Why I Chose to Seek a Literary Agent

“I have finished the first draft of my novel.”

Almost a month has passed since I earned the right to say those words, and they still make me warm and fuzzy, even on an in-the-teens-out-there-cold kind of morning like this one. But even as I celebrate, I am gearing up for  the next leg of the journey. Edits and rewrites. Readers and feedback. That little old “getting published” thing.

For the first year of my book’s 18-month journey, I was convinced I would dive straight into the world of self-publishing.

Then in October of 2012, I attended a conference held by the Maryland Writer’s Association. Out of curiosity, I attended a session on the pros and cons of working with a literary agent and the guidelines for seeking representation.

I walked out inspired and completely rethinking my plan. I mulled over my new action plan as I finished my draft, and came to the conclusion that I would seek an agent.

I’ve shared this plan with a few writer friends. Some are already published. Others are newcomers too. Almost all are a little surprised at my decision. Why take such a long and meandering detour, instead of rolling right down the self-publishing highway? Why invest time and energy in the long shot that an agent will “take on me,” an unknown writer?

Here’s why.

1. Learning to market myself

With or without representation, I’ll have to market the heck out of my book. Yikes. My lifelong work experience is in higher education. I’m not exactly a marketing guru and my bank account has no extra padding for procuring assistance.

What better way to learn to market myself and my book than to try to get an agent? As a new novelist, I’ll have to convince a good agent that I’m worth the risk because my story is unique and I’m the best person to have written it. If I can do that, I can certainly become a salesperson when the book is available.

2. Overcoming Fear

It took me forever to get serious about writing in part because I hate rejection. I stay in a stable job rather than taking risks that might make me happier because I can’t stand financial insecurity.

If I’m honest, part of my original decision to dive directly into self-publishing was based on fear too. I know the odds of landing an agent are slim. Getting a major publishing house to take on my book is an even longer shot. Traveling this path means putting on my big girl pants and steeling myself for rejection after rejection.


But I don’t want to look back and say I made another choice based on fear. I learned to deal with rejection when I began sending out short stories for publication. Now, I want to put myself to the real test.

3. Old School Dreams

I’ve wanted to be a published writer since I was a kid. I was dreaming this dream this back when the only option for most writers was to get their work published through the “traditional” avenues. All the author heros of my teens and twenties went through the grueling, painstaking process.

Now, I don’t have to.  But, crazy as it may seem, a big part of me still wants to.

4. Sticking with Slow and Steady

For a new novelist, the temptation to rush to get your finished product out there is overwhelming. I feel like I’ve waited for this time in my life forever. The fastest route to the finish line is as tempting as that “one more drink” at last call or that extra slice of pizza.

But I have seen many writers make the mistake of succumbing to this “hurry up” urge with less-than-ideal results. For some, that meant getting their book out there but not knowing how to sell it. For others, it was putting a poorly edited or even poorly crafted finished product on the market.

The truth is no one would describe me as thorough and methodical. I am impulsive and flighty. But I need to learn the art of patience for this project. The exercise of seeking an agent will help with that.

5. When One Door Closes

So my plan is to spend the next several months editing and seeking an agent. What if no one takes me on? Well, I’ve lost nothing but time, and I haven’t really even lost that if I’ve also been perfecting my manuscript.  I’m better prepared for the self-publishing venture. I have a carefully edited book, I’m a better marketer than I’ve ever been. I move forward knowing that self-publishing is the best route for me – not just the one I’ve chosen because I’m too afraid or impatient to try the other path first.

6. I Love A Challenge

A speaker at the conference shared a quote along the lines of “an agent’s dream is to find the next up-and-coming writer. An agent’s nightmare is to be the one who said ‘no thanks’ to that writer.”

I’m a realist with no delusions of grandeur. But who doesn’t love the long shot of being that writer? I’ve carried that quote with me. It reminds me that ultimately, agents are people working towards their dream too. As a newbie in this publishing game, I’d love the guidance and support a good agent can offer. But as a “do-it-yourselfer” who hates to ask for help, I needed to be reminded that there’s something in the deal for an agent who takes on a good writer, too.

I’m always interested in hearing the experiences of other writers. Have you sought the representation of an agent, and if so have you been successful? Have you self-published, and if so what have been the pros and cons of that experience for you? If you are a “first-timer” like me, have you decided how you’re going to navigate your publishing journey?

About hawleywood40

Writer, Steelers Fan in Baltimore, Frequent Visitor to the Shot Fairy
This entry was posted in Creativity, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing A Novel and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Why I Chose to Seek a Literary Agent

  1. So true – especially the part about wanting to rush in once we’re finished. The thought of years trying to get a publisher to take it on is hardly exciting. Great blog Hawley 😉

    • hawleywood40 says:

      I must admit that it feels much less daunting knowing there are other alternatives out there. Tackling giving it a try today gives me even more respect for writers who came before us, who had to do it knowing it was their only option for publication!

  2. Sharkey says:

    Love the agents’ dream and nightmare quote! You take your time and do what is best for you. I agree with trying the agent route first. Makes total sense! Can’t wait to read it! ❤ Love you!

  3. starzyia says:

    I read this and was thinking instantly of some of my most beloved favourite authors and how many times their work was rejected and how we could have missed out on some of the most incredible, widely read books of all time if they hadn’t the gumption to keep trying. I know its a hard road but its worth it, you’ll always wonder what would have happened if you hadn’t tried to live your dream. You have much more gumption than you give yourself credit for!

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Thank you! I think this writing thing helps us grow our gumption, if that makes any sense. We build our confidence in baby steps. We wonder if we have a short story in us, then find out we do. We wonder if we can handle rejection of that story, and then we can and can until somebody accepts it. We wonder if we have the discipline and determination to write a book, and then the book is written. This is the next “wonder if” and so far they have turned out pretty well!

      • starzyia says:

        yes they have! I’m so happy for you and I will love hearing all about your continuing journey. The most important thing in life is not shoving your dream in the back of the closet or down in the dungeon… there’s just not enough time to live like that!

  4. The Hook says:

    After facing some hard thruths about my limitations, I’ve been searching for an agent for months.
    And I’ve hit so many virtual brick walls that my gravatar is bruised and bloody. But I’m still in the fight…

  5. I wanted to publish the old fashioned way, too. It seemed more…noble. Then I read about changes in the publishing industry. I would have to market my own book (something, like you, I didn’t feel qualified to do or want to do given my background as an academician). The number of publishing houses is decreasing my the day, so the chances of getting published are getting smaller and smaller (and my luck at winning at any game of chance has never been stellar). If you’ve invested any money at all in your book and want to get even your investment back, you get pennies on the dollar from your sales if you go with a publisher. Everyone gets their cut and they get to make decisions that you might want to make for yourself. Plus there are contractual issues that I had not legal expertise to discern myself and no extra money to pay a lawyer to help me with after paying a professional editor $2000.

    So, self-publishing it was. This path is not all roses either. While Amazon makes it fairly easy to covert your files and there are lots of manuals and books to guide you, it helps if you have a computer wiz by your side. I did. That’s why I’m not in the looney bin right now. I have control over decisions about my book (pricing, descriptions, markets, promotions) that I may not have had depending on the contract with a publisher.

    Of course, I’ve been thrown into the marketing lion’s den with only the preparation I did (reading a few a books about how to market your book). It’s not easy, and that’s an understatement of gigantic proportions! It’s exhausting and unnerving for someone like me. It’s probably invigorating for other people. I wish I could hire them.

    Oh well, that’s my way more than 2 cents on the subject…

    Congratulations and I wish you all the best in finding the perfect agent to represent you! 🙂 Then you can tell me how that experience is like… 😉

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Lorna, I’m so inspired by your journey and all that you’ve learned (and psyched to get my copy of your book that I just ordered today!). Maybe I’ll have stories from the other side to share with you, or maybe I’ll end up following the self-publishing path after exploring this one. You make some great points about how we have to market our own work either way, the publishing houses dwindling away and getting a more-than-healthy cut, etc. Seems like we’re in for a long haul either way. I also realize that although I didn’t include it in this list, part of my reason for choosing this route and actually seeking help with the publishing is that I’m afraid between the tasks that lie ahead and my job, I’ll lose all time and energy for WRITING whatever is waiting to be written next, and am seeking help to avoid that. What a wild and wacky ride this is!

  6. gemmahawdon says:

    Hi Hawley – I tagged you for ‘The Next Big Thing’ award 😉

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