A local (Austin) writer with a moderately successful detective series tells me that he sold his first book direct to a small publishing house, and it sold well enough to finally attract an agent. I'm considering this strategy and wonder if anyone else here has tried it with any success?

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I sold my first book, POCKET-47, directly to a small press, but it wasn't the sales that got agents interested. It was the starred review in Publisher's Weekly.

Not I but I've heard of other authors who have.  If you've already tried big houses (the few who take direct submissions) and agents with no success, why not try reputable small publishers.  What do you have to lose?  Carpet bomb them quickly though so you don't waste a lot of time.  

Hope for the best and plan for the worst. Who knows where you'll wind up.

Well, my main concern is, I don't want to give up on the traditional route too early. I've queried 14 agents and gotten relatively positive responses (i.e., it's a good book, it'll sell, I'm not the right agent for it) but no offers of representation. Never having done this before, I dunno how many rejections is too many. Been querying since February. Should I give it a year? Six months?

Fourteen is low for all those months. Five a week would be good. Have you checked out agentquery.com? Lots of agents there, and you can target your search to those who represent your genre.


I like querytracker better. It's been a big help. I have one agent reading right now, but I guess I shouldn't let that stop me sending out more queries... it's weird, but it's kind of a psychological drain, sending them out, even though the process is just cutting and pasting (more or less). But you're right, I should probably be sending out more.

Just went through my old records. Back in "85" I queried over 80 agents about a hard-boiled novel.  Although maybe that just says something about my writing at the time.  On the other hand, only 2 asked to see anything.  Poor query letter?  I doubt it.  Anyone can write a good query letter, with unlimited time to do it and help if you need it.  I was surprised, and I guess discouraged, that so few even wanted to see anything.  Same time I made a $700.00 sale to Boys Life.  Anyway, I would suggest you try anything and everything and don't give up.  

It happens a lot. I've heard many stories like this. The thing is you never know what can happen unless you try. Your book selling has nothing to do with how it's published, I believe. If it's gonna sell well, it's gonna sell well regardless if that's in the cards for you.

I believe in fate and that things will happen how they should. But don't worry about how your book will sell. You are not at that stage yet. Focus on trying to get your work published then after that worry about sales.

One thing at a time and always be realistic and it's best to have low expectations so you won't be disappointed. LOL!

Try them all, I'd suggest, any agent you can get to, any large mainstream publisher and any small independent imprint. The more you throw something against the wall, the more likely it is to stick. Finding a small publisher is better than having your book lying in your drawer gathering dust. If you haven't been published, then even a small functioning publisher is a huge step in the right direction....towards further publishing avenues, eventually making a living etc.

Okay, I'm going to rock the boat here. Why would someone look for agent representation AFTER they sold to a small press? You hire an agent to sell your work, right? Once it's sold, why do you need an agent? Other than to pay them 15% of your earnings.

My advice,

Forget about querying agents, especially if you are looking at small presses. Put together a good submission packet that includes a professional cover letter, one page synopsis, and sample chapters. Submit it directly to the editor of the press you are interested in and see what happens. If an editor receives a professionally submitted proposal with a project they are interested in they will contact you. Plain and simple. I've seen it happen hundreds of times, without an agent.

Then, if an editor contacts you and offers you a contract, contact an IP (Intellectual Properties) attorney and have them review the contract for a flat fee (not 15% of the royalties for the rest of your life and beyond)

And before anyone yells at me and says the publishers will not accept unagented submissions, I say hogwash. I have received personal responses from editors in every major publishing house about novels I submitted requesting more (even from the so-called Big 6) either sample chapters or full manuscripts. No editor's going to look at project and say "Oh I wish I could buy this, but there's no agent. Too bad."
If you're getting the standard "we do not accept unagented submissions.." they are simply not interested.

Submit to editors, cut out the middleman. The game has changed.
David DeLee

I agree with David, but with emphasis on the IP lawyer.  Never trust a publisher.  They are not your friends.

One point though:  if your agency invests heavily in foreign sales, you are better off there. Publishers rarely make much of an effort there.


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