Wednesday, November 6, 2013

WRITERLY WISDOM: Margaret Greanias

Agent or Publisher?
By Margaret Greanias

As I’ve plunged headlong into my agent search, I can’t help but feel in limbo. Here I am, eager to share my HIGH-larious stories with the world – busily revising, tweaking, polishing (maybe too busily; ask my critique partners) and otherwise doing everything in my power to make them shine. But, when I shoot off an agent query, it disappears into the black hole of cyberspace, perhaps never to be heard from again. I’m left to wonder, “Was it read? Was it not read?”

Agents are the gatekeepers to publishing. They deflect thousands of manuscripts a year (cue space shields: Pew! Pew! Pew!). But they don’t have to be. Plenty of picture book authors have gotten published without one.

So why do I continue shooting my manuscripts at the agent cyberspace shield?

An agent will get your manuscript considered by the right editors. 

Successful agents work at maintaining personal relationships with editors. These personal relationships give them access to editor preferences and tastes, what’s selling and what’s not, wish lists and more. However, having that relationship with the editor goes beyond being able to tailor submissions. Just as in our own lives, editors are more likely to consider recommendations from trusted associates. In fact, fewer and fewer publishing houses are open to unagented submissions.

Agents have expertise in negotiating book deals, contracts and the industry in general. 

Agents know standard advances and royalty rates as well as other technical publishing stuff like foreign, digital, film and audio rights (my eyes are glazing, glazing, glazing and…their crossed). In addition, if a manuscript gets stalled somewhere in the process between acquisitions and printing – agents have the know-how and know-who (at least more so than this writer) to potentially help un-stall it.

Agents act as the buffer between authors and publishers. 

Agents handle tension-filled issues like business and money so we can maintain our fluffy cloud relationships with editors.

Agents have book smarts (in a useful way). 

It’s an agent’s job to know books and the book market. Some are editorial and help you revise, tweak and polish your manuscript until it shines. Others are more business-savvy and can help you market yourself and your book. Either way, they are a wealth of information on books and can help advance your authoring career.

So why wouldn’t a writer automatically go the agent route? Here are some considerations:

Agents serve as gatekeepers – gatekeepers who have their own tastes and preferences. 

By going the agent route, you’ll need to find an agent who loves your manuscript (and most likely your body of work). That agent will need to find an editor who loves your manuscript. If you submit direct, that’s one less roadblock to getting your manuscript published.

The agent-writer relationship is a long-term commitment. 

Bad news commitment-phobes, but it’s true. You want an agent who will guide your writing career. Someone who does not work the way you expect can increase your anxiety and frustration. Even worse, a bad agent may be worse than no agent at all because they can damage your morale and potentially your chances of getting published.

Some publishers are open to unagented authors. 

While many of the big publishing houses are closed, there are quite a few reputable houses still open to unagented submissions. In fact, I was very surprised by the number of open houses I found. Check them out!

·      Arthur A. Levine Books (
·      Capstone Publishing ( )
·      Dawn Publications (
·      Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers (
·      Lee & Low (
·      Sky Pony Press (
·      Tanglewood Books (
·      and many, many more.

However, there is no guarantee your submission or query will be read. Your submission will become part of the infamous Slush Pile. Most houses (like agents) only respond if interested. Also to beware: some publishing houses do not accept simultaneous submissions. This means your manuscript could be off the market until a publisher responds or does not respond to you (not very fair, is it?).

You too may submit to closed houses. 

In special cases, you may submit to normally closed houses. You may do so by attending conferences, submitting during special (rare) submission windows and also being a member of specific writer groups (I recently heard of an exclusive submission to a closed publisher through the Children’s Writer ( newsletter). These submissions do not guarantee a response.

You can negotiate your own contract. 

Say you land your own book deal (you industrious writer, you). Resources are available to help you wade through the legalese. SCBWI offers The ESSENTIAL GUIDE to PUBLISHING for CHILDREN available for sale or free download ( which includes FAQS on contracts. The Authors Guild ( and the Literary Market Place ( can recommend literary lawyers, who will help you negotiate your own contract and save you from paying from agency commission.

You keep your earnings. 

No agent? No agency commission. Enough said.

There you have it: considerations when choosing agent or publisher. If you have any additions, please feel free to chime in below.

I’m still in the agent camp. For me, the benefits outweigh the negatives. What about you?

Margaret Greanias is a picture book writer who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She writes picture books and is currently brewing up a batch of middle grade ideas. 
You can connect with her on Twitter @


  1. Yup, I'm in the agent camp, too, for now, although your arguments against it are convincing. I just want to try to go this route, first! In the hopes that I can get some expert help in navigating the publishing world :)

    I hear you, though - I'm querying too, and it's HARD to not know if anyone is reading what you send. Hang in there, and keep trying!! Everyone says that even the most successful authors were rejected a ton of times before they were accepted.

  2. Hi Liz! I'm really collecting the rejections right now but there are a lot of very nice, personal ones so I feel very blessed. One day I might be lucky enough to see my name in print on my own book but until then I'm having so much fun querying, writing, revising, and celebrating the success of my writer friends...;~)

    Thanks for stopping by and come back any time!

  3. Thanks for giving me a closer look at both of these! Thanks!

    1. Hi Erik! There are only two more months of this series for the year...I hope you are saving up these wonderfully informative post for future reference...;~)

      Thanks for stopping by and come back any time!

  4. Hi Donna,

    I have been inundated with work lately and am finding it hard to squeeze every hour out of every day. My site has stalled a little and was due to be officially launched Nov 5 but now I have put it back until Dec 1 As I am fully aware I have no control over my own destiny and that a wisdom far greater than my own insists on manipulating my movements for other purposes, the rocks in the road are like everything else.... there for a reason.

    I am promoting a competition in memory of my long-suffering parents which initially was to run throughout this month. Now I am in a position to offer a better prize and it is time for me to give something back. First prize is a years free premium subscription to the authorlearningcenter The competition will now run throughout December and is for amateur writers/bloggers i.e. those yet to receive an income from writing. Another problem I have is independently judging the most appropriate winner and I would like to ask yourself and Janet to be the other two judges.

    I would like you to judge because if you were to enter then it would in my view be just a case of choosing runners-up. As you have set me on this path (trust me you simply have no idea the impact you have made on the lives of others) and over the last couple of years I have seen the wisdom and empathy in your posts. I would like to invite you to check out this authorlearningcenter to assess the worth of this prize. Of course this means I will provide you with a years free premium membership. I hope you can find time to check it out and maybe you can use what you find there (good or bad) in future posts on this amazingly informative and selfless blog.

    With time getting on I would like to - on your acceptance - send you the subscription within the next day or two so you can peruse it at leisure, There will be no cost to yourself whatsoever, this is a thank you for your work and words of encouragement. Could you e-mail me at and I will give you the full details.

  5. Hi JP! I am honored you think so highly of my musings on this blog and through my posts have felt I play some small part in the writer's path on which you now find yourself. While I think you might view me through rose colored glasses, I am still profoundly happy you are finding your voice as a storyteller and wish you the most heartfelt continued success with all your writing endeavors.

    As to the judging of your contest, I would be honored to be one of your judges (as I am sure Janet will feel the same) but I will send a private message to your email address to ascertain what is involved in the judging so that I will feel confident I can make a sound judgement call in the matter. And please don't feel it is necessary to provide me with a membership to the authorlearningcenter. If I feel qualified to provide my services as a judge for your contest I would do so of my own free will and payment of any type would not be necessary nor expected.

    Thanks for stopping by and come back any time!

  6. You sell yourself short Donna, and I couldn't morally offer a prize I knew nothing about so my intent is rather selfish in the years subscription on offer because I simply have no time to investigate their services myself. I chose to comment on an older post (again) because I didn't want to detract from your current topic. I look forward to your e-mail, thank you.