As time passes, your situation can change. You may grow in confidence and want to expand the business side of self-publishing or, as income begins to come in, you may feel you can afford to employ someone to do work you’ve been doing yourself. If your book is a success, the demands of production and distribution might become more than you want to continue with as a self-published author.
We didn’t know how to manage larger scale distribution and we didn’t have the storage space or the finances to print in the numbers to meet the demand we experienced after the first few months. It was a fairly unusual decision to start looking for a publisher at that stage, selling a published book rather than a manuscript. I looked for a literary agent first, when I realised that it might prove difficult to make a direct submission to publishers myself in that situation.
Do I need an agent?
Just because you want to find a publisher doesn’t mean you need an agent. You can submit your self-published book to publishers directly yourself but a significant number of publishers will only accept submissions via an agent. Having an agent does make it easier to get your manuscript to a publisher. What an agent will do within their contract with you varies but the least you can expect is that he or she will do all the submissions and negotiations about publishing contracts and advise you accordingly, check the wording of contracts and make sure you get the best possible deal. At best, an agent will be a valued supporter and will advise on your professional journey forward as an author.
Submissions to literary agents
Much of the advice available seems contradictory, probably because every agent has their own requirements for submissions. When you submit to an agent, read their information carefully and do exactly what is asked for right down to the line spacing and font of the file you send. Like a publisher, an agent can receive thousands of manuscripts a year, perhaps hundreds each month.
Writing a synopsis
The synopsis you send to an agent or to a publisher can seem harder to write than the book itself. There is so much advice available about how to write a synopsis and it varies in a confusing way. You’ll probably be writing to a restricted word count or page limit and trying to encapsulate not just the plot but what’s important about the book and its themes. Most of all, stick to the guidelines for each submission but make it your own. Then sleep on it!
There are no rules that say you must have an agent and many authors don’t. An agent will submit your book to publishers for you but you can do that yourself. An agent will receive a percentage of your income from selling the book rights and any future income from sales (usually in the region of about 15%) so that’s a consideration but an agent might also be the person who secures you a better publishing deal than you could negotiate alone. Some agents offer the service of advising only at the contract stage. I thought that reading a publishing contract would be simple and straightforward, but I was very glad to have my agent’s advice because there was small print that, I realise now, I didn’t fully understand. I’ve often read that it’s more difficult to find an agent than a publisher and that isn’t surprising. The two aren’t so far apart because both need to be convinced that your book will sell well.