Literary agents are a viable path to getting a book published. In today’s day and age, although self-publishing and small presses are hotter than ever, having an agent working in your corner is still a way to open doors for your publishing career.
There is a lot to know about working with literary agents, however. The writer/agent relationship can be complicated and they can sometimes present as challenging for certain personalities.
In this blog, I’m going to go over a few tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years around how to deal with agents.
Literary Agents Work For You
The most important thing to know about the writer/agent relationship, far and away, is understanding who works for who. All too often I hear writers say things like, “I’m doing this for my agent”. But that kind of thinking is backward.
A literary agent works for you.
As a writer, you create the product. A book. This is the thing that makes everyone in the equation money. An agent’s job is to help you, the writer, sell that manuscript to the right publisher for the highest price.
Did you see what I wrote there? The right publisher. For the highest price.
Why do I make that distinction?
An agent is there to get your book into the best publisher for your book at this point in your career. Sometimes, the best publisher isn’t necessarily the one with the biggest advance and deepest pockets. The best publisher is often the one who cultivates a writer’s career, devotes the time to promote a book, and takes care to maintain strong relationships.
Of course money factors into the equation, the writer/agent relationship is, after all, one centered around business.
Literary agents don’t get paid until you, the author, gets paid for your manuscript. This is a hard and fast rule about publishing. In general, the agent’s commission runs around 15%, which means, if you sell a book for a healthy $10,000 advance, they’re taking $1,500.
That’s a significant chunk. About as much as Uncle Sam takes in taxes.
Bringing up money opens a whole can of worms though.
For one thing, while 15% is a significant bite out of a hard-earned advance, the idea is that the agent will have earned you significantly more than you would have without their help. Maybe a determined self-representing author could take home all of a $5,000 advance, sharing with no one.
Which would you rather have though?
Another fact to note is the timing. An agent gets paid when you get paid.
Just like anything else, there are heartless scams running out there. I’ve seen a great many people pose as agents. They pretend to have the cache to sell a book, ask for a fee, and unsuspecting authors get duped.
Don’t be fooled. If someone saying they’re an agent asks you for money before the book sells, they’re not an agent.
How To Find Literary Agents
The process of finding literary agents is easier than some make it out to be. They’re out there, right now, looking for new writers.
You just have to know some of the secrets of where to find them.
The first, easiest way to find an agent, is at a writer’s conference. In nearly every major city and in every state there is a writers conference, a gathering centered around the craft, celebration, and networking between authors and professionals.
Agents are often invited to writer’s conferences. They are there to take pitches for new books. Yes, the process of pitching your novel is often a nerve-wracking one, but there is no better way to get face time with literary agents than to show up where they gather.
The best part is, most literary agents are good stewards of the writing business. They help struggling writers with their pitch. They remember faces and names, so if you’re friendly and engaging, a long term relationship is a strong possibility.
If you can’t make it to a writer’s conference, another option is through web searches or social media. A basic Google search turns up hundreds of agencies and independents. Literary agents from all over the world are out there, broadcasting their availability, talking openly about what they are looking for.
Get out there and find one!
If you would like to read more on the topic of how to get a book published, check out these additional articles.
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I so adamantly believe that knowing how to conduct a ghostwriting interview is a bedrock of success that I wrote a book about it.
While this book doesn’t necessarily cover literary agents as this particular blog does, it does serve as an ideal primer for developing a professional mentality to bring to your writing.
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