Selling Your Book Without an Agent

Last week we talked about how to pitch your book to literary agents. But what if you don’t have an agent or don’t want an agent? Can you approach publishers directly on your own?

No and yes.

I say no first because most of the larger publishing houses will only consider books submitted by agents. They won’t even look at a book that comes directly from the author—unless you’re Stephen King or your brother-in-law works there. They depend on agents as the gatekeepers between them and the hordes of hungry authors looking for book contracts. Forget the big publishers with the million-dollar advances unless you have an agent.

But you can publish your book without an agent. Three of my books were published without any help from an agent. Chelsea House, Heyday Books, and Quill Driver Books are among the thousands of independent publishers and university presses that will consider unagented submissions. The advances may be smaller than you’d get at Random House or HarperCollins, but you also get more personalized attention because they don’t publish as many books.

How do you find these publishers and approach them?

The process is similar to submitting your book to agents. Look for publishers in books such as 2014 Writer’s Marketand Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents and magazines such as Writer’s Digest and Poets & Writers. Look at published books, especially books that are similar to yours, to see who put them out. Meet editors and publishers at writing conferences where you can pitch them the same way you pitch to agents.

As with agents, learn as much as you can about the publishers before you approach them. The most important thing about marketing your writing is to find the right publisher, the one for whom your book is a perfect fit. If all their books seem to be vampire stories, and you’re trying to sell a literary novel, move on. If they do mostly fiction, and you’re offering a nonfiction book about parenting, find another publisher. Once you find a likely place, study their website, look at the books they have published, and read their submission guidelines. Then follow those guidelines, sending a query, sample pages, synopsis, or full manuscript in the format they request. If they don’t consider unagented submissions, don’t expect to be the exception. Find a different publisher or go back to trying to get an agent.

Once you have an interested publisher, you may suddenly find it easy to get an agent to help you negotiate your contract. Or you might decide to proceed without one.

One other way to approach publishers that we haven’t discussed yet is by entering contests. Quite a few contests offer publication as the prize. Next time, we’ll talk about how to find these contests, how to put together a successful entry and whether it’s worth the effort.

I welcome your questions about any of this.

Now go write.

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