5 Reasons Agents Take A Pass (And How to Get Publishers Anyway)

Marylee MacDonald is the author of MONTPELIER TOMORROW, a novel about caregiving and ALS. Her short story collection, BONDS OF LOVE & BLOOD, was a finalist in the Foreword Reviews' INDIEFAB Awards. Her fiction has won Gold and Silver Medals from Readers' Favorites International Book Awards, the Barry Hannah Prize, the Ron Rash Award, and many others.

Agents guard the gateway to the “Big 5” New York publishers. Known as “trade book publishers,” all five have the ability to get books reviewed by the few remaining newspapers that do book reviews, such as The New York Times and Los Angeles Times. They have marketing departments to coordinate an author’s book launch. First, they’ll send ARCs (Advance Review Copies) to Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and Foreword Reviews, as well as to newspapers that could conceivably provide valuable blurbs attesting to the book’s worth. These big publishers’ marketing departments will attempt to create pre-launch buzz by sending review copies to Booklist.com (where libraries search for books they should acquire), Edelweiss.com and LibraryThing.com. For books the publishers truly “get behind”–and that’s not all books, by any means–the marketing departments put on the full court press. Sixty or seventy stories about the author and her book will appear simultaneously in newspapers, magazines, and on such influential show’s as NPR’s “Fresh Air.” Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad received that kind of push, and so did Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. To create the illusion that readers are clamoring for the new book, Big 5 publishers will send books to “Amazon Vine” reviewers, which means that the book may already have reviews online prior to its launch date.  And, of course, for authors who already have a following, the publishers will line up bookstore readings.

Ironically, all of the Big 5 are U.S. subsidiaries of foreign conglomerates. None of these Big 5 publishers accept “unagented” manuscripts. So where does that leave us?

Winning the Book Lottery

Authors hope agents will agree to act as go-betweens, and will get us the big book and movie deals that make writing a book sound like the next best thing to winning the lottery.