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Which is the cart and which is the horse?

Writing a book is one thing. Getting it published is another. Unless you choose to self-publish, you have to sell the book to an editor. The question is, is it easier/better to persuade the editor to buy the book first, and then get an agent before you sign the deal, or is better to get the agent first, and let him/her sell the book for you.

In the "olden days" of twenty or thirty years ago, most folks tended to take the first route. All publishers had slush piles. A book would "make it over the transom" and then that writer would find an agent. That's harder to do now, when a lot of publishers have stopped accepting unagented manuscripts. But, while it's true that there are more agents than editors, it's also true that agents aren't exactly pushovers, either. Some writers still try the first route—sell that book! Find an editor!

But if you write spec fic, who can you send it to? I did a recent quick survey of the big name houses in science fiction and fantasy. Part of the problem is that houses have consolidated, so there are fewer of them now. Here's what I found, based only on what's posted on the web. I put links to their submission guidelines because they're all different. I included everyone I knew who published science fiction and fantasy, counting paranormal romance as fantasy:

Science fiction and fantasy publishers for which you need an agent
Del Rey Books, Bantam, Dell, all parts of Random House
Harper Collins, includes Eos
Simon & Schuster (not sure they publish any science fiction or fantasy except for YA; Good news! see comment from Charlie below.)

Publishers who accept a full or partial m.s. without an agent
DAW Books -- they want the whole thing
Baen Books — send the whole thing; they prefer electronic submissions on their site
Tor Books, send a partial
Ace and Roc, two parts of Penguin Group, send a partial

Something in between
Avon Romance — they want a query first and then they might ask for a partial

A final thought.... if you send your book to every house on the "Don't need an agent" list and they all say no, and then you get an agent, you have to tell the agent the book has already been shopped around to those places.

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( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 24th, 2007 03:52 pm (UTC)
I'm pretty sure that Simon & Schuster has started buying SF, including a fantasy series by chris_r_evans.
Nov. 24th, 2007 04:30 pm (UTC)
Good to know!
Nov. 25th, 2007 10:56 pm (UTC)
Back when I was editing Science Fiction Age, I tried selling a book without an agent, figuring that I could get the attention and interest of an editor on my own, and then use an agent to negotiate and close the deal ... and even with those friendships, it still took over two years per editor to get rejected.

Unfortunately, even though at the time I thought the book was perfect and said everything I ever wanted to say on the subject of love, by the time it passed through three editors at that pace, I no longer liked it. I've improved in the years since it was written, and it's not up to my current standards, nor is it worth the effort of polishing in an attempt to bring it up to those standards. I doubt I will ever submit it again.

Which may explains why my focus is in short fiction these days.
Nov. 25th, 2007 11:47 pm (UTC)
A compelling argument for taking door number 2 (a.k.a., get the agent first)
Nov. 26th, 2007 01:41 am (UTC)
Of course, from what I hear, it can take years even with an agent. Having one might not have guaranteed me a quicker response.

So for me, the experience wasn't a compelling argument to get an agent—it was a compelling argument to not write novels!
Nov. 26th, 2007 12:37 pm (UTC)
Not an option in my case.
Nov. 26th, 2007 01:02 pm (UTC)
I know that. Novels are what makes your heart beat faster, and the heart wants what the heart wants. But it's a far more difficult road to walk, though one with greater possible monetary rewards at the end of the journey. And though I may have the stamina and patience for the creation of novels, for there are many of them littering my past, I don't have the stamina and patience for the marketing of them. But from what I've learned of you over the years, luckily, you do!
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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