Thanks to today's online world and access almost anybody can be a published author. But there is a caveat to that title. Many authors choose to go the way of 100% self-publishing. Others go through what are considered vanity publishers who help authors get published in a similar fashion as those who do it all themselves. And then there is the traditional published authors how sign publishing contracts with major publishing houses and typically are represented by an agent.
For me, I've tried both the 100% self-published and the vanity publishing routes over the years.But that's not to say that I have no interest in finding a traditional publisher via an agent in the future.
My first published book, The HTML & ASP Handbook, was totally 100% on my own. I did all of the editing, the press release, the ISBN filing, etc. The only part that I did not do was the cover art. It was a cheap method of getting my book out there but looking back the quality of the book suffered. I rarely these days even claim that book at my own simply because I'm embarrassed by the poor quality of the book and its formatting. There is so much room for improvement to elevate the book's quality but the content is largely considered outdated with current web design technology and services so what's the point.
With my series The Ascension Legacy, I cast a wide net. I made a brief attempt to pitch the new book to an agent but came up empty. I had no experience with pitching books to agents. I had no real experience marketing a book. But more importantly, I had virtually no history or credits to my name. Eventually, I included self-publishing services, or vanity publishers as many call them, in my search for publishing opportunities.
A short while later, Newman Springs Publishing reached out and said they liked what I submitted and would be willing to help me get my books published for a fee. I eagerly agreed because those fees being charged to me included them providing services like copy editing, book formatting, cover art creation, ISBN registration, press releases, etc. A lot of the fees charged would go into all of the things that I knew from my previous experience I would need for a quality product to be achieved.
The hopes were that if I could get a few books released and hopefully build a following or enough interest that I could get a better shot at attracting an agent. Well, nearly 2 years after the release of Book 1 in The Ascension Legacy series and still no agent. I periodically submit queries to agents to see if anyone would be interested in picking up my current series and I also submit queries for my other completed manuscripts outside of The Ascension Legacy series.
There are hundreds of agents out there. Each with their own target genres and set of expectations. Many of them have different requirements for submissions which make it a bit tedious to query multiple agents quickly. Every few months I will search for agents that have profiles suggesting they are looking for works in the genres my work fall into and I will pick a dozen or so to query.
When querying agents, you have to be very careful to meet their individual requirements to even have a chance at them looking at your submission. Some want a full book synopsis. Some want a proper query letter. Some want the first X number or pages of the book where others may want the entire book. It may take hours to get a single submission completed, most of which either never get a response or may take weeks before receiving a form letter rejecting the submission with absolutely no feedback on why it was rejected or how to improve the query.
It seems that finding an agent, and thereby finding a traditional publisher for your work, is something of a catch-22. Agents want established authors but an established author likely already has an agent. Agents want celebrities but celebrities often have people doing the leg work for them and can contract with larger groups more easily due to their celebrity status. Agents want authors to complete lengthy applications with a variety of elements about their work but most amateur authors beginning their journey don't understand how this process works so the act of finding an agent is either more geared towards experienced authors or is designed in a way to facilitate a new industry of professional query submitters that authors hire for a fee to do the job of creating the various query requirements per agent, submitting queries, managing query statuses, etc.
I know the purpose of this excess is to also help agents filter or reduce the number of queries they have to process on a daily basis but it does beg the question of how many great authors have been overlooked because so much of the query process relies on things other than the actual book an author wants published. Someone may be a great fiction writer but a horrible marketer. So much of the query letter and synopsis relies on the writer's marketing skills and less on their story writing skills. Agents use these alternate writings to determine their interest in a book without ever having to read it. This means that if an author can't market their book effectively to an agent then they have a less chance of finding an agent.
So why is marketing important? Simply put, it doesn't matter which publishing route an author uses to get their book out into the retail space, sales will always be driven by the author and the author's marketing skills. Discussions with other authors and research seem to indicate that even authors with agents who go through traditional publishers are largely responsible for marketing their works. Agents get paid by selling the book to a publisher so an agent doesn't care about retail sales but a publisher wants books that will sale. If sales are driven by the author's ability to market the book, if the author can't market the book to an agent, how can the author market the book on the open retail market? Publishers won't be interested in a book that can't be sold because an author has poor marketing skills.
So what does it all mean?
It means that authors don't need an agent to get published but may be labeled with a stigma of being a sub-standard author because they went the self-publishing route whether it was 100% independently published or published with the help of a "vanity" publisher. It means that traditional publishers require their authors to not only be skilled writers but also skilled marketers. You not only have to be able to sell your book but also yourself. But more than that, it also means that with the bevy of agents out there, just because you don't find an agent on your first attempt doesn't mean that your book sucks. Finding an agent is like applying for a job. You won't get a call for an interview for every application you submit and equally, you won't get an offer from every interview you attend. Sometimes finding a job means putting in dozens of applications and attending multiple interviews to get a single offer and finding an agent is no different. Keep submitting queries. Keep learning how to improve your submissions. And most importantly, never stop believing in yourself.