The Never Ending Agent Issue.

Although I’ve had one book published, and another is to be published shortly, I don’t have an agent.  I’m not self published (thank you Hague Publishing!), and not really in a position for agent hunting right now, due to my current publishing commitments, but I was prompted to think about the whole agent thing again this week, as a result of helping to start a writers’ group in my region.

As the seven of us chatted about what we’d like to do as a group, the question of “How do I get published?” popped up. We’ll be talking about it the next time we meet, and we’ll have a look at all the options, and those of us who have been published will tell their stories.

This is a little bit of mine.

When my first manuscript was complete, I went looking for an agent. I’d carefully read all the information that the NSW Writers Centre had on whether I should look for one or submit to a publisher directly, so I decided that the appropriate method would be to attract an agent, who would then approach a publisher.

Consequently, I went to the Australian Literary Agents Association (ALAA) page and began to look at the available agents. The advice on the page was very sound – it was all about helping authors and keeping them safe from dodgy contracts and unscrupulous publishers, but there was a problem. At the time (this was several years ago), there were very few literary agents even accepting submissions. Of those few agents who were actually accepting submissions, only two accepted manuscripts in my genre, and then only after a phoned enquiry.

I duly phoned both agents’ offices, and one asked me to post a certain amount of manuscript to them. Feeling excited, I promptly formatted my manuscript as requested, printed the appropriate bits off, agonised over the synopsis and query letter – and I do mean AGONISED – and then posted off my hopes and dreams. Eight weeks later, my manuscript returned with a polite covering letter telling me that the answer was a no. I was sad. Not sad that one agent had rejected me, because I’m quite realistic about rejection from agents (JK Rowling was rejected multiple times!) and publishers, but sad that I appeared to have no other avenues to submit to.

My now published book is Science Fiction – adventure Sci-fi. It has aliens, glow-in-the-dark cats and a dangerous planet that constantly challenges my main protagonist. Most literary agents in Australia don’t accept Sci-fi or Fantasy.

To cut a long story short, after reviewing my manuscript, editing it several more times and deciding it needed to be more than one book, I happened to be browsing the NSW Writers Centre newsletter. There was an advertisement next to “Opportunities for Writers” placed there by Hague Publishing. Hague was looking for authors writing speculative fiction – Sci-fi, Fantasy and Horror, to be published as eBooks, so I wandered off to Hague’s page on the net, had a read and decided to submit using the online submission manager.  Then we went on a month’s holiday. On the 8th of January 2012, I received an acceptance email – and woke up the whole family to tell them about it.

No agent. Not how it ‘should’ have happened in the world of publishing, but still wonderful. Having said that, the information at the NSW Writers Centre and the ALAA had taught me enough that I was able to look at Hague Publishing’s site knowing what to look for in both a publisher and a contract, and all of the boxes were ticked. (Thank you.)

Today I went back to the ALAA page to have another look at what the agent situation is looking like right now, so that I’ll have the info on agents at my fingertips at the next Brook and Beyond Writers’ Group meeting.

As it stands, there are fourteen agencies listed. Ten are currently accepting submissions. Five will accept submissions from people writing Science Fiction or Fantasy. Seven of those who accept submissions will do so electronically – but only four of them want manuscript pages, the other three accept only the initial inquiry. Quite a number won’t accept manuscripts from unpublished children’s authors. Others only accept non-fiction. A number are actively looking for literary fiction.

With my interest now piqued, I’ve just gone looking to see what it is that we Australians like to read. Sadly, a cursory search didn’t provide me with much information, which I found slightly odd given the plethora of stuff that’s usually available on the internet, but I did find this article on The Conversation website. One of the things it stated was “Last year, the top most-read children’s books – at least in the UK – was almost entirely comprised of fantasy novels.” Fascinating information, and as a result I’m left wondering why more agents don’t wish to represent more speculative fiction authors. If anyone has some insights, I’d love to hear them.

The publishing scene has most definitely changed – with the rise in self publishing, eBooks (love them!), and more publishers now opening themselves to submissions directly from authors, along with more of them accepting electronic submissions, in some ways it’s now a world of greater opportunities for authors, but also a world where a new book can be lost in the more crowded marketplace.

The world of publishing is a world in flux I think. I’m reminded by a comment made at the NSW Writers Centre Speculative Fiction Festival two years ago – apparently not even the publishers are sure where it’s all going. Maybe that’s a good thing. Who knows? I’ll watch, wait, and keep writing!

10 thoughts on “The Never Ending Agent Issue.

  1. I had a similar experience when seeking to get my first manuscript published and after an on again and off again desire to have a literary agent have discover in this age of flux… one isn’t really needed. In some ways, as they themselves can’t keep up with the publishing changes, can be a hinderance as they no longer have the contacts or know the best places to pitch to. Well, this is what I’ve gathered from other blogging authors! 🙂

    And I do know my local Writing Centre gently advised me against my currently publisher (when I was submitting my work to places) as they were new, independent and only into eBooks and the Centre felt I should aim higher.

    I aimed higher, but still feel I got the publisher I needed during these changing times. 😉

  2. I know exactly what you mean Janis! I’m also thinking that there are all kinds of prejudices connected with those words “aiming higher” as well, which are not necessarily helpful… 😉

  3. Yes, I was told to aim higher… but not coached in how to present my work at a higher level. As in, synopsis are my bane. I feel I am FINALLY getting on top of it… I hope. Actually known two authors have coached me on that, not the Centre.

    What new authors need are support, and the willingness to go out there try, ask questions and accept failures and if it’s their passion – keep going. 🙂

  4. Oh yes, the synopsis – sigh… It always gives me nightmares. There’s so much advice on the net about how to write them, and there’ also huge amounts of advice about how to write the query letter to the publisher and the agent as well – and so much is actually contradictory. It’s a tricky world for a new author.

    I agree completely about the need for support too. I’m not sure how close you actually are to your Writers Centre, but living rurally as I do, means that a trip to a workshop or festival is a quite an effort – it’s at least a four hour drive one way, and I live relatively close compared to others.

    I remember going to the Speculative Fiction Festival, and there were piles of people who obviously knew each other and quite a few of the presenters, and then there was me… It was one of those “go and say hello to someone, anyone,” moments.

  5. Although I live ‘rural’ I still live half an hour from the city. But the Writer’s Centre here holds most things in the evenings or night so not good for me due to kids and me hating driving the freeway at night. Not to diss them, but I actually didn’t renew my membership with them this year as I got so little out of them in the past two years. Their workshops seem more for aspiring writers or poets and are pretty one sided… as in ‘listen to us talk, we won’t ask questions’. But it could just be me. 😉

  6. It certainly seemed like a maze when I first dipped my toes in its waters, Desiree! It’s not too bad now, but it’s very much an uncertain world full of ups and downs.

    On the other hand, the stock market remains a mystery to me! 🙂

  7. Hi Maria,

    Marketing is always difficult for every author, but the thing I’ve read most frequently is that writers need to keep writing, so that they have an established list (track record if you like) of stories for readers.

    In today’s world of instant gratification, if a reader enjoys the first story, they’ll read it and then follow it up quickly with another, which is where eBooks come into their own.

    Otherwise, there are a million different methods of marketing. In today’s world, an online presence is important, but that online presence walks a fine line. In some social media ‘locations’ authors scream ceaselessly about their stories, which is often counterproductive.

    It’s a tricky world for authors. Perhaps it might be the subject of another post… 🙂

  8. I think your comment that “in some ways it’s now a world of greater opportunities for authors, but also a world where a new book can be lost in the more crowded marketplace” is deadon. Independent (self) publishing is making a steadily increasing proportion of published books.which makes getting the word out to readers who will like the book even more difficult.

    The question of synopsis’ is indeed a difficult one. I generally read at least the synopsis to make sure its the right genre, then the first page to check that the author can write. That first paragraph is generally the killer in about half the books I read, the synopsis isn’t that important for making a decision. Perhaps because so many of them aren’t terribly good.

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