Sending Work to the Right Place
Agents and Publishers
While reference guides for writers can provide an invaluable ‘rough guide’ to the genres handled by agents and publishers, and prevent many common blunders such as sending agents sheaves of poems or directly approaching the commercial publishers who do not consider unsolicited manuscripts, nothing can make up for a first hand knowledge of who agents represent and who and what publishers actually publish. Read widely within your chosen genre and develop your taste. Over time a picture will build up of where you may or may not fit in to the market. Both agents and publishers will be able to identify those writers who have a fairly sophisticated knowledge of contemporary literature not only by the quality of their material but also the appropriateness of the approach to them. Those writers fully engaged with contemporary literature will inevitably always have the upper hand. Their work will reflect this fact both stylistically and materially - and they’ll be sending their work to the right place.
If you’re seeking publication through one of the commercial publishers, you’ll need to find an agent first. Use your writers’ reference book to help guide you. Look up agents and then search on the net for their client list. Who do they represent? Is there a pattern in the kind of writers and material they seem to favour? Think about the authors you feel an affinity with. Who are they represented by? Smart submission to agents is about having a clear idea of the work that they’re interested in and that they’ve had success with placing at good publishing houses. Only send to agents who fit with you and your work – and who you feel will take good care of both if you become their client.
Some authors end up pursuing publication through the independents because they were unable to find an agent – perhaps their work was not considered immediately commercial enough to sell to the metropolitan houses. But many new authors still visit the independents as their first port of call. Independent publishing has become increasingly sophisticated and stylish, and, although anxieties over distribution and marketing are not entirely unfounded (limited resources, alas, abide), the independent publisher has much to recommend them.
Not least they tend to exhibit a greater tendency towards risk. Coupled with which, the smaller houses are able to offer their writers the personal touch – something that many writers, both new and established, find both attractive and reassuring. And while the big commercial houses still dominate the literary awards (as one would expect, given their much larger output), independent publishers are doing well these days, too, with many of their writers picking up shortlistings and even wins.
If you intend to send directly to an independent, great care has to be taken in selecting a publisher that’s right for you. Evidently, those represented by agents who will pitch their work to the commercials don’t have this problem. Agents have identified the trends and are in the current of what the publisher is after - they‘ll have been told often enough over business lunches. But in pursuing the independent route you are your own representation. So read the books from independent publishers. Note the publishers whose output you’ve enjoyed. Visit their websites. And bear in mind that there is a fine balance to be struck for the independent publisher between replicating success with more of the same and creating a list that reflects variety and individual distinction. Many independents have broad lists - they need to, given that, for example, Welsh independents such as Seren or Parthian will not generally publish more than roughly two dozen titles in a year. Each author has to have their own very particular profile. In identifying which independents to send to, authors should consider the ‘tone’ of the house rather than subject matter. Are they edgy and quirky? More conservative? With a youthful bent or a broad base? Such considerations are very important. And don’t forget to consider the future of your book if you do publish with them, either. Is their website stylish and sophisticated, with a good online ordering facility? Do they adequately publicise their authors and their achievements on the website? Most of all, send to a place whose output you respect.