by Lazarus Black
Both paths can lead to success. The difference is to me is about partnership and growth. In both cases, the Author is responsible for reaching their specific reader and selling books.
About Traditional Publishing
Agents are like Investors. They are individuals with personal preferences, opinions, and speculations, doing the best they can. Though it is possible my novel/s may never attract an agent, I absolutely appreciate their role in the process (I've worked with art reps for decades). And that role is to filter out the products least likely to sell great enough numbers to pay for themselves and every employee who works for the publisher.
Types of Restaurant Investors
I love watching reality television shows about restaurants and chefs, because I can make easy equivalences to other art careers. And I see agents and traditional publishers like restaurant investors. Both are investing their time/energy/capital into the success of the author, but they don't do it out of the goodness of their heart. They are looking for someone who will make them money. When they find the right author, they will put physical books in front of mass-market readers. Unless the author puts in the work, the chance the right readers will find it is relatively random.
These are some vague generalizations of investors that can apply to agents:
The Angel Investor
The Angel Investor is a private investor (e.g., representing themselves alone) that may or may not know a lot about the restaurant. But they know what they can sell. As individuals, their time/resources are limited and so are looking for clients with the most-polished product and need the least hand-holding. Many agents are like that, but I think some are more "hands-free" than others. Which is why, as an author, it is so important to explain how experienced you are at selling yourself and how hard you are willing to work.
The Brand Investor
The Brand Investor is someone, often representing a group or a fund, that is looking for restaurant to build into a brand and spun-off into a long-term revenue stream. Agents and Agencies may have similar goals, only seeking to represent authors and novels that can produce consistent products over a long period of time. While I expect every agent to prefer this kind of author, this kind of agent/agency specializes and won't even touch an unproven author.
The Property Investor
The Property Investor has an existing relationship with a restaurant space/s, looking for 'the right fit' into that environment. A similar agent has a niche to fill, and is seeking an author/novel with specific criteria. This can be for market reasons or their own portfolio (which sounds more selfish than it is). In recent years, many agents have streamlined their process to prefer minority authors. Sometimes at a publisher's request (or others). But they can also do it for specific genres, characters, plots, or literary styles (ad infinitum).
Ah! This is the interesting one. In the UK, there is a show called "Million Pound Menu" in which investors meet with restaurants. Sometimes, the restaurants are great, but attract no investors for various reasons. One of the interesting side-plots involves one Michelin Star Chef-turned-investor. There are times on the show when the restaurant asking for investment is a fine-dining experience that could earn Michelin stars and world-wide acclaim... but will never be turned into McDonald's or Bonefish Grill, with locations everywhere. Most investors on that show are looking to maximize their wallets over everything, and so applaud the restaurant but walk away saying "there's not enough money it". The Michelin Star Chef-turned-investor, on the other hand, sees the world differently. He sees the restaurant as part of his own brand and reputation. The money is great, but critical acclaim fills his soul. I don't know any agents like this personally, but can imagine that there are those seeking authors and novels that speak to them and scream I AM IMPORTANT and THE WORLD NEEDS TO READ ME!
In quiet moments, when I let my ego flex, I imagine some agent reading my manuscript and feeling as passionate about it as I do. They are important and that everyone in the world should read them. All authors should (I know some who don't.)
This is not supposed to be an exhaustive list or even laser-accurate. It is just a fun little exercise to help myself and others understand the world of Agents.
Being rejected by an agent is not a reflection on the work — just their business model. Finding the model one fits in can be daunting to begin and frustrating to learn.
Which is why self-publishing is a thing.
In quiet moments, when I let my ego flex, I imagine some agent reading
my manuscript and feeling as passionate about it as I do.
I can only talk about this from my own perspective. I've self-published several art books and sold them just fine. I've posted a few novellas to populate my catalog in advance of my first novel. But I'm not the most experienced.
Self-publishing requires extra skills that most authors don't have. Fortunately for me, I do. I'm a professional artist, so can make my own covers and layout my own books. I've slept beside giant Heidelberg presses overnight to ensure flawless print runs. I've managed multi-million dollar marketing campaigns for Fortune 500 companies. I've built multi-million dollar websites and managed SEO/SEM and multi-platform keywords and know the deep ugly truths of marketing gurus everywhere (Shh! It's a secret.)
More than that, I've travelled across the country touring comic-cons and such, selling vast quantities of art from booths. Thousands of my wife's collectors know me and support me and are ready for me to put my book in their hands.
If I need to self-publish any of my novels, I know what to do and how to do it. I will find my readers and make that my success. The band Green Day was rejected by record labels, so toured the country and sold 50,000 CDs out of the trunk of their car before landing that big deal. My wife, the famous illustrator, self-promoted and landed big client after big client before THREE art-representatives called her out of the blue, frustrated that they kept losing jobs to her (I love telling that story).
So, watch for me and my stories in the market very soon.