Which do you find to be the better route to selling your first novel, approaching publishers yourself or finding an agent?

Which do you find to be the better route to selling your first novel, approaching publishers yourself or finding an agent?

I’m not your average writer. I have a family history in writing as you all know. That got me a lot of early exposure to the whole publishing industry. As such, my experience is definitely different than what the average starving writer will find.That said, here it is:

I was first approached by Bill Fawcett. Bill worked with Mayfair Games at the time. Mayfair Games wanted to do The Dragonriders of Pern boardgame. Mum appointed me as her liaison on the matter seeing as I had been playing boardgames, RPG, and computer games for ages. In addition to consulting on the game, I also wrote the Threadfighting Tactics on Pern section (as Todd Johnson) which was later incorporated into The Dragonlover’s Guide to Pern.

At about the same time, my friends Diane Duane and Brynne Chandler were working on animated series, Dinosaucers for DIC and they encouraged me to submit some story ideas. My best idea was too close to one they had already so they let me write a script from someone’s story idea.

Bill tapped me to write one of his Combat Command books based on David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers series and then later to write some mil-sf short stories, including some Bolo stories.

Around about that time the editor at Del Rey asked me to write a “sort of scrapbook” about Mum partly to prevent Mum from writing her autobiography instead of more Pern books. That was Dragonholder. The editor had also pitched it to me that someone ought to continue Mum’s legacy when she was no longer able. At the time I had misgivings and no story ideas.

Then, one night, I woke up with a dream, a very bad poem — and the outline for Dragonsblood.

It was then that I decided to get an agent. So I called Don Maass, whom I knew represented Diane Duane and several other authors I liked, and who had always been available and approachable at conventions.

Don got me to pitch him the whole concept over the phone (I was drenched in sweat when I was done — pitching a story over the phone is tough work) and then told me to write up the outline and send it to him. And that’s how Dragonsblood was born.

So, knowing my experiences, if you are still interested in my advice, I’d say that you would probably want to get an agent.

Nowadays there aren’t that many publishing firms which take unsolicited and/or unagented manuscripts. Getting an agent should hopefully mean that you’ll get a lot of valuable advice and not get your manuscript in front of a publisher until the agent thinks it’s got a chance.

I would also say don’t try getting an agent until you’ve finished your second book.

If you’ve only written one book, you probably don’t have a saleable product. Also, if you haven’t written two books you don’t know yourself if you really want to be a writer or if you just want to say that you’re a writer.

With two books, you can show an agent that you’ve got the potential to do more work — and that you really can complete something. You’ll also find that your second book is way better than your first book. If you don’t find that, then do some serious thinking.

A writer has to challenge herself to get better every time she writes a book (I’ve just suddenly decided that since the breakdown in the species is 51% female and 49% male, that women are in the majority and I should use female pronouns from now on (someone ought to see how long I stick with this)).

3 Replies to “Which do you find to be the better route to selling your first novel, approaching publishers yourself or finding an agent?”

  1. Interesting read. I’ve been sitting on a series of books (all in varying stages of progress, one of them complete save for some revision and reading by any editor who wishes to take on the job) that I started back in 1992, as a child. I have re-worked the ideas, removing stuff that didn’t fit as an adult but seemed like good ideas as a kid, adding concepts that have since come to mind, and decided sometime in 2007 to freeze the concepts so I could concentrate on narrative structure for the entire series. I have the entire series outlined, and it’s now just a case of fleshing out the details. Your post here gives me some small measure of hope that I might eventually find an agent, though I’ve been reluctant to send anything off to any agents until now.

    As an aside, I am wondering if there are any plans to complete the long-term work in progress (provisionally titled “After the fall is over” from what I read on Wikipedia)? I have enjoyed the series of Dragonrider books from Dragonflight, all the way through to “The Skies of Pern”, and have begun to read the books you have contributed, or authored (I’m currently on Dragonsblood and will be reading the rest of the series as time permits), and would like to see what happens to the people of Pern after the last threadfall has come and gone.

  2. Pete,

    With regards to “After the Fall Is Over”, right now everyone is still coping with grief over Mum’s loss.

    — Todd

  3. Of course. One often doesn’t realise that, while they are immersed in reading such a fine series as this.

    My condolences, and apologies for any upset my question may have caused.

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