Four Guidelines for Writing (and Publishing) Without an Agent

Written by A Guest Author

You do not need an agent to write and sell books. Since 2006, I have written and found publishers for three nonfiction books and two novels. While the publishing path for each book has varied, my approach to writing remains steadfast (and may help you find publishing success, too).

1. First and foremost, if you love to write, do so. Presumably you write because it’s your passion. Feed it. I’m a strong believer that in the final analysis, our passions abide and are in many respects satisfying ends in themselves. Perhaps more importantly, becoming a good writer takes practice. In the book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell promotes the idea that you can only become an expert at something (e.g. writing) after 10,000 hours of practice.Whether or not you subscribe to his formula, for our purposes it underscores a point. If you believe the best books are written by skilled craftspeople, you need to develop your skill. The more you write, the better writer you become. Good writers produce good books and generally, good books get sold and published.

2. If you really want to get your book published, you will. To be sure, it won’t happen on your schedule, but by hard and ceaseless effort you will succeed. In Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth makes a very strong, scientifically supported case for how perseverance always wins the day. If you couldn’t find an agent for your novel, don’t be dissuaded. Perhaps you should write a sequel? Perhaps you want to revisit your effort and revise it for the 16th time? Regardless, if you keep trying and keep writing, good things will happen. After finishing my first novel, Wolves, I was able to find an agent. Try as she might, she was unable to find a publisher for the novel, and eventually we parted ways. Wolves went into a drawer for three years. One day a writing friend alerted me to a Minnesota publisher who was interested in publishing regional mysteries. I submitted Wolves and it was accepted; it won a 2014 Midwest Book Award and to date has sold more than 1,000 copies.

3. You need to talk to other writers and people in the industry. Again, if writing is your passion and interest, this part should be easy. Reach out to local authors you admire, attend their readings, and buy and read their books. Take a writing class at a local college or literary organization. Sometime in the early 2000s I joined the local chapter of the National Writers Union (NWU). They had monthly meetings covering various topics. In 2005 I attended one at which the managing editor of the Minnesota Historical Society Press was presenting. Afterward, I pitched her on a book idea and she liked it. Eventually, the Press published it and now, 11 years later, we have sold more than 20,000 copies of Lost in the Wild.

4. Write a good book. A long time ago I attended a writing meeting at which New York Times best-selling novelist Steven Thayer offered this sage advice; first and foremost, write a good book. At the time, the advice sounded obvious. Isn’t it a given that we all want to write the best possible book? But since hearing Steve’s advice, I have reconsidered its wisdom. Anything can be improved, even the last draft of your latest masterpiece. Again, keep writing and trying. Keep polishing the stone. Good things will happen. Your book is bound to improve and eventually, I believe, it will get published.

Similar to my initial perspective about Steven Thayer’s advice, you may consider the preceding guidelines obvious. But it has been my experience that if you take the long view and follow these simple steps, eventually you will find writing and publishing success.


Bio: Cary Griffith is the author of three nonfiction books and two novels. His nonfiction includes Lost in the Wild (Borealis: 2006), Opening Goliath (Borealis: 2009 – winner of a 2010 Minnesota Book Award), and Gunflint Burning (University of Minnesota Press: 2018). His novels include Wolves (Adventure Publications: 2013 – winner of a Midwest Book Award, Finalist for a Minnesota Book Award), and Savage Minnesota (Star Tribune: 2014 – the Star Tribune’s 2014 Summer Read).