Now that I’ve finished my manuscript, I’m wondering if this is a good time to submit to agents. I wish I’d finished this before the pandemic, but I didn’t. What do you think?
Dear Anon. …
I recommend you submit your project to agents. Based on my check-ins with colleagues, plus industry observations, it appears editors are acquiring books at a normal pace—which means agents are making deals and still offering representation as before. Agents and editors understand that the projects they acquire now will publish in a year or two, when we are, one hopes, beyond the heart of this health crisis and readers are buying books steadily. In fact, Americans have been buying printed books and audiobooks at a solid rate throughout this pandemic, with weekly sales numbers often bettering those same weeks a year ago. Textbooks and related sales have dropped dismally (sigh), but sales in adult and children’s/YA trade rose 3.3% and 4.4%, respectively, in first quarter 2020. Agents and editors were signing things up carefully before the pandemic, and that mindset continues. Six months from now my advice may change—there are no promises. We are economically fragile as the pandemic affects employment and consumer spending. But right now, agent representation is being offered and book deals are happening. The deals sometimes look a bit different now, in that some publishers want to split advance payments into three installments (I even heard four, in one case) instead of in one or two installments based on delivery of revisions. Normally agents would resist that, but agents I’ve talked to say they and their clients have deemed that to be a fair concession to publishers’ cash-flow considerations in the heat of this crisis. All are happy the deals are happening. I do have one caveat to throw in the mix: some agents tell me they’ve held back their darker, heavier projects, and some editors have speculated that readers might want lighter fare for a while. Happily, that doesn’t appear to be the consensus. More often, I’m hearing editors say they believe readers want escapism, and that reading darker books—fiction and nonfiction—is escapism when hope is the outcome and the take-away. Readers want to see others walk through the fire and come out stronger, better, wiser. So, submit to agents. That process usually takes a bit of time, anyway, and then there may be a revision phase or two as you work together to perfect the project for editor submission. By then, we will, I hope will all my heart, be in a national situation that allows you to sell the project then promote your newly published book boldly for eager readers.