Doing the Agent/Big Four Thing

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by Gabino Iglesias

We’re almost done breaking down the multiple paths to publishing! If you’ve read this far, thank you. I’ve been having a blast. Also, the fine folks at Cemetery Gates Media aren’t tired of me yet, so there’s more coming. In any case, today we’re going to discuss the third route: Big Four publishing. If you decided that self-publishing is not for you and think some of the limitations of indie/small presses would be too much for you to overcome, then you probably want to have your book with a large press. Awesome! Now, here are some things to keep in mind:

You’ll probably need an agent.

There are a few big publishers out there who will work with you even if you don’t have an agent. There are also some big publishers that have open reading periods for unagented authors. For example, Tor Nightfire has one coming in June. They’re amazing and you should have them on your radar and send something. In any case, while these two things are great and they give opportunities to those who don’t have a literary agent, your chances of actually selling a manuscript increase exponentially when you do have an agent. I could write an entire piece on agents, but I won’t do that here. Instead, I’ll give you some pointers and things to watch out for or keep in mind. The first one is that you should understand that getting an agent is hard. Sure, some folks pull it off quickly, but most don’t. You want an agent who loves your work and is willing to put in the time to sell it, so them being extremely picky is actually a good thing. Also, remember that you want The Agent for you, not just an agent. Some agents sign a lot of folks trying to make a buck and then end up ghosting writers, so do your research and ask around. Lastly, keep in mind that publishing is a business, and agents are folks who should be willing to help you navigate that business and should be ready and willing to ask all your questions.

There will be an advance, and that changes everything.

One of the main reasons folks want to work with a big publishers is that there will be an advance. The thing to keep in mind is that the advance can be small, medium, or large. This means you can sign with a large publishers and not be able to quit your day job. Also, an advance means you have to sell enough books to earn out that advance before you see a penny from royalties, which is a crucial point many authors forget. Oh, and if your book bombs, you get to keep the advance, sure, but you’re also going to drag that for the rest of your career. Lastly, remember that the advance is not really entirely yours: your agent will get their 15% and the IRS will come knocking if you don’t give them their cut, so when you see an advance number online, remember those two things. Getting money up front changes everything. You now have to earn out. You have to use that money to survive while you sell something else. If it’s enough money to get you by, then you need to focus on marketing the book and writing the next one to keep the whole thing going. I know this is the dream, but you’re closer to a nice deal with a big publisher than you are to a multi-million dollar deal, so act accordingly.

Get ready to do some serious waiting.

If you want to work with a big press, you’re gonna have to do some serious waiting. You will wait for agents to reply. You will wait for agents to read your manuscript if they request the whole thing. You will have to wait while they send it out to publishers. Once you land a deal, you will have to wait to edit that thing again and then you will have to wait for the publisher to give you a pub date. That’s why you see book announcements that say the book will be published in a year. That’s normal. Get used to that idea. One of the best things about small publishers is that they can go from polished manuscript to you holding your book in your hands relatively quickly. That’s not the case with big publishers, so get used to waiting before you even start down that path.

The hustle is never over.

Ask any author working with a big press and they will all tell you the same thing: most authors aren’t happy with the support they get from their press and books never sell themselves. Sure, folks like James Patterson and Stephen King don’t seem to need help moving copies, but they exist on a different playing field. If you land a nice contract with a big publisher, they will probably do more for you than a small press would because they have a few dollars to put behind your book, but your book won’t explode unless you hustle the same way self-published and small press authors hustle. That’s a guarantee. Getting a book deal with a big publisher is a dream for many writers, but it’s hard to do and has a few extra elements that aren’t present in self-publishing and the small press world. Know the difference and pick the one you think best matches your goals. Self-publishing is awesome, as we’ve discussed here, but many authors don’t want to do it and prefer to do everything in their power to work with a big publisher. You should never tell someone who self-publishes to stop doing it and try to get an agent. Likewise, you should never tell someone is talking about how hard it is to get an agent that they should just quit their dream and self-publish. Folks have different ways of seeing their careers and they work for different things, so support everyone whether they want to self-publish, go with a small press, or go with a big publisher.

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