Literary Agent 101: Behind the Scenes


It goes without saying: In order for an author to publish their work majorly (meaning to the Big House Publishers), one must acquire a literary agent.

But what does a literary agent actually do?

Well, a few things (and hopefully this will shed some light about this whole process):

Literary agents provide that gap between author and editor.

The main reason authors have literary agents is so that your work can get to editors in the Big Houses who will then read it. Editors rely on agents to send them a manuscript submission rather than the authors themselves. A long time ago, authors could send unsolicited, unagented work to publishing houses. Nowadays, this method is starting to fade away because publishers realize how disorganized this can become: manuscripts and submissions get lost in the mail, organizing and shoveling all that mail gets tedious, and more than most of the time, authors send to publishers who just aren’t right for them. With agents, they already know who’s in the business and who may be best to publish your work. Agents are most trusted when it comes to submissions, and well-known agents submitting to editors have already established a relationship with editors long enough to trust that submissions editors receive will most likely be a perfect fit. Remember, agents are supposed to send your material directly to editors at publishing houses! Talk to your agent and make sure they are actually sending to an editor, rather than just some random email!!!

What else?

Literary agents handle all of your paperwork.

This includes handling rights for your book. Whether that includes film, audio, foreign and/or TV/video game/franchise. But let’s not get too ahead! Literary agents handle the nitty-gritty paperwork that authors don’t have to deal with. If they choose to represent you (which hopefully one day they will!), the first paperwork you may deal with is a contract with the agent/agency. I know some agents are still old school and just agree with a good-old-fashioned handshake, but most provide a contract with their authors. After that, when they are ready to send your manuscript to editors, they handle the rights and paperwork between the publishing house and you. They also negotiate much of this paperwork. 

What do I mean by negotiation? I’m talking MONEY.

Agents are paid between 10-15% of however much money you, the author, makes. Not only are you trying to make money, but so are them. When agents start to negotiate your rights with publishers, they are trying to make the best deal for you and your book. It’s not uncommon that an agent may negotiate for quite some time with a publishing house (especially if it’s considered a Big Six Publisher) in order to secure the best deal. Depending on your book, agents may send to all Big Six companies in what’s called an auction. This is when your book garners enough attention from a majority of companies, its worth starts to go up (way up!) Although rare, it does happen. But anyway, when the best publisher fit for your intentions and the agent’s intentions calls, a deal is ready to be made. Agents will make 15% of however much the deal was, and you will get the rest. When it comes to actual sells of books, note that you may only be making 99 cents off a $9.99 book (and so will your agent. But don’t worry about prices and value; your agent figures all that out too).

Agents work with you beyond publication!

How do you know you have a good agent? Agents work with you. They help you. They guide you. They want to know your intentions as an author, and what you plan to do. If you’re planning to write a series, let them know. If you’re planning to venture into similar genres, talk to them. If you have a specific marketing strategy, they’re there to help. Agents are there to help you get published. They want to sell your work. And they should be there for you in this long and tiresome process. Now understand, agents do have other clients. But this is one of the reasons why it’s sometimes difficult to find the “right agent”: agents want to cater their time to both A BOOK AND AUTHOR THEY ARE MOST PASSIONATE ABOUT. When they do that, both you and your book have a better chance of selling.

Agents help with all the work you may not want to do!

Whether that’s marketing, strategizing a plan for your book, cultivating an audience, making a website or blog and/or figuring out how to make your book appeal to a broader audience, agents are here for that. Some agents don’t mind going through specific edits with you so your book is ready for publication. Most agents will “sacrifice” their free time and help you as a writer if they see potential in you. Remember, the agent’s job is to get your book ready for publication. When they send your manuscript to an editor, that means it should be theoretically ready for publication as is! Agents know what works and what doesn’t. That’s why they’re agents. And while they’re busy doing 100 million other things, their first priority is their clients: YOU!

And, most importantly, agents are your go-to source.

They want to see you and your work be successful. That is why they decided to represent you. That is why you worked so hard to find the one that’s perfect for you. That’s why agents say the relationship they have with their authors is like a “couple relationship” (although not really): agents are so passionate about you and your work, and hopefully, you will be passionate about them. 

I hope this has been helpful in your endeavors to either finding an agent, searching for one, or even getting one. And, always always ALWAYS remember: legitimate agents never charge their authors any type of fees. NEVER PAY AN AGENT ANY MONEY!!! If they are asking for money, immediately report them to Preditors and Editors!

Well, I think that’s about it for now. Coming up, I will be sharing more about the publishing world, as well as what to look out for in agents besides fees.


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