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Literary Agents: Bypassing a Book Publishing Agent

I have been asked if it is possible to bypass a literary agent or book publishing agent by using a contract lawyer instead. Theoretically it is, but I can think of only three reasons why you might want to.

  1. If you have had significant success and high sales volume, you will likely have your own contact with a publisher. You may choose to sell this publisher world rights, rather than rights to a single country. In that case, you won't need a book publishing agent to secure foreign rights. You could have a lawyer negotiate a contract based on past and projected sales.

  2. If you choose to publish with a small press, you may need the services of a literary contract lawyer. Any advance you're offered may be small. Many small presses or print on demand publishers offer only small advances under $500, or no advance at all.

  3. Major bookstores may not carry their books, which can limit sales. This may change, as more sales are made on the Internet, through Amazon, Kindle, and soon Apple. However, be aware that if you choose a small press, most book publishing agents won't want to represent you, as there's no money in it for them. At least not until after you have five-figure sales.

  4. Finally, if you write genre fiction, you may want to employ a contract lawyer. Genre only publishers—publishers of mystery, sci-fi, romance, etc.—such as Harlequin and Avalon, still encourage writers to approach them directly.

These publishers welcome queries from authors. This isn't true of mainstream publishers, who seldom look at unsolicited manuscripts. They rely instead on the recommendations of trusted agents and literary scouts to bring them only the most remarkable work.

However odd the relationship between agents and authors, the relationship exists because of supply and demand. Millions of writers want to publish, all of them vying for the attention of far fewer agents, and even fewer publishers. This puts agents in a position of power, able to pick and choose their "employers."

Any decision to bypass a book publishing agent and hire a contract lawyer is only possible once a publisher has expressed interest in your manuscript.

When you have a publishable manuscript, and have sent it to many agents with no luck, the next best course of action is to attend conferences. At conferences, you will have an opportunity to get your manuscript in front of agents, editors, and established writers.

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