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agent? or Unsolicited manuscript?

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Hello,
Weeding my way through the mess of trying to figure out which direction to put my energy into and could use some help. I'm at the point where I have finished a 20k word MG fiction novel, its been edited, and am wondering if I should try and send out my manuscript to several publishers that accept unsolicited manuscripts? Or if I should focus more on securing a literary agent? If agent, what is the best recommended avenue to follow? Pay for a service like agent query or Jericho writers? or is there a way to find an agent without paying? Any advice is appreciated.
#1 - April 22, 2020, 08:54 AM

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Hey Devin

Have you gotten any 3rd party input on your manuscript? Critiquers? Beta readers? Have you let it sit for a bit before giving it another read? Have you had your computer read it aloud so that it doesn't use your assumed intonation?

The first and most important thing to do is to make sure you are submitting your best work.

As for where you send it: There are tons of resources. Some of free (MSWL or www.literaryrambles.com, for example) some are paid (e.g. Querytracker). Writer's Digest's Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market usually has a good essay on the topic and most libraries carry it.

But what's your focus? Are you one and done? Are you prolific? Are you planning to write for one age group or many? Are you writing in one genre or many? What kind of agent do you want? What kind of market (small or large) are you hoping to hit? How much do you want to be responsible for marketing and promotion?

You hopefully want a long term relationship and not just a swipe left (or right, or whatever it is).
#2 - April 22, 2020, 09:57 AM

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Thanks so much. Lots that I'm unsure of at this time as its my first work. I've had others read and critique it but can't seem to find a place where I can get more to look at it. This is the first of 2 or 3 books in this series. I'm not sure if I will stay MG or not. I will look into some of the resources you mentioned.  thx again.
#3 - April 22, 2020, 10:39 AM

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Devin, congratulations on finishing your first MG novel. Here are some helpful tips: https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?action=faq;sa=show;faqid=8

As to agent vs unsol. submissions, it really depends on what you want and there are a lot of pros and cons with both routes. For example, it can take a lot of time to find the right agent and even then, there's no guarantee of a sale. But an agent can get your story in the right hands for a nice deal.

I don't have an agent and never had one but I have a lot of contacts in the industry through my magazine work and writing for hire. I enjoy dealing with editors directly and although I wish I could have more trade contracts, there are enough open doors that I doubt I'd ever try to have an agent. I've built a modest career that brings me great joy.

Best of luck as you navigate this business.
#4 - April 22, 2020, 11:47 AM
Max & Dagny, Why in the World, Tongue-Tied, Bound, Ten Easter Eggs & 100+ bks/mags
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Whether you should first seek an agent or a publisher is something you have to weigh for yourself. However, please know that if you send it out to publishers yourself and get no bites, an agent is going to consider it shopped and is very unlikely to have any interest in something you've already sent out and gotten rejections on. So my advice is always get feedback from a critique group, edit/revise then if you're torn between agent and editor--go with agent.  Also, there's really no need to pay for information on agents. From your profile I can see you are an SCBWI member. You can access the FREE SCBWI guide called "The Book" from the SCBWI site. You can look at manuscript wish list  mswl  and you can access some information free at querytracker.com
#5 - April 22, 2020, 12:48 PM
Rebecca Langston-George
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Rebecca makes a good point--you can try editors after agents, but not agents after editors. One other thing that may help you is not to say "fiction novel". Novels are always fiction, and while that phrase is pretty common for newer writers, it does make you sound new. In a query you just want to say "novel."

Very best of luck! :goodluck
#6 - April 22, 2020, 04:24 PM
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Excellent tips! I will definitely start researching these links and sites. appreciate it. One last question though. If I send out the manuscript to publishers that accept unsolicited manuscripts and get no bites, wouldn't an agent still be a possibility since they would be sending to a whole new set of publishers whose doors are closed to unsolicited manuscripts?
#7 - April 22, 2020, 04:56 PM

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Devin, most agents wouldn't like a previously shopped ms, though if it's a small number of publishers, say 5, I think it'd be okay. You might want to mention it when you gain representation so that they don't send that ms to those editors. Best wishes.
#8 - April 22, 2020, 05:08 PM
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...wouldn't an agent still be a possibility since they would be sending to a whole new set of publishers whose doors are closed to unsolicited manuscripts?
It's so hard to sell in general--it's just such a tough business--that agents prefer not to start with a ms with strikes against it. Having been partially shopped lowers that ms's chance of being purchased, at least a little--and is likely to decrease an agent's interest in it. That doesn't mean you can't submit to publishers, of course--it's just good to be aware.

And as always, the best next step is to write the next book.
#9 - April 22, 2020, 05:28 PM
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Let's say there is a pool of a hundred editors who an agent thinks would like the manuscript you've written. A certain percentage will have something else similar in the work and reject for that reason. Another percentage will reject because the company has decided to change directions or lists are full for quite some time or any number of other reasons. The pool left will seriously consider your work, unless they already have.

The broader the list is for the agent, who may also edit the work before submitting, the better their chances of success.
#10 - April 22, 2020, 07:26 PM
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I've never been asked if I've sold something on my own. I guess previous publications, like conference attendance, etc. could show that you're serious about writing. But I don't think you need to sell a poem or article as a prerequisite to selling a novel.
#11 - April 23, 2020, 10:30 AM
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I don't think you need to sell a poem or article as a prerequisite to selling a novel.

Agreed. Shorter pieces used to be considered prerequisites for selling books, both in the sense of craft training and business experience. But that's no longer generally true. As to whether some smaller or niche publishers might require it, that would be specific to them.

25-30 years ago and longer, the industry wisdom was that you had to place several books on your own before a quality agent would consider you. And you got rep based on your body of work and what that said about your future potential, not necessarily on a manuscript-in-hand. But that all changed when almost every house closed to unagented subs. Now, agents are wide open to first-timers (first-time ready to be published, that is; few actual *first manuscripts* can get published). They all understand that the road to commercial publishing goes through an agent -- generally speaking.
#12 - April 23, 2020, 10:57 AM
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Just reread the OP. Please do not pay for a service. Learn the business, study agents, and write a great query that you have critiqued and revised at least as much as you did your manuscript and then submit on your own. Or go straight to editors with your query.
#13 - April 23, 2020, 06:22 PM
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Someone gave me several pieces of advice that I thought were helpful:
-1. Agents are overwhelmed with material.  They are looking for a reason to set your work aside.  Make sure you are fully ready to send it out.  Not just the chapters, but the query letter and synopsis. 

-2. Slow down.  Set the book aside a bit.  Let someone go through it (I used two people from upward.com).  Be willing to revise / edit.

-3. Know why you are writing - For me, I truly wanted to publish a book.  That was my first goal.  I wanted my new hobby / part-time career to have legitimacy.  I also knew I could spend the time pursuing an agent taking clinics, reading, and learning..  So I self published #1 and built into my writing life time to learn how to make #2 better.  I also learned a lot about publishing and marketing through that endeavor as well. 

#14 - June 24, 2020, 08:29 AM

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