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The Art of Story Writing : CHAPTER XV Literary Agencies or Bureaus

by Nathaniel C. Fowler, JR   

CHAPTER XV Literary Agencies or Bureaus

IN many of the general magazines, and in some of the periodicals, appear advertisements of literary agencies or bureaus, which claim to be able to sell manuscripts to the author's advantage and to have special facilities for revision. Connected with these agencies are one or more literary men or women, usually with some reputation.

I would advise the writer or owner of a manuscript to have absolutely nothing to do with any of these agencies or bureaus, unless they are recommended to him by some reputable book publisher or editor of high standing.

If the advertisement of one of the agencies seems alluring, send it to some first-class book publisher or editor and ask him to advise you about it. If you are in doubt, consult the editor of a reputable newspaper, a literary man of standing, or an editor of one of the great magazines. These parties would speak favorably only of agencies of the highest standing. Some of those literary agencies, I believe, are nothing more or less than traps, set to catch the author. Their announcements appear to be fair and honest, and they particularly request the author to forward his manuscript. On receipt of it, it is quite likely that they will suggest that it be revised, or copied, which the agency will be pleased to do at a price named. If the manuscript has merit, the agency may place it with some publisher, in which case the author has to give the agency a part of his receipts.

I am of the opinion that the author will be as well, or better, off if he communicates direct with the publishers and not through an agency. True, the agency may be better informed of the requirements of the book publishers, and it may know better than the author does just which publisher would be likely to take it. But if it succeeds, the author must pay handsomely for its trouble.

If the author is unfamiliar with book publishers, and does not know their requirements, and, therefore, is not in a position to know to which publisher he had better send his manuscript, I suggest that he consult with some literary man or editor of standing, who will probably be able to give him better advice than he will be likely to receive from any literary bureau, and this advice he will obtain without expense. Or, let him write to a few book publishers, giving a synopsis of his manuscript, and ask each if that particular plot interests him. In this way it is probable that he will obtain the information he desires.

Then, as to revision, I think he will obtain a better result, and at a lower price, if he employs some literary man in his town or city, or takes up the matter with some one at a distance. If he is in doubt, any editor can help him.

Revision is not difficult to do. If the story is wholly unmarketable, no amount of revision will help it. If it is about right, revision may make it all right. But I think that any good literary man or woman is likely to give the author more efficient service than he would probably obtain from any agency or bureau.

Many a school teacher has a good command of language, and can be of great assistance to the author. I would not, then, particularly recommend the literary bureau or agency, although some of them are furnishing good service. I think that the author can obtain all, or more than, they can give, by placing his manuscript in the hands of some well-educated man or woman for correction and revision, and that any good book publisher or literary editor will determine the marketability of the manuscript as readily as can any literary bureau official.

Unless the author is busy, he had better recopy his manuscript himself. If there is need for outside help for copying, any competent typewritist will do the work for him at a fair price.