Many creative writers, honing their craft with one or more of Rochdale’s writing groups, will at some time have to consider whether they need to be represented by a literary agent. These days some publishing houses will only accept manuscripts from an agent, even if the manuscript is by an as yet unpublished writer.
Today, many publishers survive only as imprints of huge conglomerates. The downsizing that has accompanied massive mergers over the past twenty years has resulted in fewer editors, even as publishers churn out an ever-increasing number of books. Surviving editors are now so immersed in administrative tasks they have to shunt their actual editing work to nights and weekends, and have no time to sift through submissions.
Literary Agents have become their filtering mechanism.
The ever-decreasing number of imprints still accepting un-agented submissions give them minimal priority. It can take more than a year to receive a response that will likely be from an intern or an assistant. In other words, no matter how good a writer’s manuscript, there will always be an author with an agent ahead of it in the queue. There are many, many more reputable agents than there were a couple of decades ago, wielding far more power, though there is also an increasing number of fraudulent and incompetent agents.
These days, though, established agents are interested in writers with no track record of publication and no publishing contract in hand. In fact, most first novel sales, at least to the larger publishers, occur through agents. If you wish to sell your first novel to one of the big publishers, your efforts are better spent searching for an agent than submitting direct to the few imprints that will consider un-agented work. It can take a long time to find an agent, but once you do, he or she can cut editors’ response time to a minimum–and just as important, get your manuscript directly onto the desk of an editor who can give it serious consideration.
I currently serve as the literary agent of one yet to be published writer; Louis Brierley, well known to these pages. Although I now live here on Lanzarote, I contact UK publishers on his behalf with a synopsis of his work. I then present that work to them in the format they require, leaving Louis to write his next novel.