How To Be Your Own Agent

Many inmates write.  They write novels, plays, screenplays, short stories, etc.  Some want to be published.  Finding an agent is a daunting task for anyone, and especially so for someone in prison.  Here's a suggestion:  why not act as your own agent?

Here's how to do it:

In today’s world, commonplace wisdom states that you need a literary agent if you want to be published.  So authors spend lots of time sending out query letters and/or proposals to literary agents.  Sixty percent of agents don’t even read the queries, they just shoot back a standard rejection letter.  Another 38 percent of agents either have a stable of authors that is already full, or they specialize in a genre that is different from what you write.  Which means about two percent of all literary agents might be interested in taking on new authors. 

So what do you do?

You act as your own agent.  It’s easy and it works.  Right, you say sarcastically.  But what about all the publishers in Writers Market that state very succinctly “we only accept submissions from literary agents?”  That’s what they say.  But it’s a smoke screen. Otherwise the editors at the publishing houses would have thousands of submissions a week and never get any work done.  The reality is this:  sixty to eighty percent of the editors at the big publishers will take a look at what you send them, whether it’s a query letter or a proposal.  What they won’t take a look at is e-mail attachments or complete manuscripts.  So just send them your query letter or your proposal in the body of the e-mail.  If they are intrigued, they’ll ask for more.

Why will they read your query or your proposal?  Because publishing is a $24 billion dollar a year industry, which means it is a big machine.  And the big machine needs to be fed.  Which means it needs lots of manuscripts.  So if your idea is any good and if you can write, then some publisher wants to publish it.

There are two ways to send your query or proposal to editors at the publishing houses.  The first way is called ‘the multiple hit’ method.  You shoot your query letter or proposal out to everybody and his mother.  To use this method, you to go to Everyone Who’s Anyone in Publishing, which is a great website run by Gerard Jones.  Just click on U.S. Editors and Publishers and voila!  There they all are.  Simply go down the list of editors, click on their e-mail addresses, copy your query letter into the e-mail and send it. 

Be sure to personalize your query.  Don’t just address the e-mail to Whom it Concerns or Dear Editor.  Take the time and the effort to put in the editor’s name and be sure to put Query Letter for (Your Title) in the subject line.  Then shoot it off to the editor.

Also, only one address on each e-mail.  If you send out mass mailings, it depersonalizes the whole process.  Which is rude and means it probably will not be read or considered.

The second way to send out your query letter or proposal is the ‘target’ method.  In this method, you go to Amazon.com and find out which publishers publish the type of book you have written.  For example, let’s say you write True Crime.  On Amazon.com click on Bestsellers or Hot New Releases, then click on Non-fiction, then click on True Accounts, and finally click on True Crime.  You will find yourself looking at the 100  Bestsellers or Hot New Releases in True Crime. 

All you have to do now is run down the list, noting the publishers’ names.  Once you have the names of about 30 or 40 of them, go to Everyone Who’s Anyone in Publishing.  Scroll down to each publisher on your list.  There you will find the editors for that publisher, along with their e-mail addresses.  Now all you have to do is send them your query letter or your proposal.

If an editor gets back to you and says he/she wants to see the first three chapters of your manuscript, send it off right away.  If the editor really likes it, he may ask for an exclusive, which means he wants first shot at your book.  Until he gets back to you and says either yes or no, everyone else has to wait.  You have to decide if you will grant the exclusive or not. 

While you are acting as your own agent, don’t forget the independent publishers and the university presses.  Just because they’re smaller doesn’t mean they’re not just as good as the huge publishers.  In fact, in many ways they are better.  They take more interest in you and your book. 

A few recommended independent publishers are:  ECW Press, which is located in Toronto, Canada; Kensington Books in New York City, and Trine Day, which operates out of Oregon and has published a number of quirky bestsellers.  Indeed, there are hundreds of independent and university publishers.

Once an editor wants your book, then comes the fun part – negotiating the contract.  This part scares some authors, but it’s easy too.  We’ll cover contract negotiations in another article.