Agents and Publishers
The answer to the first question is: Ideally, yes. Agents handle everything from submitting your manuscripts to publishers, to negotiating contracts and overseeing royalty statements, in exchange for which they take a 10-20% commission from your earnings. Most publishers do not accept “unsolicited manuscripts,” which essentially means “un-agented manuscripts.” There are some publishers who will accept unsolicited manuscripts directly from writers, but they are the exception rather than the rule. So your first task should be to try to find an agent to represent your work. Which brings us to the “How.”
You get an agent the same way your book finds a publishing house – by impressing them with the quality of your work. So, when submitting your work to agents for representation you need to show that you can write, that you are dedicated, and that you are capable of writing more than one book , because if they take you on they want to know that you’re going to have an ongoing relationship with them.
Most agents as well as publishers have very specific and strict submission guidelines, which are posted on their websites. Unfortunately it is NOT one size fits all. Your best resources when it comes to finding an agent or a publisher is either the latest Literary Marketplace (best borrowed from the library as it is so large and expensive) and Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market (worth the annual investment to purchase the latest edition.) These volumes are updated each year, and include comprehensive information as to names, addresses and submission guidelines for every publisher and agent in the industry. The annual turnover rate in this market is very high – it can be breathtaking how quickly editors move from one house to another. So you want to be sure that you’re looking at the latest version of who is who at which house before you submit.
Whether you’re shopping for an agent or a publisher, you may submit to more than one at the same time – but do make sure they know that you’re doing that. For instance, if there is an agent you really want to work with, or that you have an inside connection to, you can flatter them by saying “I’m submitting this for your exclusive review. I would appreciate your response.” This lets them know you consider them to be special and you’ll wait to hear from them before you send it to anyone else. And don’t forget to include your cover letter, SASE, bio, etc. from the Submissions 101 post of two weeks ago!