In my last column, I attempted to give just a little evidence that a writer can sell two novels without an agent or previous connections. Since I wasn't entirely successful in meeting all of the requirements (I had to resort to nonfiction and short fiction works), I put out a call to readers to help put an end to the urban myth that one cannot publish two novels without securing an agent first.
Here is just a small sampling of the response I received.
* Michel Faber (THE CRIMSON PETAL AND THE WHITE) sold his first books without an agent. He still doesn't have an agent.
* Lisa Lee sold her first two novels (MILLICENT MIN, GIRL GENIUS) without an agent. She was pulled out of the slush pile by Arthur Levine.
* Donis Casey published her first two novels with Poisoned Pen Press. She represented herself, and Poisoned Pen was the first house she queried.
Now that the evidence is clear that you do NOT need an agent to get your novel published, I'll close with a few words from Identity Theory editor Christian Bauman, who DOES have an agent.
[From Christian Bauman:]
While it is possible to sell a book without an agent, and there may be those who have their reasons for selling without an agent, there are many reasons TO have an agent.
It is a common misperception that all an agent does is take 15% of your money in exchange for placing your book somewhere. But this is not true. In fact, the selling of the book is somewhat lower on the list of things an agent does for you. Anyone with determination and some savvy could sell the book eventually (although only to those presses who take unagented submissions), but what happens AFTER the book is released? Who is going to go back year after year and audit Simon & Schuster to ensure they paid you correctly? Who is going to follow-up with all those various foreign presses? The business details are endless, and authors left to do them on their own would have no time for writing.
And as for Steve Almond's comment about a perfect world in which authors and editors are left alone ... my experience is that the days of the great, long-lasting editor/author relationships are pretty much over. There are exceptions, of course, and some famous ones, but for the most part editors move rapidly from house to house, have little time to devote to authors, and even when you end up with a great editor (which I have been lucky enough to have done, twice) the odds that that person will edit your next book are slim.
For those of us lucky enough to have found a great one, it is the agent who is our modern-day Perkins. My agent Diana Finch is my first and most trusted read, my friend, and the person who is there not just for an individual book, but throughout my career. She has my back, so I can concentrate on writing.
Christian Bauman (http://www.christianbauman.com) is author of the novels Voodoo Lounge and The Ice Beneath You. His third novel, In Hoboken, will be published Spring 2008. He is an editor at IdentityTheory.com, and a contributor to NPR's All Things Considered.