Q: Do you need an agent?
I’ve never used one. I approached publishers directly. I did this by going onto Amazon and into my local bookshop and looking at books on similar topics to mine. I made a note of the publishers of those books. Then I cross-referenced it with a free online directory of non-fiction publishers and I came out with a list of about six publishers that I felt would be interested in my book.
I then sent one of those commissioning editors a brief email. I didn’t pick the one I thought I’d have the best chance with – I wanted to try out my pitch before approaching that top target. My email was brief and to the point. It outlined who I am, my idea for a book, my credentials for writing it, why people might buy it, and it concluded with asking for initial expression of interest before I sent a full proposal.
The first publisher I sent it to said it was a good idea, but not quite right for them. I was encouraged and sent it to my top target. The commissioning editor there came back to me in 15 minutes saying it was a good idea but a little somiilar to something else they’re working on – could I give it a slightly different focus and present a full proposal?
I set to work immediately and within a month I had my first commission to write a book.
So, no it’s not necessary to use an agent.
That said, it might be a good idea to use one. It is quite possible that an agent would help you secure a better deal (in a later post I’ll go into more detail about the advance and royalties deals I’ve done – believe me, they could be better!). Since getting my first book into print I’ve spoken to several other people who are writing non-fiction books and who have secured deals with agents. None of them are able to comment on whether the agent has secured them a better deal smiply because none of them have yet got deals. I’ll allow you to draw your own conclusions from that….
If you do want to use an agent then there is a free online directory you can use to find one, but from my own experience all I can say is that if your objective is to get your non-fiction book published you don’t need one. You do though need to present your book idea in a way that will appeal to your publisher. In my next post in this series I’ll offer some advice on how to do that.