Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Piers Anthony Blogs If Formal Training Helps Writers Get Agents

One of my readers, Mark Geatches, suggested that I set up a FAQ section for the convenience of readers, which should also spare me the inconvenience of answering similar questions repeatedly. I pondered, and finally decided to do that here. He suggested some questions, and I'm adding more, and will add others as they come up. But be warned; I seem to be incapable of giving a simple answer to a simple question.

Does formal training help new writers get agents? This is the question, so I'll address it, but the simple answer is No. I had formal training, in the form of my BA in Creative Writing, but it still took me six years after college to make my first sale. Agent? An informal group of us aspiring writers queried all the agents listed, and not only got nowhere, some didn't bother to answer. Folks, Parnassus—that is, traditional print publishing, is essentially a closed shop and a Catch 22. Many publishers buy only from agents, and most agents won't even consider unpublished authors. The ratio of aspiring writers to available publishing slots is somewhere south of 100 to 1. As one established writer told me, the fat hogs have their snouts in the swill and they aren't about to let the new little piggies in. So forget about agents; if you're new, you can't get a good one, and you sure as hell don't want a bad one.
So how did I make it? I went first for the magazines, where you don't need an agent, and kept sending in stories for eight years, two during college, six thereafter. Finally, by persistence and luck, I made a sale and a whole $20. Thereafter it was easier, as I gradually became known. I made only a pittance; my wife had to work to support us. Then, faintly known at least by magazine editors, I went to novels, and sold my first novel four years after my first story. But there's more competition today, so I think it's harder for a new writer to break in. That's why I say you need luck: to have your manuscript on the right desk at the right time.
Fortunately today there are better options, some of which I have helped promote, such as self publishing and electronic publishing. So you don't need formal training, or an agent; just write your best and try the new markets and hope to get lucky. The question is irrelevant.


  1. You make some really good points there. The people behind the traditional publishing industry are not making it easy for themselves, as more people will soon realise digital self publishing is the way forward.

  2. Thanks, Piers. Too many people discount the role of luck on a writing career. But, of course, your odds of getting lucky increase with the harder you work and the more lottery tickets (works) you have.

  3. Thanks Piers. You have been an inspiration to me. I am now ebooking and enjoying myself. I could use some luck, but not letting Lady Luck get me down. ;-)

  4. I'll be releasing my first novel on Kindle fairly soon... let's hope that luck is with me after I start promoting it on my own.

  5. Ebooks are the way to go. Then cultivate carefully every single reader you pick up, and ask them to do reviews

  6. It's always refreshing to see an Author's take on self publishing as opposed to some said persons who previously worked in the publishing industry.

    I have found that it puts a little more pressure on the author to make their work presentable for the readers. This means I've had to do a lot of homework towards that end.

  7. This is the kind of thing I like to hear! Yes, the onus is entirely on the author to get the ms perfect, but having worked with an editor who doesn't know her arse from her elbow, I say, go for it!

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