This is a tough one.
The reality is neither option is a guarantee of anything, and both are fraught with many obstacles.
First, a few facts about Literary Agents.
- They are mostly women - about 90% (nothing wrong with this-just a fact)
- They are mostly white women - Again about 90%
- There are very few male literary agents.
- There are even less minority literary agents.
Lit. agents are very particular about what they want; You can go through their wish lists and see a dozen different interests for genres but when you check out the books they’ve sold you’ll see they’re just focused on one or two specific genres. They list more genres because they’re casting the widest net hoping lightning strikes and they get lucky.
Literary agents are like any other salespeople. At every lit agency you have a couple of overachievers, a couple bottom feeders who won’t be there long and the rest are average salespeople who barely “make quota” every month. That means odds are even if you do sign with an agent their effort will be as average as their numbers.
So, how can you tell if the agent you’re looking at is good, bad, or average? Start with their bio and their wish list. Is it detailed with their history? Their schooling? Their literary history? Do they go into detail about what they’re looking to find? What genres? What markets? Do they talk about books they like or authors they like? Or is their bio page a couple paragraphs with virtually no useful content or information? If the first is true, contact them with your pitch.
Just know that there will be a lot of competition for their attention. If the second is true. Run away.
So, why not save time and self-publish then? There’s nothing wrong with marketing your own work. Just understand what it’s going to take for you to be successful doing it.
- Your own website and a blog (A blog is essential to any self-publisher)
- Blog articles. Guest blog on other blogger’s sites
- Have a strong social media presence (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.)
- Be comfortable networking.
- Be willing to do extensive e-mail marketing and self-promotion.
- Get your manuscript edited professionally.
- Design a cover for your e-book or softcover book.
- Submit your book to Amazon.
- Promote your book through your blog and through email and social media.
- Offer free copies in exchange for reviews.
- Offer reviews to other self-published authors in exchange for theirs
There are tricks you can use to promote the sale of your book and boost sales, but this a good place to start.
Bottom line? It’s a lot of work to self-publish. It takes time just to run your blog and you still must write on top of that! Is it worth the commitment of time and energy to you? Only you can answer that.
If you can find a literary rep that’s willing to sign you that eliminates a lot of this up-front work. But you still must find one and I’ve read horror stories where it took authors years to sign with someone. The reality is there are hundreds of thousands of books being written every year. That means good literary agents are going to be incredibly busy just trying to keep up with submissions much less actively shopping manuscripts to publishers.