Literary agents play an essential role in the world of publishing, providing a bridge between authors and publishing houses. I have all the respect in the world for the talented literary agents who turn writers’ dreams into tangible realities. But, while they have proven to be indispensable for many, there are instances where authors choose to forgo this agency partnership in favor of a more independent approach.
As a writer with a penchant for niche and intellectual content, I decided to publish my poetry collection and all future works without an agent. Fortunately, there are many publishers that don’t require agents, including my choice in Barnes and Noble Press. Here I will share some of the reasons behind my decision and the benefits I experience with independent publishing.
Finding a Voice in the Literary World
Although I’ve earned a loyal readership with certain niche audiences on a variety of specific nonfiction subjects, my writing approach has also led to challenges when trying to find representation. Many literary agents tend to gravitate towards projects with broader appeal, and my work has often been deemed too niche for the mainstream market. This is no knock on these agencies, because they need to focus on projects that will earn them enough commissions to pay their own bills and protect their own interests.
Despite the obstacles that remaining an independent voice have afforded me, I remained steadfast in my commitment to share my writing with the world. So, to the chagrin of my family, friends, and peers, I embarked on the journey of publishing on my own.
By choosing to publish with no agent, I knew that I’d face great challenges in terms of marketing and distribution. After all, literary agents often have extensive networks and resources that can be leveraged to promote and sell books. Without an agent, I’d need to find alternative ways to reach readers and build their audience.
While some authors may waver in their willingness to take risks to achieve their goals, I’ve chosen to dive headlong into the tempest. After all, with the more challenging path comes greater potential for greater creative and financial freedom.
The Advantages of Independent Publishing
Publishing a book with agency representation might sound daunting, but it comes with several benefits. These include creative control, more direct relationships, increased author revenue, and niche market opportunities.
- Creative Control: When working directly with a publisher, authors often have more creative control over their work. This means that the integrity of the content, cover design, and overall presentation remains in the hands of the creator, ensuring a more authentic representation of the author’s vision.
- Direct Relationships: Publishing without an agent allows authors to forge direct relationships with publishers and other industry professionals. This can lead to better communication, faster decision-making, and more efficient problem-solving throughout the publishing process.
- Increased Author Revenue: Without an agent, authors avoid paying agent commissions, which typically range between 10 to 20 percent of royalties. This means that authors retain more of their earnings, which can be especially beneficial for those just starting out or working on smaller, niche projects.
- Niche Market Opportunities: Smaller, independent publishers tend to be more open to niche and unique content. By skipping the agent route, authors with unconventional work like my own can find a publisher who shares their enthusiasm and understands their target audience.
Finding the Right Publisher
Publishing without an agent is not only possible but also preferred for some authors. There are numerous publishing houses, both large and small, that do not require agent representation. To find the right fit, you must do a lot of research and reaching out. Start by identifying publishers that specialize in your genre or have a history of publishing similar works. Then, carefully review their submission guidelines and ensure that your manuscript is polished and well-prepared.
But, rather than simply pitch your book, like many authors do, it’s better to first introduce yourself and get a feel for what that publisher is all about. Yes, you an use a cover letter and have a sample of what you’re trying to publish. However, unlike the conventional advice, it’s better to open a dialogue and try to forge relationships with agencies, rather than be like everyone else and simply shove a manuscript into their already burgeoning inboxes.
Of course, you can also choose to self-publish with a service like Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), Barnes and Noble Press, and a host of others. The only downside here is that you need to do all of the marketing yourself, where even a small niche publisher will do some of that work for you if you’re willing to share some of the profits. The other downside to self-publishing is that unless you can prove you’ve already sold a project well, most other publishers won’t be interested in picking it up later.
Building Your Own Writing Platform
Like many independent authors, I decided to build my own platform for disseminating my essays and other writings by creating my own website. I even tried email marketing with a few services over the years, although this has never worked well for me; this is despite being quite good at it during my marketing career. This is an area I will certainly revisit.
In fact, having a website with strong content related to your given genres and adjacent topics is a great way to build a mailing list. There are so many low-cost services now that even offer a way to sell items, such as print copies of your books. The trick is dangling a carrot to get those emails, which is why I have a couple of free ebooks in progress, some of which will be posted as articles on this website.
The great thing about having your own website is that unlike what happens with some authors with their literary agencies, you have complete control over everything that goes on with it. Whatever you find you can’t do yourself can always be hired out to a Virtual Assistant (VA), especially when it comes to blog content, social media, and keyword research to assist in your book marketing.
In fact, whether you are seeking a literary agent or not, having a strong website with a substantial email list is just as important in 2023 as it was in 2003. For all the glamour of social media, many authors I’ve spoken with over the years remark that social media just takes away from writing, and the emails are what actually convert people into readers and book purchasers.
Final Thoughts on Publishing Without an Agent
Agent-free publishing may not be the conventional route, but it can be a rewarding experience for authors seeking more creative control, direct relationships with industry professionals, and a greater share of their earnings. By embracing this alternative path, I’ve managed to bring my niche and intellectual work to life and begun to forge my own path in the literary world. With dedication, persistence, and research, you my fellow writers can do the same and find success in publishing your own unique works as an independent creative force.
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