(Tl;dr: no, it isn’t.)

Every now and again you hear things like “it’s better to have no agent/publisher than a bad one”. This is why.

I know the submissions process sucks, but even still: Research the people you’re submitting to. I can’t stress that enough. Are they a member of a relevant professional organisation (e.g. the AAR or local equivalent)? What are their recent sales/books they’ve worked on (something like Publishers Marketplace can help with this)? What do people say about them when you Google their name (places like Absolute Write have a thread on everybody)? Do they have a social media presence? Do you like their social media presence? Do they do things like blog/media interviews talking about what it’s like to be an agent/editor?

And so on and so forth.

Because here’s the reality: when you sign with agents and editors, essentially what you’re doing is signing over the rights to your manuscript (and, potentially, any future manuscripts you may or may not–or may be contractually obliged to–produce). You’re still the author, yes, but once your name is on that paper, you no longer “own” your story any more and, as such, can no longer do whatever you want with it, e.g. shop it elsewhere. Selling a manuscript is legally binding you to work with Ms. Agent and/or Ms. Editor to bring that work to (a hopefully profitable) market. That means you have to trust both parties before you sign the deal. Otherwise you’re screwed.

As an aside, I’ve always thought the submissions process for new writers is extremely confusing in this regard. Querying is, in a lot of ways, similar to job hunting, with the agent/editor in the position of your “employer”; in effect, you want them to want you, and, if you’re getting a lot of rejections (everyone gets a lot of rejections), it’s easy for desperation to set in. Instead of applying for jobs with the literary equivalents of Apple or KPMG or JPMorgan Chase, there’s a temptation to start aiming at the Wal-Marts and MacDonalds–and I don’t mean at the executive level–figuring that anything is better than nothing.

This feeling, I think, persists until approximately an hour after you’ve gotten The Call, when suddenly it occurs to you that, holy shit, the agent was courting you. Chances are you’re on multiple submission, after all, and once Ms. Agent has decided you’re The One, suddenly she’s on the clock. It’s true an author can still screw the deal by being a jackass during The Call–which is one of the reasons agents make them, even internationally and at weird hours–but mostly the point of The Call is for Ms. Agent to sell her professional services to you. Because that’s what the point of an agent is: you write the books, she knows where and how to sell them, then Ms. Editor comes along to beat them into something worthy of putting on the shelves (digital or physical).

And this is where publishing differs from wage-and-salary work. If I leave my day job, I still “own” my skills, and can sell those skills again in the market without too many restrictions. If I leave my agent, however, things are more complicated, especially if I signed a contract with her agency giving her the exclusive right of first dibs on representing my works; rights that may persist, at least in part, whether she sold the work or not (or even whether I’m still her client). Publishers are even more complicated, since generally once they own a work, they own a work. If I break contract, I can still write books, but I can no longer re-sell the books I’ve already sold, or even self-publish them (at least not without lengthy/expensive/potentially futile legal battles).

Basically, you never want to be in a situation where you’re thinking of breaking contract over any one particular manuscript, or otherwise in a position to want to reclaim the rights.

The moral of this story? Do your research, aim high, be professional, and keep trying to find the best people you can to work with on your way to the bookshelf.

The deck’s already stacked against you. Do everything you can to even the odds.