My friend and mentor, Carolyn Howard-Johnson, is my “go-to” person when it comes to querying publishers. She has a terrific newsletter called Sharing with Writers in which she shares answers to questions asked by her readers. Recently, I had a client ask me a question that I felt would be better answered by an expert, so I referred the question to Carolyn. She shared her answer in her newsletter and I thought it only fitting that I also share this helpful information with my readers.
Here is the question:
“If an author must choose between pitching a query to a list of agents or to a list of publisher, which should she focus on? agents or publishers?”
And, here is Carolyn’s answer:
Yvonne, it depends on the title and the experience of the author. If she starts pitching to publishers without knowing much about how to determine what is best for her book, she may not get what's best for her book. That's because there are just so darn many ways to publish these days—combinations of subsidy (or partner) and POD presses and traditional, etc. She may not know what to look for.
Of course, pitching to both agents and publishers holds other dangers. That is avoiding the scam artists who abound in both areas of the publishing business. Avoid any agent who charges a reading fee or say they will represent the book if you buy other services first, like editing. The manuscript may well need editing and that advice might need to be taken, but the agent should not be making money from the service as either a referral fee or because the editing is a major part of her business.
Now, putting all that aside, it will depend on the factors like:
- Is this a genre that will require an agent to sell it to the publisher?
- Is this a title that will benefit from having a high-powered agent who has the contacts to go for a movie contract or other commercial prospects? Agents can sometimes even get a bidding war going.
- How much time does the author want to spend? It can take a long time to land the right agent and then more time for that agent to sell the book.
- Is this a title that will appeal to a small publisher? Your client should know that her proposals/query letters will not be read by big publishing houses in any case. She NEEDS an agent for that. So, if she is hoping for Knopf or Simon and Shuster, she will have to have an agent.