Should you pitch a project to publishers, agents, or both? While having an agent who is diligently pitching your book to major publishers is ideal, at other times, you are unlikely to get an agent (for example, if you have niche books), or even if you do, an agent can’t help very much.
Today, agents are super selective in the projects they take on, since they are looking for the potential big book. So they are looking for writers who are already famous, have a large following in the social media (ie: 50,000 or more followers on Twitter) or have thousands of people attending their speaking programs. An agent is also ideal if you are part of a big story in the national news or are a co-author with well-known expert with a hot topic. An agent can also help if you have sent queries to publishers and have gotten interest. In this case, an agent can help you negotiate a better deal or contact still more publishers. Finally, an agent may really like a proposed book.
But often it may be better to contact publishers directly with a strong compelling pitch. When you query editors directly, you can contact many smaller and medium publishers who are not on your agent’s normal radar. Thus, rather than striking out with the big publishers, you might get a contract with a smaller or medium publisher who will get better sales for your book by doing more to promote it, though publishers still expect authors to do much of their own PR.
Another advantage of pitching publishers directly is that you will often get a faster response, since agents commonly take a few weeks to a few months to decide and prepare to rep your book. Some may even ask you to do a rewrite according to their guidelines, although a publisher might not require this until after you get a contract. Then, after you get an agent, you still have to wait for the publisher’s offer to publish.
By contrast, if you query publishers, the editor or publisher can decide whether to pursue your book – and sometimes you can get a decision within days. That’s the approach I used with several of my books after agents turned them down, among them Lies and Liars: How and Why Sociopaths Lie to be published by Skyhorse Publishing, The Battle Against Internet Book Piracy to be published by Allworth Press, and The New Middle Ages, out in a few weeks from Nortia Press.
Or consider a pitch to both editors and agents, since this speeds up the whole process. You can always turn over interested agents to publishers for follow-up.