Writer’s Toolbox

Ask The Writer

Your most pressing and perplexing questions about writing answered here by Gotham teacher Brandi Reissenweber.

Do I need an agent for the submission of a first novel?

Most of the large publishing houses do not accept unagented submissions. So, if you want to submit to them, you’ll need one. And having an agent can be quite beneficial. In addition to the insider knowledge that puts your book in the hands of editors who are well suited for your work, agents also know the ins and outs of publishing contracts and should be able to negotiate the best deal. (For more on securing a reputable agent, see the previous Q&A: finding an agent.) Still, there are plenty of smaller presses that don’t require an agent. In fact, some prefer to work with authors directly. And some authors prefer this, too.

One kind of press isn’t inherently better than the other. Large publishing houses may have more financial resources and connections that can help your book reach readers. On the other hand, your book will be one of hundreds that year. If it isn’t one they’ve decided to highlight, you could feel lost in the shuffle. Smaller presses publish fewer books per year and are often operating on a limited budget. Still, many authors find their books thrive with the more focused commitment and attention.

If you’re interested in submitting your work without an agent, look at university presses, such as The University of Wisconsin Press and Indiana University Press, as well as independent presses, such as Kore Press and Graywolf Press. Be sure to read their guidelines for submitting a proposal carefully. Keep close track of their catalogue, too. Small presses tend to be very focused in what they publish and you want to make sure you choose presses interested in the kind of work you write.

Another means of publishing without an agent is the book contest. Some presses and literary arts organization have annual contests for book length manuscripts that offer a cash prize as well as a standard publishing contract. Some of these cater to first books, while others are open to previously published authors.