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Literary Agents: Bypassing a Book Publishing Agent

Sometimes I'm 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. 

    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 Apple. However, be aware that if you choose a small press, and many will work hard to promote your book, most book publishing agents won't want to represent you. There is no money in it for them with such a small advance. At least not until after you have five-figure sales. 

  3. 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 and 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.

The relationship between agents and authors 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 an 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. 

Meet Book Publishing Agents at Conferences

In the end, most writers would rather secure an agent than bypass one.

Conferences provide the best possible chance of meeting an agent because most have "pitching sessions." You usually apply for these sessions beforehand and if you're accepted, you will meet briefly with an agent to pitch your finished manuscript.

If the manuscript isn't yet ready to publish, there's a good chance the agents you meet will tell you. They may even provide some tips on how to get it ready.

Even if you're not successful pitching your manuscript, at  conferences you'll get current information from the publishing world and you'll make good contacts that may help you later.

So, in most cases, you won't need or want to use a contract lawyer. If you're fortunate enough to find a publisher before you find representation with an agent, then you can weigh the costs and benefits of choosing a lawyer over a book publishing agent, but in most cases, you will want the services of a good agent.


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