When authors finish writing, editing and perfecting a new book, they typically have two choices. They can traditionally publish with the help of an agent, or they can self-publish their books via common platforms, like Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Kobo. Currently, traditional publishing makes up about 70 percent of the market, while self-publishing makes up about 30 percent of the market. The method you choose will primarily depend on your goals, your current and future skillset and the amount of cash you have available.

bookcatQuerying an Agent

An agent is an individual who has book industry contacts. They know other agents. They know editors at big publishing houses, and they have a team of professionals that help them determine whether or not a book is viable. In short, they have clout. You can look at them as the traditional publishing gatekeepers for publishers that only accept submissions from agents. (There are publishing houses that accept submissions directly from authors, but I’m not covering that in this article.)

What you need to understand is that there is no accreditation for agents. Becoming a book agent is really as simple as creating a website and saying that you are a literary agent. They do not need any education. There are no experience requirements. There’s no license or professional certifications, so authors need to be careful when choosing agents to query.



What to Look for in an Agent

  • They have experience, and it’s documented on their website. Look at their degrees, if they listed them. Ideally, you want to see something in English or Journalism or Business. You want to look for lists of other publishing houses or large agencies that they’ve worked for.

  • They have a track record of sales. If they say, I’ve been in business for 30 years, and I’ve sold 100 manuscripts, do the math. That’s 3 to 4 books a year. The average advance is $5,000, which means they are getting approximately $750 a book or $3,000 year. Someone is about to go out of business or become homeless if they do not have a second job, and if they do have a second job, how many books can they feasibly sell? How many new manuscripts can they read? Think about yourself if you work a full-time job. How much writing can you get done?

  • They have a client list. Look at their current client list. How many clients do they have? You want an agent with an active client list, but not a client list that’s so large you become a number or get forgotten.

  • Look at the books they’ve helped sell. Where is this agent most successful? Is this agent submitting to publishers who do not require an agent? If every book is submitted to a publishing house that accepts author submissions, you don’t need that agent because you can do exactly what that agent is doing for free.

  • They’re not peddling their own shit on their website. Lots of agents get into the business because they want to learn more about it in an effort to sell their own books. In short, they want to be you. They're just going about it in a different way. I understand the logic of this, butttt I wonder about their focus and dedication. If an agent is peddling their own line of books, whether it’s fiction or writing, editing or publishing self-help, you better believe their focus in on their own shit, not yours. And whatever you do, do NOT buy it. Buying an agent’s book or seminar or anything else they are peddling won’t help you. It will not increase your chances of landing that agent.

  • The agent is an author that saw flaws in the system and wants to help more authors become successful because too many good books get overlooked. I agree with that statement. Good authors with good books get rejected all the time for a variety of objective and subjective reasons. Here’s the problem with this. Agents, as they move through the system, learn more and get more successful and busy, start adopting the practices of every other agent out there. This means that if they were a trend-setter and achieving their goal, they won’t be for very long because they are getting inundated with manuscripts. The flip side is that they accepted everything that came across their desk and can’t sell a damned thing, so they have to narrow their focus in order to be successful.

Pros of Using an Agent

  • You have someone with industry experience on your side.

  • You gain access to all those publishers that only accept submissions from agents.

  • You could end up with a higher advance due to the agent negotiating on your behalf.

  • You have a fresh set of eyes that can help you make changes to your novel in order to increase its odds of getting accepted by a publisher.

  • Getting a book contract means that your book will be available in bookstores.

  • You may get promotional opportunities, like book events and book signings.

  • The agent may promote your new book at writer’s conferences.

  • You may get asked to speak at writer’s conferences.

Cons of Using an Agent

  • You will give 15 percent of all your royalties, including your advance to the agent. (This is how they get paid for their services.)

  • Some agents charge extra fees, like for phone calls and postage. (This is a gray area and should be covered under the 15 percent, but some agents still charge for “extra” services.) Overseas percentages tend to hover around 20 percent. This means that if you sell books in other countries, your agent will get 20 percent of your royalties.)

  • You will spend months, if not years, querying agents. It is really a long process. I think they state that the average is 4 to 6 months. Expect it to be longer, much much longer.

  • You may never get an agent. You may spend all those months and years querying only to end up with nothing but a bunch of rejection letters.

  • You could get scammed. If you get accepted by an unscrupulous agent, or they could steal your royalties or charge you way too much for those extra services.

  • You could accidentally submit your entire manuscript to an agent that is looking for new ideas for their own books. In which case, you probably won’t get that publishing contract, but you may damned well see your book or something very similar in print in the near future.

  • Your publication schedule is limited by the speed of your agent and/or publishing house.



Instead of finding an agent and traditionally publishing, you can self-publish. Similar to being an agent, anyone can be a self-published author. There are no degree requirements, no license requirements and no experience requirements other than you have to have a finished manuscript that you believe is good enough to be published.

What You Need to Be a Self-Published Author

  • A computer, tablet, laptop or device or access to such a device that allows you to write your novel

  • An Internet connection or access to an Internet connection

  • Software to write your novel. This can be Word (paid), Google Docs (free), LibreOffice (free), OpenOffice (free), yWriter (free), Bibisco (free), Scrivener (paid), WriteITNow (paid), WriteWay (paid) and Storyist (paid).

  • A book idea. This is self-explanatory, but in order to write a book, you need to have an idea for a book.

  • Freetime. You will need some time in order to write your novel. Depending on the amount of daily or weekly time you have to write, a novel can take anywhere from 30 days to 12 months to write, edit, perfect, format and publish.

  • Advanced Editing Software. In order to find typos, mistakes and other problems with your manuscript, you will likely need editing software that is more powerful than what is included with a word processor or even dedicated writing software. A few advanced pieces of editing software include Grammarly (free), AutorCrit (paid), ProWritingAid (paid, free version is useless), SmartEdit (free (Windows only)), EditMinion (free) and Hemingway (free).

  • A publishing account. Once you finish your manuscript, you’ll need a publishing platform, like Amazon, Kobo and Barnes and Noble. While these are not the only publishing platforms available, they are the top three and the easiest with which to use.

  • Graphics Software. If you plan to create your own book covers, you will need graphics software. I recommend either GIMP (free) or Photoshop (paid).

Pros of Self-Publishing

  • You control your work.

  • You will not have to split your royalties with an agent.

  • You can edit or update every aspect of your book whenever you feel like it.

  • You’ll be able to see your sales almost immediately.

  • You will receive royalties (if you sell a book).

  • You control advertising and marketing.

  • It’s faster than traditional publishing.

  • You can publish books as fast as you can write them.

Cons of Self-Publishing

  • You may not sell any books.

  • You’ll have to hire outside help, including brand promoters, editors, cover designers, graphic artists, paid ads, website hosting and website development teams, ect, if you want them with your own money.

  • You may not be able to get your books into bookstores.

  • You’ll sell less books than a traditionally published author on average.

  • It’s up to you to find and grab your audience.

  • You’ll have to manage many social media accounts (unless you hire someone for this.)

  • Book promotion is more intensive and takes longer than writing the actual book.

  • You’ll have to find your own book reviewers.

Whether you decide to query an agent or self-publish your book is entirely up to you. Weigh the pros and cons of each type of publishing and make your own informed decision. Whichever you decide, is the right choice for you.




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