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(I wrote this in 2014 and posted it to Bubblews writing site, now gone.)

These days, would you try to find a literary agent or publisher to publish a book, or just do an ebook?

In the old days, if one wrote a book, the next step was usually to try and get it published commercially (or self-publish and have a garage full of books). This involved many letters or emails to literary agents and/or publishers to try and convince them to take on your precious manuscript. Of course, very few were ever taken on and the proportion is probably even less now. Two reasons for this are the increase in the number of people writing books and the steady move of the industry from print to digital.

Some years ago, I wrote a historical novel, A Weaver’s Web. It is about a poor handloom weaver and his family in early 19th century Lancashire, England. I did the rounds of literary agents and found that no one seemed to be taking on much at all that isn’t written by someone well known for writing or something else, and this seems to be increasingly the case.

One agent even compared my novel to John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, “but with the poor family finding its wealth. The location of Manchester during the industrial revolution dictates the action excellently and I can see why readers could not put it down.” I got unsolicited comments back from 18 general readers, five of whom said they couldn’t put it down. I’ve received other good comments from agents (although most just say it doesn’t suit their list or they’re not passionate enough about it), a professional appraiser, and people at writing site Helium. Also, I was top in a university postgraduate creative writing course of 30 students. None of this made any difference.

I’m now taking the ebook option. I think it’s the way to go. I’m not sure if I would any longer recommend a writer first pursues traditional publication, and failing that, do an ebook. Maybe it’s still worth sending a manuscript to a few agents on the off chance. Depending on what sources and figures you look at, it seems the proportion of ebooks vs printed books is now somewhere around 30:70. I read an article saying that by 2017, it’ll be about 50:50.

Cost of an ebook depends on how much you can or want to do yourself: cover, editing, conversion to epub/mobi, and so on, and ranges from nothing to perhaps a couple of thousand for a more complex non-fiction book. An advantage is that you can set your price (generally much lower than printed) but royalties are as high as 70%, compared with around 10% of retail price if your book is in a bookshop. Another advantage is that you can write and publish what you want rather than being tied down by a literary agent who might want a sequel to some book you’ve written and you don’t want to do a sequel or you might want to write a science fiction book or some other genre or topic that the agent doesn’t do.

What do other people think? Has anyone sent a manuscript to agents and publishers? Would you do it again? Or would you think about an ebook instead? Or perhaps you’ve already published one or more ebooks.