Assuming you’ve followed steps one through four (be sure you’ve read my post, Get a Second Opinion), you might wonder if you should be looking for an agent now. That depends.
What do you have to sell? If you only have one picture book (PB) manuscript completed, it is very unlikely (almost impossible) you can get an agent off this one work. Why? PBs are difficult to sell in general (because so many people write them and the market for them is so competitive). And advances for first-time authors of picture books are usually quite low. The royalty percentage is also usually half that of a novel since royalties for picture books are split between the author and the illustrator. This doesn’t really give an agent a lot of incentive to want to work with you. My opinion is if you’ve only got one PB manuscript to sell, now is not the time to look for an agent. If you have several PBs, your chances could be better, but all of those stories have to be strong. Plan for a challenging search. In most cases, agents will not represent authors who only write picture books unless the author has already sold a picture book manuscript or two on his or her own AND the new work the author is pitching to them is very strong.
However, if you have at least one finished novel-length work (middle grade or young adult), the story changes. Many children’s agents are willing to represent an author if she has an excellent manuscript under their belt and she plans to write more. Selling a novel-length work is a bit more predictable from an agent’s point of view, especially if the novel is a stunner. So if you’ve got a great novel completed, you can start looking.
What about easy readers or chapter books? If you write easy readers, you are definitely better off submitting directly to editors. Easy readers, like picture books, are hard sells for agents. The advances for easy readers are usually abysmal compared to novels and picture books, and the number of editors who handle easy readers is quite small. The market for chapter books is pretty narrow as well, so not too many agents are keen on selling them unless your manuscript is truly, truly spectacular like in a Judy Moody or Junie B. Jones kind of way. If you have several terrific chapter books, however, I’d say you might have a decent chance of getting an agent, especially if you happen to write novels as well.
Think of it this way.
- Novels are usually highest on the list for what agents want to sell.
- If you have a track record in picture books and have a few new ones you want to sell, then that comes next.
- If you have some great chapter book manuscripts, then that’s all right, too, but not ideal.
- If you only have one chapter book, you’re probably better off submitting on your own.
- If you have several ERs and that’s it, submit on your own.
- If you have only one PB, submit on your own.
If you’re ready to find an agent, read my post, How To Submit Your Work To Editors or Agents.
If you want to submit your work to publishers on your own, move on to Step Six – Find an Editor.