Sunday, March 30, 2008

Published Writers who Can't Get Agents

I gave up my Saturday to do a presentation on Publishing in the 21st Century (and how things have changed since 9/11), followed by a panel on why some multi-published authors can't get agents for the Novelists Inc. Writers' Conference. Since this is a writers' group that is open to writers who have published a minimum of two novels, it's a very different kind of writers' group. The median number of books published by members was 16!

Many members have had multi-book deals in genre work (or even work for hire) and suddenly find it has become harder and harder to get published and/or they had a brief moment of success in the 80's or 90's and now no one will touch them, since the numbers on their last book were so bad.

So the panel I was on was on how to fight this, and it was fascinating.

Lois Winston from Ashley Grayson's agency actually had a whole list of reasons why this might be the case, which was so thorough that I told her to submit them as an article for Writer's Digest Magazine.

But, of course, the biggest reason is that the market has changed irrevocably since 2001, and today, every book has to be perfect (not too long or short and well crafted) and come with a marketing plan. Which means you have to have quotes, a website and a list of bookstores where you can do readings. Every book that sells to a major New York publisher, whether it is a mass market, trade paperback or hardcover must be able to guarantee 25,000 copies sold, or it will not be published by a major publisher.

And that is why so many authors find themselves without agents and publishers.

I know a lot of agents who will not take on an author who brings in less than $25,000 a year. Many of my authors were those discarded authors. I've since been able to bring them up to that level, but it's a long process of at least 3 to 5 years. So, as an agent, I have to be in love with the author's work in order to make that commitment.

And not every agent knows how to build an author. They only know how to sell what's given to them. I brainstorm with my authors on a regular basis. We hatch a plan, and if it doesn't work, we come up with another one. For me, this is the creative process that I bring to my work, but not every agent wants to do this work, or work this hard.


Anonymous said...

Could you take this a bit further. What about multiple published nonfiction writers who can't find an agent.


P.S. After reading your blog for several years, and your love of horror, you are my dream agent.

Christa M. Miller said...

It is too bad that publishers won't take a second chance on authors. 10-20 years is a long time for a writer to get better at writing. On the other hand, the prospect of finding fresh new talent must create a disincentive to support "older" authors.

Lori, just curious, where do small presses fit in your rebuilding strategy? I was told by one agent that as a sole proprietor, he could only afford to sell to larger houses, but I wonder if that's true for everyone (tanking economy notwithstanding).

Anonymous said...

Hi Lori
What about published nonfiction writers. Wonder if that makes it more difficult?

Anonymous said...

Every book must "come with a marketing plan. Which means you have to have quotes, a website and a list of bookstores where you can do readings."

This is simply not true. My book (NY agent/big agency--NY major publisher) comes with none of this. Yet I was able to get published. I am a debut author, know nobody in the business and have no platform.

I know that writers need to be aware of the odds against them and that getting one book published is no sure path to success, but making statements like this does not really inform hopeful authors about the reality of publishing.

You do have to write well, you do have to have a marketable book, you do have to realize that none of that will ensure you get published. But you don't have to just give up if you don't have a marketing plan and a platform and a list of readings set up.

Of course, if you write non-fiction, you do need a platform. But you don't specify that you are talking about non-fiction only.

ryan field said...

I think one thing that's always been very underestimated by writers is knowing the difference between an agent who knows how to build a career and one who simply shops and sells a project. But it's important information.

Kristine Overbrook said...

Wow, such a depressing post. If it wasn’t for all the story ideas struggling to break free from my mind I’d be tempted to stop writing. But I love what I do, so I’ll keep at it.

But I need to say, it’s amazing that new writers, or older ones for that matter, can manage to publish anything at all. As disheartening as it is for us writers, it must be more so for agents like yourself that have to sell to such a picky market.

So I will return to slogging through my current wip. :) Ah, the things we do for love.

Gina Black said...

This is fascinating.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lori
I found this post fascinating. What about authors who have had nonfiction published but have difficult breaking into fiction?

I enjoy your blog.

Roscoe James said...

I really enjoyed that. Thanks.

Nancy Matson said...

I don't quite understand why 9/11 prompted this. Or do you mean that because of the bad economy at that time led to changes that still exist today? Could you possibly explain this? Thanks.

Ada [The Duchess] said...

I may be extremely biased (as an unpublishes, aspiring writer), when I say this, but I'm going to go for it anyways.

I think it's a bit dangerous for some of those agents to be operating, soley on the basis of the return. I think it is, by all means, important for their writer to have livelihood. The writer's sucess is their success. However, I do find it a bit troubling that they have a cut off there.

Does it mean that if a writer drops just below for one particular year - for whatever particular reason - that they are sratched off the list?

Capitalism is the eradication of many things good.

Travis Erwin said...

Interesting. Sounds like your authors are very fortunate to ahve you and your experience in the business on their side.

As a yet unpublished author, at least in novel length, I hate to hear that staying there is as hard as getting there, but the facts are what they are and knowing the pitfalls ahead of time can only help later down the road. So thanks for these kind of posts.

Jennifer Macaire said...

Published author here with a Pushcart nomination, over twenty novels with six different publishers, two pen names, a film being made of one book, and no agent. Heaven knows I've tried to get an agent, and I had one for a while (before she decided she wanted to drop my paranoraml erotica for staright chick lit...) Anyhow, I keep sending e-queries to agents who accept them and I keep hoping, but like you say, I keep hoping I'll find an agent who falls in love with my writing and decides to stick with me for the long haul. And if I don't, well, I'm still in it for the long haul. LOL.

Ravenous Romance said...

Thanks for commenting. I will write a follow-up post next week, but just wanted to answer a few of the questions raised - it's easier to get a nonficiton contract, but not for a big book; first novels are easier to sell because the author's potential is unknown; this post wasn;t meant to be depressing - just realisitic.

JimmyT said...

Hi Lori,

Interesting post.

Do you recommend the author provide initial guidelines, directions and ideas around the marketing plan (and drive that activity), or is that something that you would work on with the author once you've decided the work has potential?


Ada [The Duchess] said...

Thanks Lori. We need to hear the truth, I think. Better to know not to dive into the shallow looking water then to dive and go head first towards jagged rocks. Thanks for answering questions.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of publishing 2nd books...I just finalled in the Dear Daughter Contest with the "Letters from the Heart Project." I heard about the contest on your blog, so thank you very much for mentioning it.

Do you have any publisher and/or release date information for the Dear Daughter book?

Wonder Man said...

This is good stuff to know, scary but good

Brittany said...

At first I did find this post kinda depressing, but then I got online, researched it a bit, and then read your recent reply, and I am now completely fascinated by this concept. This is a great post!

sumner_wilson said...


No wonder writers make superb drunks.

I remember a few years ago a writer by name of, John Kennedy Toole, tried and tried but was unable to find an agent or a publisher. Finally blew out his brains. His mother took his manuscript then and finally sold the thing. Guess what? Toole won the Pulitzer Prize. Lot of good that did the man. He wasn't around to know about it.