Q: Do I really need an agent to publish books?
A: Our opinion after a few decades in the publishing business? Yes, you need an agent. Sorry about that. You ought to be able to approach any publisher directly with your book ideas and proposals, but that’s just not the way publishing works in the 21st century.
An agent’s primary job is to build relationships with the decision-makers at the different publishing houses. That relationship-building allows him or her to approach a publisher for you, knowing that your work will at least be considered for publication. Without that connection, most publishers will either fire off a rejection without ever looking at your book, or even worse, ignore your submission and never respond to it.
That said, there are a few unique situations when you might not need an agent. They are:
- If you already have a relationship with a particular editor or publisher;
- if you have a friend that publishes with a particular house already and who passes on your manuscript to his or her editor;
- if you self-publish a book and it sells over 20,000 copies without the help of an established publishing company.
Q: If an agent is so critical to getting my work published, then why won’t you represent me?
A: Right now, the author roster at Nappaland Literary is full and we are generally unable to take on new clients that we don’t already know. This is not a reflection on your talent or inspiration, nor is it because we just like being mean to writers. It is simply a time issue.
We at Nappaland have chosen to invest not just in our writers’ books, but in our writers themselves. That means we have to be able to dedicate concentrated time and effort and planning into helping our authors pursue their passions with their books. With that kind of commitment, we can’t add to our author roster without adding hours to the day … something we haven’t figured out how to do yet.
Q: Why don’t you just hire more agents? Then you could handle more authors.
A: Hiring additional agents at Nappaland Literary is something we’ve considered. In the past, that step hasn’t made sense for us. But we’re not ruling it out forever.
Q: If you had more authors, you could make more money. Isn’t that enough motivation for you to consider representing my book?
A: The short answer to that question is … No.
Of course we’re aware that most literary agencies thrive on volume — that is, the more authors on the roster, the more opportunities to make a sale, which in turn leads to more residual income for the agency as a whole over the years. So, yes, maybe we could make more money if we were less stringent about our author count, and yes, we certainly like to make money. But that’s not the primary reason we’re in business. We exist to help our core authors pursue passionate, and fulfilling, writing lives.
We’d rather sell one work of literary art at bargain basement prices than sell a dozen mediocre bestsellers that mean nothing more than the paper they’re printed upon. In the end, eternity matters; so we choose to look closer at eternity and stay less focused on immediate profit potential.
Q: Are there any exceptions to your stupid “no new clients” rule?
A: Well, yes. Periodically, we’ll open the doors to unsolicited submissions. And regardless, we always read every query sent to us, no exceptions.
Additionally, if you’re an author who is recommended to us by a current client, or by someone we already know within the publishing industry, then we’ll consider adding you to our author roster. If you have that recommendation, then have the person recommending you contact us first. We’ll tell them what you can do next.
Q: Do you have any basic writing advice for people who are going to pursue a writing career with or without you?
A: Sure. Work hard. Be an artist, not just a writer. Devote time to understanding copyright law inside and out. Build an author platform that guarantees you can spread the word about your work. And (of course) read Mike Nappa’s book, 77 Reasons Why Your Book Was Rejected.