Finding an Agent or Publisher #amwriting

#4 Daughter, the amazing Sara Marian, and I have been asked how to find an agent or publisher. Sara had some excellent questions to ask in return and I, as an editor for small press Per Bastet Publications, have some insight into that, as well.

I’ll link to some resources, because there is no quick and easy way to find the right agent/publisher for you and your project, but this is where you should begin:

What have you written? Non-fiction or fiction? Mainstream, literary, genre, cross-over? Kinda-sorta like these other books that have been published, or totally other?

You may feel — and you may feel correctly — that what you’ve written is art or at least high craft, but you’re now stepping from the realm of creation into the world of business. You’ve passed from making into selling, and you need to do all you can to sell that book.

The first step is to analyze where it would fit in a bookstore. Where would it be shelved? How big is the market liable to be, assuming the publisher does nothing to promote it, which may very well happen. Sometimes publishers just throw a book at the wall and see if it sticks. It may be up to you to identify your market and get the word out about your book.

Do you want to approach an agent or a publisher? Do you want a small press or a major publisher?

Major publishers used to have slush piles: stacks of unsolicited submissions that were farmed out to by-the-piece readers or given to junior associates for an initial glance, to see if a book was worth bothering with. Thanks to cuts in staffing and expenditures, major publishers often rely on agents to be their first readers, and don’t accept unsolicited submissions. (See the next point.)

Small presses sometimes take unsolicited submissions, but small presses are usually small, meaning they don’t have a large editorial staff (Per Bastet has only me, God help us), so they may also discourage unsolicited submissions. They may accept submissions by invitation only or by pitch sessions at conventions. This isn’t out of snobbishness, but because they have to limit the number of titles they publish each year and don’t want to be overwhelmed. Small presses are also usually run by writers, who know how it feels to be put on hold for months and don’t want to subject other writers to that limbo. (See the next point.)

Some agents take clients who don’t already have a track record, some don’t. Some take unsolicited submissions, some only take submissions from people recommended by current clients, publishers, or other professionals. Conventions/workshops sometimes hold pitch sessions for agents as well as for publishers. (See the next point.)

Now comes the next point:


When you decide where you want to submit, look them up online (most, if not all, agents/publishers have an online presence these days). Compare what you may have found in print to what you find online. Folks switch places of business, people get promoted, and what was up-to-date in Writer’s Market 2016, printed in 2015, might or might not be the case in January 2017.

Whether the guidelines say so explicitly or not — and they shouldn’t have to say so — do not send a rough draft. Do not send a first or second draft. Send a finished, polished, spell-checked, grammar-checked, read and reread work that you would be delighted to pay cash money for.

BE ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN that the place you’re sending your work represents or publishes that sort of work. Format your query, proposal, sample chapters, or manuscript the way the place you’re submitting wants it submitted. If you don’t follow those first guidelines to present your work the way they want it presented, they won’t trust you to take critiques and suggestions for rewrites well.

Expect critiques and suggestions for rewrites

This isn’t about finding an agent or publisher, but bear it in mind. Your agent/editor will have opinions or house guidelines they’ll want your book to conform to. Your first reaction will probably be, “Oh, HELL, no! This is my book! This is my book! This is my book! This is my book!” After you do that, consider the suggested changes.

If you absolutely cannot make a particular one (or ones), ask if you may make a case for letting it stand. If the agent/editor says, “My way or the highway,” you may need to cut bait and take your work elsewhere. You have to balance artistic integrity against getting a reputation for being difficult to work with.


That’s plenty to digest for right now. Here are some resources:

How to Publish a Book is a WikiHow article (wif pitchurs), that leads you, step-by-step, through the processes from manuscript to marketing.

Finding a Publisher vs Finding an Agent is a good article on Novel Writing Help, a website with a world of information and helpful instructions.

Although SFWA stands for Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, good advice is good advice, and their How To Find a (Real) Literary Agent is only one of many pieces comprising their Writer Beware series.

Over and over, you’ll see writing advice sites recommending QueryTracker. There’s a reason for that: They have good stuff there. Finding a Reputable Agent or Publisher is well worth your time.

Last, I recommend your reading Lois Winston’s post on Marilyn Meridith’s blog on her happy journey from a “real” publishing house to self-publishing.

A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: A character has to sell something they’ve made with love.






I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

You may also like...

One thought on “Finding an Agent or Publisher #amwriting

  1. Dan Antion

    December 19, 2016 at 8:46am

    I’m not sure I’ll ever need this, but it’s certainly interesting and helpful information. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply
    • Author

      Marian Allen

      December 19, 2016 at 10:53am

      You’re welcome, Dan. And you never know. I can see a book of If We Were Having A Beer posts.

      Permalink  ⋅ Reply
  2. Joey

    December 19, 2016 at 9:56am

    It’s good to share what you know. I would think that once one has actually FINISHED something, the rest would be easier, but I know I’m wrong. It should be perfectly obvious that every writer wants his book on the table at the front of the store and on the Best Seller shelves 😉

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply
    • Author

      Marian Allen

      December 19, 2016 at 10:55am

      “I would think that once one has actually FINISHED something, the rest would be easier,” Nope, nope, nope.

      “but I know I’m wrong.” Yep, yep, yep.

      Selling your work and yourself to an agent/publisher is hard work, and selling to the public is even harder. Yuck! “Hi! Like me! Buy my book!”

      Permalink  ⋅ Reply
  3. Jane

    December 19, 2016 at 10:00am

    Really good post!
    As you know all too well, some really effective agents only want books that are a breeze to market; i.e., fit neatly into publishers’ categories for books that will stay on the shelf for one month exactly and then be collected and remaindered (or whatever). Agent gets her cut; bye, bye, author; ’til next time!

    These are reallly good tips!

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply
    • Author

      Marian Allen

      December 19, 2016 at 10:56am

      Well, when you step into the business part of writing, it’s … you know … business. Alien territory for a lot of us.

      Permalink  ⋅ Reply
  4. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

    December 19, 2016 at 3:24pm

    ‘Send a finished, polished, spell-checked, grammar-checked, read and reread work that you would be delighted to pay cash money for.’

    If you’ve really gotten to that point – willing to pay money for – you can put it up on Amazon and sell it (unless you want their critique, are willing to work with someone whose edits you may not appreciate, or want any of the other perks or potential perks of traditional publishing).

    Getting it to the truly clean, finished, polished state is much harder than your think – and very satisfying.

    PS Thanks for the tweets and the keywords – what a lovely feature.

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply
    • Author

      Marian Allen

      December 20, 2016 at 7:47am

      You certainly can put the book up yourself, Alicia! I put up four books myself, to learn the process, if nothing else. They’re still there, occasionally selling a copy. I never go around to putting them in print. Now that I’m with Per Bastet Publications, I’m being encouraged to take most of the stories from the two books with strong animal characters in them, add some of my other animal-based stories, and put out a print/electronic version of the bigger book.

      Traditional, small press, self-publishing (NOT vanity press, which takes your money and then forces you to buy your own books!) — all have drawbacks and all have benefits. Some of us have to weigh those drawbacks against those benefits, and some of us fit seamlessly with NO drawbacks into one of those … what’s the buzzword? … paradigms.

      Publishing is like writing, in this way: Do whatever works. 🙂

      Permalink  ⋅ Reply

Leave a Reply, If You Ple-az

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.