Can I still work with an agent even if I don't want to be published by big publishers?

Pinkarray

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I've got my heart set on going with small or maybe mid-sized publishers because I don't want my work getting lost in the shuffle of big publishers and I think larger publishers are overall more strict and less flexible than smaller publishers. But I still want to have an agent to look over contracts and maybe help me find the most suitable home for it. Will this bother the agent who may want to send my book off to a large publisher or is this negotiable?
 
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mccardey

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I've got my heart set on going with small or maybe mid-sized publishers because I don't want my work getting lost in the shuffle of big publishers and I think larger publishers are overall more strict and less flexible than smaller publishers. But I still want to have an agent to look over contracts and maybe help me find the most suitable home for it. Will this bother the agent who may want to send my book off to a large publisher or is this negotiable?
This is something to talk about with your agent during the offer phone-call. But I'd do a lot more research first, if I were you. I'm not sure (and I'm not sure your putative agent will be sure) exactly what you mean by publishers being strict. They're not Edwardian schoolmasters.

Do make sure that you do all your research first. Bewares and Recommendations is a good place to start.

To answer your question - I can't see it being something an agent would feel positive about.
 
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ChaseJxyz

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When you say your book would get lost in the shuffle at a large publisher, why do you feel that isn't going to happen at a small press? If the press only does 2 or 3 novels per year, yeah, you are a bigger portion of their catalogue, but a smaller press is going to have fewer marketing folx and a much smaller budget to do said marketing. They're not going to have the same ability to get you in a featured display at Barnes and Noble as the large publisher.

So what is a small press going to do for you, marketing-wise, that the large press can't?
 

mccardey

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When you say your book would get lost in the shuffle at a large publisher, why do you feel that isn't going to happen at a small press? If the press only does 2 or 3 novels per year, yeah, you are a bigger portion of their catalogue, but a smaller press is going to have fewer marketing folx and a much smaller budget to do said marketing. They're not going to have the same ability to get you in a featured display at Barnes and Noble as the large publisher.

So what is a small press going to do for you, marketing-wise, that the large press can't?
And how's that going to pay off for the agent, who has to do the same amount of work anyway, but with less reward (financial and professional)?
 

Pinkarray

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When you say your book would get lost in the shuffle at a large publisher, why do you feel that isn't going to happen at a small press? If the press only does 2 or 3 novels per year, yeah, you are a bigger portion of their catalogue, but a smaller press is going to have fewer marketing folx and a much smaller budget to do said marketing. They're not going to have the same ability to get you in a featured display at Barnes and Noble as the large publisher.

So what is a small press going to do for you, marketing-wise, that the large press can't?
I would have to do some of the marketing myself.
 
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Pinkarray

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This is something to talk about with your agent during the offer phone-call. But I'd do a lot more research first, if I were you. I'm not sure (and I'm not sure your putative agent will be sure) exactly what you mean by publishers being strict. They're not Edwardian schoolmasters.
Well, from what I heard, they're harder to get into especially as a debut author.

They're much more picky about what books to publish than a smaller press. I think my books may be of a more niche category than major publishers would want but I don't know.

I have a book that I would like to turn into a series but I heard that if the books don't sell well, then publishers would likely drop plans for a series.

I think major publishers tend to have tight deadlines and are more likely to request you to write specific kinds of books for them even if you may not want to.

You get less creative control over your book with major publishers and I think you are less likely to keep the rights to your book, right?

Correct me if I heard wrong.
 

mccardey

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Well, from what I heard, 1. they're harder to get into especially as a debut author.

2. They're much more picky about what books to publish than a smaller press. 3. I think my books may be of a more niche category than major publishers would want but I don't know.

3. I have a book that I would like to turn into a series but I heard that if the books don't sell well, then publishers would likely drop plans for a series.

4. I think major publishers tend to have tight deadlines and are more likely to request you to write specific kinds of books for them even if you may not want to.

5. You get less creative control over your book with major publishers and
6. I think you are less likely to keep the rights to your book, right?


Correct me if I heard wrong
.I don't know where you've heard this, but yes - it's almost entirely wrong.

1. Debut writers (all else being equal) have a much better chance of being picked up than a published author with anything less than stellar sales

2. I'm not sure what your point is. Smaller publishers, like bigger publishers, are going to want the best books they can get. But they'll have less support for you, and they'll pay smaller royalties.

3. You might be right here, for a very niche market - though a niche publiscation with a small publisher is going to do less well than a niche publication with the might of a big publisher behind them.

4. Any publisher will drop plans for a series if the first book doesn't sell well.

5. You keep creative control of your book with big publishers.

6. is a real red flag. This confusion about rights tells me you have to go back to basics in your research.
 
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mccardey

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I think major publishers tend to have tight deadlines and are more likely to request you to write specific kinds of books for them even if you may not want to.
I missed this one - sorry. This is not how publishing works. They don't ask unknown writers to write specific kinds of books. No-one can ever make you write anything you don't want to (nor would they want to do that).

Yes, publishers have tight deadlines - like most businesses. You'll want to be working with a business that understand deadlines, so that's a good thing.
 

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Well, from what I heard, they're harder to get into especially as a debut author.
You've heard incorrectly.
They're much more picky about what books to publish than a smaller press.
They're not.
I think my books may be of a more niche category than major publishers would want but I don't know.
This is something you need to know. What books would you choose to list as comps in your query letter?

If you don't know the answer to that, you need to read more widely in your genre.
I have a book that I would like to turn into a series but I heard that if the books don't sell well, then publishers would likely drop plans for a series
That will happen with any press regardless of size.
I think major publishers tend to have tight deadlines and are more likely to request you to write specific kinds of books for them even if you may not want to.
No. That is definitely not true.
You get less creative control over your book with major publishers and I think you are less likely to keep the rights to your book, right?
Not right. The most rights-grabbing, exploitative contracts I've seen have all been from small presses.
Correct me if I heard wrong.
And so we have. I hope this sets your mind at ease!
 

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I've got my heart set on going with small or maybe mid-sized publishers because I don't want my work getting lost in the shuffle of big publishers and I think larger publishers are overall more strict and less flexible than smaller publishers. But I still want to have an agent to look over contracts and maybe help me find the most suitable home for it. Will this bother the agent who may want to send my book off to a large publisher or is this negotiable?
If you choose to publish with a small press, you may be able to find a reputable agent or legal professional willing to advise you in the contract negotiation for a flat fee, which will surely run to four figures. Alternatively there are some writers guilds you can pay to join and that offer contract advice to their members.

But the likelihood of an agent representing you and subbing your manuscript to small presses, for which they would earn 15 percent of a zero dollar advance plus fifteen percent of the couple hundred dollars in royalties the book will earn, is pretty much zero.
 

waylander

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Small publisher = small to zero advance = agent not interested unless you are making money for them elsewhere. Agencies are businesses.
Join a writers guild/society that gives you access to specialist lawyers who can review your contract.
 

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If you are a skilled marketer with experience in promoting book sales successfully, you may be better off self publishing.

This. This is always the question with a small press: what can they do for you that you couldn't reasonably (and more cost-effectively) do for yourself?

Actually, this is a question to ask with any publisher, but the larger a publisher is, the more likely they are to have some compelling answers.
 

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I just want to mention that if you were on the verge of getting agent representation and then you started telling them what kind of publisher you wanted they might label you as difficult and not want to represent you, in addition to all of the financial implications above, adding in that most agents don't get paid unless they sell something. ETA: the agency doesn't pay them a salary, they only get the commission.

As mentioned, if you get an offer from a publisher you could then approach an agent about the contract and go about it that way, or at that point you could also hire a contract attorney familiar with publishing contracts.

From my own experience in the depths of the querying trenches, the kinds of small presses that expect their authors to also do their own marketing also take unagented submissions.
 

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Well, from what I heard...

...but I heard that ...

I think ...and I think ...
Could you maybe tell us where you heard all of this, and why you think these things?

I noted that in one of your early posts when you joined AW you mentioned that you have self published dozens of books, starting when you were a pre-adolescent and continuing through your teens. I expect that you've learned a lot about the process, including marketing skills and projecting what kind of sales numbers to expect.

But if you want to make the change to trade publishing, you will need to learn a lot about how it works, how literary agents work, and how the business partnership between author and agent works. There's a wealth of information and knowledge here at AW. I hope you'll take advantage of it. Frex, I know for a fact that two people who have commented in this thread have had literary agent representation and those agents have negotiated contracts for them with the biggest of the big publishers. Myself, I've negotiated contracts with four small presses. We're happy to answer questions, and we're happy to dispel misinformation and rumours.
 

Elenitsa

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This. This is always the question with a small press: what can they do for you that you couldn't reasonably (and more cost-effectively) do for yourself?

Actually, this is a question to ask with any publisher, but the larger a publisher is, the more likely they are to have some compelling answers.
I am the one answering, because I am publishing with small publishers. If self publishing, it would be just me and the printing office... then, what?

When publishing with a indie publisher, I still have their little staff, their connections in the world of writers, literary critics and literary magazines, someone to write me a foreword and someone other the blurb on the fourth cover, because in my country it is not seen well to write yourself the blurb on the fourth cover - someone else has to recommend your book, you cannot praise yourself - an official book launching, representation at national book fairs... I was asked by a fellow NaNoWriMo member, a writer who is self publishing, about ISBN and covers and other things which I have no idea about - these are the publishers part... Something less to worry about for me!
 
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ChaseJxyz

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Well, from what I heard, they're harder to get into especially as a debut author.
....
Correct me if I heard wrong.

Not to be mean, but these all sound like things a vanity press will tell you, to convince you to "publish" with them.

THEORETICALLY, it is more difficult as a debut. But if you have an agent, they're doing the hard work. Here's the nice thing about debuts: you can pay them tiny advances. The majority of profits are from only a few titles, and if one of them happens to be a debut, that is a HUGE return. It's better to give a nobody $20k for a book that turns into a NYT best seller for 40+ weeks than to give Billie Eillish a 6-7 figure advance for a book that flops. This is why VCs back so many stupid startups: because one out of 5o-100 of those become the next Uber, and it's worth all of those failures.

Smaller presses have specific niches. I know a couple of furry presses. They only publish furry stories. That is WAY more picky than a large publisher, which will publish both queer stories and memoirs by senators that want us dead.

If your series flops with the small press, do you really think they're going to sign you for more books? A flop is a flop.

I can't speak as to tight deadlines. But a press does not "tell" you what kind of books you write for them. Unless you are a ghostwriter and that is literally your contract. The press might say "your book 1 sold only three copies, so don't bother selling us book 2" but that is not them saying "ergo, you MUST write a vampire romance squid games now, Or Else." That does not happen, ever.

God, the "you don't have creative control" thing is what really sold me that you drank the vanity press Koolaid here. Tell me, what do you think "creative control" means? Do you think Penguin McRandom Hill is going to say "you don't have enough queer people, make your MC gay or we're canceling the book" ? Do you really want to throw out working with all big presses because you do not have complete creative control as to what the cover is going to look like? Or do you think they're going to license your characters into Happy Meal toys and you're not going to make any money from it?

Big presses have, you know, real lawyers working with them. They have contracts, they will have stipulations on what circumstances the rights will revert to you. Small presses, meanwhile, there have been multiple instances where they've gone under or stopped sending out royalty checks/communicating with the authors and also refuse to give the rights back to authors. What are you going to do in that situation? For big presses, they already have everything in the contracts, because they don't want to deal with those lawsuits while already going through other financial problems.

A vanity press is a "small/indie" publisher that takes money from you to "publish" your book. They may call this "being an author-investor" or they make you pay for editing or marketing. It may not say directly on the site "give us $5,000 and we'll publish you," but it WILL have language implying it. At an actual, real publisher (regardless of size), you only GET money, you do not PAY for anything. The press takes on all the risk paying you for the rights and doing the editing and the cover art and all that. Because they have invested THEIR money into this, the press has very good reason to get a return on investment. They are going to work hard to sell your book.

Now consider the "hybrid" press, where you have "invested" in your book to see it published. Why, they have already gotten a fair bit of money from you! They don't NEED to sell any copies to make up that investment, because it's not their investment! None of THEIR money is at risk! If the book sells well, awesome! They get even more money! But they're not the ones tightening their belts if your book flops.

Also, regardless of the size of the publisher, they are going to want you to do some marketing. That doesn't mean you are going to be buying Facebook ads, but it is going to mean "hey can you tweet about this." You'll have to talk to reporters for interviews. It's more than 0 work, but it is not ALL the work, like if you are self-publishing on Amazon. But no amount of work YOU can do is going to get you the things a big press can get, because they have the tools/budget/connections to do things you as an individual can never do. Like get in specific displays at the physical Barnes and Noble store, or be included in marketing emails. A hybrid press isn't going to bother with taking risks on ad spend, because they don't need to SELL anything to keep the lights on.
 

waylander

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Big presses have, you know, real lawyers working with them. They have contracts, they will have stipulations on what circumstances the rights will revert to you. Small presses, meanwhile, there have been multiple instances where they've gone under or stopped sending out royalty checks/communicating with the authors and also refuse to give the rights back to authors. What are you going to do in that situation? For big presses, they already have everything in the contracts, because they don't want to deal with those lawsuits while already going through other financial problems.
Specific example: My first two novels came out with a small-press, essentially a one-person operation. That one person got sick, returned my rights to me except for the audiobook of book 1, because that was a time-limited contract with Audible and he said he couldn't move that. That one person died. His executors couldn't be bothered to return those rights to me. My audiobook is still available and I get none of the royalties (neither do they as they haven't bothered to get to the publisher's email account that Audible hold as the correspondence address in their database).
 

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Tight deadlines? Yes, those can be a thing in trade publishing. (Ask me how I know …) I wouldn’t say they’re the rule, though. It can depend on whether or not there’s an urgent reason to get a book out by a certain season.

Big Five imprints each have their own culture, but there’s certainly well-documented system-wide dysfunction (such as editors being underpaid and overworked and having to work on tight schedules as a result). Small presses run the gamut from prestigious indie/academic presses to one-person shops to hybrid to vanity, so it’s hard to generalize. Some have distributors and can get your book on store shelves. Many can’t do that, but they may tell you that listing your book in the Ingram catalog is the same thing (it’s not).

If you have a particular small press in mind that seems perfect for the niche you write in, it could make sense to prioritize that press or list of presses. But I wouldn’t assume that “small presses” overall are easier to work with.

“Midsize” is a weird term—Disney published my first book, and agents consider them “midsize”! They operated pretty much like a Big 5 house, though.

Tl;dr: Deadlines vary. Big publishers can make you tear your hair out, and they can also get you on store shelves and in BuzzFeed, which is nice. Agents like money. I have heard of writers subbing directly to small presses, getting an offer, and then querying agents and finding representation for the deal. I think some money has to be in play for this to work; I don’t know how much. Probably depends on the agent. The press also has to be willing to work with agents; a few notoriously refuse to do this.