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  Do You Really Need An Agent?
by Lee Masterson

Every How-To article and book these days seems to scream "Get an Agent and you can't fail!" Right?

Certainly the bigger publishing houses and even some of the bigger magazines discourage "unsolicited manuscripts", which means even they want to see you get an agent before you dump your work on their desks.

So it seems the only way to get into these publishing houses and become a published author is to get an agent.

The problem here is that most agents these days are inundated with manuscripts. They now have the capacity (and sheer volume) to be able to pick and choose which authors to represent. Most even state that they will only represent established authors.

So how do you attract an editor's attention without an agent?

Decide on Format
Will you submit your manuscript to a traditional print publisher, or are you keen to become one of the revolutionary e-published authors? Perhaps you are happy to self-publish, and retain any profit from sales for your own benefit, or maybe even Print on Demand is more suitable to your budget. Whatever your answer is, you still must decide how your novel is going to reach the world before aproaching publishing houses with 500 pages of your labor.

Read Guidelines Carefully
Most publishing houses are proud to announce that they WILL NOT accept unsolicited, or unagented, manuscripts. But the vast majority of them will take the time to read a short one-page query letter. Especially if you can prove you've taken the time to know what that editor already likes.

And yes, there really are still some publishing houses out there still willing to read unsolicited, unagented manuscripts. But only by reading the guidelines carefully will you know which ones these are!

Finding the Right Publisher
Take a look through the yellow pages, or do a quick search on the internet. You will learn very quickly that there are thousands of different book publishers out there, all needing more books, more authors, more more more...

Finding the right one for you, though, should be less than a minute's work.

Most writers read within similar styles and genres to which they write. So, go directly to your own bookshelf and pull out a couple of titles that are very similar in style and form to your own work. Then read the name of the publishing house from the spine, or from the inside cover. Usually, there will be an address and a contact number in there, too. Make the effort to call the publishing house and learn the name (and gender!) of the editor. In some cases, the author will even acknowledge the editor, giving you someone to query directly.

Professional Query
Armed with the name and contact address of a publishing house, which you know already likes your style of writing, create a short, professional query letter. Take a minute of your time to call the number listed within the book and don't forget to double check that the same editor still works there. Address your query directly to that editor.

These days, many editors and publishing houses prefer to specialize in a particular style or genre. Knowing in advance which houses and which editors handle work within your specific genre will put you ahead of the game. Of course, submitting a hard-boiled science fiction novel to an editor who specializes in romantic fantasy epics is only going to prove to that editor that you haven't done your homework.

Join writer's groups, workshops and mailing lists, and become an active member. You never know who other members might already know. A friendly word from one author might send your writing career ahead in leaps and bounds. On the other hand, your work might also benefit from some of the feedback other writers may offer.

Broaden Your Horizons
Write short stories in a similar genre to your novel, and submit them to magazines and web-zines. This has several positive effects.
-- You will be gaining all-important "professional published credits" with each sale, which make an query letter more enticing to an editor.
-- You might even earn a few dollars from your words.
-- And although the reader-following you may gain will be small, it will still be larger than no readership at all.

More Research
Of course, if you do manage to attract the attention of an editor, and that editor is willing to pay money to print your book, then is the time to go hunting for a professional, reputable, legitimate, experienced agent. Let's face it - if an author with a ready-to-go contract in his or her hand knocks on an agent's door, that agent is going to greet you with open arms.

A good agent will be able to negotiate terms and contract rights far better than you will, but that's a different article!

So the next time someone tells you that you NEED an agent to get published, remember - you only need yourself - and some homework on your intended market.

And keep writing!

Copyright Lee Masterson. All rights reserved


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