Mile 37: Agent – Yes or No?

Now that you’re rolling along with your first Western (and you are, right?), you may be starting to think about which major, New York, internationally renowned, representative of New York Times best-selling authors only, superstar you want to be your agent.

Or not.

The reality is that agents are far more difficult to come by than they have been at any time in the past and not nearly as necessary as they have been in the past. Today’s agents are inundated with submissions from brand-new to nearly new authors and say no with remarkable consistency. In reality, today’s agents are looking to find and sign writers who have already done the hard work — written the book, published the book, shown some social media presence and sold a few copies on their own. They are then willing to consider signing you and presenting you to the major and/or specialty publishing houses.

There are exceptions to this, of course, but we should focus here on the rule, not the exception. And — if you are writing a Western — your odds of finding an agent drop dramatically. Every year, Writer’s Digest publishes their Guide to Literary Agents, the Bible for many who are looking to land that first agent. In the 2016 edition, they listed more than 1,000 agents, and fewer than 20 listed Westerns among the genres they would consider representing. I wrote to every one of them. Roughly half wrote back with a version of the following …

Liked your book, but Westerns are a dying genre, and I’m not taking on any new Western writers.

The other half wrote back and said …


That’s right — nothing. They couldn’t be bothered to respond.

In our world, the world of Westerns, it is far more likely that you’ll be signed directly to a publisher or choose to self-publish, both options discussed in other blog posts. That doesn’t mean that having an agent is a bad idea, or impossible, but rather that it’s unlikely, and unless you have a couple of huge hits (think Larry McMurtry, James Patterson or Craig Johnson and his monster Longmire series), it probably isn’t going to happen, at least not right away.

However, you should know, if you are dead set on the traditional New York publishing route, an agent is going to be essential. Most major publishing houses won’t even look at an unsolicited submission from an unrepresented writer. It would take far too much time on their part and open them up to far too many lawsuits from writers who claim they originally came up with the idea for “fill in the blank.”

So chase that agent if you like, and good luck if you do. Read the contract carefully, if you are so fortunate as to be offered one. And do not be discouraged, not for a moment, if you do not land an agent. There are plenty of ways to get your books published, bought, reviewed and read — and we’re going to look at all of them.

I wish you good writing, and if you have a question or something you’d like to share, send me an email at [email protected].

Thank you, enjoy and keep writing!


2 Comments on “Mile 37: Agent – Yes or No?

Gaby Pratt
February 26, 2019 at 1:43 pm

Thanks for the facts.

Scott Gese
March 1, 2019 at 2:00 pm

If it’s your first book, hiring an agent wouldn’t be practical. Most publishers that work through an agent aren’t going to look at a first book author. They need to see a successful track record.

I agree with you, Scott. First time authors would be better off submitting their work to smaller publishers who don’t require an author to have an agent.

Agents are for the big dogs.


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