Back Story 3 – Agents

Persuading a stranger to read your book is hard enough. Convincing someone who knows the book business to take you on, roll up her sleeves, and start selling you and your tale to a bonafide publisher is trickier.

But I found one, a reputable agent with an impressive track record and client list. She packed up my story, shipped it out, and got a mess of publishers to take a look. Some read several chapters, some never responded. The ones who read it were impressed – I saved the emails – but not enough to buy the manuscript.

When I pointed out that their feedback was inconsistent – some praised it for the same reason others criticized it – my agent said they were all dopes. Regardless, there was no sale, and no follow-up plan.

Eventually we parted company and I veered off in the direction of self-publishing. A year later, I’m further along now than I ever got with an agent.

There is one point upon which agents, publishers and probably most authors will agree – that success lies in the ancient art of pitching and selling. More than ever, that is now in the hands of authors willing to use social media tools to skip past agents and publishers and appeal directly to readers. It’s painstaking but exciting work, and there is real satisfaction in knowing that no one but average readers will decide whether Bella is worth their time.

I’d like to know your thoughts; please join the conversation.

7 Comments so far »

  1. Shawn Lamb said,

    Wrote on March 29, 2011 @ 2:37 pm

    Word of mouth – the only tried and true method of PR. I had an agent and 2 PR people the year my series started and dismal results as well. I’ve generated more interest, reviews and interviews then all of them combined. Sales are still low, but I’m getting my name out and NOT having to pay lots of bucks for nothing.


  2. Jenny Milchman said,

    Wrote on March 30, 2011 @ 1:35 am

    You put your finger on it exactly–if readers decide is that the wisdom of crowds weighing in? Or is something lost if no publisher signs off?

    I’m having more trouble letting go of the Dream, in whose direction I’ve been pushed for 11 years, over the course of 5 mss, and 3 (top) agents.

    But though sales have been dangled tantalizingly close–just recently all but one top person at Viking wanted to offer on my novel–no deal has yet been made. And it’s been a while. And the publishing world has changed. And people like you seem to be making perhaps even greater successes of themselves by being able to focus on one book that could not be more important to any publishing house than it is to the debut author.

    Given the right skills–marketing prowess, design savvy, in addition to writing and revising ones–is going it on your own a *better* option than being with a major?

    Can a book that is self-published wind up on the bestseller list if people have been saying it has that potential?

    Your website is beautiful, and your ideas–like the reader blurbs–inspired. I’m impressed and fascinated by your journey.

    And of course, now I must read the book. Maybe I can be added to your site map one day.


    stevepiacente Reply:

    Jenny and Shawn, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I wish I had a definitive answer. During my time in the Hopkins program, we had local authors in who had been published by big houses. Yet they moaned about lack of support and having to do most of their own promotion. What makes a story capture the public’s attention remains elusive. I say stick with your instincts, try your best to enjoy the process, and don’t quit the day job.


  3. Ingrid Ricks said,

    Wrote on August 4, 2011 @ 3:11 pm

    Steve/Jenny – my experience mirrors both of yours. Great agent, all top publishing houses read my manuscript — all said they really enjoyed it. Then they said the memoir market was too crowded to take it on. When I walked away from my agent a few weeks ago to go out on my own, she sounded on the verge of tears. She said she had just talked with a publisher who had lost 20 percent of their sales that day because of Borders going down. My agent said she was considering quitting the business. It all boils down to an author’s ability to market and sell their own book — regardless of whether a publisher picks it up or the author chooses to go it on their own. After my year with an agent and the fractured publishing world she fights against daily, I’ve concluded I’m much better doing it on my own. And instead of waiting for another two years to possibly get my book to market, I will have it out end of next month!!!


    stevepiacente Reply:

    Ingrid, I love your spirit and determination. Now go sell some books. I’m right behind you!


  4. Jenny Milchman said,

    Wrote on August 6, 2011 @ 11:36 pm

    Just came across this post for the second time, and was stunned to read my comment from the first. At that time my 11 year struggle towards traditional publication seemed to be fizzling. Now only a few months later, my debut novel is scheduled to come out from Ballantine in early 2013.

    This business can change on a dime, and that is true for indie authors as well as those traditionally pubbed. As long as we’re putting good material out there, and are willing to work like crazy at more than “just” the writing, success is within sight.

    Finding the way that’s right for you is much more a factor of timing and luck and opportunity that of there being any one right path.


    stevepiacente Reply:

    Well put, Jenny, and I’ll add that anyone embarking on this journey should be prepared for a marathon …


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