Finding an agent

In today’s inbox:


“I’m an unpublished author getting ready to submit my book.  I’m writing a book in a genre I’m not sure how to define.  Can you give me some advice on agents or publishers to submit it to?”


This is a common question that I get asked many times each week in one form or another. 


Here’s what I always recommend.  First, I would start by approaching agents.  Major publishers do not look at unagented material, so the only way you’re going to get published by Simon & Schuster or HarperCollins is by having an agent. 


I have been published by every type of press in the universe – micro, small, midsize, ginormous – and I have to say that I’ve sold way more books and made a lot more money being published by midsize and ginormous publishers than I ever made working with small and micro publishers.  This is not to say I’m not grateful for the small publishers who publish some of my books.  For certain niche-oriented projects, they are the very best choice.  And I’m not saying the only reason to publish something is to make lots of money.  But if your options are “big publisher with excellent distribution and a way to get review copies into people’s hands” and “small publisher who can sometimes get a book into a distributor’s catalog,” you can see where I’m going with this.


So.  Start with agents.  If agents don’t bite, and you’re sure it’s because they simply can’t see the merit of your work, and not because your work needs work (so to speak), then you can certainly approach smaller publishers on your own.  You would query them the same way you would an agent (with a brief letter explaining what your book’s about, its genre and word length, and possibly a few sentences about yourself, if that has any bearing on the book – you’re a pastry chef, and the book is about pastry chefs, or you have won the Pulitzer prize, or you have had several other novels published by publishers people have heard of.)


Where to find out about agents: Agent Query is a good place to start; so is Preditors & Editors.  You will want to vet potential agents.  A good place to check out other writers’ experience is on the forums at, especially the Backgrounds and Bewares forum.


I do have an e-book for sale that goes over the basics of book publishing, including information on finding agents.


When you specify your book’s genre, don’t say, “It’s part-memoir, part-paranormal, part-contemporary romance with a little mystery thrown in.”  No one can sell that.  No one reads that genre.  Which is not to say no one would read a part-memoir, part-paranormal, part-contemporary romance with a little mystery thrown in. They just wouldn’t call it that, so neither should you.  Ask yourself, where would this book be shelved in the bookstore?  If you don’t know the answer, then just call it a novel.  Send your query about it to agents who represent novels.  Let them worry about what to call it.