What An Agent Does

In the book industry, we all have our jobs. A writer writes a literary agent’s job is to find publishers for her clients’ books and publishers create and produce a product to the satisfaction of both (hopefully).

There is a multitude of reasons why an author chooses a literary agent.  The first question you should ask is whether or not you actually need one.  Depending on how you wish to publish, traditional or self-publish, the answer is a resounding yes.

Things Agents Do:

In today’s competitive marketplace, it is extremely difficult to break into the book business, especially if you are an unknown author.  Sadly, larger, more prominent book publishers will only look at manuscripts presented by an agent. The reason for this is to weed out the unsatisfactory writing they would see if they did not do this.

Seriously, I have my doubts that this is the only reason. The bigger you are, the more books you need to continue growing, the more you grow the less time you have to do those smaller things.  Look at the publishing industry as a field of monsters, some are larger than life and others are hidden in the shadows of the giants.  Does it mean these little guys are not as important to a writing career? No.

Feed the monster and watch it grow, starve the monster and watch it shrink. Publish, publish, publish means more and more books have to fly through the doors. There’s no time for weeding so slough that off to the lessor pinon and have them do the dull, grunt work and weed out the unsatisfactory writing from the best and who does this? Agents.

This will cost you 11 to 12% of royalties for the agent, and another 12 to 15% to the publisher for their services. This payment is why many choose to self-publish. I’ll explain that factor in another post.

The agent’s job is not just getting your book to the desk of a publisher. But even before it hits this stage, there are some things you need to do:

  1. Revise your manuscript, often times by seeking out the aid of other editors/writers, or even an independent editor.  Agents want a squeaky clean manuscript to peddle for you, so make sure it’s the best you can do.
  2. Proofread your work for heaven’s sake.  I’ve seen so many manuscripts with ridiculous errors that are too obvious to be missed and suggests a lazy writer.
  3. Write, write, write! Do short stories, articles for magazines, built your resume.
  4. Research to find the agent of writers whose works you admire and mimic your own style of writing.
  5. Make a list using pros and cons about agents
  6. When you write your query letter, remember an agent’s first impression of you is extremely important so polish your query letter to perfection.
  7. Write your novel synopsis (the hardest thing for me).
  8. Then research and educate yourself about the business of agents so you will be prepared to act on an offer.

Reasons why an agent is what you need.

Agents know the business of publishing inside and out and they possess complex information regarding the houses.

Agents are always up on the latest, always keeping track of changes to the market, trends and mergers.

Agents get work read faster.  Although this has changed considerably over the last few years.

Agents have a great knowledge of contracts.

Agents will negotiate on your behalf including rights for audiobooks, film, a book-of-the-month selection, and will consider all options while negotiating your work.

Agents know all about and can get escalators negotiating this as part of the book contract.  This can be when your book lands on the best-seller list for example.

Agents keep track of all payments keeping everything on schedule. This allows you to focus on writing.

Agents will advocate for you ensuring better cover designs, more marketing or other benefits you may not know to ask for during the publishing process.

Agents can provide advice on each step of the way.

Things you may not know:

Agents usually don’t represent poetry, magazine articles, short stories or material suitable for academic or small works.

Most agents are looking to represent careers, not books, so ask yourself if you have more than one book in you?



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