[For clarity: I didn't mean that I have myself waxed...]
Frankly, you must be sick to death of hearing about the glorious importance of agents. And here's another article saying the same thing, and very rightly and persuasively, too.
There's a problem with us banging on about this, though. In fact, there are at least two problems.
Before we come to solutions [hooray for solutions], it may help to understand the reasons for both these problems:
- agents only earn a % of your income, so while you're wondering how the hell you can survive on a £3000 advance, they're wondering the same about a much smaller amount. Therefore, they can't be expected to take you on unless they've good reason to expect not just a book but a career out of you. Also, all the work they do for you won't be recompensed for ages. [You might say the same about your own writing, but that's your choice; it is also their choice.]
- So, if you're a one-book wonder or, er, in the twilight zone of your writing life, you may not be a viable proposition. [I know this sounds harsh. I'm simply stating what has to go through an agent's mind, as opposed to a publisher's. A publisher can still be very interested in you. And in certain circumstances an agent may be, too. I'm talking about likelihoods, not certainties.]
- And if your genre is a low-earning one (such as memoir, poetry, academic or specialist writing), again, you're simply not worth the effort. Don't take this personally: agents have to earn a living.
- read this blog. Oh, you already are. Well, keep reading it, then.
- read these blogs too, all of them, every single post: Editorial Ass, How Publishing Really Works, Writer Beware, Stroppy Author, Editorial Anonymous, The Behler Blog, and agent Rachelle Gardner's blog Both the latter two are US based but also useful for UK and other writers.
- learn all this stuff before you ever submit anything - of course you could strike lucky as a beginner, but it's most unlikely
The Writer's Handbook -
a must for all writers both before and after publication
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
Research your rights and responsibilities with regard to things like copyright, intellectual property right, digital rights, ebooks, territories. Every writer should know about the first two; unagented writers need to learn about the others. Why? Because otherwise, when you're offered a contract (happy day!) how will you know whether it's acceptable or the best you could have?
Fortunately, being offered a contract usually allows you at least associate membership of the Society of Authors (in the UK - and also, I believe, the separate organisations in NZ and Aus). This means that the experts there will look at your contract and advise you - free. No unagented writer should pass up this opportunity.
Other organisations which can be useful, at least for meeting others who may know more than you, are SCBWI (The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators), PEN, Scottish Book Trust, Book Trust, Literature Training, NAWE (National Association of Writers in Education) and regional writing groups. Some of them (eg Literature Training, Book Trust and Scottish Book Trust) don't require membership and are there to offer advice to all interested people.
FOLLOW PROFESSIONAL ADVICE
There's a vast amount of advice on the internet or available from friends and acquaintances. Some of it is fantastic in the sense that it's excellent; some of it is fantastic in the sense that it's based on fantasy. The human temptation is to follow the advice that we like the sound of - it's called confirmation bias. We ignore what we don't like at our peril because the truth is often unpleasant or difficult. So, be ruthless in your analysis of what advice you will choose to follow.
As you know, I am starting a literary consultancy, Pen2Publication, in order to offer professional (ie not free) advice. I am doing this because I think that if you want good individual advice you have to pay for it. I and my fellow bloggers, devoted as we are to your success, can only give general advice and can't be expected to analyse each individual situation in our own time. And good advice does need to analyse the individual writer's situation and writing. So, if you want the best advice for you, and you don't have an agent, you will need to pay for it. Unless Mother Theresa has reincarnated herself without my knowing. Mind you, I don't think she'd be the best person to advice on publication.
FIND A PUBLISHING PARTNER(S)
This is an idea I had five minutes ago. It struck me that when I was struggling to become published, I knew no one who was trying to do the same, and certainly no one who had succeeded. So, I had no concept of what was acceptable or normal. Nowadays, it's easy to find other writers in the same position as you, or a little way ahead. The blogosphere is full of them. So, get down with the bloggers and Twitterers, find fellow writers who seem to have the same goals as you and join together to support each other and share information.
One of the best ways to make the right contacts for this and to get advice coming your way would be to blog. I blogged about blogging here and Twittering here. I love Twitter and it's a veritable joy to see conversations going on between several of you who are there too, sharing info and support in a fabulous way.
I suppose that all of this can best be summed up like this: get informed and get connected. It's important for all authors to do this, but for the unagented it's utterly essential.