publishing / writing

If You Don’t Have an Agent, Are You Really a Writer?

writers life

Comic credit: the hilarious Debbie Oh of Inkie Girl

When I was twenty something, I dreamt of becoming so rich I could donate enough money to fix hunger in Biafra (only a newly-grown adult thinks giving money fixes anything). Now, my children grown and my starry-eyed dreams stale like day old bread, I still want to make enough money to give it away–but now, I do it after I feed myself.

That, I’ve finally done. Through a chaotic collection of non-fiction books, freelance writing, commercial gigs, and a tech ed niche blog that has taken off, I will for the first time ever be able to support myself on my writing revenue. Don’t get me wrong–I’m not quitting my day job, but I see a future where my bills could be paid with writing.

Hold off the applause. ‘Writing’ is nothing like what I expected. I feel like the artist who dreams of Michelangelo and ends up LogoNerd. Ah, sweet muse. My agent has yet to consider my debut thriller ready for publishers, and when–if?–one of them adopts me, it’ll be a solid eighteen months before the novel finds a shelf to call home. Then, many many books must sell before I earn out my advance and pay for the celebratory ‘I did it’ dinner at my favorite Corona del Mar restaurant. By then, I’ll have the sequel completed and another cycle spinning. Who forgot to mention it takes THAT LONG to get a novel published?

Which begs the question: Is it time to jump off the merry-go-round, recognize it for what it is as an out-of-date albeit charming vehicle, and self-publish? I’m already about 110 in writer’s years. At the rate my agent-directed career is going, I’ll not have enough time to build my legacy before it’s all over. In those heady pre-agent days, I had decided to pull the trigger and self-pub. If I’d done it, I’d be published by now and doing exactly what agented book authors do–market:

  • set up a website (does the publisher help with that? Doesn’t matter. Sites are cheap)
  • set up Twitter/FB/ G+ accounts (no one does these better than the author himself)
  • set up a blog (same with a blog–personal is what makes it interesting)
  • network with like-minded writers
  • commit hours a day and weekends to marketing
  • repeat

Work with me here. If I self-pubbed or went with a small press right now…

Today

I could have my book on the virtual shelves by Christmas.

But would I be a Real Writer?

BTW, there is one group that has no angst over the question of what defines a writer: Agents.

Let’s take a poll. Tell me which applies to you:


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.comEditorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing TeachersCisco guest blog,Technology in Education featured blogger, IMS tech expert, and a bi-weekly contributor to Write Anything. In her free time, she is  editor of a K-6 technology curriculumK-8 keyboard curriculum, creator of two technology training books for middle school and six ebooks on technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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22 thoughts on “If You Don’t Have an Agent, Are You Really a Writer?

  1. I looked for an agent for what has since become my first book. Did not get one. They politely declined. A publisher agreed to publish and the book is now out. The second book I had anyway directly reached out to publishers and that one, too, is now out. Hence, I am clueless as to how an agent will add value. I have a marketing agency that is suggesting to me that I should get on to Twitter, FB, etc. and promote the hell out of my book. As you rightly said somewhere, the publisher does not wish to put a dime into promotions, barring the standard sending out to publications for a review, more in hope than expectation.

    • I too have found going directly to publishers is a good idea. I think the agents are supposed to help focus which publishers you contact and package your query so publishers are more likely to read it. But, you’ve done wonderfully without that ‘support’. Congrats, Ankur!

  2. Ah yes, the big question… To go the road of many big name authors and wade through countless rejections in the slim hope of the right someone seeing your query and first three chapters and yelling “eureka! I have found the next big thing in YA Lit! Let us sign here immediately!” or self publish and do everything you always thought the publishers and agents would handle for you (marketing!!) and now discoveer they do not.
    I am at this moment… Not sure which side of the question I will land on… :)
    But I can say without hesitation, that I am a writer and despite the fact that I do not have an agent, and have not yet sold a book, I am still a writer!

    • I have an agent, but am at that moment, too. It takes quite a long time to go from finding an agent who likes your ‘draft’ (because finished to me is WIP to them). If your book like mine is time-sensitive, you risk losing your window of interest.

      Dunno what to do!

      I agree with you. Being a writer requires no imprimatur from anyone.

      • Jacqui please see my two comments below. You should have a ‘Sale Counter’ on this blog so that we, the friends can buy your books easily by pushing a couple of buttons. Pls give it a thought. Thanks. Arun

      • I find their lack of interest overall to be damaging to my self-confidence as a writer. I understand it’s because they get so many queries, they can’t personally respond to them all. I get that. But hundreds of rejections leaves a starting writing to think he is talent-less when more likely it’s the people looking at his/her work.

  3. I am supporting myself and my family with my writing. Ergo, I am a writer, even though I haven to published a single book. A freelance writer is still a writer.

    Ask me if I consider myself an author? Almost. I’ll consider myself an author when I have books I can point to that have sold well. (I am going the self-published route, because my non-fiction market is too niche to attract an agent or publisher). But just self publishing a book doesn’t make you an author, IMO unless you are willing to put in the work to make it a good book, market it and earn your sales.

    • You are definitely a writer, Jessica. Anyone who can pay bills with their skill is a writer. There does seem to be a difference inference to ‘author’ as you allude to. That evokes fiction stories of far-off lands.I think it’s simply semantics, not reality.

      • I don’t think ‘author’ necessarily evokes fiction – there are lots of non-fiction authors. However I do think that ‘author’ implies a writer who creates novel-length works, be they fiction or non-fiction. The same way journalist implies someone who creates news-style works of article length. It’s not semantics, it’s a way of differentiating styles of writing. Someone can be an awesome journalist and not know the first thing about writing a book. A great blogger, but have no idea who to write a news article.

        I do think that ‘author’ has unusual (and perhaps unfair) cachet within the world of writers and writing. Like being an author is better than being a writer who focuses on different forms of writing.

  4. Self- publish today, Jacqui! It’s really worth it, believe me ;)

    I don’t have an agent and would never really consider looking for one because I do pretty well on my own. My books are selling well and really it’s only the marketing angle that takes up most of the time.

    Best of luck and let us know if you publish so we can buy your books! :)

    • Good advice D. Your experience accords with my published author friends’ who have agents and only thing they did was to push the books to a number of publishers and one them snapped it. My friends do their own marketing and they are doing very well.

      You, Jacqui and others should have a ‘Sale Counter’ on this blog so that we, the friends can buy your books easily by pushing a couple of buttons.

      Jacqui, pls give it a thought. Thanks. Arun

      • I do have my published books listed under ‘published’ and where they can be purchased. They’re all non-fic. I hope to wrap up my thriller by next summer. Through you-all, I’m going to make a decision whether to use an agent or go self-pub. Still undecided.

        Thanks for your support, Arun. It means a lot. Love the conversation.

  5. I’m not a proper writer as yet – I’m a student learner-writer. But I have friends who have published books in the UK and south east Asian countries. And they have agents. The books are selling well. Their agents are very good. They take almost 16% of the gross sales value of their books. But who does do the marketing pitches that sale the their books? Not the agents. They do it themselves through their own networking and direct marketing. And they are doing a pretty good job of it. It’s hard work – much harder than writing itself, they say. So if I ever write a book I will go solo and do it myself.
    =======================================================

    On a separate note : can anyone please give me a little advice on how can I change the narrator of a fictionalised memoir from 1st to 3rd person POV at the beginning of the third chapter [when the main character becomes an adult while forced to live in a foreign country]. Is it a good idea to change the POV in the third chapter? I know a successful British-American author has written his own memoir entirely in 3rd person POV. But he is a prolific writer, I’m not. Any advice? Arun

    • Why would you want to? If the reader has bonded with the character in first person, what are you hoping to accomplish by switching to 3rd?

      It would be unique. I can’t say I’ve ever seen that done. I’ve seen 1st/3rd mixed in a book, effectively, but not a complete switch.

  6. Pingback: I’ve Been Tagged–Er, Honored « Jacqui Murray's WordDreams…

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