Small Press v. Agent

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Sep 28 2010

I am a faithful reader of your blog. I think I have read about similar situations, but I just can’t recall one exactly like this, or maybe I just couldn’t find it! I wrote a book a year and a half ago, and I queried it to a few agents. Although one or two requested partials, nothing came of that. (I never heard back from one, and the other rejected me.)

I was reading a book by a new author almost a year ago on my kindle and noticed that the editor in the credits accepted queries. I decided to try sending a partial (which they accepted with the query) to the editor, [small press here]. It’s a small press, but seems reputable, and I have spoken to that author via email. She said that although the money wasn’t huge from her book deal with them, it helped her land an agent who helped her sign a book deal with [big press here]. (Plus, let’s face it–if it’s all about money for me I should probably stick with my day job as a lawyer and quit messing around with fiction writing.)

Eight months after my original submission (two days ago) [small press] responded with some suggested edits and asked for a full manuscript once the edits were done. I agree the edits are a good idea.

Now to my question. Do I just send them my edited manuscript once I complete it? Or do I begin the query process all over again with agents first, hoping to find an agent who will handle a small contract? Do you think agents who have previously turned me down might be interested to know if a publisher is now interested, or should I only query agents who haven’t already turned me down before? (Even if they are my dream agents.)

Hope this isn’t too complicated/specific a question!

I loved the author’s tone and voice in this email, which is why I included the entire thing.

Here’s my advice. Finish the edited manuscript, send it to the editor and start querying agents at the same time. Let them know you’ve received a request from [small press] and, yes, if you want to requery agents do so, but only those who have not yet read the partial.

If you still don’t have an agent when the publisher’s offer comes in (always think positively), contact everyone who has yet to respond to see if you can turn that offer into an agent contract as well.


7 responses to “Small Press v. Agent”

  1. Avatar Fawn Neun says:

    I'm in s similar bind. I've received two offers from small digital publishers and the two larger digitals have already asked to counter offer, reviewed and and declined because it's YA. Yet the agents who have shown interest haven't yet responded to any of my requests for updates on status.
    Should I just go ahead and work it out with the one publisher I choose and hope it helps me catch an agent on the next book?

  2. There once was a debate in a writer's workshop I attended about e-publishing. An author had been trying to get published the traditional route and was having no luck, so was thinking about e-pubbing since it was "easy to get in." (Or so she thought at the time.) The best advice I've heard on this issue came from whatever published author was hosting that workshop. I think it may have been Sherrilyn Kenyon, but I can't be 100% sure of that.

    She said YOU have to decide what's best for your career but you need to decide early on and stick with that. Map out a plan…if that plan would work just as well with a small press or e-publisher, go for it. I finaled in a contest with a certain publisher and notified my agent about it (it was a contest I'd entered before contracting with her), only to find out this publisher I'd been querying for years was not a good one to work with. She said she would hate for me to start my career off with the wrong publisher…and it caused me to rethink everything. (This wasn't even a small publisher, by the way.) Sometimes we get so caught up in our quest to be published, we lose sight of the bigger picture…and we need to first figure out what's best for us, THEN go after it.

  3. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I was in a similar dilemma as Fawn Neun.

    I had three offers from ePublishers and the Full was out with another ePublisher and an agent.

    Since the ePub who had the Full had a reputation for being slow and agents are slow in general, I was worried I'd lose my only opportunity at publication if I waited.

    Especially since, if they responded at all, it would likely be a form rejection.

    I was sick of querying, had been at it several years.

    I declined the folks out with the Fulls and grabbed the most reputable ePub who'd already offered. Not saying that's the right decision for everyone, but I'm content with it. ePublishing works well with my life and that's what's most important to me.

    P.S. I never queried Bookends because the appropriate agent was closed to submissions at the time with no indication of when she might re-open.

  4. Avatar Anonymous says:

    It was a 'a bird in the hand is worth more than two in the bush.'

  5. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    Like so many, I grew frustrated with my inability to sell to a large publisher or find an agent. My stories never quite "fit" anywhere until I signed with a small press/epublisher in 1998–and believe me, in those days NO ONE knew what an ebook was. Epubs are in a position to take a chance on those different stories because the cost of production isn't the same as with a print publisher.

    My sales weren't great, but the reviews and contest wins were, and that gave me the confidence to continue writing and searching for an agent. I was still epubbed only when I signed with Jessica/BookEnds.

    I was still writing "out of the mainstream" type stories, but Jessica was willing to take a chance on me–our first sale was of a series already published by an epub, one that was different enough that the NY publisher who contracted me started an entirely new imprint and ended up buying a total of nine novellas and twelve novels in the series.

    Point being, we all take different roads to publication, but do your research, be certain the small pub–if you go with one–is reputable (there are lots of horror stories out there, and "Preditors and Editors" is a good place to start) and no matter what order you do it in, don't give up the search for good representation. A good agent makes all the difference in an author's career.

  6. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Ya know, five or ten years ago I would have agreed completely with your advice. But there are a few facts missing from this letter that are haunting me.

    Who is the small press? Is it strictly an e-publisher who only publishes e-books? The author said she read the book and found the publisher on her kindle, which would make sense.

    If it is and e-publisher, she might want to re-think what she's doing. E-publishers are great, and authors can make a little money. But not enough to warrant paying a percentage. I know; I've been there. Besides, there's just too much competition out there in e-publishing to hold out for advances and slick deals. In other words, e-publishers have so many authors submitting to them right now and there are so many good authors trying to sell e-books, no author can afford to be grand because there's always another one ready to take their place.

    And, at this point, from an agent's POV, I don't see how it would be financially wise to take on e-published authors unless the agent is building a *huge* stable of e-published authors and she's going for volume instead of big books.

  7. One point that authors in this situation need to know is they should agree to nothing before they talk to an agent.

    Often, the editor will state the terms in that first call when the writer is so high on "we want you" that she can't think straight. If the terms are agreed up by the author accepting, the agent can't improve the deal.

    Vicki Hinze in one of her great articles on the biz said that every new author waiting for "the call" should practice saying, "I'm interested, but I want to get an agent before I agree to anything."