, since I'm sort of a slow writer, I only have a couple of manuscripts that I consider complete, and my belief was that I'd need 4-5 good, well polished manuscripts before subbing to agents.

^Your impression seems spot-on, Carrie.
#5 - August 20, 2011, 10:07 AM
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What a tricky business this is, especially for PB writers. I am a bit disheartened by Pam's story -- that an editor won't work with an unagented multipublished picture book writer whose work she admires -- but I am very grateful to her for sharing it. (And congrats on the new agent, Pam!)
#6 - August 20, 2011, 10:14 AM
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I don't know how it is for a PB author (speaking as author/illustrator here) but my agent offered representation after I showed her a dummy and my illustration portfolio. I am unpublished.

I subbed my PB dummy digitally to four agents (UK based but worldwide rep) - I know I've probably just been very lucky but please don't be disheartened - I don't think anyone has any definitive answers but maybe having a dummy ready (if you can illustrate) or a selection of PB texts you will give yourself a better chance of being noticed.

I documented my process from the start of my dummy to contacting agents on my blog - it kept me very motivated - here's the link if you'd like to read:

http://www.maxinelee.com/book-dummy-process/

xx
#7 - August 20, 2011, 11:25 AM
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Thanks, everyone. It's interesting to hear all these different perspectives. It sounds like I should just keep writing and working toward getting an agent -- possibly with occasional, well-placed subs to editors and fingers crossed. I was probably reading too much into the editor's comment at the conference.

Pam your story, especially, is eye-opening. Thanks for sharing...

Carrie
#8 - August 20, 2011, 01:10 PM
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I'm a PB writer who was signed by an agency this year, and then decided to quit the agency. Why? Several reasons but one was because unless you're already established as a PB writer, the agency will very likely only sub one MS at a time, often waiting months for responses. I found that very frustrating because I felt as though my hands were tied. I couldn't sub anything myself to publishing houses because, understandably, the agency wanted to present my best work in the best way (a single MS to carefully targeted publishers). But to me it just felt as though the long slow process was being drawn out even further!!!

There are a lot of closed publishing houses but I decided that for PBs at least I'd prefer to take my chances with the few houses that do take unagented submissions. It's not like I want to bombard them with stories, but it'd be nice to at least send out two different stories to different appropriate houses.

BUT! I think, for me at least, this only applies to PBs. I've had non-fiction adult books published and having an agent was fantastic. For the MG that I've got on the go, I'll definitely want an agent.

Good luck!
#9 - August 20, 2011, 05:39 PM

I think having the right agent would be great. But all the pb writers I know (non-illustrators) got agents after they already had something published and/or they also wrote a bit of MG or YA. So I guess I basically agree with your analysis.

Still, can't hurt to do some research and give it a try.
#10 - August 20, 2011, 06:51 PM
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It's certainly possible to get an agent if you only write picture books.  I have, and several PB crit group buddies have as well.  I am unpublished in book-length works.  Have 3-4 polished manuscripts ready to show them.  Good luck!
#11 - August 21, 2011, 05:27 AM
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Jody, it sure is nice to hear that it's possible!

And Carrie, I forgot to say good luck. I know you're a great writer so I'm betting you can make it happen if that's your choice.
#12 - August 21, 2011, 06:31 PM
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Thanks for your faith in me, Diana! That means a lot.  :)

Franziska, I'm sorry it didn't work out with your agent. That must have been so disappointing! I wonder if it was particular to your agent to be sending out one ms at a time, to one house? I guess I can sort of understand that strategy -- sort of like if you only have a few matches, don't burn through them all at once, I guess? Still, at that rate it could take a decade to shop a single manuscript. Unless they were counting on quicker responses from publishers than we'd get just by subbing directly? I don't know -- did they ever explain the strategy in more detail?

Jody, I think you're right, I need more finished stories. It's good to hear that it IS possible, though.

Thanks everyone!

Carrie
#13 - August 21, 2011, 08:59 PM
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I think the one MS at a time is fairly standard for as-yet unpublished writers. Once you've established a relationship with one editor, however, you could potentially send that editor one MS, and other editors a different MS... so the possibilities for more than one MS 'out there' at a time increases as you gain more experience. I know other very experienced PB authors who can put several MS out at a time via their agents.
#14 - August 22, 2011, 09:19 AM

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Thanks to everyone who shared their experiences with getting an agent or trying to get an agent.  I guess until I get my MG novel revised to the submitting stage, I will not try for an agent. I will just keep trying to submit my PBs to editors I see speaking at SCBWI conferences.
#15 - August 24, 2011, 01:25 PM

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