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  • Writer's pictureDavid L. Thompson

Get Yourself An Agent, Boy!


For the next few blog posts, I thought I would share a bit about my experiences with the writing process and the challenges of getting published. Bottom line - it's been an eye opening experience.


First of all, the publishing industry is under immense pressure just to survive, with consolidations of the large publishing houses resulting in fewer publishers available in the marketplace (see 1st link below). Those remaining big publishing houses (refered to as the Big Five) have to choose from a growing number of possible books from a growing number of aspiring authors. How do they choose what to accept for publication? Well, here is what I have learned while on my journey to becoming a published author:


1) Most publishing houses have chosen to specialize (to some extent) in particular areas. For example, Harlequin Romance (which is now a division of HaperCollins which is itself owned by NewsCorp...) will not publish a non-fiction book about the military tactics of the Roman Empire. Harlequin has developed brand loyalty by exclusively publishing romance novels that closely follow a particular formula (see 2nd link below). And while this is an obvious example of specialization, it represents what is happening more broadly across the industry as costs soar and margins shrink. Therefore, the publishing industry is contracting by both consolidation, and by limiting the kind of books that each surviving company is willing to publish. The more the publishing industry shrinks, the more difficult it is for a new author to find a publisher willing to accept their book.


2) Since most publishing houses don't have the staff needed to sift through the incredible volume of new material that is constantly being produced, many will no longer accept manuscripts directly from authors. Instead, they have downloaded the responsibility of triaging manuscripts to the literary agents (a literary agent is someone who represents an author and helps them become published). Most publishing houses will only work with a small cadre of literary agents - those who know and understand their core business (for example: will only send Harlequin those books that are romance novels meeting Harlequin's publication guidelines). The literary agents therefore act as gate keepers for the publishers which speeds up the review and decision making process at the publishing house itself.


All of this means that an author who wants to publish a book using a traditional publisher should first find a literary agent that works with the publishing houses that accept the kind of books that the author is writing. Right?

Right.

It's simple.

A piece of cake.

Not a problem.

Well... hold on a minute. It might not be so easy...


In my next blog entry, I'll share what I've learned about finding a literary agent. To repeat myself from earlier, that process was eye opening...




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